Ahead of Yom Kippur, Schechter Rabinnical Seminary Student, Nava B. Meirsdorf shares the meaningful lesson hidden within the depths of the Book of Jonah and helps us to find the courage to fulfill our life’s mission.
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On Yom Kippur, during Mincha, just before the Nei’la service, we need a story of inspiration, a story to lift us up from those difficult moments just before the fast is over. From this, the Jewish tradition brings us the story of Jonah the Prophet.
In the story, Jonah gets an order from God to go to the city of Niveh and warn the people of a big disaster. Jonah does what anyone else would do – he runs away from God and gets on a boat. Harsh storms attack the boat. When the people on the boat realize who Jonah is and his mission, they decide to throw him into the sea. Jonah falls into the depths of the sea and swallowed by a giant fish.
I want us to think about this story a little differently. I want us to think about the Jonah in each and every one of us. Out there, alone in the depths, you know in your heart that you have a mission but you are thrown away – in a sea that is too deep and too heavy. Who among us ever felt that he had fallen into the deepest depths alone? Who among us ever felt that if we revealed our mission that nobody will understand us?
The book of Jonah can sound a lot like a cute fairytale but we could relate to it more if we understand the story as an ‘inner story’ about Jonah. Jonah understands one day that all he has to do in this world is to warn about a big disaster. Jonah, is each and every one of us. He is any of us who has a mission – to save the environment, to fight for equality between genders, between identities, against racism and even politics.
Sometimes, this is a spiritual mission. There is a voice that tells us that this is our goal, that we must spread spirituality around this world.
Or love, love can also be this inner voice that speaks to us. And we cannot run away from this voice under any circumstances.
We encounter bumps along the way, and sometimes it feels like we are also swallowed by a fish and descending into the depths.
What if they throw me into the sea?
My heart trembles when I remember when I took out my tefillin just outside the Western Wall. I did this outside because I did not want to offend anybody. My hands were shaking when I wrapped my tefillin. I closed my eyes and started to pray and I cared about nothing else. It was just me and God and I knew this is my truth. When I opened my eyes, I saw the angry crowd. They were ready to throw me into the depth, right there, at that very moment. I was terrified and ran away.
I did not want to go back to the Western Wall but I returned to lead an egalitarian Kabbalat Shabbat. It was a great tefillah filled with gratitude and joy and it gave me hope.
I want to wish us that we learn from Jonah and that we listen to our inner voices and give them space and give ourselves courage.
Gmar hatima tovah from Schecther