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Saturday, 10 January 2015

G-d loves us eternally

Daf Yomi Yevamos 98

Jonah is called upon by G-d to warn the inhabitants of Nineveh to repent or else they will be destroyed.  Upon receiving the prophecy, he attempts to run away from G-d, boarding a ship bound for Tarsus.  Caught in a terrible storm, the ship is about to capsize, when Jonah reveals to all that he is the cause of the disruption.  They throw him overboard and he is swallowed by a large fish until he finally accedes to the Almighty’s request to go to Nineveh.

Our Sages teach that Jonah was hesitant to travel to Nineveh because he feared incriminating his Jewish brethren.  ‘If I cause the Assyrians in Nineveh to repent, that will reflect poorly on the Israelites who remain unfaithful to G-d,’ he reasons.  In fact, the Malbim explains that the future victory of the Assyrians over the Kingdom of Israel hinged on their greater commitment to the Divine will and so Jonah would have rather thrown himself overboard for his brothers’ sake than be the cause of their eventual destruction.

Eventually, however, G-d convinces him to fulfill the mission and go to Nineveh.  What does He tell him that changes his mind?

Following his safe arrival on dry land, the Scripture writes, “And the word of G-d came to Jonah a second time saying . . .”
The Master taught: The Divine spoke with Jonah a second time, but not a third.

The Gemara asks: Is it not written in the Book of Kings, “In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, King of Judea, Jeroboam the son of Joash King of Israel reigned for forty one years.  He did evil in the eyes of G-d; he did not turn away from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat who had caused Israel to sin. But he got took back the border of Israel from Levo Hamath until the Aravah Sea like the word of Hashem, G-d of Israel, that he spoke by the hand of his servant, Jonah the son of Amitai the prophet from Gat Hefer.  For G-d saw the poverty of Israel was very bitter, they were unguarded and abandoned and Israel had no savior.  And G-d never said that the name of Israel should be wiped out from beneath the heavens and so He saved them through Jeroboam the son of Joash.”   From here we see that Jonah had a further prophecy beyond the original two mentioned in the Book of Jonah! 

Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak answers: This passage does not mean that G-d spoke again to Jonah.   Rather, it was ‘like’ the word of Hashem that he spoke by the hand of his servant the prophet.  Just like the decree of Nineveh was transformed from bad to good, so too in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, the decree of Israel was transformed from bad to good. 

There were many instances of bad decrees being transformed to good.  What is the connection between Jonah and King Jeroboam?  Jonah is hesitant to go to Nineveh because he senses that he will be aiding the later Assyrian destruction of the Kingdom of Israel.   Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak teaches us that G-d’s message to Jonah that ‘twists his arm’ to go to Nineveh appears in the Book of Kings. 

What is the word of G-d to Jonah?  No matter what happens, G-d will never break His covenant with the Children of Israel.   We have dealt with challengers to our special relationship that look at the destruction and exile of our people and conclude that the Almighty abandoned us and picked others in our stead.  G-d comforts Jonah and tells him that even if we fail to obey Him, “He never said that the name of Israel should be wiped out from beneath the heavens.”   Even if we are unfaithful and our leadership is unworthy, as in the time of Jeroboam, G-d will have mercy upon us and redeem us.  Hearing that, Jonah was comforted and set off on his mission to chastise the people of Nineveh.

G-d made a covenant with our forefather, Abraham.  He renewed that covenant with the Children of Israel as we left Egypt.   We are His children.  You are His precious child.  He has never forsaken the Jewish people.  He has never forsaken you.  He loves you and wants the best for you.  It doesn’t matter whether you think you’re a good Jew or not.  He wants the best for you.  He wants to shower you with his blessing.  He wants you to be healthy, prosperous, successful and happy.  Just turn and reach out your hand to Him and no matter how challenging your life may be, He will transform it.

Your father in Heaven loves you.  No matter what you have done in life, He has never forsaken you.  He can transform your life and fill it with blessings in the blink of an eye.  May you have the courage to turn to Him, ask for, and receive His blessings!  

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