Kenneth Bone went from being an undecided voter in the “middle of nowhere” to a national hero after asking a question in the recent debate. Perhaps more than his question, it was the following comment: “I feel like Mr. Trump represents my personal interests very well; economically, he would probably do more to protect my job at the fossil tower industry. But Secretary Clinton is a better representative for all of America so this election cycle, personally to me, is about my interest versus the common good”.
This is also what Yona, the prophet is juggling in the Yom Kippur afternoon reading: personal or common good?
We know Yona’s story: G-d wants him to tell the people of Ninve that they must repent. Yona instead, runs away the other direction, trying to hide from G-d, first in the boat, then in the belly of the big fish, from which, according to the midrash, he watches the world, as if the fish’s eyes were windows. He then decides to go back to his task and deliver his prophecy. The king and his city listen and repent, and everybody lives happily ever after. The book should have ended right there, after three chapters. If all it is, is a ‘be less selfish’ and ‘do something for the greater good’, the 4th chapter is not needed.
Kum lech, arise, go, says G-d in the beginning of the book, and we may be reminded of Abraham, who was also told – lech – lecha. Another verb that repeats itself it “kra” (k.r.a.), to call, like Abraham calling G-d’s name, G-d calling on Moses and more. Yona ben Amitai is definitely a prophet. His name might suggest something about him: Yona comes from the root n.h.y. which means to mutter, speak softly, possibly whine. The Yona, dove, was a kind of fowl that was brought up as sacrifice. It was also a symbol of peace, and at times, a symbol of Israel. The name Amitai is made of G-d’s truth (emet Hashem) and implies the kind of words he spoke. An example of that we see when the sailors ask him who he is and what’s his profession, he says: ‘I am a Hebrew; and I fear the God of heaven’ (1:9).
If so, why did he run away?
Only in chapter 4, Yona prays and says (slightly paraphrasing), ‘I fled because I know You, oh G-d, to be gracious, compassionate, patient and abundant in mercy’ i.e. I knew You, G-d, would forgive them! (Yona 4:2).
Wait, what? Didn’t he flee because he thought he would fail? Because he thought, he’d do what G-d asked him, and everybody will reject his words, or laugh at him?
Turns out, it’s possible that Yona fled, not his failure, but his success. Unlikely?? Not so. Studies show that it is often much harder for us to be successful, to fully rise to who we can and should be, than to fail. Especially, the “yona” character, the sacrificial dove, might have found it easier to be that ‘nobody loves me’ yet, the G-d of the Book of Yona is not interested in that.
Ok, so shall he be triumphant, “successful”? Then hide away again? After all, he’s done his job! Now what?? Why is G-d still “bugging” him in chapter 4??
Perhaps G-d is mostly not interested in the end result, but rather in the conversation. This theme repeats again and again, but there isno place it is more appropriate than towards the end of Yom Kippur. By the time we reach the end of this reading, we too, are tired, hungry, thirsty. Now what, we too might ask? Aren’t we done already? Havent we done everything to be good for the year to come?
The Book of Yona ends abruptly, strangely. We remain wondering, what’s going on. Like Yona, we too, might want a period, a clear end to the sentence, but G-d ends with a question. That question is an invitation to continue our dialog throughout the whole year.