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Yonah 1,1

By Rabbi Dr. Meir Levin

And it came to pass that a word of Hashem was to Yonah, son of Amitai as follows (1,1)

As we had seen last week, the Sages drew a comparison between Yirmiah and Yonah and between Eliahu and Yonah. Whereas Yirmiah was able to combine advocacy for the Jewish people with zealous defense of G-d's honor, Yonah fled from the word of Hashem to protect the Jewish people. Today we will explore this comparison between Yirmiah and Yonah and what it can teach us. The link between Yonah and Eliahu is no less important and in some ways more dramatic but we will discuss it at a later time, when we reach verse 5.

It is significant that a link between these three prophets is drawn in the very first words of the book of Yonah. The phrase "word of Hashem was to.." is quite uncommon in Tanach as description of prophecy but is found frequently in Yirmiah (see, for example,13,8); interestingly, these same words also begin the account of Eliahu in the book of Kings I: 17,3. The comparison to Yirmiah, of course, goes far deeper than similar expressions, for even a superficial reader of Yirmiah notices a number of similarities between that prophet and Yonah. Both show initial discomfort with their mission, both are sent to a wicked city to call it to repentance and both ultimately accept their role as they mature in their task. In addition, careful comparison of the 36th chapter of Yirmiah, wherein he delivers the prophecy of destruction first to the people of Jerusalem and then to the King Yechoakhin, mirrors in phrasing and shading a similar episode in the 3rd chapter of Sefer Yonah. The crucial difference, of course, is that the city of Nineveh heeded the words of Yonah but Jeruslaem did not.

What ties Yirmiah and Yonah together in a most unmistakeable fashion is the doctrine of national teshuva that they teach.

"At one moment I may decree that a nation or a kingdom be rooted out and brought down and destroyed. But should that nation against which I had decreed turn back from its wickedness, I change My mind regarding the punishment that I planned to bring against it." (Yirmiah 18:7-8). This verse teaches us that nations and political entities, like individuals, have responsibilities, can behave immorally, are subject to Divine correction, and can perform true repentance. Some have claimed that ordinary morality does not apply to countries or governments, only to individuals, and that everything is permitted in the pursuit of national interest. Yirmiah taught the falseness of such a doctrine; to his great disappointment, this message was not heeded. Jerusalem and its kings refused to repent and instead became a witness to the terrible burden of divine wrath. Yonah was called to demonstrate the other side of Hashems's sovereignty over the nations, His kindness and his Providence. When the Ninevites turned in repentance, they presented an image of what could have been - in Jerusalem. In this fashion the book of Yonah serves as a foil to the book of Yirmiah.

Teaching point: When the Sages draw comparisons between individuals, places or situations, they are supported by a wealth of connections other than the ones explicitly stated. Discovering these unstated connections enriches our understanding of the depths of their words and allows us to appreciate the care with which their statements are made.

Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Meir Levin and



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