Avraham ben Yaakov
JONAH CHAPTER 3
Vv 1-2: "And the word of God came to Jonah a second time saying, Arise go to NINEVEH , that great city." ARI points out that the Hebrew letters of the name of Y-O(=Vav)-Na-H are contained in the name of the city N-Y-Ne-Ve-H, with the addition of one extra Nun, signifying the 50 Gates of Binah=Imma. The gematria of Y-O-Na-H is 71, and with an additional unit for the whole word we have a total of 72=HeSeD=Hokhmah=Abba. Jonah's task was to bring Abba and Imma to Zivug in order to bring compassion into the world, which was under the dark shadow of severe Judgments owing to the wickedness of the people (ARI, Sefer HaLikutim, Jonah; see there for other amazing insights into Jonah ch's 1-2). The task of the prophet was to bring the people to repentance, which is rooted in BINAH.
On Jonah himself the success of his mission would have a negative effect because he was prophesying that the city would be overturned after forty days if the people did not repent - and when they did, the city was not destroyed, making it seem as if his prophecy had not come about and was false. (But in fact, a prophet is proven false only if a good prophecy is not realized, not if a prophecy of doom does not come about since God may relent and overturn an evil decree but he does not overturn a good one, Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:4.) Despite the potential damage to his reputation, Jonah went about his mission, saying, "Another forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown (NEHEPHECHETH)" (v 4). The root HAPHACH means to turn something around. ARI comments that Jonah was actually prophesying that DIN, harsh judgment, would turn about into RAHAMIM, kindness (ibid.).
V 5: "And the men of Nineveh believed in God and they called for a fast." RaDaK comments that men from Jonah's boat - those members of the 70 Nations who converted - were there in Nineveh and they gave testimony over the wonders they had witnessed with Jonah in the boat. This was why the men of Nineveh BELIEVED Jonah and did what was required. RaDaK's comment once again points to the universal significance of the book of Jonah for all mankind, as suggested also by the following Midrash:
V 6: "And the matter reached the king of Nineveh ." The Midrash tells: Rabbi Nehuniah HaKaneh says, You can learn about repentance from Pharaoh, who rebelled flagrantly against HaShem when he said "Who is HaShem that I should listen to His voice?" (Ex. 5:2) but later repented, saying, "Who is like You among the gods, HaShem?" (Ex. 15:11). God saved Pharaoh from death to tell the power of His might, as it says, "However, on account of this I have caused you to stand" (Ex. 9:16), and he became the ruler of Nineveh . The men of Nineveh were constantly plotting to harm each other and they were sunk in robbery and homosexuality. God sent Jonah to prophecy the destruction of the city. When Pharaoh heard, he rose from his throne and rent his garments and clothed himself in sackcloth and ordered all his people to fast for three days. However after forty days they went back to their evil ways and went to even further extremes than before, and the dead were swallowed up in the lowest pit of hell, as it is written, "Men groan from out of the city" (Job 24:12; Pirkey d'Rabbi Eliezer).
V 8: "Let them turn every one from his evil way and from the violence (HAMAS) that is in their hands". Today we are still waiting for the world to renounce HAMAS and everything that this evil concept and the Arab organization that bears its name represents. Our sages taught on this verse that the level of repentance the king demanded from the people of Nineveh was that even if someone had stolen a wooden beam and built it into the structure of his house, he was to pull down the house in order to return the brick (Ta'anis 16a). This actually is in accordance with the strict law of the Torah relating to theft, but in fact, to avoid deterring people from penitence, the Rabbis mitigated this with their enactment that a thief could pay monetary restitution for the stolen beam to avoid having to pull his own house down (Rambam, Laws of Robbery and Lost Property 1:5).
V 10: "And God saw their deeds." The Talmud brings that on public fast days when a sage would address the people exhorting them to repent, he would quote this verse, saying, "Brothers, it is not the fasting and sackcloth that cause God to take pity but the repentance in the heart and good deeds. It does not say 'And God saw their sackcloth and fasting' but 'And God saw their DEEDS, for they returned from their evil way'" (Ta'anis 16a).
Why did Jonah feel so bad when the people of Nineveh repented and averted disaster? Besides feeling that he was seen as a false prophet in the eyes of the nations, our sages taught that Jonah also feared that the repentance of Nineveh after only one warning would raise a serious accusation against Israel, who had many true prophets yet still did not repent (cf. RaDaK on Jonah 4:1).
Verse 2 invokes the essence of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (Exodus 34:6).
Verse 3: Jonah asked God to take his life because he did not want to see evil befall Israel as a result of the accusation aroused by the repentance of Nineveh . His request is compared to that of Moses to "please blot me out of Your book" if God would not forgive Israel (Exodus 32:32, cf. Numbers 11:15, RaDaK on v 3).
Verse 4 begins a new Parshah Sethumah - continuing, after a pause, from the previous section - in which God teaches Jonah a lesson in compassion.
V 6: "And HaShem-Elokim appointed a castor oil plant (KIKAYON)." The Midrash says of the KIKAYON: God brought up the KIKAYON over Jonah's head during the night, and in the morning 275 leaves came out (corresponding to the gematria of KIKAYON), each leaf a span and a handbreadth wide. There was enough room for four people to sit under the shade of the KIKAYON to take shelter from the sun, but God appointed a worm which gnawed through the plant from below so no moisture could rise up to the leaves, which dried, and the plant died and all the flies and mosquitoes there afflicted Jonah on every side until his eyes welled up with tears before God. He asked him, Why are you crying - do you feel pain over this plant that you did not cultivate, which you never fed with fertilizer and never watered, which came up in one night and the next night it was already dried up? Should I not have pity on Nineveh the great city? At that moment Jonah fell on his face and said, Govern Your world with the attribute of compassion" (Yalkut Shimoni).
ARI (Sepher HaLikutim) states that the KIKAYON which protected Jonah alludes to the TZELEM - the encompassing levels of Hochmah, Binah and Daat that hover over and protect the soul in this world.
Verse 10: ".and should I not be concerned for Nineveh in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand people that cannot discern between their right hand and their left and also much cattle?" Rashi comments that those who cannot discern between one hand and the other are the children, while the "much cattle" (BEHEMAH RABBAH) refers to all the adults whose mentality is that of an animal (BEHEMAH) since they do not know Who created them.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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