What a blessings it is to be on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living. One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low or miserable is having a purpose and passionately propelling oneself towards it.
As an ardent boating enthusiast, I find the behavior of the Bible’s most famous mariner, Jonah, to be quite baffling. At the height of a furious storm that threatened the survival of their ship, the terrified sailors cast their cargo overboard to lighten the vessel. Obviously, during such a tempest the safest location is high up on the struggling vessel from where escape might at least be possible. That is why lifeboats on every ship are found on the upper deck. Nobody in his right mind would voluntarily remain far down in the belly of the boat.
“But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep.”
Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world. But don’t envy him. Only the dead have no worries. That’s the clue. To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.
God elevated Jonah and made him His prophet, dispatching him on a challenging mission to Nineveh. Instead of confronting the challenge, Jonah elected to avoid it and attempted to escape to Tarshish.
Jonah represents you and me. He represents leaders in politics and in business. He represents parents and preachers. Jonah was given a life mission by God. Just like each of us, he was given the gift of a purpose for living.
From each of us, God expects specific performance and achievement in some specific mission. We must each distill our own life experiences and spiritual adventures into the essence of what it is that we alone have been created to achieve.
The search is challenging and the mission, once found, is always formidable. Having problems and worries is a barometer of life. Confronting them is the elixir of immortality. Jonah preferred escape.
Many of us escape this challenge by seeking solace in entertainment. While Jonah went to sleep, we distract ourselves. Both excessive sleep and distraction allow us to avoid life. Jews are fond of the toast, L’Chayim—to life! That really means affirming life by embracing our own moral mission with all its challenges.
Attempting escape means choosing an empty alternative. It means a life in which the dull gray monotony of existence becomes almost indistinguishable from death.
Jonah tried to abandon his Divine destiny. Instead of traveling to Nineveh as commanded, he attempted to evade his whole purpose for living by escaping to Tarshish. Since evading one’s mission is an avoidance of life, it is no wonder that Jonah was content to die in the sinking ship.
When we try to avoid our mission, it is often not because we consider the attempt to be futile but because nothing has awoken us. Three days in the belly of a fish awoke Jonah to his destiny.
It was an unimaginable place of wet darkness where Jonah huddled among the giant pulsing organs of life. Was this living cave to become a grave—the end of his life, or was it to become a womb—the real start of his life? The choice was Jonah’s to make.
The one time in the Jewish calendar that the book of Jonah is read in synagogue is late in the afternoon on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kipur. As the sun starts setting and the fast day ebbs away we read:
Jonah left the city and sat at the east of the city. He made himself a booth there…”
It is quite impossible to read that verse without thinking of the Festival of Sukot, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) that commences just five days later. The book of Jonah hints at the forthcoming Festival of Booths.
Paralleling that chronology, of all the many laws governing conduct during the Day of Atonement, the final regulation is that Jews ought to commence building their booths for Sukot immediately following the conclusion of the fast of Yom Kipur.
Every day is connected to its yesterday and its tomorrow. Rosh HaShana, New Year, is linked to Yom Kippur by the Ten Days of Repentance. In turn, Yom Kippur is linked to the next holy day, Sukot by the final reading of the day, the Book of Jonah.
There are three messages for finding our mission. First, it can be dark and frightening in the belly of the fish. Those experiences have the potential either to bury us or birth us anew. Second, if today lacks clarity, tomorrow will soon arrive. All our days are interconnected. Finally, rebirth is possible. The old Jonah ‘died’ in that fish and was restored and that option exists for all of us. Finding our purpose and meeting God’s challenge for us restores us to life.
We hope that learning ancient Jewish wisdom helps you uncover your life mission. To help you rouse up and move forward, get $20 off our Library Package and Library PLUS package. (Both ship free in the continental U.S.!) Our store is opening and closing through this month in honor of the various holidays, so act now before you miss out on this offer.