Fly Home to Me

As the school year began anew, author (and courageous columnist) Abigail Shrier wrote about an increasing number of parents who are sending their children to classical schools or schools with dual-language curricula. She concluded that the draw wasn’t so much the foreign language acquisition as it was these parents dismay with what was taking place in the general culture and at most American schools. The parents are hoping for a return to basics in their children’s education.

In Hebrew, one word means both return and repentance. After all, the essence of repentance is returning to the pure soul God implanted in us. We may have strayed and erred, but we can find our way home. We are now in the period know as the Ten Days of Repentance, that started with Rosh Hashana and culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

In the afternoon of that fast day, falling this year on October 5th, the public reading in the synagogue is the Book of Jonah, or in Hebrew, Yonah. It tells the story of the prophet, Yonah son of Amitai, who ran away from the mission God entrusted to him. As the book unfolds with many dramatic events, he recognizes that no one can escape his Creator.

But while Yonah is the only man in Scripture with that name, we see the word yonah elsewhere, as the Hebrew for dove. We first meet the dove on Noah’s ark, the bird chosen to ascertain when it was time to leave the vessel after the floodwaters receded.

There are any number of surface connections between Noah’s dove and the prophet Yonah, in addition to sharing a name. Both stories feature a boat that saves people from perilous waters. Both the dove and Jonah were sent on their mission twice. Both accounts contain a period of 40 days. In both cases vegetation signals the end of the mission; an olive leaf for the dove and a kikayon tree for Jonah. Finally, in one case a human saves animals from drowning and in the other, an animal saves a human from drowning.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains a deeper link between the dove and Jonah. The dove symbolizes the urge to return home.

Who are these that fly like a cloud, like doves [flying home] to their dovecotes?
(Isaiah 60:8)

For Jonah, returning home means returning to his true nature and mission. Obeying the Lord is truly where he is most comfortable. After many wrong turns and adventures, Jonah brings Nineveh to repentance and learns the lesson of God’s compassion. He is once again a loyal prophet of God; he is home again. For the dove, returning home initially means coming back to the the ark, but eventually it means building his own home on land.

The world around us seems to be whirling at a furious pace. Some of the schools, communities, and nations that we consider our homes are becoming unrecognizable. It is time for us to drill down to fundamentals. What are our guiding principles, which people do we cherish, and how do we make sure that our basic needs are filled?

Returning home means remembering the things that make you and your family the people you are. Words like education, patriotism, and morality are too vague today to mean anything. We need to embark on a journey of discovery as both Jonah and Noah’s dove did, to discover where we truly are at home.

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