“Tell us, you who have brought this misfortune upon us, what is your business? Where have you come from? What is your country, and of what people are you?” (Jonah1:8)
(9) “I am a Hebrew, he replied. ‘I worship the LORD, the God of Heaven, who made both sea and land.”
These verses follow a brief introduction of Jonah, who is fleeing the service of the Lord. These verses from Jonah have been packed and unpacked by sages for millennia.
This text highlights several elemental aspects of Jewish theology, highlighting autonomy, assimilation, free will, fate, destiny and the ability to shape our very existence.
But why do we read this on Yom Kippur?
Many would argue that the content is relevant to Jews facing assimilation and that it has much to do with fate, destiny and isolation. Described in Kol Dodi Dofek, it has to do with the isolation felt by Jonah and the exile - “the two covenants, the Covenant of Egypt and the Covenant of Sinai; the covenants of fate and destiny, of isolation and loneliness.”
The unrelenting and unavoidable question of the avarge assimilated Jew, who are you? What are you? The question is invasive but often unavoidable. The freedom to choose how and what we identify as openly leaves us with a sense of our own destiny because it is a decision ultimately in our hands.
Furthermore, who we are and how we identify ourselves is something we cannot escape. Our destiny is our decision. Jonah may have been fleeing from the service of the Lord, from a people with whom he saw no semblance of connection, but his identity as a Hebrew brought him back. He could not escape himself.