Book of Jonah ; Prophet-either 8th C. BCE or 4th C. BCE
Micah 7:18 -19
We read the Book of Jonah in its entirety on Yom Kippur in the afternoon. It’s a great story, one of those that can be used as a bedtime adventure story to tell the children. From storms at sea to getting swallowed by a “whale” to a gourd that blossoms in one night, there are many exciting events. The best known of the adventures is depicted in the lyrical painting above. We see two sailors in a merchant ship. They have thrown Jonah over the side of the boat and he’s being swallowed by a giant fish. It is based on an illustration from the Kennicott Bible, Spain, 1476, painted by Joseph ibn Hayyim.
But of course this is not just an adventure story. The narrative consists of the prophet Jonah disregarding God’s orders to warn the sinning people of Ninevah of the forthcoming punishment from God. He runs away a few times and each time is rebuked. Ultimately the people of Ninevah repent and God pardons them. Jonah is very upset that the people of Ninevah were forgiven. It appears that Jonah felt those who sinned should be punished, so that it was unjust that the people of Ninevah were exonerated.
Jonah says, “I know that you are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment. Please, Lord, take my life for I would rather die than live.” God recognizes Jonah’s anger and his inability to understand God’s forgiveness.
There are a few lessons taught in this haftarah. One is the lesson of true repentance. The people of Ninevah put on sackcloth and ashes. Then they fasted and prayed, and vowed to turn from their evil ways. They were forgiven because their prayers were sincere. We learn that when true repentance for past deeds involves sincerity and honesty.
Another lesson is that of forgiveness. God created humankind and is waiting to see the goodness and uprightness of humanity. Jonah was upset and had a sense of loss when “his” gourd withered up- even though he had slept under it for one night. The gourd was a metaphor for God’s relationship with humanity. If Jonah was sad at the loss of “his” gourd- which he didn’t create, how much more would God be bereaved by the destruction of an entire community. The lesson of the gourd as a metaphor for an entire community can also teach empathy and forgiveness- or the concept to picture ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Jonah had to realize that the people of Ninevah had as much right to repent and live as he, Jonah had. Once we remember that we are equal to others in the world we can move on and sympathize with, empathize with and, and help others we may have formerly ignored.
On Yom Kippur we have 25 hours in which we pray, reflect and think. We have the time to consider our relationships and our behaviours. Yom Kippur is a gift for thought and an opportunity for forgiveness and acceptance.
This is a great opportunity to speak to our children or friends and reflect on how, if we are a little more forgiving, patient, and understanding, we can make the world a better place.
Have a meaningful day in synagogue and G’mar Chatima Tova- may the coming year be one of health, peace, and blessings.