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Challenging God: Why Did Jonah Run?
Video 6 of 6
Nineveh did great evil - there would be consequences. Jonah runs away from God - then it’s strom. But then something interrupts the train of raah - the people of Nineveh stops it in it’s tracks, they change their ways. They turned around;and then God turned around because God saw their ways that they changed their trajectory and God changed his perspective on the raah and the evil he had planned to inflict upon them.
But that change in perspective of the normal consequences of din causes Jonah to experience raah. Vayera el-Yonah raah gedolah. Din has been corrupted and if the natural consequences of Nineveh’s evil weren’t allowed to come to be and Jonah, the son of Truth, experiences the raah instead. And he prays to God and says al-ken kidamti livroach Tarshishah? “Why do you think I ran away from Tarshish? I knew this would happen.” Ki yadati ki atah Kel chanun v’rachum erech afayim v’rav-chesed. And here he is quoting back to God, but angrily, the thirteen attributes of compassion - “you’re full of grace, compassion, slow to anger, full of mercy,except even you God, when you said that to Moses, said you were something else. You said you were the God of Truth” and now Jonah replaces that word with v’nicham al haraah. It’s almost as if he is saying, “ how can you say you’re the God of Truth, when you’re the God of nicham al haraah, “who changes his mind about doing evil? And now God, just take my life from me, it’s better to be dead than alive.”
As it happens, God doesn’t say anything to him. But God gives him an experience that is designed to save him from his raah through the medium of shade. Lihyot tzel al-rosho lehatzil lo meraato - shade will save him from his raah. How?
Jonah leaves the city and he makes himself a hut, vayeshev tachteiha batzel, “ and sits in it in the shade” ad asher yireh ma-yiheyeh bair, “until he can see what will be with the city” this is fascinating - “ until you he can see what will be with the city.” God had speared the city, Jonah knows that God had spared the city. Why is he waiting to see what will happen with the city? He knows that they are going to be spared. He just simply can’t believe that this application of justice is going to standard. Despite himself, he is sitting there watching - maybe, maybe God will change his mind. And then, while in the hut Vayman Hashem Elokim kikayon vayaal meal leYonah, “ God causes this huge leafy plant to rise up above Jonah,” lihyot tzel al-rosho lehatzil lo meraato, “ to give him shade,” vayismach yonah al-hakikayon simcha gedolah, “and Jonah was so happy over this gourd.” What was he so happy about? What was this man who already had shade so happy about?
Vayman haElokim tolat baalot hashachar, “then along came a worm that God appointed in the morning”, vatach et-hakikayon, “and cause the kikayon to wither. When that happened vayishal et-nafsho lamut, “Jonah wanted to die.” But the plant dies and Jonah is that deeply distressed about it. It is one thing to be upset with the aubrigration of din in the world but because your plant is no longer here; you want to dies? Why is Jonah so upset about the loss of this plant?
So let’s go back and look at the story -the story of the plant and the worm and let me ask you this question - the plant - this great big leafy plant, what is this kikayon a product of? Is it a product of din, of justice, or is it a product of compassion? The plant is a pure expression of love; it’s here just because God love’s Jonah and God wants to provide him with shade - it’s such an expression of love because from a utilitarian standpoint, Jonah already had shade but now God, the Creator himself comes and give me shade because he loves me. Jonah was so happy about the plant. The kikayon is an expression of God’s love but if the kikayom is rachmim, compassion ; what is the worm? The worm is an expression of justice.
What is the great calculus of justice? For every act there is a consequence; every consequence comes from an act. Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could. The worm looks at the plant and says “ where did you come from?” In the world, where do plants come from? They come from seeds ; no such thing as a plant without a seed. You plant a seed - that’s the act. The consequence is we have a plant . Where is your seed? You didn’t come from a seed. You came from nowhere. And justice says - when something doesn’t have a right to be here , it goes away.” In a world of justice - there is no plant and along comes the worm and destroys the plant. And when that happened, Jonah wanted to die! What was so upsetting to Jonah that Jonah wanted to die? At some level Jonah had been affected deeply by the death of the plant as by the forgiveness of Nineveh. What is so upsetting about the death of this plant?
Let’s put it this way, if you were Jonah, what arguments could you marshall in favour of keeping the plant? And the answer is “okay. So the plant doesn’t deserve to be here; but it is here! Such beautiful creation and to destroy it just because it doesn’t deserves to be here?” And then God says “ Ah! Now you understand. First, you wanted to die because you didn’t want to live in a world without justice; now you understand you don’t to live in a world without compassion either.” To really understand the conflict between the worm and the plant you need to understand this - both justice and compassion have questions they ask. What is the great question of justice?
When a judge looks at a defendant, what’s the one thing the judge wants to know in order to dispense justice? - What have you done ? If I know what it is that you’ve done, then I know what the consequences would be. But if that’s the question of justice; what is the question of compassion? What is the argument the Defence Attorney makes to the court? Is it an indiscriminate argument? “Ah, just let him off easy what’s the big deal?” No! Compassion is never indiscriminate.
You know, there is a Hebrew word for compassion - resh-chet-mem - it spells something else besides compassion, it also spells ‘womb’ - the soul of compassion is to be womb like. It’s the product of being the Creator of something that you have compassion towards it. But a womb asks the question too ; the question is “ What is your potential? What is can you be?” If the womb decides that it does not like the potential of the embryo, it expels it and we call this a miscarriage. Four out of five early pregnancies are actually terminated by the womb; because the womb ask this question. But if the answer is “yes, you really have potential”, then the womb says “ I will nurture that potential. I will make you into everything you can be.”
What if the womb asked the question of justice? What if the womb asked every innocent embryo “what have you done to be here?”, there would never be a child born in the world. The question of compassion is a different question - it’s not “what have you done?” It’s “ what can you become?” The augment of compassion is “good, you may not deserve to be here, but it would be such a shame to destroy you.”
When Jonah wants to die, after the worm kills the plant, what he’s really saying is “ I don’t want to live in a world where expressions of love are taken away just because they don’t deserve to be here.” And then God says “Ah! You understand!”
Atah chasta al-hakikayon asher lo amalta bo, you had compassion on this plant, but you weren’t even the creator of this plant, you weren’t even worked for it and compassion, true compassion comes from the loving blood, sweat, and tears that a creator invest in that which they create. Vaani lo achus al-Nineveh? “And I , the Creator of all, shouldn’t have compassion on Nineveh?” And we asked before, “where was teshuvah in this equation? Why isn’t teshuvah mentioned?” And the answer is “teshuvah doesn’t make you deserved to be saved’. Jonah is right , what does “Sorry” do? In a world of justice, sorry doesn’t take away your crime. Where is the power of an apology? Where is the power of teshuvah? The power of Teshuvah doesn’t change the past; it changes the future.
If I do Teshuvah, if I change my ways, then I can make an argument for compassion. It’s like I’m this beautiful leafy plant that has just began to cast my shade in the world ; look what I can do. Good, I don’t deserve to be here, but it would be such a change to have me wither away. That’s the argument that God himself marshalls for Nineveh. They may have done evil things, they may have done evil things, and they deserve to die. But they’ve done teshuvah;look what they’ve become. It would be such a shame to destroy them. And that’s really the argument that we make to God on Yom Kippur and I think it’s why we read the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur. Because if you have a good Rosh HaShanah, if you really understand why justice is so essential for the word; why there can’t be any meaning in life without it, you come to Yom Kippur, you think it’s laughable, what am I suppose to do now? Apologise and say I’m sorry and that’s going to wipe out everything? You have Jonah’s questions on Yom Kippur. I’m just going to say these words and he deserves to live? It’s not going to change the past. It’s laughable. The Book of Jonah comes to answer that question, it comes to tell you why teshuvah can matter; because it doesn’t changes the past, it changes the future. It makes you to be able to argue with God, “save me because of what I can be.Good, I don’t deserve to live, good, I have lost my lease on life, but you’re the God of life, let me live.”
Look at the words zochreinu lachayim, melech chafetz bachayim, vechotveinu besefer hachayim lema'ancha Elohim chayim, “ remember us for live, a king who desires life inscribe us in the book of life for your sake oh God of life”. What word appears over and over and over again, life, life, life. Mi chamocha av harachmim zocher yetzurav bechayim berachamim, “who is like you oh father of compassion; who remembers his creatures for life with compassion”. These are the additions we make to shemona esrei, we appeal to the God of life . As we go forward into Yom Kippur, we need to do so focused on what we’re really asking. We’re not arguing that because we’ve changed, we’ve somehow changed the past, erased it but we’re arguing that we renewed our potential and God as our Creator prizes our potential. We’re asking him to help us grow into so much more , we’re asking him for life and God our Creator is a compassionate God. He is our womb, he created us , our source of compassion and whatever the demands of din, nurturing us, helping us become what we can is always in God’s plan.
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