You don’t need the power of command in order to be a leader. You don’t have to be able to fire, fine or imprison people in order to lead them. It is possible to influence others by evoking admiration.
Let’s survey the first chapter of the book of Jonah, focusing on the interaction between Jonah and the sailors who take him Tarshish in his attempt to evade God and His directives.
At first, the crew is merely “them”.
…[Jonah] went down to Jaffa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare for it, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish…
Even on today’s large cruise-liners, people tend to socialize. In Jonah’s day, ships were much smaller, carrying mostly cargo. Not surprisingly, experiencing a terrifying storm, Jonah and the crew became acquainted. In Jonah’s eyes, they were no longer a faceless “them.” They were sailors, idolatrous but nonetheless, professional mariners.
Then the sailors were afraid, and cried each one to his own god…
At this point, Jonah surprisingly goes below deck for a nap.
The captain awakes him, asking him to pray as well.
Now the sailors evolve still further, becoming men. The Hebrew word chosen for ‘man’ here is ISH. ISH suggests more than a male human, rather a man possessing nobility of spirit.
And each man said to his colleague, come let’s throw lots in order to discover on whose account is this evil coming upon us…
God responded to the sailors and the lots reveal Jonah to be the cause of the unnatural storm.
And they said to him, inasmuch as you are the cause of this evil, please tell us what is your profession and from where do you come, what is your land and from what people do you come?
By their brilliant question, these sailors show themselves to be quite different from what one imagines sailors to be. After all, since time immemorial, sailors separated from family, society, and the institutions of civilization, tend to be rough, rowdy, and unrestrained.
However, these men realize that how one contributes to the world through work reveals a great deal about a person. So does examining those with whom he associates. They attempt to make sense of Jonah through their questions.
Jonah responds by essentially explaining that the only relevant thing they need to know is that this unnatural storm is due to his relationship with God.
And he said to them, I am a Hebrew and I fear the Lord, God of heaven…
They ask Jonah what they can do in order to restore calm to the wild seas.
“Throw me overboard” he calmly assures them.
These men truly reveal greatness by rejecting this answer. Verse 13 describes their mighty, but futile, struggle to bring the ship safely into harbor. Eventually, they accept Jonah’s words and obey him, throwing him overboard.
Through their interaction, Jonah comes to recognize the Godly spirit in these men. He relates to them not as faceless, unimportant individuals—them–but as sensitive and morally aware men. In turn, they recognize his holiness and pray to Jonah’s God, rather than to their gods. After the storm abates, validating their actions, these sailors become God-fearing men, bringing sacrifices to the Lord and vowing to lead upright lives.
The sailors’ behavior led Jonah to grow in the way he related to people; his understanding of God and willingness to sacrifice himself for the ship and her crew similarly made its mark on the men.
Jonah was merely a passenger with no power. The sailors were not society’s elite. Yet each exerted enormous influence by evoking admiration. Jonah learned how to better relate to people; the sailors learned how to better relate to God. This is something each of us can do at home and in our marriages and family. By having deep faith and moral clarity and behaving towards others with consideration and respect, we can all practice this principle of leadership.
If you are intrigued as to why Jonah went to sleep in the middle of a storm and wish more insights into messages for your life from the book of Jonah, you might enjoy our audio CD Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity.