Posts tagged " Jonah "

Find Yourself in a Fish

October 7th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

What a blessings it is to be able to bounce out of bed each morning on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low, miserable and even depressed is having a purpose, knowing it, 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 very height of a furious storm that threatened the very 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.  Many victims of the Titanic drowned down in bottom decks of the doomed liner.

But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep. 
(Jonah 1:5) 

Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world.  But don’t envy him.  Only the dead have no worries.  And that’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.  Jonah was an avoider of challenges. 

God elevated Jonah and made him His prophet.  God dispatched 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 had been given a life mission by God.  Just like each of us, he had been given the gift of a real purpose for living. 

From each of us, God expects specific performance and achievement in some specific mission.  After all, if God is to be taken seriously then He must be taken personally too.  We must each distill our own life experiences and our own spiritual adventures into the essence of what it is that we alone have been created to achieve. 

Life itself demands no less, but the search is challenging, even dangerous, and the mission, once found is always formidable.  Having problems and worries is a barometer of life. Confronting them is the elixir of immortality.  But Jonah preferred escape.

In reality, only one escape exists: view life as meaningless and seek solace in entertainment.  Distract ourselves to death.  Jews are fond of the toast, L’Chayim—to life!  What that really means is affirm life.  But the only way to affirm life is by embracing your own moral mission with all its challenges. 

Attempting escape means choosing an empty alternative.  It means abandoning your own great moral challenge. 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 embrace of death, it is no wonder that Jonah was content to die in the sinking ship. 

When we try to avoid our mission, it is not because we consider the attempt to be futile.  It is because nothing has awoken us.  Only one thing could awake Jonah to his destiny and help him find his own redeeming mission in life:  three days in the belly of that fish. 

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?  It could have gone either way.  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 Kippur.  As the sun starts setting and the famous fast day is ebbing away we read:

Jonah left the city and sat at the east of the city.  He made himself a booth there…” 
(Jonah 4:5)

It is quite impossible to read that verse without thinking of the Festival of Sukot, sometimes called Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths that commences just five days later.  Yes, the book of Jonah read on Yom Kippur really does hint at the forthcoming Festival of Booths.

As if to parallel that chronology, of all the many laws governing conduct during the Day of Atonement, the final regulation, the last word as it were, is that Jews ought to commence building their booths for Sukot immediately following the conclusion of the fast.

The idea is that 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. 

It is interesting that much of the information surrounding Jonah is disclosed in the tractate entitled Booths.  (Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah Chapter V)  It is there that we discover Jonah’s identity and origins.  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that he was the son of the widow who was Elijah the prophet’s landlady in the first book of Kings, chapter 17.   The lad had died and, in response to the entreaties of his bereaved mother, Elijah brought him back to life. Later in his life we encounter him as the prophet Jonah.  This helps explain why he seemed so fearless of dying during the storm.  After all, he had died once before and had been resuscitated once before—by Elijah the prophet. 

The lesson to be learned is that there are three avenues to finding our mission and thrilling to our purpose.  First, it can be dark and frightening days in the belly of the fish.  This is to say, some experience that has the potential either to bury us or birth us anew. Second, we should relate deeply to the interconnectedness of days.  If today lacks clarity, know that tomorrow will soon arrive. Finally, rebirth is possible.  The old Jonah died in that fish, just as he did as a lad.  In both cases, he was restored.  Finding our purpose is the same as being restored to life.  And bounding out of bed each morning is a joyful reaffirmation of the life you live.

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Who Are You Calling a Hebrew?

October 8th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

The Mayflower’s historic 66 day voyage in 1620 from Plymouth, England to the New World was characterized by what was then typical hardship for both passengers and crew.  Arduous handling of the heavy canvas sails, coping with almost non-existent bathroom facilities, and barely surviving on non-refrigerated food were only a few of the challenges faced by those who made that voyage.

While much has improved for mariners, one activity that plagued those on the Mayflower still requires attention today.  Whether a cruise ship like the Symphony of the Seas at over 1,100 feet long (more than a thousand times larger than the Mayflower) or the small motorboat on which the Lapin family explores coastal British Columbia, all boats have bilge pumps.  Their purpose is to return the water that inevitably finds its way into the bottoms of boats back to where it belongs—outside the boat.

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Storm Shelter

September 17th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

I am spoiled. When I contemplate boating, I picture vacationing with my family among the magnificent islands of the Pacific Northwest. But except for a blessed few people and times, boarding a ship has not meant leisure, but instead was a risky way for crossing oceans.

Traveling by ship was dangerous and frightening in the days before exotic cruising. Ships served as the precarious means of transportation to start a new life, for trade or as a means of livelihood like the potentially deadly 19th century whaling ships and, indeed, today’s commercial fishing boats.

The book of Jonah opens with a different type of boating:

And Jonah arose to flee… from before God…
and he found a ship going to Tarshish…
(Jonah 1:3)

And God sent a big wind over the ocean and there was a great storm
upon the ocean and the ship appeared likely to shatter.
(Jonah 1:4)

And the sailors were terrified … and they threw all the articles
on the ship into the ocean to make it lighter
and Jonah went down
to the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell asleep.
(Jonah 1:5)

The word ship appears four times in these three consecutive verses. Only by looking at the Hebrew text can you see that the word in the first three instances differs from the fourth. The first three use the the Hebrew word ONiYaH. The final instance of ship uses the word SeFiNaH.

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What’s up with Jonah?

November 22nd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 16 comments

My question is about Jonah.

Why was he so angry with G-d that he would not go to Nineveh? Here is a man so stiff-necked that he would rather drown than obey G-d? Here is a man who kept himself in the belly of a sea giant for three days before he repented and agreed to do as G-d instructed him. After preaching in Nineveh, he sat down and again was angry.

Why?

Catherine G.

Dear Catherine,

Like you, we are fascinated by the book of Jonah. In fact, it has been the topic of at least four Thought Tools as well as one section of our audio CD, Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity. (Go here and type Jonah in the search box to find the relevant Thought Tools.)

This correctly suggests that the topic is too large for an Ask the Rabbi answer. However, we wanted to focus on one of your sentences. You write: “Here is a man so stiff-necked that he would rather drown than obey G-d.”

We would like to suggest that you can go to any mall, airport or university and find that the majority of people there fit that description as well. Sadly, you can go to many churches and synagogues and find the same. Obeying God is easier in theory than in actuality. We all tend to resist being told to do things we don’t want to do or to refrain from those things that we do want to do. We often rationalize and  intellectualize our refusal; sometimes we simply pretend that God has nothing to say about the issue at hand.

Don’t you know people who are drowning in unhappiness rather than obey God’s vision for family and society? There are pieces of Jonah in all of us. Studying him should encourage us to look in the mirror.

Wishing all of us Bible study that makes us uncomfortable,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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The Jonah Tart

July 27th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

Certain phrases such as, “Where’s the beef?” leap into the national language. Other phrases glide into the shared language of smaller groups. When my children were younger, we read many books aloud. This lasted way beyond the years when the children became fluent readers. I have fond memories of taking turns reading Thomas Hardy’s  The Mayor of Casterbridge with my then sixteen year old son.

 

One book we enjoyed as a family was a memoir written by a man recalling his late 1800’s childhood. (I don’t remember the title but if anyone does, please let me know.) He and his siblings were raised in Maine by their grandfather, and our favorite chapter concerned a day when the grandfather was away from home. The children decided to bake tarts, and to add a note of suspense and excitement, they doctored one tart with all sorts of less than tasty flavorings. Once baked, each child would pick a tart and they would bite into them at the same time. Most of the faces would be wreathed in smiles – and one child would grimace and race for a glass of water. The lone, unfortunate tart was known as the “Jonah,” named for the prophet who brought storm conditions to the ship he boarded.  

 

As the tarts finished baking and anticipation grew, the children heard a knock at the door. There stood an elderly man who introduced himself as their grandfather’s friend, who had been away for many years. After explaining the grandfather’s absence, they invited him in and offered a drink. Just then, the tarts were ready and the guest exclaimed, “Oh, it has been so long since I’ve smelled such wonderful pies!”

 

The children were trapped. Good manners demanded that they invite their guest to join them. What was meant as a fun game was turning into a potential nightmare. You can imagine the tension as they sat around the table and passed the tray! As each family member bit into a tart so did their guest, and as fortune would have it, he turned red and started coughing as the Jonah effect took hold. 

 

Once all was calm, the children explained what had happened and braced for a stern lecture. To their great relief, the guest burst out laughing and as he headed out, asked them to tell their grandfather that Mr. Hannibal Hamlin sent regards.

 

That night, the children greeted their grandfather with the message of his friend’s visit, omitting the details which might earn them a punishment. On subsequent visits, Mr. Hamlin shared their reticence.

 

Just how momentous the day had been was something the children did not understood until years later. Hannibal Hamlin had indeed been away from home for years, serving as Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president during his first term of office. He was returning from that position, having relinquished the title to Andrew Johnson, who shortly thereafter became president following Lincoln’s assassination.

 

I thought of this story and how the phrase, “the Jonah” became part of our family shorthand, in the aftermath of publicizing our Holy Hebrew! webinar. The announcement was dogged by technical glitches as our Thought Tool email bounce rate soared due to server issues, our links went to the wrong or blank pages, and numerous emails vanished into the stratosphere. I only hope that the class’s Jonah status ends long before the webinar actually starts, and we recover with as much grace as Vice-president Hamlin.  If you are interested in finding out more, it is with not quite as much trepidation as the children had, but neither with equanimity, that I provide this link for you to explore.  Holy Hebrew! http://www.rabbidaniellapin.com/holyhebrew.php 

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