This Sunday evening Jews all over the world will begin observing the fast of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, roughly translated to the Day of Atonement, falls exactly ten days after Rosh Hashanah — known as the 10 Days of Repentance (Teshuvah) which invites great repentance and personal reflection. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that G-d decides each person's fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. It is thus generally considered the most important day of the Jewish calendar. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and special religious services.
One of these particular services is the reading of the Book of Jonah during Mincha (the Afternoon Prayers). The story, merely 47 lines, follows the journey of Jonah after G-d orders him to go to troublesome Nineveh — a nemesis of the Jewish kingdom — and have the people repent. Out of spite for the Nivevians, Jonah flees by boat; halfway through the journey a disastrous storm occurs, and Jonah, realizing that the storm is a result of G-d’s anger, sacrifices himself and jumps off the boat. He is then swallowed by big fish, and stays there for three days and nights, until he is released in Nineveh. He then fulfills his mission and warns the Ninevians that without great repentance, G-d would wipe out the city. The people repent, which disappoints Jonah, who still feels little empathy for the city and its people.
Jonah’s disappointment, given his status as a Jewish prophet, seems quite unexpected; Jonah is the only prophet who does not argue with G-d for the purpose of begging for mercy or for saving life. Rather, he argues with G-d demanding that the people of Nineveh be punished rather than allow them to repent.
The message of Jonah's prophecy is very personal as it relates to every single one of us. We are born with a subconscious awareness that we have a mission. Out of fear, we sometimes seek to escape it. As with Jonah, our recognition of our own vulnerability can bring us to finally transcend our ego and surrender our desire to control events, which allows us to accept our mission in life, no matter what it is. It is then that we are ready to return to G-d.
Yom Kippur is the day in which each one of us can relive Jonah's journey. It allows us to reflect and move towards whatever the next step is for us. Given the turbulent ups and downs of this year, I think that this message is especially essential to us now.
Sarah, Grade 12