On Yom Kippur we read the Torah twice. Both Krios have a Haftorah. The Haftorah for the second Kriah (at Mincha) is Yona. Yona is one of the “trei Asar” (twelve Neviyim that were grouped into one book). The story of Yona is well known: there was a city called Nineveh. This city was sinful to the point that Hashem decided to destroy them. Before doing so, however, Hashem decided to give them one last chance and, to convey the message, sent the Jewish Prophet Yona. The latter’s mission was to warn the people of Nineveh that if they did not repent within forty days, Hashem would destroy the entire city. Yona did not want to do as commanded by Hashem, fearing the negative consequences for Am-Yisroel should Nineveh repent: if goyim can repent then of course Am-Yisroel should repent. This would make a stronger case against Klal-Yisroel’s not being Chozer beteshuva. To escape having to carry out Hashem’s mandate, Yona ran but in the end, after a long miraculous journey, was compelled to do Hashem’s Will. He went to Nineveh and conveyed Hashem’s message. The city heeded Yona’s warning and repented.
While it seems obvious that this Haftorah is chosen for Yom-Kipur afternoon because of the powerful Teshuva message it still leaves us with some questions.
The Neviyim are full of rebuke to Am-Yisroel; there are many nevuos that discuss Am-Yisroel’s eventual Teshuva. There are even stories of Am-Yisroel repenting in Navi (like the stories of Chizkiyahu Hamelech). Why do we choose a Nevua that talks about Goyim doing Teshuva when we could have used a Nevua talking about Jews doing Teshuva? Furthermore the fact that goyim did do Teshuva is somewhat incriminating for Klal-Yisroel – why haven’t we done Teshuva?
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos tells us that Man is dear to Hashem because he was created in the image of Hashem. Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky said regarding this Mishnah “halevai that we would treat our fellow Jews the way the Torah treats all mankind, even a goy”!
My father in-law always says that when one is arguing a point it’s best not to use all the arguments one has. The more arguments one makes the more potential counter-arguments are created. One should instead take the best argument available, one that is virtually non-negotiable and make a case from that one basic but strong foundation.
It is Yom-Kipur and we need to do Teshuva. While there are so many different Nevuos that can be chosen to inspire us to Teshuva there is something unique about Yona. Yona is a testimony to the fact that anyone can do Teshuva. Yona is a testimony of a city full of gentile sinners who repented. It appeals to all of us to repent – not to repent because we are special, but to repent because we are human beings. Yona is the strongest argument we can use to make the case that we must do Teshuva.
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos continues that Am-Yisroel is even more special because we are Hashem’s children. Yona is the strongest argument that we must do Teshuva: if goyim can do it, we can certainly do so.
Let’s return to Hashem as human beings and the next step will be natural: we will return to Hashem as His children.
A very warm Good Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski