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SWIMMING WITH JONAH

by Benyamin Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

During the afternoon prayer service on Yom Kippur, we read the book of Jonah to remind us about repentance in three pivotal ways: (1) Jonah teaches us that sincere repentance can reverse even the harshest Divine decree. (2) The repentance of Ninveh's inhabitants serves as an example to us. (3) The miraculous manner in which Jonah's flight was prevented shows us that no one can escape from Hashem.

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During the afternoon prayer service on Yom Kippur, we read the book of Jonah to remind us about repentance in three pivotal ways: (1) Jonah teaches us that sincere repentance can reverse even the harshest Divine decree. (2) The repentance of Ninveh's inhabitants serves as an example to us. (3) The miraculous manner in which Jonah's flight was prevented shows us that no one can escape from Hashem.

Just who was Jonah? Jonah was a prophet several generations before the destruction of the first Temple, and is the subject of the Yom Kippur afternoon Haftorah. The book of Jonah is appropriately read on Yom Kippur because of the significant role that teshuvah (repentance) plays in the story.

Hashem commanded Jonah to travel to the Assyrian city of Ninveh to warn its inhabitants that they would be destroyed unless they repented from their evil ways. Afraid that these gentiles would actually repent while the Jews in the land of Israel had obstinately refused to respond to prophetic admonitions for many years (the Temple was eventually destroyed for this reason), Jonah did not comply with the Divine command and attempted to flee from Hashem by boat. Hashem generated a horrible storm at sea which threatened to capsize the vessel. Realizing that the storm had been Divinely dispatched, the crew drew lots to determine which of them was the cause of the tempest. Jonah, after drawing the short end of the stick, was thrown overboard, causing the storm to subside, and was swallowed alive by a giant fish. The crew thanked Hashem for saving them from disaster, and they vowed to convert to Judaism. After three long days trapped in the fish's belly, Jonah prayed to Hashem for mercy and was spit out onto dry land.

Hashem appeared to him again with the command to travel to Ninveh. This time Jonah complied, and, after delivering his message, he camped outside the city to witness its dramatic destruction. To Jonah's disappointment, the people took his warning to heart, repenting sincerely from their misdeeds, and the decree of destruction was lifted. Hashem proceeded to demonstrate to Jonah the necessity for Divine mercy and that anybody who does teshuvah is deserving of forgiveness.

The multiple acts of teshuvah - those of Jonah, the people of Ninveh, and even the crew on Jonah's boat - serve as a source of inspiration for us, teaching that sincere repentance can reverse even the harshest Heavenly decree. Anyone can return to Hashem no matter how far removed he may be.

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Benyamin Cohen is editor of Torah from Dixie.

You are invited to read more Parshat Ha’azinu articles.
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