An Offering For Reflection On The Book of Jonah
Mincha. It is late afternoon on Yom Kippur. Together we read the book of Jonah, and perhaps struggle to find ways to wrest meaning for our lives from this enigmatic text.
I offer these eight questions to spark introspection, inner probing, and holy conversations. In my P’nai Congregation we engage with these rather challenging questions in small groups after distributing them in a basket. Each person chooses only one, sits in contemplation, and then small groups cluster to converse and reflect.
May your journey through these days of teshuvah be rich. I hope this offering is rewarding for you!
Eight Questions to Spark Introspection
1) Jonah runs in the opposite direction from his “mission.” His is just one kind of “running away.”
• What does running away mean in your life?
• Is there something important that is uncomfortable enough that you find yourself running away, whatever that means to you.
2) Jonah rejects his “mission.” He is riding a slew of assumptions, resentments, angers, denials… He is not listening.
• Are you listening to what you should really be doing?
3) Ninveh was one of the greatest capital cities of Assyria – a violent imperialist empire. Jonah hates everything that Ninveh stands for and wishes it to be destroyed and punished, not forgiven.
• What issues around revenge versus forgiveness in your life might this raise for you?
4) In Jonah’s psalm, he says: People who care for false things that have no value abandon their own good. This is the only poem in the whole book, like a song or psalm that Jonah sings to himself and God.
• Does this have any resonance for you in your life?
• What spiritual principles can you learn from this
5) Sometime it takes a terrible experience to open our hearts. Yes, a terrible experience can also shut us down and close our hearts, but does not have to. Then we can notice that running through everything there is a source of profound meaning, and also healing, that we can access. Sometimes this is what we call “God.”
• Has anything like this ever happened to you that has expanded your awareness and opened your heart?
6) The people of Ninveh repent. They do immediate t’shuvah and change their behaviors when they understand the wrong of which they are guilty.
• Can you apply this principle to yourself in any way?
7) The prophet Ezekiel proclaims that “God takes no pleasure from the death of the wicked (33:11).” But humans do. We do. Jonah would have preferred due punishment for the evil city. He is irate that God would have so much compassion that even a place like Ninveh could be forgiven.
• How are you challenged on the ‘grudge–forgiveness’ continuum?
•Are you willing to forgive, and even take the initiative to make that happen? How?
• Are you willing to believe that YOU can do t’shuvah and be forgiven, even for something you are really ashamed of? What assumptions would this challenge?
8) The book of Jonah is like a handbook on how NOT to be a prophet.
Jonah does everything he can to run away and hold onto a hard-hearted drive for vengeance. He cannot rejoice in the forgiving nature of God, but holds onto his resentments and his pride. But the end of the book is ambiguous. It ends with a question, leaving us to never know whether seeing the change of heart of the Ninevites, and hearing God’s closing challenge to his self-serving priorities, causes any change of heart in him.
• What challenge to your priorities could induce a needed change of heart in your life now?
• What shift would it take for you to really get this and make the shift?
Rabbi Marcia Prager is dean of the ALEPH Ordination Program.