Yom Kippur 2004

From Noah to Jonah through Abraham

by Rabbi Miriam T. Spitzer


There was evil and violence in the land and everyone was in on it. Well, almost everyone. Only Noah was righteous. Something had to be done. So God called Noah and said: "Noah, build an ark out of gopher wood, to the following specifications." So Noah built an ark out of gopher wood, according to the instructions given to him by God. And Noah and his family rode out the storm, accompanied by animals of all sorts.

But when the whole thing was over, Noah planted a vineyard and got dead drunk. Perhaps we can say that Noah had survivor guilt. And when the whole thing was over, God put a rainbow in the sky, and promised that never again would God destroy the whole world. Clearly God did not like how the whole thing had been handled. Perhaps we could say that God had survivor guilt.

Years passed, and once again there was evil and violence in the land and everyone was in on it. Again God knew that something had to be done. But God remembered the flood, and decided that it would be done differently this time. "Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" God wondered. God told Abraham that the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah had to be obliterated. As God had hoped, Abraham responded. "Far be it from You to sweep away the innocent with the guilty!" Abraham declared. "Surely if there are 50 - 45 - 40 - 30 - 20 - 10 - righteous people, You will not destroy the towns. The Judge of the earth must behave justly!"  But, sadly, there were not even 10 worthy souls in the towns. God saved Abraham's nephew and his family, but the rest of the population perished.

It was handled differently, but as God watched the smoke rising from the rubble, God thought that it was not different enough. There had to be a better way.

More years passed. Again there was an evil city, and again God determined that something had to be done. This time God called Jonah and told him to go warn the Ninevites that if they do not repent, their city would be destroyed. Jonah was not like Noah; he did not silently obey. Jonah was not like Abraham; he did not argue with God. Jonah, his own man, picked himself up and fled in the other direction. But to no avail. Eventually he had to go to Nineveh and announce to the residents there that God had had enough of their wickedness and if they did not knock it off and do something about it, God would destroy their city. Amazingly enough the Ninevites believed Jonah and they repented. They stopped their wicked ways. They donned sackcloth and ashes. They prayed. They repented and turned themselves around.

The evil had been stopped, and the sinner had not been punished! Jonah did not like it. But God did. Finally a model that could work without floods, fire, or brimstone. Finally a non-violent end to evil. When given the chance, people could repent and change, and maybe they would. This new system found favor in the eyes of God.

And that is what Yom Kippur is all about.