By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
10 Tishrei 5765 - September 24-25, 2004
And the Word of Hashem came to Yonah
ben-Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry against it,
for their wickedness has come up before Me” (Yonah 1:1-2).
The Book of Yonah, which we read on Yom Kippur afternoon (Minchah), opens
without context. We do not know Yonah’s tribe or hometown, or during whose reign
he prophesied. Apparently, we are expected to know who Yonah is. And this is so,
because Yonah is mentioned elsewhere in Tanach (Melachim II 14:25).
But, who is Yonah? What image emerges from his background, before the book named
for him opens? And how might this contribute to our Yom Kippur?
We first meet Yonah during the life of Eliyahu, the fiery prophet who challenged
King Achav of Israel and his wife Izevel, and their worship of Baal. Hashem
commanded Eliyahu to find shelter in the home of the widow of Tzarefat. The
widow’s son becomes ill, and dies.
And he stretched himself out over the boy three times, and he called out to
Hashem and said, “O Hashem, my G-d, please let this boy’s soul come back within
him!” And Hashem listened to the voice of Eliyahu, and the boy’s soul came back
within him, and he came to life. And Eliyahu took the boy and brought him down
from the upper story of the house, and delivered him to his mother. And Eliyahu
said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Eliyahu, “Now I know this,
that you are a man of G-d, and the word of Hashem in your mouth is truth (EMET)”
(Melachim I 17:21-24).
The Sages (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 33) identify this boy as Yonah. Our Sages (Yalkut
Shimoni) further teach that Yonah’s mother was from the tribe of Asher, and his
father from Zevulun.
Later (Melachim I 19:15-16), Hashem gives Eliyahu three missions: to anoint
Chazael as king of Aram, and Yehu ben-Nimshi as king of Israel in place of Achav,
and Elisha as his own successor. However, Hashem in His mercy delays the
destruction of the house of Achav, so Eliyahu has to bequeath the two remaining
missions to Elisha (see Malbim, R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877).
By that time, the king of Israel is Yehoram ben-Achav. He is recuperating from
wounds he received in war against Aram. Yehu is a general in Yehoram’s army,
stationed in Ramot-Gilead.
And Elisha the prophet called one of the prophets’ disciples and said to him,
“Gird your loins; take this jar of oil in your hand and go to Ramot-Gilead” (Melachim
Rashi (based on Seder Olam Rabba 18) identifies Elisha’s disciple as Yonah. He
is to anoint Yehu as king, and then flee without delay.
And the young man, the prophet’s attendant, went (9:4).
He arrives and demands a private word with Yehu. After anointing him, Yonah says
that Yehu will destroy the house of Achav and Izevel. Malbim explains that Yonah
added these details on his own, by virtue of his own prophetic powers. This
incident thus marks Yonah’s transition from trainee to prophet in his own right.
Then, not afraid, but cautious, he flees. Yehu returns to the other commanders,
“Is all well? Why did this lunatic come to you?”
And he said to them, “You know that man and his prattle.”
But they said, “It is a lie! Tell us now!” (9:11-12).
Yehu reports what Yonah said in Hashem’s name. Because of their attachment to
Baal, the commanders first call him “lunatic” (, but then they recognize
the Divine truth in his words. They create a makeshift throne by piling their
garments on the top of the steps, blow the shofar, and proclaim Yehu as king.
Yehu destroys the survivors of the house of Achav with utter brutality, and he
obliterates the worship of Baal.
And Hashem said to Yehu, “Because you have done well, doing that which is proper
in My eyes, for you have done to the house of Achav according to all that was in
My heart, four generations will sit on the throne of Israel for your sake” (Melachim
Now, Yehu is not a prophet. Thus, Rashi (based on Seder Olam Rabba 19) says that
this message was conveyed by Yonah, the third link in the prophetic school of
Eliyahu and Elisha. Yonah is, along with Amos and Hoshea, prophet to the house
of Yehu, during which time the events of the Book of Yonah occur.
Yerovam ben-Yoash, great-grandson of Yehu, reigns for 41 years, but is not
righteous. Up to his time, the north-eastern border of Israel was weakened by
attacks from Aram, but
He restored the boundary of Israel from the Approach of Chamat until the Sea of
the Aravah, like the word of Hashem, G-d of Israel, which He had spoken by the
hand of His servant, Yonah ben-Amittai the prophet, who was from Gat-Chefer (Melachim
If Yonah actually lived then, he would have to be over 100 years old! Instead,
Rashi (based on Yevamot 91a) explains that that this was not Yonah’s prophecy,
but it was like his prophecy. Just as the prediction of Yonah regarding Nineveh
was transformed from bad to good, so was the fate of Israel transformed in the
days of Yerovam ben-Yoash.
The personality of Yonah is filled with ironies. He is called the boy; one of
the prophets’ disciples; the young man; the prophet’s attendant; this lunatic;
that man; His servant; and the prophet, who was from Gat-Chefer. He is
ben-Amittai, the prophet of uncompromising truth, foreshadowed in his mother’s
“…the word of Hashem in your mouth is truth (EMET).”
On the other hand, Yonah is, by his own experience, the object lesson of the
revival of the dead. His explicit message is: sin results in punishment, but his
prophecies also demonstrate Hashem’s compassion. His implicit message is: with
Hashem’s mercy, no situation is irreversible.
That is a message which the people of Nineveh, and we, need to remember on Yom
|WORDS OF WISDOM WORDS OF WIT by Shmuel Himelstein
Taken from Torah Tidbits #588
Once, on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, the Ba'al Shem Tov was seen
striding joyfully down the street. A man stopped him and asked him: "Rebbi,
why are you so happy at a time like this, when all are so solemn as the
Day of Judgment draws near? After all, if your verdict is a negative one,
you certainly have no cause to rejoice. Then again, if you are happy
because you are convinced that your verdict will be a positive one, isn't
that conceit on your part?" "It is entirely irrelevant to me whether the
verdict is positive or negative in my case," replied the Ba'al Shem Tov.
"I am rejoicing because there is a Judge in the world and there is justice
in the world."