The Wisdom of Israel, by Edwin Collins, , at sacred-texts.com
"Let thy garments always be white, and let not oil be wanting for thine head." "Doth, then, the Scripture care about white garments, and oil for the hair?" asks Rabbi Jochanan ben Zachai. "For have not the heathen plenty of white garments and many oils for anointing the head?"
[paragraph continues] Behold the Scripture speaks, in figurative language, of the commandments: of religious duties and good works, and of the Torah. Rabbi Judah, the Prince, likened it to a certain king who made a banquet and invited travellers and strangers to it. He sent word to them: "Wash ye, make ye clean and anoint yourselves, and wash your clothes and prepare yourselves for the banquet of the king." But he did not appoint a time. Then the prudent among them made themselves ready and waited at the entrance of the palace. They said: "In the palace of the king nothing will be wanting, and there need be no signs of preparation, but the feast may be ready at any time." The stupid among them did not prepare themselves. They said: "There cannot be a great banquet without much stir and trouble and gathering together of stores and provisions. We need not disturb ourselves until we see signs of preparation at the palace." And they joined themselves with their fellows, and thought only of their common and everyday interests, and took no thought of the word of the king. And the plasterer went to his plastering and the potter to his clay, and those working with pitch and tar, and at other dirty trades, went on with their ordinary occupations.
Suddenly came the word of the king: "Let all come to the banquet!" And the servants of the king hastened them, and pressed them to come at the bidding of the king. Then those that had prepared themselves, came in their honour and their glory, and those that had not prepared themselves, came in their pollution and uncleanliness. And the
king rejoiced over the wise that had done according to his bidding, and who, moreover, had honoured the royal palace; and he was angry with those who had taken no heed of his word, and who had polluted his royal palace with all the uncleanliness that clung about their garments, and who had treated it with contempt.
Then said the king: "Those that have prepared themselves for my presence, and were ready when I called, shall come and feast at the royal table, and those that did not prepare themselves shall not eat at the banquet." They thought perhaps they might depart, but the king replied: "No, but those shall recline at the banquet and eat and drink, while these stand upon their feet, and are smitten, and look on, distressed." Thus of the life to come, this is what Isaiah says (lxv. 13): "My servants shall eat and you shall be hungry." It is said, in the name of Rabbi Meir, that also the unprepared were allowed to sit at the table of the king, but not allowed to eat and drink, and their suffering was infinitely greater than if they had been made to stand. For they who stand and do not eat and drink are only like waiters and attendants, but those who sit at the board and are not treated as guests are shamed and disgraced.
And this is a truer picture of the life to come as indicated by the prophet Malachi (iii. 18): "Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not." Let thy garments always be white in sinlessness, and let the ointment of good deeds and holiness be never lacking for thy head. . . There is an old traditional
saying transmitted by the sages of the Mishnah, "Return to God in repentance, one day before thy death." His disciples asked Rabbi Eliezar "But how is a man to know the day of his death, so that he may become penitent?"
"That is just the point," explained the Rabbi. "Repent to-day; to-morrow you may die."
A man should be found turning from sin to God every day of his life, therefore, it is said, let thy garments at all times be white.