Torah Thoughts and Reflections
D’var Torah on Jonah for YOM KIPPUR.
By Tamar Pelleg.
Jonah is a prophet, and what characterizes a prophet is the power of speech.
A prophet is able to influence the reality with his words (נביא is a prophet, ניב means דיבור, the virtue of speaking).
Therefor it is quiet astonishing that Jonah is a prophet that rarely opens his mouth to speak!
He is not happy with his mission yet he is not protesting (like Moses or Jeremiah), nor does he try to negotiate with God, He chooses silence! Roaring silence!
The reader might get the impression that Jonah acts like a little angry child, who turns his back on God. Not only does he choose not to talk, but he is running away from him as well.
Jonah is a man that runs away from himself and from his destiny! God sends him to the East (NINVE) and he escapes to the West (Tarshish). He is actually running from one side to the opposite: From land to sea, from reality (awakening) to sleep, from life-to death.
It seems to me that Jonah is behaving in a Passive-aggressive way. He runs away to the opposite direction of his mission and expresses his protest to God’s authority in a non-verbal mode.
Does it make any sense that a prophet will think he can run away from God? (Surely he knows better than that), does it make sense that a prophet will keep silence?
What could the root letter י.ר.ד. (Go down) that appears 4 times in chapter 1 verses 3-5 suggest? Does it hint to Jonah’s spiritual decline?
( וירד יפו וימצא אניה, וירד בה לבוא עמהם, ויונה ירד אל ירכתי הספינה, וישכב וירדם)
And later on this movement down will continue when he is thrown to the sea and even deeper down to the belly of the whale.
Could this movement of going down can teach us something about his unconscious will to die? To cease from being?
On face values it seems as if Jonah wishes to die.
Probably because he was asked to deliver a prophecy that contradict his values (as we read later on chapter 4 verse2). It cause him such a cognitive dissonance that he prefer to die. (If I give a prophecy that the city will be ruined, and rightly so, however eventually because of a one act of “T’shuva”, that might even not hold for long, God forgives- It makes me a false prophet because my prophecy didn’t come true, and this is not how I perceive myself! ).
And maybe Jonah feels used? (God only uses me to give “false alarms”, and at the end I will end up being the “bad guy” in the story.)
It is also possible that Jonah’s sense of extreme justice, and his dichotomist perception does not allow him to appreciate God’s attribute of CHESED (Loving kindness, compassion)
Jonah’s name is Jonah son of AMITAY in Hebrew: (א.מ.ת.) ) יונה בן אמתי the son of truth?(
When he cries for God from the belly of the fish he repeats a verse we all know from Moses’s prayer to God in Exodus, alas he misses one word: אמת!!
Exodus 34:6 : אל רחום וחנון ארך אפיים ורב חסד ואמת וניחם על הרעה"
Jonah 4:2: אך רחום וחנון ארך אפיים ורב חסד וניחם על הרעה
Maybe Jonah sees in calling for T’shuva and making T’shuva something that lacks truth: (Those who have sinned should be punished!), If eventually God spares the wicked (because they’ve done T’shuva) it is not just (and I, who delivered the prophecy of destruction will be telling a lie!) And in such world he doesn’t want to live!
Maybe this is why he is running away from God, in order to get punished? Maybe this is why he asks the sailors to throw him over to the storming sea? Maybe this is why it took him 3 days to start praying to God after he was swollen by the fish?
Fish is known as an animal who doesn’t speak. So is Jonah. He keeps quiet like a fish.
If we look at the symbols through Jungian lenses the stormy sea is Jonah’s emotional world, and is a reflection of what is going on inside him. And the fish represents un- processed materials from his unconscious
Is he being “swallowed” by his “silence”? (His passive-aggressiveness, Caught by his “shadow”)
This kind of a storm can end in a “breakdown”. Repressing so much anger can cause a huge rage. Jonah chooses to repress his anger and be “mute”, and eventually his silence takes over and swallows him.
Jonah needs to do a work of discernment (Birur-Notsotsot בירור ניצוצות) and he has a chance to do so at the belly of the fish (a 3 days retreat…)
So what really bothers Jonah?
Jonah is used to a paradigm of: No act of sin ((חטא passes without God’s response.
(The expel from Garden of Eden, The expel of Cain, The flood, etc.) And here he is being asked to change a paradigm, to a new perception where God forgives even those who have sinned provided they have done T’shuva!
As a man of extremes, with a very extreme sense of Justice, (In Kabbalistic language we will regard him as representing DIN דין ), as one who clings to a principle (אמת) that is more valuable to him then his own life- this is very hard for him to change paradigm.(he prefers to die!)
SO why do we read the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur?
Many commentaries suggests that the tradition of reading from the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur stem from it’s being a multi-layer story of T’shuva:
The sailor “return to God” (Jonah 1:14)
Jonah “repents “ בהתעטף עלי נפשי את ה' זכרתי"(Jonah 2:8)
The people of NINVE repent
Other commentaries emphasizes the element of CHESED and compassion of God, who forgives the sinners (The people of Ninve, Jonah himself.)
And I feel there’s another reason and it connected to the message we receive from Jonah’s behavior: His attitude towards God’s ruling the world and the lesson that God teaches him.
It is so easy for us to identify with Jonah’s perception and believe that whoever is righteous-צדיק should be treated with just and loving kindness and whoever is wicked should be treated with דין.
We can very easily identify with the sense of injustice Jonah is experiencing regarding the one time T’shuva opposed to a long time behavior of sin.
But life is not black and white. There are many shades of gray…
In this story God talks to us through Jonah and deliver a very important message:
Don’t try to understand how I operate the principle of Justice or compassion! Don’t try to look for a “pattern” that will suit your perceptions! My attribute of CHESED is above and beyond DIN! You should not be presumptuous to think you could understand or justify the way I rule the world!
Our problem (and Jonah’s) starts when we have criticism or justification or explanation about how God treats and rules. (“How could it be that… this isn’t fair…”) or even worse when we presume we could understand his acts. (This disaster happens because people didn’t keep Shabbat…)
In this story God is trying to teach Jonah (and ourselves through him) that Loving kindness is not measurable, nor it could be mathematically calculated, or suit someone perception of Justice!
God’s sense of Justice is not blind, nor does he rule the world according to some ideal, and nor Jonah or any human being can interfere with his “calculations” or think they could understand them.
God wants to have compassion on “Ba’aley T’shuva”.
במקום בו בעלי תשובה עומדים אפילו צדיקים גמורים אינם עומדים.
Maybe through the story of Jonah we could be awakened to search for our own cause/calling in life and check wheather are we fulfilling it or running away from it?
Maybe we are advised to consider letting go of old paradigms we held, become flexible and open to be shifted?
G’mar Chatima Tova!
Some more “raisins”:
The word NUN נון means Fish in Aramaic.
Just play with the names: יונה and נינוה and see where it takes you.
(I have got: the Fish of God, and the house of the fish…)
Whoever wants to continue the “Trivia game” and draw from it some ideas is welcome to write and respond!)
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