Jonah, the Proselytizing Prophet and Yom Kippur

Matt Bar
September 16, 2012
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Why is Jonah read on Yom Kippur? On this most self-reflective day, almost paradoxically, we read about a proselytizing prophet. This being the case, he carries the first seed of Judaism with him to plant in the soil of some gentle and some not so-gentle gentile souls. We are speaking of course of the shipmen and the People of Nineveh. And this dragon-seed that Jonah offers? Absolute terror before Hashem. Jonah carries the burden of Mountain Sinai’s volcano in his breast.

With said seed, shedding sulfuric tears, he layed the Jewish soul naked before the shipmen: In front of their face the gravity of his relationship with gd sends him to the bottom of the sea through the bowels of a leviathon and almost literally thru its ‘bottom.’ And the shipmen, these gentle genteel gentiles, desperately row for shore to save Jonah, sticking their oars in the eye of whatever gd compels such madness. Only, in the end, to be awed by the very terror that is the relationship of Jonah and his gd. And to this nameless terror, Hashem, they make sacrifices and pledge allegiance. At Mt. Sinai, which Jonah carries in his breast, the two words ‘awe’ and ‘terror’ become one. And Jonah is the extreme of both. So he shoots from the centerfuge of gravity through transcendent clouds with their last wisps of evaporating reality landing back on earth before the gates of Nineveh. To do gds bidding.

The people of Nineveh are foils to our noble, statue-worthy sailors. These people are aging waifs that flitter as thin leaves with but shreds of plant-fiber holding them to the tree of life. Yet how recalcitrant at Jonah’s call they become! King, Noble, farmer and his cattle revert from the depths of depravity to soar to the heights of holy at the instant Jonah roars out his warning. Fasts, rituals and tshuvah bloom forth, like a capital city celebrating in a holier galaxy. When have we ever heard of such a phenomenon in the Bible – a prophet being listened to?! Furthermore, at first blush! Is the gutteral tension of Jonah’s few words so verifyably electric, like words of fire from Sinai herself, that no town in human history could ignore them? Or is it the peculiarity of the people that elicits this fanatic response? Or could it be both – the power of Jonah’s call is equal to these town people’s spiritually susceptibility?

I don’t know.

But I do know that our gd is the plant that shelters Jonah and the worm that nibbles the shade off. Our gd is the sun and the shade. Be terrified. The wart on the worm that wiggles through your comfort is as much gd as the dove bedded in your angel wings.

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Matt Bar is founder and Executive Director of Bible Raps, a non-profit born from Matt's desire to engage his Hebrew School classes on a deeper and more contemporary level than the way they were being taught at the time. Bible Raps launched out of Bar's participation in the PresenTense Institute during the summer of 2007. He continued to further his Jewish education during his 2008 year of study at The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Since its inception, Bible Raps has reached tens of thousands of young Jews with Torah-rich performances in schools, Hillels, conferences and camps across the US and abroad. Their teaching materials are being used in countless classrooms and teachers are currently being trained to be certified "Bible Raps educators". ‬ ‪In 2011, Bar was also named to The ‬NY‪ Jewish Week's "36 Under 36" list, a prestigious list ‬"highlighting the dedicated lay leaders who are reordering our legacy organizations alongside community activists and social justice crusaders whose startups are chock-full of innovation,". He is also 2009-2010 member of slingshot. Before his current role as Executive Director of Bible Raps, Bar was also featured on MTV and NBC, has opened for Grammy winning group Outkast and performed at numerous clubs and venues as a folk rapper. Matt currently resides in Philadelphia and is working on Bible Raps Album #3 and hoping to put out Hip Hop Lullabies, within the calendar year.

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