The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is considered the most solemn on the Jewish calendar, but do we know why? The answer lies in the Book of Jonah the Prophet. Its reading as a key part of the prayer on this special day is intended to unravel the code for saving humanity, and by doing that, saving ourselves—the Jewish people.
Jonah’s story speaks of a prophet who first tried to dodge his mission, but finally repented. His mission was to save the city of Nineveh, whose residents were not Jewish. In light of today’s precarious state of the world, we should take a closer look at this story and its meaning to every person on Earth, in particular to us, Jews, and our role toward all of humanity.
In the story, God orders Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh, who became very mean to one another, to correct their relationships if they wanted to survive. However, Jonah bailed out of his role and took to the sea by ship in an effort to escape God’s command, causing the sea to roar and nearly sank the vessel. At the height of the storm Jonah went to sleep detaching himself from the turmoil and leaving the sailors to fend for themselves. Gradually, they began to suspect that someone among them was the cause of the storm and the lot fell on Jonah, the only Jew on board.
Today’s world is similar to Jonah’s ship. Yet, the sea around us is raging, and the sailors, who are all of humanity, are blaming the Jew on board for all their troubles. As it is written, “No calamity comes to the world but for Israel” (Yevamot 63,) and as Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) writes, “they cause poverty, ruin, robbery, killing and destruction in the whole world” (Introduction to the Book of Zohar).
𝗔 𝗟𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 𝘂𝗻𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗡𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀
We can be wiser than Jonah and avoid the blows to activate us and willingly unite to neutralize all our predicaments. In the book, Jonah tells the sailors to throw him overboard, as only this will calm the sea. Reluctantly, the sailors obey and the storm calms. A whale swallows Jonah, and for three days and three nights he stays in its abdomen, introspecting his actions and decisions. He begs for his life and vows to carry out his mission.
Like Jonah, each of us carries within something that is stirring up the world. We, the people of Israel, carry a method for achieving peace through connection. Unity is the very root of our being. It is what makes us a people because we were declared a nation only after we pledged to be “as one man with one heart,” when we stood before Mt. Sinai and strove to love our neighbor as ourselves.” Today we must rekindle this bond because wherever we go, this untapped power is destabilizing the world around us in order to compel us to unite and open up the pipe of goodness and tranquility.
Just as the current separation among us projects separation to the whole of humanity, unity between us will also radiate the rest of the nations, inspiring them to unite. It will endow humanity with the force required to achieve worldwide connection. That is the meaning of being “light unto the nations.” So the only question is whether we assume our responsibility, or prefer to be thrown overboard, only to subsequently agree to carry out our task.
If we want to end our troubles, be rid of antisemitism and have a safe and happy life, we must unite and thus set an example of unity for all the nations. This is how we will bring peace and quiet to the world. Otherwise the nations’ hatred toward us will keep growing. Therefore, the people of Israel must become a role model to the world. Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, explained it in his book, Orot Kodesh (Sacred Lights), “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.”