Jonah & Yom Kippur

Why do we read the book of Jonah during the Minchah service?

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We Are Jonah

We read Jonah during the Minchah service because we are Jonah at this point in the day. We have been functioning in the realm of belief that our prayers will lead to certain outcomes; that is, after all, the purpose of Yom Kippur! And yet, deep within us, in the desire to return home to sleep in our beds, there is the doubt, the anger, the knowledge that we can never understand how this world works, and what is the point in trying?. We read Jonah to be reminded that this tumultuous, contradictory, difficult space is, in fact, the space of prayer and possibility.

Zornberg writes, "The enigmas that enrage and sadden Jonah are not riddles to be solved. They remain; God invites Jonah to bear them, even to deepen them, and to allow new perceptions to emerge unbidden. In a word, to stand and pray." And so we, Jonah-like, enter the synagogue as he entered the fish, and as we stand in the dark, unseeing, we call out to our Creator. We do not answer these riddles; rather, we immerse ourselves in them and let them take us over.

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Maya Bernstein is the Director of Education and Leadership Initiatives at UpStart Bay Area, which supports Jewish social entrepreneurs and their projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. She blogs regularly for Lilith magazine.