I put in some time preparing to be one of the Jonah readers in the upcoming Yom Kippur afternoon service. And, as happened last year, we wound up chatting a bit about the Scripture—one of my co-readers expressed surprise that the text seemed have very different connotations and implications this year than it did last year, and I was like, yep—turn it and turn it, everything is in it.
Last year I wondered about Johah’s sleeping on board ship, concluding that it wasn’t an ordinary nap, but that it was some sort of Divinely imposed slumber. I was left with the question of why the Divine would knock Jonah unconscious while he was on board the ship to Tarshish. I didn’t have an answer to that one, and I still don’t really, but I have a different take on the question of sleeping and waking.
The one thing that Jonah does in the whole story that is kind—the one thing that is motivated by anything other than his own selfishness and self-absorption—is his response to the sailors, when the lot falls on him. He says to them: Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you. For a moment, he is willing to sacrifice himself to save other people’s lives. He aware not only that other people are in danger, but that he, personally, has to act to save them. He is, if you will allow me to use the word, woke.
It doesn’t last.
The hard part is not being woke, the hard part is staying woke.
After the people of Nineveh repent, Jonah goes and sits in the shade to watch whatever happens to the city. And when the Divine wants to talk to him, he’s like Fuck off, Divine Creator, I just want to nap in the shade, right?
That’s the thing that really struck me, this year. We’re all in the storm now. We are—some of us, anyway—waking up to the fact that the ship can’t make it to Tarshish the way we thought. We are—maybe—ready to do the things that need doing. I see a real chance that we’re going to get through the storm, at some sacrifice, and that we will maybe even finally make the hard choice to go to Nineveh. Maybe, like Jonah, we will realize that the full measure of Divine Mercy we have received puts on us the responsibility to act. And who knows? Maybe Nineveh will be saved. It has happened before.
And then what? Because it’s really difficult to seriously face my flaws, address my shortcomings and maybe even save Nineveh without the hope that afterward I get to stretch out in the shade of a gourd tree and sink back into complacent sulking. But the scripture makes it clear—that’s not how it works.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,