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The Story of Your Life

The Story of Your Life


The Book of Jonah, read in its entirety during the Yom Kippur afternoon services, is the story of your life. This is what the Kabbalah says.1

I know what you’re thinking. “This has got to be a metaphor, because I have never boarded a seafaring vessel bound for Tarshish to escape prophecy, gotten caught in a storm, had the crew throw me overboard and been swallowed by a fish.”

You’re right. Those things haven’t happened to you. And they probably won’t happen to very many of us. But, still, the Zohar says that this is the real story of your life.

You are Jonah. The real you, for “Jonah”—in Kabbalistic parlance—is another name for the soul. Hence, the story of Jonah is the story of a soul’s journey here on earth. Thus, on Yom Kippur, as we examine our lives and consider our purpose in this world, we remember the historical Jonah whose real-life narrative symbolizes our spiritual odyssey.

Your story begins at birth. A soul from on high is plunged into an earthly body. Before its descent, the soul lived an angel-like existence, basking in a glow of spirituality, intimately bound to its Creator. But the soul must leave its home. It is confined to a material vessel, its senses overwhelmed by the brash stimuli of this world. “Jonah,” the soul, “boards the ship,” the body. And where does this ship take its passenger? “Away from the presence of G‑d.” Indeed, the very name of Jonah—closely related to a Hebrew word meaning “aggrieved”—alludes to the unique frustration of the soul confined to the body.

The soul, Jonah, the hapless passenger, has traveled far away from G‑d. Yet, where can one go and be far from the One? Where is it that the Omnipresent cannot be found? Has the soul—upon entering this coarse, physical realm—really left G‑d behind? Just as G‑d was with Jonah at the moment of his first prophecy in the Holy Land, so too was G‑d with Jonah as he languished on the high seas.

And yet, we, like Jonah, delude ourselves into thinking that our journey to this earth has somehow taken us “out of range” of our relationship with G‑d. Like Jonah, we take this perceived distance as an indication that we have somehow been dismissed from our mission. But no; the soul does not escape G‑d by coming down to this earth. To the contrary, it is an agent of G‑d, a representative of His will charged with imbuing sanctity into the mundane and perfecting an imperfect world.

Sooner or later, the false lure of material satisfaction comes to its inevitable conclusion, and the physical life to which the soul had resigned itself grows unruly and fierce. “The Almighty rouses a furious tempest.” Not to punish, heaven forbid, but to shake the soul from its complacency, for “Jonah had gone down to the inner part of the ship . . . and slept.” The soul is numb.

“So the captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your G‑d!’” A voice of conscience stirs from within. “What is your occupation?” What have you done with your life? Why are you here? Why were you sent?

The moment of truth. The soul must acquiesce. G‑d is here too, and I am none other than His very messenger. My life has a purpose. “I am a Hebrew, and I revere the G‑d of Israel!”

Zohar 2:199a.
Rabbi Shais Taub is Creative Director at Jewish.TV. He is the author of G-d of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction. He and his family make their home in Pittsburgh, PA.
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Alma Lopez Hollywood September 13, 2013

My own Jonah Thank you Rabbi Taub, for this simple but meaningful analogy, this morning I said to my daughter 'When the moment of truth knock our door, we most open it' without delay, neither looking to the right or to the left, but forward, for perhaps it is the last chance for 'Jonah' to express his hidden message in this physical realm.
Le Chaim for past, present and future.
Almah Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 5, 2011

the ARC of Biblical history Water metaphors seem particularly potent in our past. Perhaps it's because Mayim itself is a life-giving force and we are so largely made of salt water. There is something about thirst too as in our "thirst for knowledge" and for a compassionate truth about all of us, together, in unity, even disparate as we are, in so many ways, we are, ONE.

Fish run in schools and so do we have, many schools of Judaism, but basically we're all together in this wide ocean, and to plumb its depths, seems to be a plum role for us all, because in so doing, we uncover and discover more truths about the meaning of Echod itself. And of course, another ARC is Noah's ARK and the rainbow itself, all colors, under the sun, made of drops of prismatic water.

There is beauty wherever one looks, the poetry, the ode, in the geode itself. Let's mine for amethysts. I am aware of the water carrier and of being myself, an Aquarian though not quite yet, an Antiquarian!

Ah plum, the royal color: Purple! Reply

Carmen October 5, 2011

May I pay an homage to my dear great-grandfather ? I did not know my dear paternal grandfather in life-the father of my dear paternal grandmother Matilda(Malka),whom I knew.
He was Jonah, and now,after reading this and the whole Jonah, I know how I do know him... Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel October 5, 2011

Jonah and Forgivness Surely the traditional reason for reciting this story on Yom Kippur is because like the citizens of Tarshish, who could not tell their right hands from their left ones (and also much cattle, don't forget), were given a chance to repent for their sins and obtained forgiveness even though Jonah was angered by their relief from the Devine wrath.

Of course there is a place for analogy to the soul too, but an angry soul also deserves comfort, so where is this to be found? Reply

S. Stern Copley, Ohio October 4, 2011

brilliant I will never be able to hear or read the story of Jonah again without conjuring up the brilliant image you paint of my life being Jonah's life. During the days of awe as we prepare for the closing gates, this allegory of Jonah to myself causes me great introspection to "Arise, and call upon my G-d." It forces me to admit that I, too, can easliy fall into complacency, numbness, and slumber. I thank G-d for the storms He brings into my life to get my attention and to arouse me from my slumber to do the work He has for me. Again, just a brilliant and timely discourse I shall never forget, Reply

HappyMinyan Beverly Hills, CA October 4, 2011

I always wondered.... ...about this story. It is an allegory. But unlike most man-made allegories, which function on two levels: literal fiction and the symbolic. But the Hebrew canon, including the Torah, are non-fiction and symbolic.

Makes so much more sense to me now. Reply

Eula Irene Bunting RFD, IL / USA October 3, 2011

My life has a purpose Hello I have to admit I am not Hebrew and I not a Jew, but I still Revere the G-d of Israel, very much. He is the very Center of my life and soul. I love this site and thank you all for the life lessons I recieve from you all. You have answered many of the questions I have asked all my life and my eyes are wide open and my heart and soul are to. Thank you and Praise to
G-d. Amen. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma July 25, 2011

The story of Jonah I came to this because a good friend has a new grandchild named, Jonah Benjamin and I wanted to refresh my knowledge of this story.

I have read several interpretations and this is, the best, but it omits the part about the plant and how it sheltered Jonah and then G_d made it wither and die, and Jonah was upset with G_d and yet not so upset about Nineveh and his task that he had avoided.

It seems the message is so timely for today, a time when there are massive events affecting people around the world, and how most people, because these are distant, or perhaps because they do not involve us personally, become complacent, and yet when a tragedy hits "home", we mobilize in great ways.

I did not know the analogy between Jonah's journey and the journey of soul, and find this, compelling. Reply

Anonymous September 13, 2010

as the story continues, you are "thrown" into the waters of life where a vessel of sanctity awaits to transform, then you are "spit out into the world" to proclaim go amongst the nations and proclaim the Living Torah of G-d..... Reply

Talia Ruth Mequon, WI September 12, 2010

the rest of the story? Thank you. This is a most insightful look into the beginning of the story of Jonah. I am wondering however how the remainder of the story relates to the soul's journey. Reply

Shais Taub Pittsburgh, PA September 12, 2010

Re: At the beginning Excellent observation!
Before the soul's descent, it most certainly does have direct perception of the Divine. Prior to embodiment, the soul is in heaven where it clearly apprehends G-dliness. It is assigned its mission in that state as well. In this sense you might say that we are all prophets before we are born. Then we drift away from that state, but our life's path is to return to it again. Reply

Andrew G NY, NY September 12, 2010

At the beginning At the beginning of the story, G-d talks to Jonah. It is a clear communication; it is not based on faith; it is a dialogue. When does that happen to "us"? Or if it just doesn't, what is the metaphor here? Reply

Roxanne Haifa, israel October 10, 2009

G-d is at hand! that was what i never understood: how could Jonah run from G-d? Thanks for explaining that he could not! It is so comforting to know that... Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel September 25, 2009

Jonah and Tarshish The story omits the fact that israel and the inhabitants of Tarshis were at the time fighting a war as deadly enemiies. No wonder that Jonah refused to go. But even so, the sins of one's enemies should be forgiven when G-d so wishes. Reply

Shaya G via September 22, 2008

Very meaningful, helped me to better understand why we read this story on Yom Kippur. Reply

Levi Vogel S. Aug, FL September 20, 2007

The Story of Your Life Good Stuff
Thanks Reply

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