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The Descent

Yonah - Chapter 1:2-3

But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of HaShem; and he went down to Jaffa…

Curious, this going down to Jaffa. True, Jaffa is at the sea level and it is, therfore at a lower altitude than others parts of Israel. Yet,it should be a well known fact that hardly needs to be specified? But... this is not Yonah's last descent.

1:3 …and he went down to Jaffa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it

1:5 … lay, and was fast asleep (iradem - a word that also sounds very much like the word descend in Hebrew). 2:4 … For Thou didst cast me into the depth, 2:7 … I went down to the bottom

When Yonah elected to flee from Hashem, he began his descent. Step after step he went down, lower and lower. The momentum of this downward movement reminds us that disobedience is not a one time event - it is the start of a process. Every choice to sin is a launch of a process of descent, and who knows how far it may take us.

Though we may wish to not remember it, there are consequences to our actions and they persist well after the actions are completed and, perhaps, even forgotten. At the same time, when we choose to reverse and return, there immediately begins a process of ascent for Hashem aids the path to repentance. "He who comes to sin, is allowed, he who comes to be cleansed, is assisted (YOma 39).

As soon as Yonah turned to G-d, he was elevated.

2:7 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars closed upon me for ever; yet hast Thou brought up my life from the pit, O HaShem my G-d.

So it states in the Chapters of the Fathers (Ch.4): Ben Azzai says: "One should run to do (even) a light mitzvah and flee from sin. Because doing a mitzvah drags [you to] another mitzvah, and doing a sin drags you to] another sin. The reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah, and the "reward" for the sin is the sin."

The moment of decision is the key to decision. Often it seems that there can be no free choice, that the odds are stacked against us. How, many ask with anguish in the voice, can we be expected to choose the good, the pure and the beutiful from the depths into which we have been sunk for these many years? Can a child brought up among the dregs of society, abused and mistreated day after day, be expected to deal out kindness and justice? Is not free choice but a fiction of imagination,a beutiful but impractical ideal but not for the real world?

The Torah teaches us that there always is a moment of decision. It exists at that it moment, at that second of wavering before conscious awareness floods our mind with "no"s. At that split second everything is possible. Before the mind overpowers the soul, the choices are perfectly balanced. In Biblical Hebrew this moment is termed "arise" or "awaken" or "Go".

NOW THE WORD of HaShem came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying: 'Arise, travel to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me.'

That moment when the choices are exactly balanced are symbolized by the two goats of the Day of Atonement. As described in Leviticus 16:10, the two are exactly matched. Either one can be elected to ascend "to the L-rd" or to descend to Azazel into the desert.

R. Samson Raphael Hirsch write in his commentary: ...clearly we have here the representation of 2 creatures, originally completely identical, who, at the threshold of the Sanctuary, part and proceed on 2 entirely contrasting paths...Each of us has the power to resist, to be obstinate, the ability to oppose with firmness the demand made on our willpower. It is on the way we use this power that the worthiness or worthlessness of our moral existence depends.

Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Meir Levin and



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