February 25, 2020
“I knew that Thou art a gracious G-d, and compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy.” – Jonah 4:2, JPS 1917 Tanach
Turning away from his G-d given mission, Jonah had proffered that because G-d is merciful, He would forgive the sins of the Ninevites who were Israel’s enemies. His hard-heartedness could not permit him to answer’s G-d’s call, to be the one who would go to warn the Ninevites of their impending judgment and destruction unless they do teshuvah (repent). Yet, G-d rerouted Jonah, after he tried to flee from His presence.
After completing his mission, Jonah was angry that G-d relented of the destruction that He intended for the Ninevites. Rather than acknowledging the extent of G-d’s mercy, he was closed off to “the other.” His own sense of compassion to others was limited; rather, he was focused on G-d’s strict Attribute of Justice.
G-d tried to teach him an object lesson. He caused a gourd plant to grow up quickly, in order to give shade to Jonah, who was exposed to the unrelenting sun. The next day, G-d sent a worm to destroy the gourd plant; Jonah was left exposed to the heat, and he fainted. Jonah was bereft without the gourd.
G-d noticed that Jonah took pity on the gourd. He explained, that just as Jonah felt a longing for the gourd, shouldn’t G-d Himself feel pity towards the Ninevites, who “cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand?” (Jonah 4:11).
This is not an easy lesson to learn – to take pity on others, who are ignorant of G-d’s ways. Those who live lives, seemingly even opposed to G-d, yet, do not know any better, because they were never shown a better way. They seem entrenched in unrighteousness; yet, we ourselves, should not remain recalcitrant towards them. How is it possible to approach them with an open heart, to show them the way?