Jonah, A Man of Conscience

In the Hebrew Bible we read the tale of a man called Jonah. God called him to be His messenger to the wicked sinners of Ninevah and to urge them to repent and turn from their evil ways.

Jonah, however, was reluctant to accept the mission. He believed that the people of Ninevah were so entrenched in evil that no amount of repentance would be sufficient for their redemption. He therefore decided to run away from the God of Israel and he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish, in Spain.

A great storm arose and the small boat tossed from side to side. Each man was asked to pray to his god to save them. Jonah understood that the God of Israel was punishing him and told the crew to toss him overboard. They reluctantly did so and the storm abated. Jonah was then swallowed up by a great fish and from the bowels of the fish he cried unto his God for mercy.

God heard Jonah’s cries and the fish cast him out onto dry land. From there, he continued on his journey to Ninevah to preach destruction when, lo and behold, the king and all of his nation repented of their evil ways and sought God’s pardon, which, to Jonah’s anger, was granted.

Jonah felt he had been sent on a fool’s mission and he sat on a hill under a gourd and sulked. He came to Ninevah with the intent of preaching their doom and destruction only to learn that God, in His wisdom and mercy, had heard the cries of the people who repented and God granted forgiveness.

I am reminded of the Jonah story because I have a Jonah story of my own. There is a man called Jonah who lives in the American state of Connecticut. He is married to a beautiful wife and they share the blessings of five lovely children. This Jonah is not a Jew but he is a man of great conscience.

He reads the blogs in the TIMES OF ISRAEL and on two occasions he has written comments about my articles. His first comment commended me for “Bittersweet Israel: August 2015”, published on September 15th. His recent comment chastised me for “Is Anyone Listening?”, published on November 30th.

Regrettably I am computer illiterate and did not know how to respond to his comments. I tried various methods, all unsuccessful, until my daughter found a way in which I could respond to him. And respond I did. I hope he received the response successfully.

This young Jonah has a conscience which troubles him. He sees good and he rejoices. He sees less-than-good and he is angered. He condemned my November 30th article which commented on the Slomianski proposal in the Knesset regarding deportation of families of terrorists as a means of deterring further terrorist attacks and killings.

That proposal found favor in the eyes of our Prime Minister and our Minister of Defense. Quoting the reports from Israeli newspapers and our Channel 2 television station, I too agreed with the deportation proposal.

This angered Jonah, the man of conscience, who asked me how a civilized country could resort to collective punishment. I replied, citing the laws of the former British Mandatory government which frequently practiced collective punishment upon villages and families in the Arab communities which had supported civil disobedience, riots and murders of the Jewish population.

If, I wrote, collective punishment was a successful deterrent used by the civilized British, why would it not be possible for Jews in the civilized and democratic State of Israel to follow the former British practice?

It is extremely difficult to explain to non-Israelis the dangerous situations under which we are forced to live. Not one day passes without a stabbing, a shooting, a suicide bomber, a car-rammer of an Israeli Jew by a young Palestinian teen-ager seeking martyrdom in a heaven where 72 virgins await him.

Those who don’t live life as we do simply do not understand us. And our hasbara… information agency.. has been inefficient in painting a picture of the deaths and the streets running with our blood here, in our once-upon-a-time holy land. Yet, there are elements of holiness among our people who struggle daily in dedicated and devoted efforts to stop the terrorism peacefully.

We pray for peace because we long for peace because our God is the God of peace. We meet, greet and depart with the word “shalom” on our lips. The word comes from the root stem “shalem” which means wholeness, totality. When we are whole with ourselves, we are at peace with ourselves and with others.

The young Jonah of Connecticut in America is a man of faith and goodwill. He is pained by some of the things I write. That is because he has an American conscience whereas my conscience is wholly Israeli. Democracy is only a word defined by different peoples and nations in different ways. The Democratic Republic of North Korea is a far cry from the Democratic United States.

Peace, on the other hand, is not simply a word. It is an act committed by peoples and nations seeking harmony. To our sorrow, our Palestinian neighbors have not committed harmonious acts.

Unlike the biblical Jonah, we cannot afford to sit on a hill under a vine and sulk. We must guard the hill and make of it a strong fortress which will defend us from those who seek our deaths. I don’t know what that decent Jonah in Connecticut could reply. I commend him for his concern for our safety and hope the day will come when the Jonah of Connecticut will make the pilgrimage to our capitol city of Jerusalem. There he will be embraced and blessed by the peace-loving people of Israel.

Only then can Jonah of Connecticut, USA truly understand the meaning of shalom. For the time being we are forced to live with the prophet Jeremiah’s sad elegy…
Shalom, shalom v’ain shalom…. Peace, peace, but there is no peace. Perhaps it will come in the time of the messiah.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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