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True Love

Thursday, 2 October, 2014 - 10:00 am

This Shabbat is Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur, in the afternoon (5:00 pm), we pray the afternoon service and read about the story of Jonah in the Haftorah.

The story in short is that G‑d ordered the prophet Jonah to travel to Nineveh and present its wicked inhabitants with an ultimatum: repent or be destroyed. Jonah refused to comply with this directive and fled on a boat. Strong winds threatened to destroy the ship. Lots were cast among the crew and passengers and the lottery indicated that Jonah was the cause of the turbulent storm. He admitted his guilt and requested to be cast into the sea. Jonah was thrown into the raging sea and the storm abated. Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, and while in its belly, was moved to repent. The fish regurgitated Jonah who then proceeded to Nineveh and broadcasted G‑d's word that Nineveh would be overturned in forty days. The people fasted and returned to G-d by repenting and the divine decree was annulled.

Most people say that the reason this story is read on Yom Kippur is to convey the power of repentance; how it can annul divine decrees.

I would like to share another perspective. The importance of this story may be in its beginning, about Jonah running away from G-d. For what reason did Jonah run away from his divine mission?  Jonah, being an advocate for the Jewish people, feared that if the people of Nineveh would return to serving G-d, there may be a claim against the Jewish people, in the heavenly court, for being unfaithful to G-d, and not doing teshuvah.

  • Jonah knew that it is impossible to run from G-d
  • Jonah knew that he may be punished
  • Jonah knew that G-d knows the future and can allow the use of the "Ninveh claim" anyway
  • Jonah knew that G-d can send someone else to get the message to the people of Ninveh

Despite the above, the main thing that Jonah knew was that I will have no part in anything that may negatively affect my people. If it will be detrimental to them, I will sacrifice myself physically and spiritually to ensure that I am not an accomplice or even an accessory to that crime.

Reading about Jonah and his willingness to sacrifice for the sake of his nation, teaches us that true love causes one to go the furthest extremes just to prevent a negative outcome to their fellow man.

I hope you can join us for the reading of the book of Jonah on Shabbat, October 4 at 5:00pm at the Ramada Conference Center 1700 Van Bibber Rd, Edgewood, MD 21040.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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