Posts Tagged 'Yonah'

The Right Dove: A Study in Empathy

A few weeks ago, at Mincha on the afternoon of Yom Kippur we read the book of Yonah. There we saw a recalcitrant prophet unwilling to carry out God’s bidding. He was directed to speak truth to the power of Nineveh. Yadda yadda yadda…he was being vomited by whale. Finding himself back on dry land he is called a second time to prophesize to the people of Nineveh. This time he carries out the task, walking across the large city proclaiming, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Yonah 3:4) I was always troubled by what happened next. There we read:

Now Yonah had left the city and found a place east of the city. He made a booth there and sat under it in the shade, until he should see what happened to the city.

Yonah 4:5

Maybe Yonah wanted to leave the city out of fear of what would happen when it was overthrown. But, then why did stick around to see what would transpire? It just seems cruel or at least insensitive. It is as if he were child watching ants getting burned by the sun being focused by a divine magnifying glass. What is the nature of Yonah’s character?

I was thinking about Yonah this week when reading Noah, this week’s Torah portion. Here we see that the world has been overthrown and Noah is trying to figure out when to leave the ark and return to the world. At first, he sends out a Raven, but it was to no avail. While the rain has finally stopped the water had not receded. And then he sends out a dove. That does not work either. There we read:

He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove from the ark. The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth. He waited still another seven days and sent the dove forth; and it did not return to him any more.

Genesis 8:10-12

So the dove came back and saved Noah, what is the connection with the story of Yonah? Well it turns out that Yonah- the name of the prophet means dove. One dove is sent by God to get them to leave their evil ways out of fear of destruction. After delivering the message he sits out to see if they will pass or fail this test. The other dove is sent by Noah who has seen the world destroyed to help him determine when he can re-enter the world. This dove could have just made it life on dry land, but instead returns to invite Noah and the rest of the Ark to join them.

The difference between these two doves reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from The West Wing. The context hardly matters:


Leo McGarry’s character says:

This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

West Wing

Like the doctor and the priest, Yonah the prophet is the classic consultant. He told the people of Ninevah what was wrong as if tossing down a script or prayer and then sat on the side to watch. The dove is very different. The dove shows Noah how to get out of the hole. He knows how to get out of the ark and live in the world. As if to say, “Yeah, but I’ve been out here before, and I know the way.”

This makes me pause and reread the story of the dove in a new way. Why did the dove carry the proof of land in its mouth and not in its talon? Just like the friend in Leo McGarry’s story, it is not about what you say that is important, it only matters what you do. Noah needed proof of land to leave the ark. The way out was not through words, but the doves actions of bringing back the olive branch in its bill. The world is sustained by empathy- our capacity to jump into hole.

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A Shabbat Thought For Camp Post Roe v Wade

Note to Camp Director: I offer you this message which you might adopt/adapt/share with you staff this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom. Welcome back to camp. I pause at this moment of our coming together in this place we love with the people we love at a time we love to give space to what some of us might be feeling at this moment. 

For so many of us, camp is special because when we come here we get to explore our best selves. Here we try on new elements of who each of us might be or are becoming. Camp is not just a location, time of the year, or even a group of people. Camp is an educational philosophy. Camp is a way of thinking about how we might self actualize and, in the process, help our campers do the same. Camp is a home away from home. Camp is a bubble away from all of that stuff out there. For many of us camp is the Shabbat of our year. 

I pause at this moment to recognize that many of us feel at risk. We find ourselves amidst the storm of COVID, political upheaval in Israel, rising racism and anti-Semitism, gun violence, war in Ukraine, and shifting of who makes laws about our bodies at home. Today, June 24th, the US Supreme Court overruled the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case. To many of us this ruling seems like a trespass of people’s personal and religious rights to have agency over their own bodies. This may feel scary. While this may or might not directly impact you or people you love, this ruling represents a challenge to our sacred Jewish obligation to prioritize the life and health of the pregnant person. What could our camp’s role be in supporting our community members who may feel existentially threatened? What role does our community play in helping people regain personal agency and their capacity to self-actualize?

I find some comfort in the words from the chorus to Yom Shabbaton – The Sabbath Day, a song traditionally sung on Shabbat. Written by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (1075–1141), this poem describes the complete rest and peace of Shabbat. As we sing:

Yonah matz’ah vo manoach v’sham yanuchu y’giei choach.

The dove does find her rest, and there rest those whose strength is spent.

The dove that rested on the Shabbat day is instantly identifiable as Noah’s dove. Sent from the ark to check if the flood had receded, the tired dove found rest on the dry land (Genesis 8:12). Hidden amidst the chaos of a world that is destructive and painful, Shabbat is a small island poking out from the vast and threatening sea. While the world stands shattered and torn, this small perch for the dove is the first glimmer of hope for all of us. 

But it is hard to have hope, when we are feeling grief and loss. One quote that speaks to this feeling comes from Martin Prechtel’s The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise. He writes:

Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.

Before we run ahead to meet the demands of the day — and we will —  let’s reflect on this praise for what we may miss. We might miss ideas and ideals of our country’s “more perfect union”. We might be missing the feeling of autonomy and agency. We also might be missing the feeling we have of self-actualization. For many of us this is something that we discovered here at camp. In this moment of grief I want to take a moment to praise, honor, and love our camp community as a home.

In seeing how many people feel unsafe right now, I find hope right here right now with you. In our coming together to make Shabbat at our camp we can find respite from the storm out there. Together we need to make camp for ourselves, each other, and our campers. From that perch, our community will start to rebuild our broken world. In this way, Shabbat will provide us Shalom– peace. Welcome back home. Shabbat Shalom.

Note to Camp Director: Thank you for everything that you do for our community. If we can be helpful  in anyway do not hesitate to be in touch avi@jewishcamp.org Also please share any resources that you might have so we can share it with the field. We are curating content for camps here.

If you or your staff need immediate mental health supports beyond your community’s capacity, for any reason, here are some resources to share:

  • Text “HOME” to 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line
  • Text “START” to 678-678 for The Trevor Project LGBTQ support center
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free, confidential 24/7 support

Basking in the Shade: Some Thoughts on Sefer Yonah, Sukkot, and the Nature of Teshuva

From the start, Yonah evades God’s command to prophesize in Nineveh. When he finally does his job, Yonah seems disappointed by his success. The people do the work of repenting, but where is Yonah? We read:

Now Yonah had left the city and found a place east of the city. He made a sukkah there and sat under it in the shade, until he should see what happened to the city. (Yonah 4:5 )

Yonah thinks or hopes that they will fail and he will experience schadenfreude. Yonah is incredulous that repentance could work.

Celebrating Sukkot: Feast of Tabernacles | Cedars-Sinai

Like Yonah, in a few days we too will find ourselves sitting in a sukkah. We might also conclude that people cannot change. Then, in Kohelet, we will read, “There is nothing new under the sun!” (Kohelet 1:9). After spending all day thinking about our sins, what makes us think that we could be anything other than sinners? 

We learn, “A disorderly sukkah which casts more shade than sunlight is kosher” (Mishnah Sukkah 2:2).  Our lives are messy and it is still true that nothing might change under the sun, but if we can bask in the shade of the sukkah, we might imagine a new reality. 

Albert Einstein said, “ Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” We cannot evade the will of God. We cannot hide in the bottom of a boat or in the gullet of a whale. But under the shade of a Sukkah, we are invited to think past the harsh logic of sin and punishment. We need to find refuge from the relentless sun. We need to open ourselves to the possibility of change. Because imagination is the prerequisite for redemption, and it will take us everywhere.

-From the YCT, IRF, Maharat Machzor Companion – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 5781/2020

Consuming Role

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Korach, along with Dattan, Aviram, and 250 men from the tribe of Reuven, challenged Moshe’s and Aaron’s leadership. Eventually Korach, Dattan, and Aviram, along with their entire families were swallowed up by the earth, while the 250 men were consumed by a heavenly fire. While they repressed a threat to Moshe’s and Aaron’s authority their extreme nature of their punishment seems out of proportion. At the end of the Torah portion we read that Aaron is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. Aaron’s election is confirmed through a “test of the staffs”. There we read:

17 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shall write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. 19 And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ 21 And Moshe spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 22 And Moshe laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moshe went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 24 And Moshe brought out all the rods from before the Lord to all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod. (Numbers 17: 17-24)

This seems like such a more reasonable way to resolve conflict. Each loser takes his staff home, no one gets eaten by the earth or burned to death, and the winner gets an almond treat.  It seems that the Levi bracket in the tournament was really tough. Why did we need to have the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery?

Before I discussed this idea and its connection to the story of Esther. This time I wanted to discuss it in the context of the story of Yonah. Near the start of his story we see him on the run from being a prophet for God. God sends a storm to thwart his escape by boat. To preempt the ship being destroyed he and the people drew lots to see who was causing the storm. Just as the almond staff bloomed for Aaron, this lot fell on Yonah. He is thrown from the boat only to be swallowed by a giant fish just as Korach was swallowed up by the ground.

What do we make of this juxtaposition of these two stories? Where this is the end of Korach’s story, this seems to just be the start of Yonah’s story. Korach was never really satisfied with his role as compared to Moshe’s role. From being swallowed Yonah turns his life around and finally fulfills his appointed role.   I often reflect on my role in life. How do I  come to accept it? Figuring that out can be quite consuming.

 

– A special shout out to our friends Ari and Adina on the bris of their son Yonah Shemer. I think that is how I got Yonah on my mind. Mazel Tov.

 


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