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Yom Kippur 5768

Yom Kippur (Leviticus ch. 16 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

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.


But beyond that there are many issues which remain unclear. Why did Jonah rebel against God's command to bring this message to Ninveh? And what good would it do for him to run away? Did he really think he could escape God by leaving Eretz Yisrael? The Jewish God is the God of the Universe! Certainly the prophet Jonah knew this! What was his thinking in these matters?


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."


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.'


So 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.

And the reason Jonah refused going on this "outreach" 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 resisted to do so.


A Question: Is Jonah's fear that this would reflect badly on the Jews, a justified reason to prevent the pagans 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?

Perhaps we can find a more satisfying explanation for Jonah's refusal.

Hint: Look closely at verse 4:2 and Jonah's words to God.


An Answer: 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."

Which attribute did Jonah leave out?

Your Answer:


An Answer: 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 murdered people who were forever dead, robbers robbed individuals who suffered, rapists raped women who were scarred 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. The mystery of teshuva, the impossible feat which it accomplishes, turning history on its head, this is what Jonah could neither fathom nor accept. Imagine Hitler doing teshuva. After all the destruction, pain and suffering he caused, could that be acceptable to God? It is unimaginable, but if somehow it were true teshuva, it might be.

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.

Shabbat Shalom and A Gemar Chatima Tova,
Avigdor Bonchek

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