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Tuesday, September 18

The Weekly Shtikle - Yonah and Yom Kippur

Yonah and Yom Kippur

Every Yom Kippur for the haftarah at minchah, we read sefer Yonah. As is the case with any haftarah, there are specific reasons why this haftarah is chosen. The following is a list of significant connections between Yonah and Yom Kippur which I heard many years ago in a chaburah from R' Elie Wolf, who has since written an entire set of seforim on haftaros:

1. Teshuvah

Ba'eir Heiteiv in the name of Levush writes the most obvious connection. The story of Nineveh's doing teshuvah is meant to inspire us to do teshuvah on Yom Kippur. Radak and Me'iri add that sefer Yonah shows us that even gentiles can do teshuvah. This should serve to convince us that surely teshuvah is within our reach. Pirkei d'Rabi Eliezer also writes that when the men on the ship saw that the waters calmed after throwing Yonah in, they realized that it was a miracle and they did teshuvah and converted.

2. And how

Sefer Yonah also teaches us how to do teshuvah. The mishnah (Taanis 2:1) teaches us that on a fast day, the elder of the congregation would inspire the masses by declaring that when the people of Nineveh did teshuvah, the pasuk does not say that HaShem saw their sackcloth and their fasting but rather (3:10) "and Elokim saw their deeds for they had returned from their evil ways." As we read in the haftarah this past shabbos, (Yoel 2:13) "and tear your hearts, not your clothes." The key to teshuvah is changing one's inner self, not ones exterior appearance.

3. You can run, but you can't hide

When Yonah is first instructed to go to Nineveh to tell them to do teshuvah he tries to run away. He thought that by doing this, HaShem would no longer be able to communicate with him. Nevertheless, HaShem delivered the message by other means. Abudarham writes that this teaches us that there is no escape. It is futile to attempt to evade the grasp of Divine judgement. Sha'ar HaTziun (622:6) expounds on this lesson, a truly significant one for Yom Kippur.

4. Every little bit helps

Chizkuni writes on parshas Noach (Bereishis 10:11) that Ashur broke off from the rest of the pack to build Nineveh because he did not approve of what was going on with the building of Migdal Bavel. It was this move that merited his descendants, thousands of years later, the opportunity to do teshuvah. This shows us how even the smallest deeds can have such far reaching outgrowths. The sefer Shai LaTorah cites a gemara in Avodah Zarah 17a. R` Elazar ben Durdaya was a man deeply entrenched in sin who wanted to do teshuvah. He placed his head between his knees and cried until his soul left him. A bas kol declared that he has his place in olam haba. Rebi (R' Yehuda HaNasi) cried out "one can earn his place in the world to come over many years, yet one can do so in just one moment!" Asks Shai LaTorah, what was Rebi crying about? Surely his place in Olam Haba, having been acquired over many years, was greater than one which is acquired in a single moment. Rather, from this concept of acquiring one's place in only one moment, Rebi realized how each moment in one's life has this potential. This shows how precious each and every moment is and how we must make the most of every minute of our lives.

5. Wake up!

When the crisis on the ship reached a critical point, Yonah mysteriously goes down to the bottom of the ship to take a nap. The head sailor finds him there and demands of him (Yonah 1:6) "Why do you sleep? Get up and pray to your God!" The concept of sleep is directly related to teshuvah as well. Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4) the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah, although a Biblical decree, also has an inherent symbolism: "Wake up sleepers from your slumber..." One who neglects to do teshuvah is spiritually sleeping. The Chida, as well, learns that this pasuk is a charge to us to do teshuvah. Additionally, the Zohar, in relation to doing teshuvah says "Now is not the time to sleep!"

6. It's my fault

In the wake of troublesome times in Eretz Yisrael a few talmidim approached the Brisker Rav and expressed to him how terrible it was that all the chilul Shabbos in the country was causing these difficult times. The Brisker Rav retorted, "What gives you the right do blame the situation on someone else? Perhaps it is your iniquities that are the cause of these trying times." When Yonah was pressured by the other passengers on the ship to come up with a remedy for the situation, he did not look to others for blame even amongst a ship full of idol worshipers.. He was quick to accept (1:12) "For I know that it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you." Yom Kippur is a time when we all must be honest with ourselves and accept responsibility for all our actions.

7. Daven while you can

As everyone knows, Yonah was swallowed by a large fish. This fish is referred to at the beginning of Perek 2 as a dag, a male. However, the next pasuk tells us that Yonah prayed from the dagah, a female fish. Rashi on the first pasuk writes that Yonah had a lot of room in the male fish and was not motivated to pray. HaShem therefore had him "traded" to a pregnant female fish with much denser innards and Yonah became very uncomfortable. Only then did he decide to daven to HaShem. Although many are driven to prayer and repentance in times of tragedy and need, the lesson from Yonah is to work on these connections to HaShem even when times are good, so that we never see those trying times.

8. Thou shalt not steal

As part of the spiritual revolution of the people of Nineveh we are told (3:8) "...and each man repented from his ways and from the theft that was in their hands." A large component of the teshuvah in Nineveh was related to stealing. The Maharam Shif at the end of Bava Kamma writes of the gravity of the sin of stealing and how it steals the judgement. He suggests that the essence of ne'ilah at the end of Yom Kippur is an atonement for the sin of stealing as echoed in the refrain "lema'an nechdal mei'oshek yadeinu," so that we may withdraw our hands from thievery. The sefer Shai LaTorah quotes R` Yosef Dov Soloveichik on the words from selichos, "Haneshamah lach..." Since our neshamos belong to HaShem we must use them only in the way that He determines. If we misuse our neshamah, we take on the status of a sho'eil shelo mida'as, a borrower without the knowledge of the owner who is considered, in halachah, a thief. Sefas Emes writes in Parshas Naso that the reason why the topic of confession is specifically written in relation to stealing (Bemidbar 5:7) is because every sin really contains an element of stealing from HaShem. Sefer Yonah teaches us the severity of stealing while at the same time making clear that teshuvah must also involve an improvement in our relationship with our fellow man, not only our relationship with HaShem.

Have a Gemar Chasimah Tov(ah).

Eliezer Bulka

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