October 2, 2014
The Haftarah for Mincha on Yom Kippur is the entire book of the prophet Jonah (ben Amitai.)
The connection to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is obvious. The entire book deals with Jonah’s mission to the gentile people of Ninveh, urging them to repent – to do teshuva. And Yom Kippur is the day for doing teshuva.
Several questions are obvious.
Why did Jonah rebel against God’s command to bring this message to Ninveh?
What good would it do for him to run away?
Did he really think he could escape God by leaving Eretz Yisrael?
God is the God of the Universe. Certainly the prophet Jonah knew this.What was he thinking ?
After Jonah received God’s command to go to Ninveh, we read the following:
Jonah 1:3 “And Jonah went to flee to Tarshish from before Hashem, and he went down to Yaffo, and he found a boat which was going to Tarshish and he paid the fee and went down with them to Tarshish, from before Hashem.”
RASHI answers all these questions in two lines!
To flee to Tarshish – Rashi: Tarshish was outside of Eretz Yisrael. He thought ‘I’ll flee to the sea, for the Holy Spirit does not reside outside of Eretz Yisrael.’ So God said to him: ‘By your life! I have many messengers to send for you and bring you back from there….’ And why did Jonah not want to go to Ninveh? He thought: ‘These pagans are quick to do teshuva. If I tell them to do so and they in fact do teshuva, this will be an indirect condemnation of Israel who do not heed the words of the prophets.’
Rashi has answered our questions above. Jonah certainly knew that Hashem was everywhere and not just in Eretz Yisrael. But he thought he could escape the prophetic message by being far from the Holy Land. This finds support in the words “milifnei Hashem” “from before Hashem.” It doesn’t say “from Hashem” which would mean “from God’s presence,” for His presence is everywhere. It says instead “from before Hashem,” which implies the closeness of the prophet who stands “before” Hashem. Also if we look at verse 4:2 Jonah says: “Were these not my thoughts while I was on my land, therefore I fled to Tarshish…” So Jonah tried to flee the Shechina and the prophetic experience which could only take place in Eretz Yisrael. (See TB Moed katan 25a and Kuzari 1:12)
The reason Jonah refused going on this mission, Rashi tells us, was that if the pagans of Ninveh did teshuva this would reflect badly on the Jews who had heard many prophets castigate them and urge them to do teshuva but they nevertheless refused so to do.
But was Jonah’s fear that this would reflect badly on the Jews, a justified reason to prevent the non-Jews from doing teshuva? If they were willing to do so, why should they be refused the opportunity? And might not their teshuva inspire the Jews to do teshuva as well?
Jonah says he knew God was a forgiving God: “I know that You are a gracious God, merciful, long to anger, much kindness and One who forgives evil.”
Compare this verse of God’s attributes with the thirteen attributes of Hashem listed in Exodus 33:7. There it says “God is merciful and gracious, God is long to anger and [has] much kindness and truth.”
Jonah leaves out the attribute of “truth”. For Jonah, God is kind and merciful but He is not a God of truth!
Jonah thought that if God could forgive and forget the sins and evil acts of people as if they never happened, then this is not ultimate truth. Murderers kill people who are dead forever, how can the act of verbal teshuva erase all this? Is this truth? This is what Jonah could not understand. This is what he tried to run away from.
There are very few laws with which scientists agree but one is that time only runs in one direction. Otherwise there could be no cause and effect or law of gravity. Articles could fall upwards if one could play the film of life backwards.
The mystery of teshuva is that it can change the past. The rabbis are eloquent in describing the significance of repentance. It is one of the things created before the world itself (Pes. 54a); it reaches to the very Throne of Glory (Yoma 86a); it prolongs a man’s life and brings on the Redemption (Yoma 86b).
Just as the Throne of Glory is above and beyond time so the power of Teshuva is above and beyond time.
That is the mystery of teshuva. That is the mystery of Yom Kippur. Its power is beyond our comprehension. But Hashem sent Jonah – forced Jonah – to deliver this message. It is our message on Yom Kippur. You can change the past if you are willing to be different in the future.
Shabbat Shalom and Gemar Chatima Tova,
Rabbi Meir Wise