Haftarah Helper: Yom Kippur Afternoon

hero image

Download PDF

Jonah 1:1-4:11, Micha 7:18,20

The haftarah of Yom Kippur afternoon recounts the collective repentance in the capital, Nineveh, of Israel’s arch-enemy, Assyria.  Like this morning’s haftarah chastising Jews who fast for God while doing evil, this selection about a Jewish prophet, Jonah, who flees from God’s command while an entire city of Gentiles successfully repents, is an astonishing reproach to God’s people. The haftarah concludes with the words of Micha[1], also said in Tashlich[2], imploring repentance for all, as God is forgiving.

Haftarah Breakdown

In Chapter 1, God commands Jonah to travel to Nineveh, and prophesy its destruction due to its evil ways. Fleeing from this task, Jonah instead heads to the port of Jaffa to sail in the opposite direction, to Tarshish. After falling asleep, Jonah is suddenly awoken by the ship’s captain begging him to pray, as the ship is beset by a storm sent by God. The sailors cast lots to determine which of them is the cause of the storm, and it falls upon Jonah. He confesses his flight from prophecy, telling them to cast him into the sea to stop the storm. They disregard his request by praying and trying to row to shore but when these fail, they cast him overboard, calming the storm.

In Chapter 2, after being swallowed by a fish sent by God, Jonah composes the following prayer to God:

Verse 2:3: Jonah thanks God for saving him from the depths.

Jonah 2:3 יונה ב:ג
And he said: “I called out from my distress to the Lord, and He answered me.  From the belly of the underworld I cried out, You heard my voice.” וַיֹּ֗אמֶר קָ֠רָאתִי מִצָּ֥רָה לִ֛י אֶל־ה’ וַֽיַּעֲנֵ֑נִי מִבֶּ֧טֶן שְׁא֛וֹל שִׁוַּ֖עְתִּי שָׁמַ֥עְתָּ קוֹלִֽי׃


Verses 2:4-6: Jonah, swallowed up, had given up hope.

Jonah 2:6 יונה ב:ו
The waters closed in over me. The deep engulfed me. Weeds twined around my head. אֲפָפ֤וּנִי מַ֙יִם֙ עַד־נֶ֔פֶשׁ תְּה֖וֹם יְסֹבְבֵ֑נִי ס֖וּף חָב֥וּשׁ לְרֹאשִֽׁי׃


Verse 2:7: God, however, raised Jonah from the depths…

Jonah 2:7 יונה ב:ז
To the base of the mountains I descended; the earth’s bars [are closed]

upon me forever.  But You brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.

לְקִצְבֵ֤י הָרִים֙ יָרַ֔דְתִּי הָאָ֛רֶץ בְּרִחֶ֥יהָ בַעֲדִ֖י לְעוֹלָ֑ם וַתַּ֧עַל מִשַּׁ֛חַת חַיַּ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹקי׃


Verses 2:8: … after receiving his prayer.

Jonah 2:8 יונה ב:ח
When my soul grew faint upon me, I remembered the Lord: my prayer came to You to Your Holy Temple. בְּהִתְעַטֵּ֤ף עָלַי֙ נַפְשִׁ֔י אֶת־ה’ זָכָ֑רְתִּי וַתָּב֤וֹא אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּפִלָּתִ֔י אֶל־הֵיכַ֖ל קָדְשֶֽׁךָ׃


Verses 2:9-10: Others serve nothing, but Jonah will serve God in His temple.

Jonah 2:10 יונה ב:י
But I, with a voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to You.  What I vowed I will pay.  Salvation is the Lord’s! וַאֲנִ֗י בְּק֤וֹל תּוֹדָה֙ אֶזְבְּחָה־לָּ֔ךְ אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָדַ֖רְתִּי אֲשַׁלֵּ֑מָה יְשׁוּעָ֖תָה לַה’ (ס)


Verses 2:11: God commands the fish to spit out Jonah.

Jonah 2:11 יונה ב:י״א
And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah onto the dry land. וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ה’ לַדָּ֑ג וַיָּקֵ֥א אֶת־יוֹנָ֖ה אֶל־הַיַּבָּשָֽׁה׃


Now on dry land, Jonah heads to Nineveh. In chapter 3, Upon entering the city’s outskirts, he prophesies its destruction. His pronouncement travels throughout the city, eventually making it to the city’s king who leads his city to repent by fasting and mourning; even the animals do so! In response to this collective repentance, God spares the city.

In chapter 4, Jonah despairs of God’s decision, and they engage in a back-and-forth about a “kikayon”[3] plant:

Verses 4:5-6: God provides Jonah with the “Kikayon.”

Jonah 4:6 יונה ד:ו
Now the Lord God appointed a kikayon, and it ascended above Jonah, to be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.  Jonah was overjoyed with the kikayon. וַיְמַ֣ן ה־אֱ֠לֹקִים קִיקָי֞וֹן וַיַּ֣עַל ׀ מֵעַ֣ל לְיוֹנָ֗ה לִֽהְי֥וֹת צֵל֙ עַל־רֹאשׁ֔וֹ לְהַצִּ֥יל ל֖וֹ מֵרָֽעָת֑וֹ וַיִּשְׂמַ֥ח יוֹנָ֛ה עַל־הַקִּֽיקָי֖וֹן שִׂמְחָ֥ה גְדוֹלָֽה׃


Verses 4:7-9: God kills the plant, saddening Jonah.

Jonah 4:7,9 יונה ד:ז,ט
Now God appointed a worm at the rise of dawn on the morrow, which attacked the kikayon, and it withered.

God said to Jonah, “Does it do you well to be so deeply grieved about the kikayon?” And he said, “I do well to be angry, even to death.”

וַיְמַ֤ן הָֽאֱלֹקִים֙ תּוֹלַ֔עַת בַּעֲל֥וֹת הַשַּׁ֖חַר לַֽמָּחֳרָ֑ת וַתַּ֥ךְ אֶת־הַקִּֽיקָי֖וֹן וַיִּיבָֽשׁ׃…
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹקִים֙ אֶל־יוֹנָ֔ה הַהֵיטֵ֥ב חָרָֽה־לְךָ֖ עַל־הַקִּֽיקָי֑וֹן וַיֹּ֕אמֶר הֵיטֵ֥ב חָֽרָה־לִ֖י עַד־מָֽוֶת׃


Verses 4:10-11: God’s response- Should He not care about the great city of Nineveh?

Jonah 4:11 יונה ד:י״א
Now should I not take pity on Nineveh, the great city, in which there are many more than one hundred twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well? וַֽאֲנִי֙ לֹ֣א אָח֔וּס עַל־נִינְוֵ֖ה הָעִ֣יר הַגְּדוֹלָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֶשׁ־בָּ֡הּ הַרְבֵּה֩ מִֽשְׁתֵּים־עֶשְׂרֵ֨ה רִבּ֜וֹ אָדָ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־יָדַע֙ בֵּין־יְמִינ֣וֹ לִשְׂמֹאל֔וֹ וּבְהֵמָ֖ה רַבָּֽה׃


Micah, verses 7:18,20: God will forgive the sins of His people (as he forgave Nineveh.)

Micah 7:18 מיכה ז:י״ח
Who is a God like You, Who forgives iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His anger forever, for He desires loving-kindness. מִי־קל כָּמ֗וֹךָ נֹשֵׂ֤א עָוֺן֙ וְעֹבֵ֣ר עַל־פֶּ֔שַׁע לִשְׁאֵרִ֖ית נַחֲלָת֑וֹ לֹא־הֶחֱזִ֤יק לָעַד֙ אַפּ֔וֹ כִּֽי־חָפֵ֥ץ חֶ֖סֶד הֽוּא׃

Other Connections

The Talmud cites Nineveh’s deeds to exemplify repentance that suffices to cancel a person’s “heavenly sentence.”

Rosh Hashanah 16b ראש השנה ט״ז עמוד ב
Rabbi Yitzhak said: “A person’s sentence is torn up due to four actions. These are: giving charity, crying out in prayer, changing one’s name, and changing one’s deeds [for the better]…

Improving one’s deeds, as written [Jonah 3:10]: “And God saw their deeds,” and as written: “And God repented of the evil, which He had said He would do to them, and He did not do it.”

א”ר יצחק ד’ דברים מקרעין גזר דינו של אדם אלו הן צדקה צעקה שינוי השם ושינוי מעשה…

שינוי מעשה דכתיב (יונה ג, י) וירא האלהים את מעשיהם וכתיב (יונה ג, י) וינחם האלהים על הרעה אשר דבר לעשות להם ולא עשה

Rabbi Soloveitchik uses Jonah to differentiate between fate and destiny:

Kol Dodi Dofek, Loneliness and Separateness
Let us return to what we said above. How does destiny differ from fate? In two respects: fate ‎means a compelled existence; destiny is existence by volition. Destiny is created by man himself, ‎who chooses and makes his own way in life. Fate is expressed in a teleological sense, in a denuded ‎existence, whereas destiny embodies purpose and objectives. Shared fate means an inability to ‎rebel against fate. It is, as with the tragedy of Jonah the prophet, about the lack of alternatives to ‎escape the God of the Jews; “And God hurled a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty ‎tempest in the sea so that the ship was about to break apart” (Jonah 1:4). Shared destiny means ‎having free will to strive for a goal (a decision freely willed to be sanctified to an ideal) and a ‎yearning and longing for the Master of the Universe. Instead of the blind fate that pursued him, ‎Jonah, in the end, chose the exalted destiny of the God of Israel. “I am a Jew, and I fear the Lord, ‎the God of the heaven” (Jonah 1:9)‎.

With emendations, biblical translations are by Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg and other translations are from Sefaria.org.

To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email zbeer570@gmail.com.

[1] Per Megillah 24a, one is allowed to advance by skipping forward (but not backward) among the twelve “minor” prophets, as they constitute one “book.”

[2] These verses are part of the Haftarah of “Shabbat Shuva” for Sephardim.

[3] The Kikayon’s identity is debated. The two prominent positions are a type of pumpkin or a castor oil plant. The identity of the worm that ate it is also up to debate. For more, see http://www.zomet.org.il/eng/?CategoryID=160&ArticleID=7847.