One of the messages of the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) is that we can’t escape from God. This message is taught in the Book of Jonah which is read during the Yom Kippur Mincha service.
The Book of Jonah begins with God asking Jonah the Prophet to go to Ninveh and cry out to her to try to get the wicked people there to repent.
Why didn’t Jonah want to go to Ninveh?
According to Rashi, Jonah did not want the people of Ninveh to repent as they were not Jewish and he was afraid that they would listen to him and repent while the Jewish people never listened to the prophets when they were told to repent. Jonah didn’t want the Jews to look bad.
Instead of trying to refuse God’s command to prophesize he decided to disappear.
In Jonah 1:3 we read: “Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from before God’s Presence. He went down to Yafo and found a Tarshish-bound ship; he paid its fare and boarded it to travel with them to Tarshish from before God’s Presence. ”
Jonah could not actually run away from God. However, Yehuda HaLevi taught in Sefer HaKuzari that Jonah was hoping to be able to run away from the Shechina (Divine Presence) and God’s prophecies. According to Yehuda HaLevi, all prophecy either takes place in the Land of Israel or is concerning the Land of Israel. As it says in Dvarim 11:12: “The eyes of God are always upon it (The Land of Israel).”
The Talmud, Nedarim 38a states that Jonah did not only pay his own fare, he paid for the hire of the entire ship (four thousand dinars of gold) in order to get out of the Land of Israel as quickly as possible. Ben Yehoyada adds that Jonah refused to wait several days until the ship collected a full load of passengers and cargo. He therefore paid the hire of the entire ship and had the crew sail immediately.
We all know what happens next. A storm hits, Jonah tells the sailors to throw him overboard, Jonah is swallowed by a large fish and gets spit onto dry land (back in the Land of Israel) after praying in the fish for three days.
This time when God commands Jonah to go to Nivnveh he goes!
True repentance according to the Rambam is when you are put in the same situation yet you don’t transgress a second time.
We see from here that there is no escaping God. God was with Jonah on the boat, God was with him when he was thrown into the water and God was with him in the fish (it otherwise would have been impossible for him to live in the fish for three days without oxygen).
The concept of Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence) means that God is with each of us, wherever we may be, in the good times as well as in the bad times.
This Yom Kippur, let’s keep in mind that we can’t escape from God so we may as well enjoy the fact that God is looking out for us and use it as an opportunity to get closer to Him.