The Journey of the Soul
This Shabbat, Yom Kippur – יום כיפור
the Day of Atonement, during the Minha prayer we will read from the book of Jonah – ספר יונה.
Here is the story of the prophet Jonah in a nutshell.
The prophet Jonah is commissioned by G-d to warn godless people of Nineveh.
But Jonah tries to flee G-d sailing on a ship, because he’s afraid of what G-d might do among the godless.
Yet, G-d pursues him.
He brings a storm upon the ship.
The sailors, realizing that Jonah has been the cause of that storm, throw him into the sea and he is swallowed by an enormous fish sent from G-d.
Jonah, in the belly of the fish gives thanks to G-d for the salvation that has come and will come from G-d.
G-d hears his song of praise and G-d says to the fish, “Spit out Jonah”.
Now the prophet is on dry land, via a boat, a storm, the sea and the belly of a big fish, heard the word of G-d a second time. G-d doesn’t change…”Go to the godless.”
This time the prophet obeys G-d and he preaches to people of Nineveh everything that G-d has commanded and they believe him.
So they repent and turn to G-d, away from their godlessness, and in repentance find mercy and compassion from God.
But Jonah becomes angry at G-d, “G-d, I knew you were good. Too good to these previously godless now G-d-fearing folk. You care for those and it makes me want to die.”
It is very hot outside. Jonah suffers.
G-d immediately grows a plant and provides shade for Jonah under the plant.
Jonah is happy now.
But God wants to teach Jonah a lesson and takes the plant away. Jonah is angry again. He says:
“Why are you so concerned about a plant you didn’t create?
G-d answers: I am G-d, shouldn’t I be concerned about all that I create, especially those who don’t know the truth, that I am G-d?”
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה–אַתָּה חַסְתָּ עַל-הַקִּיקָיוֹן, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָמַלְתָּ בּוֹ וְלֹא גִדַּלְתּוֹ: שֶׁבִּן-לַיְלָה הָיָה, וּבִן-לַיְלָה אָבָד
And the LORD said: ‘Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow, which came up in a night, and perished in a night’
So, what is the reason that we read this story on Yom Kippur?
The Gaon of Vilna tells that Jonah’s journey is one that we all make.
We are born with a subconscious realization of the fact that we have a mission in this world.
However, we seek escape, because our mission is often one that we are afraid to attempt.
“Jonah”—according to Kabballah—is another name for the soul.
Each one of us is in fact Jonah – the soul – the “true me”.
Therefore, the story of Jonah is the story of a soul’s journey here on earth in reference with its mission.
Thus, on Yom Kippur, as we examine our lives and consider our purpose in this world, we remember the historical Jonah whose real-life narrative symbolizes our spiritual odyssey.
The soul, Jonah, the hapless passenger, has traveled far away from his mission as outlined by the Creator.
The places that he sought were:
Yaffo – יפו
and Tarshis – תרשיש
While these places actually exist, 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 through the pursuit of wealth, and by surrounding ourselves with beauty.
Yet, where can one go and be far from the One?
Sooner or later, the false lure of material satisfaction comes to its inevitable conclusion, and the physical life to which the soul had resigned itself grows unruly and fierce. “The Almighty rouses a furious tempest.”
He does it to shake the soul from its complacency, for “Jonah had gone down to the inner part of the ship . . . and slept.”
The soul is numb.
“So the captain came and said to him,
‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your G‑d!’”
וַיִּקְרַב אֵלָיו רַב הַחֹבֵל, וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מַה-לְּךָ נִרְדָּם
קוּם, קְרָא אֶל-אֱלֹהֶיךָ–אוּלַי יִתְעַשֵּׁת הָאֱלֹהִים לָנוּ, וְלֹא נֹאבֵד
Jonah is shaken.
The sailors continue to question him.
“What is your occupation?” What have you done with your life? Why are you here? Why were you sent?
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו–הַגִּידָה-נָּא לָנוּ, בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי-הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ: מַה-מְּלַאכְתְּךָ, וּמֵאַיִן תָּבוֹא–מָה אַרְצֶךָ, וְאֵי-מִזֶּה עַם אָתָּה
Jonah (our soul) realizes:
G‑d is here too, and I am none other than His very messenger.
Now comes the moment of truth. The soul must acquiesce.
Our life has a purpose, as is manifested in Jonah’s answer.
Jonah (our soul) says:
“I am a Hebrew, and I revere the G‑d of Israel!”
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם, עִבְרִי אָנֹכִי
וְאֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, אֲנִי יָרֵא
This is The Ultimate Answer to the purpose of the journey of the soul.
Listen to a beautiful prayer here:
Wishing you: G’mar Chatimah Tovah – גמר חתימה טובה