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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Yom Kippur

On Yom Kippur, at the Mincha service, we read a Haftarah; the complete book of Jonah is read. The story is familiar to most. It tells of G-d's command to Jonah to go to the sinful people of Ninveh, the large city of Asseryia, and exhort them to do T'shuava. Jonah refused and fled from G-d's presence. The message of the story is that T'shuvah can be done by anyone and that when done sincerely it can reverse G-d's punishment.

Jonah 1:3

And Jonah arose and fled to Tarshish from before Hashem and he went down to Jaffo and found a ship bound for Tarshish and paid the fare and went down into it to travel to Tarshish from before Hashem.


Rashi explains that Jonah fled because he suspected that the people of Ninveh would repent. This then would reflect badly on his own people, the Jews, who had all too often spurned the prophets' call to do t'shuvah.


A Question: One can ask: Why is it that the Gentiles could be expected to do T'shuvah more readily than G-d's own people, the Jews? One would expect the Chosen People to be more inclined to return to G-d than the evil sinners of Ninveh!


An Answer: To answer this question we would ask another question!

How could Jonah think that he could run away from G-d. The prophet certainly knew that G-d is everywhere and one cannot flee from Him.


An Answer: If you look closely at the words of this verse you will see that it says Jonah fled "milifney Hashem." Which translates to "From before Hashem." He did not simply flee "from G-d"( "mipney Hashem"), which is impossible, he fled "from before G-d." The commentaries explain that this means, from before G-d's place, that is the Land of Israel. That is precisely what Jonah did, he fled the Land of Israel for Tarshish. The idea being that G-d's prophecy would come to him only in the Land of Israel, and if he fled the Land then he would no longer hear G-d's voice.

This highlights the spiritual uniqueness of the Land, its elevated status. With this in mind, we may now be able to answer our first question: Why could the Gentiles repent easier than the Israelites? Perhaps the special closeness they had to G-d was itself a two edged sword. On the one hand, they were closer to G-d than other nations and thus enjoyed the spiritual benefits and obligations. But on the other hand, repentance became more difficult, precisely because of that closeness.

If we think of a son and his relationship to his father we can better grasp this idea. A stranger may have more awe for the man who is our father than we ourselves do. Precisely because we are so close to him and take his existence and maybe his greatness for granted. The fact that the people of Israel are considered as G-d's son, and being constantly in His presence, makes doing T'shuvajh for the Israelite's even more difficult.

It was this fear that prompted Jonah's attempt to flee from before G-d - to flee from His Land with its special sanctity and prophetic inspirational capacity. This special relationship to G-d (as the Land's special relationship to G-d) was also the reason that T'shuvah would be more difficult for the Jew.

May G-d grant us the ability to do an honest T'shuvah and be granted a new year of Peace and Health for us and all Israel.

A G'mar Chatimah Tovah.
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devorim volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" This volume will feature Rashi and the Ba'alie Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

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