Jonah’s story tells us that when we avoid our task, prefer separation to connection, and spread discord throughout the world, there always comes a storm.
he High Holy Days are a time of joy, as well as a time of reflection. This year, it seems as though there is more to reflect on than in past years. The worldwide resurgence of antisemitism is growing increasingly foreboding with each year, and the rise of neo-Nazism in the US and Germany is bad news for the Jews wherever they are. So in the reflective spirit of the High Holy Days, let us examine our situation and find the opportunity in the challenge.
The past year has uncovered and deepened a chasm that exists within Jewish communities the world over, and primarily between the State of Israel and the American Jewish community. Often, the rift has become so deep that even some pro-Israel American Jewish leaders are openly reconsidering their support of the Jewish state.
But as long as we can talk about our problems, we can also make matters right, and Yom Kippur is the best time to reflect on our actions in light of the adverse worldwide developments toward Jews.
Avoiding Our Mission
The most important part in the Yom Kippur service comes after reading the Torah portion. It is called, Haphtarah, and in it, we read selections from the Prophets. On Yom Kippur, the text of the Haphtarah is the book of Jonah. In many communities, the wealthy pay hefty sums of money for the right to read this Haphtarah, as it is known to be a Segula (endowing power) for gaining (even more) riches.
Jonah’s story is special. It speaks of a prophet who first tried to “dodge” his mission, but finally repented. Another notable point about Jonah is that his mission did not concern the people of Israel, but rather the gentile city of Nineveh. Today, in light of the rising antisemitism, it is more pertinent than ever to reflect on the message behind Jonah’s story.
God orders Prophet Jonah to warn the residents of the great city of Nineveh that they have corrupted their ways. Put differently, Jonah must warn them that they have become so mean that their society is unsustainable. The prophet’s task was to restore the relationships among the residents of Nineveh, or they would all be destroyed.
However, Jonah decides to evade his task and tries to flee by ship.
As Jews, our nation was established on the tenet, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and our justification for existence has been our task to be “a light unto nations,” to spread that unity throughout the world. Yet, just like Jonah, we have been avoiding our mission for the past 2,000 years. We cannot afford to keep evading it.
For centuries, our sages and leaders have stressed the indispensability of our unity for our safety, and even for the safety of the world. They also stressed that when we fall into unfounded hatred, calamities and troubles soon pursue us and the world suffers, too.
But over time, we have lost awareness; we have grown detached and alienated from each other. Worse yet, we have come to ridicule such terms as “a light unto nations” and “a chosen people.” We have no recollection of what we were chosen for. But it still awaits, and when we run from it, there comes a storm.
We Are Asleep
In the story, Jonah’s escape from his mission by ship caused the sea to roar. At the height of the storm, Jonah went to sleep while the sailors remained on deck and struggled to save the vessel. Gradually, they began to suspect that it was someone among them who was causing the sea to rage. They cast a lot, which put the blame on Jonah, the only Jew on board.
Today’s plight bears many similarities to Jonah’s ship. The world has become a global village and we’re all in one boat, so to speak. The sailors—the nations of the world—are blaming the Jew “on board” (the Jewish people) for their troubles.
Like Jonah, we are asleep. We are beginning to wake up to the existence of hatred, but we have not woken up to our vocation. If we do not wake up very soon, the sailors will throw us overboard, as they did with Jonah.
Carriers of a Method
In the story, the sailors make a desperate attempt to calm the sea, and by Jonah’s order, they throw him overboard. Once in the water, the storm calms, but a whale swallows Jonah. For three days and three nights, Jonah introspects in the fish’s abdomen. He begs for his life and resolves to carry out his mission.
Just like Jonah, each of us carries within something that is stirring up the world. We, the people of Israel, are carriers of a method of connection, a method for uniting above the hatred, as King Solomon put it (Proverbs 10:12), “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.” This method of unity is the root from which our nation grew. It is what tied us into a single nation, and what today we must rekindle because wherever we go, this untapped mode of work destabilizes the world around us, which then blames us for its woes.
The unity between us will inspire is the light we must project to the rest of the nations, just as now the separation among us projects separation to the whole of humanity. This is the reason for all our troubles. When we unite, it will endow humanity with the energy required to achieve worldwide unity, where all people live “as one man with one heart.” Therefore, it is our choice to assume responsibility, or be thrown overboard, only to subsequently agree to carry out our task.
A Light unto Nations
Jonah’s role was to turn meanness and hatred into brotherhood among the people of the gentile city. This is also our role. Nothing has changed except the date and the names. Yet, instead of being “a light for the nations,” we are trying our best to be like the rest of the nations.
As more and more people and nations subconsciously sense that the Jews are not like the rest of the nations, that they are responsible for their misfortunes, they are beginning to treat us according to their feelings. People are reacting instinctively to what is happening to them, and subconsciously turn their anger and frustration against us. The Day of Atonement is our opportunity to make a decision to unite, and become “a light unto nations.” Only then will the global whirlpool around us subside, humanity will be at peace, and a canopy (Sukkah) of peace will spread over all of us.
In that Sukkah, we will all sit as one, without struggle or strife, and we will make unity our prime value. Now, as we recognize our role, we must begin to raise the tenet, “love your neighbor as yourself,” above all other values until it becomes a thatch that protects us from any trouble and affliction.
If we want to end our troubles, rid the world of antisemitism, and lead a safe and happy life, we must unite, and thus set an example of unity to the nations. This is will bring peace and quiet to the world.
Words from Our Sages about Unity, Love, and Israel’s Role in the World
Unity and Love
Our nation’s success depends only on brotherly love, on connecting as one family.
Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the great rule of Torah, to include in unity and peace, which is the essence of vitality, persistence, and correction of the whole of creation—by people of differing opinions merging together with love, unity, and peace.
Rabbi Nathan Sternhertz, Likutey Halachot [Assorted Rules], “Blessings for Seeing and Personal Blessings,” Rule no. 4
Since we were ruined by unfounded hatred, and the world was ruined with us, we will be rebuilt by unfounded love, and the world will be rebuilt with us.
The Raiah [Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook], Orot Kodesh (Sacred Lights), Vol. 3
Any turmoil in the world comes only for Israel. Now we are called upon to carry out a great task willingly and mindfully: to build ourselves and the entire ruined world along with us.
The Raiah [Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook], Igrot (Letters), Letter no. 726
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything that you would like others to do for you, do them for your brothers.
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Shoftim, “Rules of Mourning,” Chapter 14
When is the Creator fond of creation? When all of Israel are bundled together without envy, hatred, or competition among them, and each thinks of one’s friend’s well-being and favor. At that time the Creator is delighted with His creation.
The book, Remember for Miriam, Chapter 11
When all human beings agree to abolish and eradicate their will to receive for themselves, and have no other desire but to bestow upon their friends, all worries and jeopardy in the world would cease to exist. And we would all be assured of a whole and wholesome life.
Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), “Introduction to the Book of Zohar,” item 19
The Role of Israel
The people of Israel must be the first nation to assume the international altruism, and be a role model of the good and beauty contained in this form of governance.
Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), “The Writings of the Last Generation”
The people of Israel, who are more capable of approaching the Creator than all the other nations, will then bestow the bounty upon the rest of the nations.
Rav Baruch Ashlag (the Rabash), The Writings of Rabash, Vol. 2, Letter no. 18
The Israeli nation had been constructed as a sort of gateway by which the sparks of light would shine upon the whole of the human race the world over.
Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), “The Arvut (Mutual Guarantee)”
It is written that each of the nations will hold a Jewish man and lead him to the Holy Land. And it was not enough that they could leave by themselves. You must understand from where the nations of the world would come by such a will and idea. Know that this is through the dissemination of the true wisdom, so they will evidently see the true God and the true law.
And the dissemination of the wisdom in the masses is called “a Shofar (a horn used on festivities).” Like the Shofar, whose voice travels a great distance, the echo of the wisdom will spread the world over, so even the nations will hear and acknowledge that there is Godly wisdom in Israel.
Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), “Messiah’s Shofar”
It is upon the Israeli nation to qualify itself and all the people of the world through Torah and Mitzvot (commandments), to develop until they take upon themselves that sublime work of the love of others, which is the ladder to the purpose of Creation, being adhesion with the Creator.
Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), “The Arvut (Mutual Guarantee)”
The construction of the world, which is currently crumpled by the dreadful storms of a blood-filled sword, requires the construction of the Israeli nation. The construction of the nation and the revealing of its spirit are one and the same, and it is one with the construction of the world, which is crumpling and awaits a force full of unity and sublimity, and all that is in the soul of the Assembly of Israel.
The Raiah [Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook], Orot (Lights), Chapter 9, p 16
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