The Haftorah for the morning is a section in Isaiah that discusses teshuvah (lit. “to return”) and fasting. Isaiah talks about a practice of fasting for show or not completely fasting. In that vein, Isaiah teaches us how to fast properly. Essentially, he tells us to let go of all of our material concerns and show kindness to those around us. If then you call and cry out to G-d, then will G-d say, “Here I am.”
For the afternoon we read the whole book of Jonah. Perhaps you are familiar with it? G-d asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the people that they were being so nasty that G-d was going to destroy them. Jonah wasn’t so thrilled with the idea so he ran away on a boat. But can you truly run away from G-d or your problems? Not really. There was a crazy storm and when Jonah admitted to being the probable cause for the crazy weather, he offered to take a long walk off a short plank and they tossed him overboard.
After landing in the water, full of melancholy, he was swallowed whole by a very big fish. Good thing it was a big fish because he spent some time in there feeling pretty sorry for himself. After a while, Jonah realized the power of G-d and that G-d was probably right and so Jonah asked G-d if he could be forgiven and return to G-d’s good graces. The fish promptly tossed his cookies (or should we say, tossed his Jonah), and Jonah headed to do the job he was charged with.
When he arrived in Nineveh, he told them that they had forty days until G-d was going to destroy them and “boy was this G-d character not kidding, remind me to tell you about the time I was swallowed by a fish!” The people of Nineveh decided that this crazy, fish-smelling fellow might be on to something and they decided it was better to fast, repent, and change their ways. Since they did what G-d (through Jonah) asked, G-d decided that this place and people would be spared. And, Jonah was pissed. WHAT?! I spent time in a fish’s tummy for this!? And Jonah stormed off.
He went to the outskirts of the city and sat pouting, and during his pout he watched a worm destroy a tree that was providing him with shade. G-d said to Jonah, look dude, you took pity on this tree that you didn’t even plant or water or shine sunlight on it to make it grow. But I can’t take pity on the city of Nineveh or the more than 120,000 people who live there?! G-d created everything; if G-d chooses to spare us, who are we to criticize?
We conclude that haftorah with a section from Micah that talks about G-d’s love and kindness toward the people G-d has created . . . how forgiving G-d can be even with our missteps. "G-d does not maintain G-d’s anger forever, for G-d is a lover of kindness. G-d will have mercy on us, G-d will grasp our iniquities and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." Just like we went to the water to toss our own sins into the depths of the sea, so will G-d and they will be no longer accessible to us. Total and complete forgiveness.
Gamar Chatima Tova -- may you be inscribed in the book of life for a good life. I hope your fast is an easy one. Happy 5771!
Note: Some congregations have the minhag (tradition) of changing these readings. In general, a Reform machzor (holiday prayer book) has a reading from Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-14 and 30:11-20 for Yom Kippur. Also, some Conservative congregations read Vayikrah 19 instead of 18 in the afternoon. Bonus -- most shuls have a machzor that has the Torah portion printed in it with an English translation so you can read along with the rabbi.
Yom Kippur from G-dcast.com
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