Yonah was a prophet running scared, anxious to avoid his God-determined mission at all cost. He fled to Yafo and then hopped on a boat headed toward Tarshish, aiming to escape God’s territorial grasp. It is not so simple to escape from God, neither physically, nor spiritually. God knew how to remind Jonah that his escape was just a delusion: “But God cast a mighty wind (ruah gedolah) upon the sea, and such a great tempest came upon the sea that the ship was in danger of breaking up.” (1:4)
The Talmud Yerushalmi recognized a similarity between this event in Jonah’s life and events in the lives of two other biblical characters: “Said Rabbi Huna: In three places, an extraordinary wind came and wanted to destroy the entire world: one in the days of Jonah and one in the days of Eliyahu and one in the days of Job. In the days of Jonah – “But God cast a mighty wind”; in the days of Job – “And behold a mighty wind (ruah gedolah) came off of the wilderness. It struck the four corners of the house.” (Job 1:19) In the days of Eliyahu, how so? “There was a great and mighty wind (ruah gedolah v’hazak), splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord.” (1 Kings 19:11)” (Yerushalmi Berachot 9:2, 13d)
The similarity is particularly evident in the parallels between the verse from Jonah and the passage from the story of Eliyahu. In both cases, a “great wind” was sent by God in order to teach these prophets a lesson. Eliyahu fled his mission to save his life, when he was threatened by the evil queen, Jezebel. From the moment that he showed greater concern for himself than for his God-given mission, he lost interest in life. God used a “great wind” to remind him of his responsibilities. Jonah’s life follows this same path. In order to escape his mission, he retreats to the depths of the ship and falls into a lethargic sleep, ignoring his fate. Only as a result of a “great wind” does he again respond to reality. (A. Shinan, Y. Zakovitch, Sefer Jonah – Peirush Yisraeli Hadash, pp. 11-2; 33)
Sometimes human beings need a “great wind” to wake them up from their lethargic ignorance to act responsibly. Scripture offers us the stories of the lives of great people as paradigms of how to act and less frequently of how not to act. That way, we might not need to wait for the next “great wind” to mend our ways.