Yom Kippur Articles
Jonah Is a Metaphor
by Rabbi Hackenbroch
The book of Jonah is perhaps the focal point of the afternoon of Yom Kippur. The story is one we are all familiar with. The prophet Jonah is instructed by G-d to warn the people to turn back from their evil ways but his calls to them went unheeded and he attempts to flee from his Divine mission/higher calling. He finds himself on a boat that is caught up in a fierce storm that was raging unabated. On introspection he realises G-d is calling him from on High and he insists on being thrown into the sea.
The Yalkut Shimoni( 13 century Medrash) offers a deep and profound insight into this fascinating story in Jonahs life which can be applied to us all. The Vilna Gaon teaches that Jonah's journey symbolises the journey we all make. We are born with a subconscious realisation of the fact we have a mission. Often we seek to escape, because our mission is one that we are afraid to attempt.
In the text of the story, the places Jonah sought were Yaffo and Tarshish. Rebbetzen Heller, a contemporary lecturer, observes that the literal meaning of the names of these cities are beauty and wealth. We comfort ourselves externally by escaping from our inner knowledge of our mission in life through the pursuit of wealth and surrounding ourselves with beauty. Our bodies are compared to Jonah’s ship in the rough waves of the challenges that life throws at us, for example illness. The sailors on the ship symbolise the talents and capacities that serve us. As with Jonah, who is cast into the sea, we realise they too cannot save us from our futile desire to escape ourselves.
It is on Yom Kippur afternoon when we are weak from fasting and at our most vulnerable that the judgement and fate for us and our people comes to a close as it is precisely in such a fragile state that we are able to finally transcend our ego, surrendering our desire to control life and submitting at last to accepting our mission whatever it is.
by Maureen Kendler
Teaching Fellow and Lead Tutor LSJS
Below is a short transcript for the Radio 2 programme Pause for Thought.
Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the most widely observed day in the Jewish calendar, where we say sorry to God and to each other, hoping to wipe the slate clean for another year.
The prayers lay out a format through which we can sincerely examine our behaviour, identify what went wrong and try to improve. That is partly about saying sorry to God. But an equally important part of the day involves saying sorry to others for the things we have done to upset and hurt them, to try and put things right. Of course in theory we should do this all the time, automatically, but we don't, or I don't anyway.
Harder, perhaps is to forgive yourself. The prayer services on Yom Kippur are very long. They are designed that way, so you can easily be there all day, without much of a break. Traditionally, Jews fast, so there is no need to take time out for food and think about bodily comforts. This all leads-hopefully- to introspection. Sometimes, in moments of reflection, you do see people crying on Yom Kippur in synagogue. I think it is often for themselves that people cry for, wanting to forgive themselves - and although that sounds like a bad or selfish thing, it isn't. If we can forgive ourselves, then we can forgive others too.
Yom Kippur always makes me think of a favourite story from Jewish folklore about a spoilt and selfish princess who says she wants to see God. A minister shows her the books of law which embody God but she is not satisfied by that. The treasurer shows all the gold in the land- but the princess says that is not God either. Eventually the princess stumbles on a poor, sick girl whose deprived state shocks her profoundly. The princess begins to wonder if she could help the girl--and she is shown a mirror. Tears start to pour uncontrollably down her face. As she gazes into her weeping reflection, the princess asks if she could bring some gifts to the poor girl. As the tears pour down her face - she is told-that she has, finally, seen God.
I think that the princess's tears are not for the girl - not yet. They are tears of shame and sorrow for her past behaviour, and they are about first forgiving herself.
Saying sorry to yourself is harder to than anything else, but is the only place to start before forgiving anyone else, which is what Yom Kippur is all about.