Accepting Your Mission

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Holy Land Moments
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“But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.” — Jonah 1:3

During Yom Kippur, the traditional Scripture reading for the afternoon service comes from the book of Jonah. As you may recall, God called upon Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the wicked people there to repent or face God’s judgment. Instead, Jonah decided to evade God’s commandment, and in fact, tried to hide. He took refuge in a boat, but when an unusual storm threatened to destroy the vessel, Jonah was thrown overboard to save the other men. He was swallowed by a whale and remained there until he prayed to be released and accepted his divine mission. Finally, Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh, and they repented.

One relevant message from Jonah is that repentance is always possible. If the evil people of Nineveh could repent, so can we. But there is another message. Jonah’s journey is everyone’s journey, say the Sages. What we read in Jonah is the story of our lives.

We are all born with a divine mission. Though we may not know it, there is a purpose for which we are born – something that only we can do. But often we are afraid to accept our task. We try to evade it. The text tells us that Jonah went to two places before he boarded the boat, Tarshish and Joppa. While these are names of towns in Israel, they also mean “wealth” and “beauty,” respectively.

Sound familiar? We, too, try to escape our mission in life by distracting ourselves with wealth and beauty. Yet, no matter how much stuff we acquire, something inside of us remains empty. There is a hole that just can’t be filled with physical things.

My friend David lives in the holy city of Safed. There, he studies Jewish mysticism and makes beautiful art based on his learning. But his life didn’t always look this way. Twenty-five years ago, David became very ill. Until he found himself lying in a hospital bed, not knowing if he would live or die, David had been living a “normal” life. But it wasn’t his life. Not the one he came here to live.

Thinking that his life might soon come to end, David knew that something had to change. Like Jonah in the whale, David knew that he could live his mission, or die trying to escape it. Once he was well, David completely changed his life. And he hasn’t looked back since.

Yom Kippur is the day on which each one of us can relive Jonah’s journey, and consider whether we are running from God’s divine mission for us or toward it.


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