How Not to Have Too Much Integrity on Yom Kippur: Lessons From Jonah

September 29, 2014

By Rabbi Francis Nataf Redeeming Relevance in the book of numbers

Familiarity with Bible stories often works against us. That’s because we remember simple, sometimes fantastic stories from our childhood and then have a hard time re-reading these stories as adults.

Reading the Book of Jonah as an adult, as I finally decided to do, made me realize that Jonah should be remembered for much more than using a whale (the text only tells us it was a big fish but it is a reasonable assumption to say it was a whale) as the world’s first submarine. A more mature read shows Jonah to be one of the Bible’s most outrageous characters. Such a read has this small book that we read every year on Yom Kippur emerge as one that requires serious thought in order to understand.

From what I make of it, Jonah’s main problem was that he had too much integrity. In fact, he had so much integrity as to even disagree with how God runs the world! That is to say that he felt that it lacked the “higher standards” that he would have expected from God.

To put this into perspective, most Biblical prophets prayed to God to have more mercy or to complain that he was too strict. With Jonah, however, it was just the opposite – he complained that God was not strict enough. As a result, he gets bent out of shape by God’s decision to accept the repentance of the city of Nineveh and to commute its destruction. Indeed, it causes him so much distress that he tells God that he’d rather die than have to see such things! Moreover, instead of apologizing for refusing God’s mission until he is forced to comply, he holds his ground and explains that it was knowing that God would relent from destroying Nineveh that led him to turn down the mission to begin with.

Nor is the above an isolated incident. The text presents Jonah’s response here as a case of deja-vu. Before being swallowed by the fish, Jonah also seemed to prefer death to involvement in what he believed to be a mere parody of repentance. At the point in the story when his ship is threatened by a raging storm, the sailors all realize that the time has come to pray and improve their conduct. But Jonah doesn’t buy it. So instead of participating in the popular religiosity of his shipmates, he simply goes to sleep! For Jonah, better that than the triviality of the sailors’ new found “commitments.”

Lest one think Jonah was just a cruel and strange character, the people of Nineveh were far from righteous and we can reasonably assume, like Jonah, that their repentance was short-lived. (And it is quite possible that Jonah’s sailors weren’t much better.) But if Jonah knew this, clearly God must have known it as well. And yet the Bible often shows – and this is exactly the thing that Jonah objected to – that God is willing to accept repentance, even if it is mostly for ulterior motives and likely not to last for very long. We can only speculate why this is so. Perhaps simply getting people to move out of their inertia has more of a chance of long-term success then not doing anything at all. Or maybe because some good, no matter how temporary, is better than no good whatsoever. Or maybe there is something very powerful when an entire community decides to change its ways, whatever its motivation.

Whatever the reason for God’s acceptance of the sailors’ prayers and the repentance of Nineveh, these typically Biblical responses to imminent disaster, do seem more productive than what we see today. Imminent disaster rarely, if ever, produces introspection of any kind, now that we think we are too educated for that sort of thing (another example of modern man having become too sophisticated for his own good). Resultantly, we tend to focus on whether there is someone to blame and whether there is some sort of technical way to impede the disaster. I am certainly not against finding ways to avoid disaster and a good case can be made that the Torah obligates us to try to do so. Still, it would not be such a bad thing if we also used such occasions as an opportunity to move ourselves to try and do better.

But it is really not so easy. When you think about it, many of us are not so different from Jonah. We don’t want to pretend. We don’t want to just go through the motions. Rather we want to come to personal turnarounds worthy of the name. And so we will wait until that special moment comes. But the Bible knows that for most people, that moment never comes and as a result, it provides set times to improve regardless. Yom Kippur is one of those set times.

Perhaps we can now better understand why we read Jonah’s story on Yom Kippur.

Given the above, the message may be pretty straightforward – don’t worry about integrity, just say you’re sorry and do the best you can! For many of us, this may sound fairly uninspiring. It sounds like it shouldn’t be good enough – and that’s exactly what Jonah thought. But the big news is that God thought otherwise.

This article appears in The Jewish Press 


Sarah Hermelin on Yom Kippur

September 28, 2014

Sarah Hermelin, author of  Journey Together: 49 Steps to Transforming a Family, will be speaking for women at the OU Center in Jerusalem from 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm on WedJourney Together: 49 Steps to Transforming a Familynesday, October 1.

Sarah will be speaking about “Yom Kippur–The Time is Now”  Strategies and Techniques to Really Make a Change; Create a Yom Kippur Action Plan for the Entire Year–Your Life Depends on It!!

Don’t miss this great event!


Review of A Forgotten Land

September 22, 2014

By Susan Freiband, AJL ReviewsForgottenLand_fullCover-resized

This fascinating memoir of life in the Pale of Jewish Settlement is the author’s grandmother’s story. It is based on recordings made by the author’s father of his mother’s tales of her early life. The cassettes recorded in Yiddish were translated, the recollections supplemented with information from questioning other family members, historical research and background reading. The book includes maps of the Ukraine, the Pavolitch area, as well as an abridged family tree. It is divided into four parts, from 1835 to 1925, beginning with great grandfather Akiva. Included is a section of old photographs of the family, a glossary of Yiddish terms and a bibliography. The book’s easy reading style captures interest and attention, like a novel. The author is a journalist, from Cornwall, England; this is her first book. It is a useful addition to Judaica collections in academic and public libraries, as well as of interest to Temple and synagogue library users.

 This excerpt is from the Association of Jewish Libraries 


Review of To Unify a Nation

September 21, 2014

By Kathe Pinchuck, AJL ReviewsTo Unify a Nation

Rabbi Dov Lipman was elected to the Israeli Knesset in 2013 on Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party ticket. The party won a surprising 19 seats in the Knesset, with its representatives coming from diverse backgrounds, both in religious affiliation and culture. Since then, Rabbi Lipman has been active and vocal in addressing many issues, particularly those where religious and secular society clash—mandatory military or national service for all Israeli citizens, the role of women in Israeli society, marriage laws. Lipman argues that the greatest threat to the future of the Jewish people is the “abandonment of core Jewish values and ideals which include loving-kindness, respecting others, and not doing onto others what you don’t want done to yourself.”

This short volume is a personal manifesto that includes experiences that influenced Rabbi Lipman’s world view as well as observations on current Israeli events. Because of the nature of the essays, most references are not sourced in detail. While Rabbi Lipman does not shy away from some of today’s pressing issues, including African migrants and women wearing tallit (prayer shawl) and praying at the Kotel (the Western Wall), most of these matters have been festering for years and will not be solved quickly, even with a return to core Jewish values. He has had success in confronting local extremists and focusing on common ideals in Bet Shemesh. It will be interesting to see which aspects of Rabbi Lipman’s vision will be implemented and when during his promising political career. The book is a good choice for libraries whose patrons are interested in the history of modern Israel and its complicated politics.

This excerpt is from the Association of Jewish Libraries .


Review of The Mystery of the Milton Manuscript

September 15, 2014

by Caryl HarveyMilton

Doctoral candidate Keith Jessup has an interesting thesis: suppose there was a hidden meaning to Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and another manuscript that explained it. Suppose the manuscript isn’t an endorsement of faith at all, but quite the opposite. The theory isn’t original; in fact there are several scholars, one of whom is Keith’s mentor, who lecture on the same premise. It all might be rather tedious and boring, researching dusty manuscripts looking for some kind of coded message in each word. Then, Keith’s mentor is killed in a car crash that may not have been accidental. There are people who openly oppose Keith’s work and try to discredit him, and there are those who utter dark threats behind closed doors. When Keith is nearly killed himself, he might abandon the quest except for one thing: his mentor left his estate to Keith, including his research and the charge to bring forth the truth. But until that truth is out, and the plots exposed, someone is working “like hell” to bury Keith, his girlfriend and the Milton Manuscript.

 If someone told me that the gospels proved the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ to be lies, I would fight like… well, like hell to defend heaven. That is the premise on which Barry Libin bases his story. He knows his scripture, and his observations about the scholarly world his protagonist lives in are spot-on. The mystery is engaging and the reader does feel the threat emerging page-by-page. My only reservation is a big one. As a Christian, I would be enraged to find someone trying to prove that the gospels were actually well-coded attempts to say that the story of Christ was a fable. But a poem written by someone who doesn’t claim divine knowledge? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the book. But Dan Brown, who wrote “The DaVinci Code” knew how to sell controversy;  to sell a plot to his readers; the author must make them believe in the world he has created and to accept the idea that it MATTERS. Libin is faced with the same task — in this case convincing his readers that Milton’s manuscript is a huge threat to the world of established faith. For me, that didn’t happen. Good story, good characterization, nice glimpse into the world of academia. It is even a nice read. But I wasn’t forced to hang onto the book so I wouldn’t miss a word while I reached around it to brush my teeth. That is the litmus test.

This review was originally written on iloveamysterynewsletter.com 

 


Ohr Hashachar Book Launch

September 1, 2014

We are pleased to announce that Ohr HaShachar is now available.OhrHaShachar

Ohr HaShachar is an in-depth commentary in English on Birchot HaShachar (the morning blessings), published by Urim Publications. It’s more than a commentary actually – this is a “machshava” sefer, a philosophical work on Judaism, containing novel approaches to a host of central concepts in Torah.

This Thursday the author, David Bar Cohn, will be hosting a book launch at his home.

Books will be available for purchase.

Light nosh will be served.

Place: 2/1 Nachal Alexander, Ramat Beit Shemesh-A
Date: Thurs, Sept 4, 2014
Time: 8:30 – 9:30pm

You can see a preview of the book online: http://www.barcohn.com.

 


New preview of Ohr HaShachar

August 31, 2014

Ohr Hashahar is an in-depth commentary on the morning blessings and their underlying concepts. It covers Modeh AOhrHaShacharni, Netilat Yadayim, Asher Yatzar, Elokai Neshama, Birchot HaTorah, and the fifteen blessings of Birchot HaShachar. The “Preview Edition” features samples from selected chapters. The full book is available at http://www.UrimPublications.com as well as Amazon.com.

To see a special preview of our new book, Ohr Hashachar by David Bar-Cohn, click here.


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