Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” — Jonah 3:1‑2
A note to our readers: Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. As this is a non-working day, this devotion was prepared in advance for you.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a day on which we regret all our wrongdoings. We ask God to forgive us for all our sins. However, as we read the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur afternoon, we recognize that this day is not just about regretting bad things that we did; it’s also about recognizing the good things that we could have done, but didn’t. For those things, we must also ask forgiveness.
The book of Jonah is at its core a story about repentance. It begins with God calling to Jonah and directing him to the evil city of Nineveh in order to warn them of upcoming destruction if they did not change their ways. The story concludes with the entire city, one of the most evil places on earth, engaging in repentance. The lesson at the beginning and end of the story is that if the evil people of Nineveh could repent, then so can we.
However, in between the beginning and end of the book is another story — one that focuses primarily on Jonah and that forms the bulk of the book. This part of the tale isn’t about evil people turning back toward God. Instead, it is about righteous people running away from God and trying to escape their mission until at last they embrace it.
You see, on Yom Kippur, it’s not enough to bemoan our past mistakes. We also need to take stock of all our lost opportunities. It’s a time to ask ourselves what our calling is in life and if we are, indeed, living up to it. By the end of this solemn day, we will have received forgiveness for our mistakes. We have a clean slate; we are starting life anew. The question is: What will we do with it?
Everyone has some kind of calling, a God-given mission of some sort. But we don’t always fulfill it. We have all kinds of excuses: I’m too old, too young, too prestigious, too poor, too tired, too busy. Jonah had a great excuse. God had asked him to help the archenemies of Israel – the very same nation that had exiled ten out of the 12 tribes.
Jonah, out of his love for God’s people, rejected his mission. What Jonah failed to take into account, however, is that when God hands us a mission, it’s not our duty to judge. It’s our job to fulfill it. The good news is that God gives us second chances, and it’s never too late to start.
Some people know what their mission is from a deep place inside. Others have to look around at what’s broken in the world and then assess what tools they have to help fix it. This week, take time to discover your God-given calling – and then answer it!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President