Tuesday, September 16, 2003

So I've been thinking about this Jonah thing, what with Yom Kippur coming and all... and the story and the character of Jonah just get more and more bizarre. I mean, the book is a commentary about being a prophet, in which the only prophet mentioned turns out to be a false prophet, even though he preached what HaShem told him to, and in which G-d in the end rebukes Jonah by mentioning the livestock of Nineveh. I love it: "And what about the cows?" A bovine bottom line is hard to argue with.

This book is, dramatically speaking, a definite farce. Were this a comedy of manners, the prophet would still be a role of honor by the story's end. No other prophet is presented as a good example, and if this book were free-standing and this were our only impression of prophecy, would we take the idea seriously? I hope not. (Of course, "Jonah" isn't its own context... but nonetheless.)

As to dramatic action, we're left hanging on a question out of G-d's mouth, as if the punchline ends the situation arbitrarily and abruptly. It almost plays like a Three Stooges short: the premise is in place for the sake of the gags. Now, this is not to imply that there isn't a very serious point to the book, because there is. But the point is not to chronicle the historical salvation of Nineveh. The point is to put the prophet in his place: under G-d. If G-d changes his mind, he might sacrifice your reputation. Your rep is less important than 120,000 lives. Poor, poor egotistical, hard-headed, idiotic prophet...

And here I hit the theological wall because, as a good friend pointed out to me yesterday, Yeshua alligns himself with Jonah. I'd like to say that Yeshua allows himself to take the role of the one who has the rug pulled out from under him. Does this mean that he was hapless, that Yeshua's ministry was not fulfilled? Of course not! He knew where he was heading, and he went willingly. He was prepared to have everything taken away from him at Golgotha.

So what this allignment means, I believe, is that Jonah's ministry was, in fact, fulfilled, even though he didn't get it. He lived the example of the prophet in order to patrol the prophetic tradition. He did give the message he was assigned, and it had a positive effect in the ears of his hearers, which is something the majority of prophets could never boast.

And the other difference between Jonah and Yeshua that we, as a contemporary community of teachers, prophets, and spiritual leaders need to keep well in mind, is that Jonah did NOT know where he was going. He acted on faith, preaching to Nineveh in the hope that G-d would back him up. And G-d, in his wisdom, did not. And G-d (yes, still within his righteousness) didn't let Jonah in on what was going to happen, because he needed Jonah to fill a catalytic role in the salvation of many.

I'm musing around about this because I feel so much like Jonah these days. I know G-d has called me to many specific things, but every time I do what he has led me to do, I smack into locked doors, or I realize he led me to one place in order to find another. And it's often frustrating, although quite masochisticly fascinating at the same time, to watch G-d's meandering process in my life.

So my lesson to myself from Jonah? Go out in boldness when G-d tells me to. Because my role in the world is ultimately more important than my reputation. Listen to the divine instructions, and follow them wherever they go, even when G-d "changes his mind."

Monday, September 15, 2003

Yom Kippur looms ahead of me. My favorite day of the year: catharsis. The day when we lay it all on the line, the day we recognize and claim our corporate and personal atonement through Messiah. The day of fasting, pleading and forgiveness. And it is this forgiveness that pierces my heart. We are asked, even in an age of terrorism, even as Israel is under constant attack, to forgive those who hate us.

I know that I, as someone who identifies as a Jew, am the object of hatred, and this never ceases to astonish me. This whole puzzle of anti-semitism is grevious and perplexing. I sit with my people in restaurants. I sing with them, I dance with them, I pray with them, I learn with them. I sit with Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jews, Moroccan and Ukrainian and French and Yemenite and Persian Jews. Every time I am out in the Jewish world, my heart is happy. My people are so beautiful, so full of life, so glad just to be alive. We allow ourselves to rejoice deeply and mourn deeply. We want to help repair the world. We want to cure its illness.

Yet six million gone in Europe. Countless millions gone under Stalin. Pograms, synagogue burnings, vandalism - what exactly have we done? How could anyone deserve this? Why can Israel not live in peace? Why has the world always treated us with such disgust and revulsion?

Is there really something wrong with my blood?

I love my blood. I love being a Jew. I love the responsibilities of a Jew, including that of forgiveness. So can I forgive, as I have been forgiven? Can my community forgive? I've got to do something. I will not become the person who hates in order to survive. Nor will I give up on Israel, the home I've never seen. I will trust HaShem to love where I cannot within my soul, to fill in the gaps that weaken my love. Love for home, for family, for enemies, for life itself. I will pour out my whole heart on Yom Kippur, for Israel and all her enemies.

Oh Jerusalem, how I ache for you! To see you happy and well, full of prayer and gentle justice. How I long to pray at the Wall surrounded in peace. I wonder if the day will ever come. When will Jerusalem be able to forgive? G-d, when will it come?

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