Y Taanit

[X J] "The oracle concerning Dumah. One is calling to me from Seir, 'Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?' Isa. 21:11]."

[K] The Israelites said to Isaiah, "O our Rabbi, Isaiah, what will come for us out of this night?" [L] He said to them, "Wait for me, until I can present the question." [M] Once he had asked the question, he came back to them. [N] They said to him, "Watchman, what of the night? What did the Guardian of the ages tell you?" [O] He said to them, "The watchman says: 'Morning comes; and also the night. If you will inquire, inquire; come back again' [Isa. 21:12]." [P] They said to him, "Also the night?"

[Q] He said to them, "It is not what you are thinking. But there will be morning for the righteous, and night for the wicked, morning for Israel, and night for idolaters." [R] They said to him, "When?"

[S] He said to them, "Whenever you want, He too wants [it to be]—if you want it, he wants it." [T] They said to him, "What is standing in the way?" [U] He said to them, "Repentance: 'Come back again' [Isa. 21:12]." [V] R. Aha in the name of R. Tanhum b. R. Hiyya, "If Israel repents for one day, forthwith the son of David will come. [W] "What is the scriptural basis? 'O that today you would hearken to his voice!' [Ps. 95:7]." [X] Said R. Levi, If Israel would keep a single sabbath in the proper way, forthwith the son of David will come. [Y] "What is the scriptural basis for this view? 'Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field'" [Exod. 16:25]. [Z] "And it said, 'For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength." And you would not' [Isa. 30:15]."

A discussion of the power of repentance would hardly have surprised a Mish-nah sage. What is new is at V-Z, the explicit linkage of keeping the law which achieving the end of time and the coming of the Messiah. That motif stands separate from the notions of righteousness and repentance, which surely did not require it. We must not lose sight of the importance of this passage, with its emphasis on repentance on the one side, and the power of Israel to reform itself on the other. The Messiah will come any day that Israel makes it possible. Let me underline the most important statement of this large conception:

If all Israel will keep a single sabbath in the proper (rabbinic) way, the Messiah will come. If all Israel will repent for one day, the Messiah will come. "Whenever you want. . . ," the Messiah will come.

Two things are happening here. First, the system of religious observance, including study of Torah, is explicitly invoked as having salvific power. Second, the persistent hope of the people for the coming of the Messiah is linked to the system of rabbinic observance and belief. In this way, the austere program of the Mishnah develops in a different direction, with no trace of a promise that the Messiah will come if and when the system is fully realized. Here a teleology lacking all eschatological dimension gives way to an explicitly messianic statement that the purpose of the law is to attain Israel's salvation: "If you want it, God wants it too." The one thing Israel commands is its own heart; the power it yet exercises is the power to repent. These suffice. The entire history of humanity will respond to Israel's will, to what happens in Israel's heart and soul. With the Temple in ruins, repentance can take place only within the heart and mind.

We should note, also, a corollary to this doctrine, which carries to the second point of interest, the Messiah. Israel may contribute to its own salvation by the right attitude and the right deed. But Israel bears responsibility for its present condition. So what Israel does makes history. Any account of the Messiah doctrine of the Talmud of the Land of Israel must lay appropriate stress on that conviction: Israel makes its own history, therefore shapes its own destiny. This lesson, sages maintained, derives from the very condition of Israel even then, its suffering and its despair. How so? History taught moral lessons. Historical events entered into the construction of a teleology for the Talmud of the Land of Israel's system of Judaism as a whole. What the law demanded reflected the consequences of wrongful action on the part of Israel. So, again, Israel's own deeds defined the events of history. Rome's role, like Assyria's and Babylonia's, depended upon Israel's provoking divine wrath. This mode of thought comes to simple expression in what follows.

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