The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” — Jonah 1:1–2
A note to our readers: This week marks the continuation of the ten days between the start of Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance. It is a time of serious introspection in preparation for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which will be observed on Sept. 30. It is considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Our devotions throughout this week are tied to this biblically mandated observance.
The Jewish sages teach that seven things were created before God created the world. One of them is repentance. Without these seven things, the sages teach, the world could not exist. Repentance is an essential creation. As the psalmist wrote: “If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). In other words, if there were no such thing as repentance and God held us accountable for all our wrongdoings, who among us would still be standing? Thankfully, God did create repentance: “But with you there is forgiveness . . .” (Psalm 130:4). We are human, and we will err, but there is forgiveness.
This message is critical on Yom Kippur as we take an entire day to focus on the gift of repentance and gain forgiveness from God. We need encouragement and an affirmation that repentance is worthwhile and forgiveness possible. This is why we read the book of Jonah aloud in the synagogue during the afternoon service of Yom Kippur. It is a story that demonstrates God’s mercy and man’s ability to turn change.
Ironically, when the prophet Jonah was given the mission of asking the wicked people of Nineveh to repent, he ran away. He did not want the people of Nineveh to repent, because in his mind, they were not deserving of another chance. Jonah was called “Jonah the son of Amittai.” The name Amittai is related to the Hebrew word emett, which means “truth.” Jonah was the “son of truth.” According to truth and justice, the people of Nineveh were deserving of destruction. However, God does not run the world according to the strict laws of truth. God runs the world with mercy and He created a world where even the undeserving get another chance.
Jonah should have known this. Remember the story of Elijah the prophet when he stayed at the home of a widow? Her son died, but the prophet was able to bring him back to life. The Jewish sages identify this young boy as none other than Jonah from our story. As much as Jonah was “the son of truth,” he was also the product of mercy. Only God’s great mercy can reverse a bad decree — even bringing the dead back to the living.
As we read the story of Jonah, we are encouraged and inspired to repent and be forgiven. During these days, let us all remember that everyone is given a second chance. Let’s take advantage of this great gift and repent.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President