It is tradition to read the entire book of Jonah in the afternoon on Yom Kippur. The rabbis say that the story of Jonah is the story of our life (Zohar 2:199a). While I hold the teachings in the Zohar suspect, one can’t deny this one. It is true. There are a few ways one could explain it; the connection between the story of prophet turned fish food and ones own life. However, one way seems more applicable this Yom Kippur.
Jonah was a prophet. He knew full well the power and might of Adonai. He even says:
“I am a Hebrew, and I fear Adonai, the G-d of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” – Jonah 1:9
So why did a prophet of Adonai, someone who knew and understood that the entire earth was made by Adonai, think he could run away from the presence of the One he served? (Jonah 1:3) Why do we do the same thing?
Has G-d ever asked you to do something you really didn’t want to do? Has He ever put your life on a path that brought you to a crossroads where you had a choice? The choice being, to turn left and be comfortable or to turn right and find yourself out of your comfort zone? And yet, being out of your comfort zone was being in the perfect will of the Father? That’s what happened to Jonah. He was comfortable in Israel. He was a prophet. He knew that the presence of Adonai was everywhere. He knew he could not run from G-d. Yet, he tried. Yet, we still try.
We don’t always do this when G-d asks us to do something directly. Sometimes we run from Him when we simply disobey His Word; His commandments. When we give in to temptation and sin, we are in a sense running from G-d. Maybe not consciously, but unknowingly we sin not thinking that we are seen by the Most High. It is only after the fact that we become aware and repent. Every time we say a “little white lie” or even push the speedometer over the speed limit or even when we let a bit of gossip leak from our lips, we’re running from Adonai. Jonah, knowing that the sea was the very creation of the One he served, ran to the sea to hide. He was very dramatic in his flight. We’re not always as dramatic in our flight from the Holy One. But still we do it.
During Jonah’s break away to Tarshish a great storm comes upon the boat. Isn’t that how it works? We run from Adonai, we are in the midst of whatever sin it is, and the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) comes upon us. We are then faced with a choice. We can continue on this journey of sin and perish or we can repent. From Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish (Jonah 2) we see he has repented and from the first verses of chapter 3, he accepts G-d’s mission for him.
In the reading of Jonah on Yom Kippur, a small section of the book of Micah is added:
“You will cast their sins into the depths of the sea.” – Micah 7:19
In Jonah’s prayer we read:
“You cast me into the depths, into the heart of the sea.” – Jonah 2:4
The story of Jonah is a story of our own lives. It is a story of hope. A story of repentance. Even the people of Nineveh repented and were given new life. This is the story and meaning of Yom Kippur. This is the story of Yeshua and the Gospel. No matter how far we try to run from G-d by engaging in this sin and that sin, we are always only one step away from returning to Him. We are only one step from throwing ourselves overboard into the deep of the sea; into the deep of teshuva (repentance). May we all have the wisdom and courage to do so.
G’mar chatimah tova! May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!