The Quest for Mercy over Justice
On Yom Kippur, we read the Book of Jonah. This short book is a gripping struggle between the prophet and God over the extent of God's nature.
To begin with God gives Yonah a mission: "Go to
Basically, Yonah has to persuade the people of
But God has not given up on Yonah. He sends him a message by casting a "mighty wind into the sea" (ibid 4) so that the ship cannot get to Tarshish.
Yonah sees this storm but continues his fight with God by going "down to the ship's hold, lay down, and fell fast asleep" (ibid 5). He believes that the storm will not affect him if he is in a deep sleep.
So God sends the captain to wake him (note how Yonah was in "yarketei hasefina" – the edge of the boat – a place he did not expect to be found). The captain tells Yonah to pray to his god, but he refuses. He will not surrender in his fight with God.
The sailors cast many lots to discover who is responsible for the storm. Each lot falls on Yonah – another clear message to him. Yet, Yonah still does not surrender. "Pick me up and cast me into the sea" (ibid 12). Yonah would rather die than follow God's instructions. It is the ultimate rebellion.
Even once Yonah is released from the fish, he still does not obey his command. God has to command him again. At that point, Yonah surrenders begrudgingly. He does the minimum he needs to do: "In another forty days
As soon as he has finished, he goes out of the city and "made himself a hut and sat under it in the shade until he would see what would happen in the city" (ibid 4:5). He does not know that God has forgiven
Why? What is Yonah's problem?
Yonah himself answers this question, but in order to help us understand his answer, we need to look at another mission he once had.
In Sefer Melachim, we see that Yonah is ministering to King Yeravam II of
Essentially, even though
Yonah had already seen evil rewarded. He wasn't prepared to see it again. "This is the reason I had hastened to flee to Tarshish, for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, with much kindness, and relenting of evil (Yonahh 4:20).
Yonah knew that God was merciful and would therefore, forgive
Notice that when Yonah lists God's traits, he misses out one: Emmet – truth or justice. In Yonah's eyes, God is not just. He is merciful. If God was just, He would give
In the end, Yonah gives up on God: "take now my soul from me, for my death is better than my life" (ibid 3). Yonah would rather die than live in this unjust world.
But God still had not given up on Yonah. He tries to teach Yonah him by sending him the kikayon, the fast growing plant that gave shade and relief from the heat. God then sends the worm that attacks the kikayon's roots, causing it to wither. God explains to Yonah that just as Yonah cared for the kikayon, that he did not work for and existed for just one day, how much more so does God care for
In the fight between Justice and Mercy, God always wants mercy to succeed. We just have to show Him that we are worthy of that mercy.
That's Sefer Yonah's message for Yom Kippur.