Jonah – Chapter 1

Not Just a Fish Story

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Jonah (Yonah), the son of Amitai, was first mentioned as a prophet in II Kings chapter 14, during the reign of Jeroboam II. There is an opinion that Jonah was the boy revived by the prophet Elijah in I Kings 17.

G-d told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which was a very large non-Jewish city. Yonah was to deliver a message that G-d has had it with their evil. Yonah did not want to deliver this prophecy, seeing it as a “lose-lose” situation. Either they wouldn’t listen to him or, worse, they would. If Nineveh heeded the words of G-d’s prophets, the Jews would look really bad for not doing so. So, Jonah got on a ship going to Tarshish, knowing that he could not receive any further prophecies outside of Israel. (He was so anxious to go that he paid his fare in advance, counter to the practice of the time.)

Even if G-d wouldn’t send prophecies to Jonah at sea, Jonah was hardly out of His reach. G-d sent a storm to toss the ship around. The sailors were terrified. They prayed to their idols and threw the cargo overboard. Jonah, however, went below and took a nap. The captain woke him up and said, “What’s the matter with you? Get up and pray to your G-d!” (He hadn’t been praying because He knew that G-d sent the storm in His anger at Jonah.)

Seeing that only they were affected by the storm, and that prayer wasn’t cutting it, the sailors decided to cast lots to see who had brought this upon them. Sure enough, the lot fell on Jonah, so they asked him what he had done. He told them that he had run away from G-d’s mission and he advised them that the only way to get the storm to subside would be to toss him into the sea. They first tried to steer the ship back to land, but they were unsuccessful. They reluctantly agreed to toss Jonah overboard, praying that G-d forgive them for doing so. As soon as Jonah was in the water, the sea calmed down. This so impressed the sailors that they became converts and offered sacrifices to G-d.

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