About the Author

Rev Aaron Eime is the deacon of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, the first Protestant Church in the Middle East. Aaron studied at the Hebrew University in the Masters Program with the focus towards Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Bible. Aaron also studied Psychology and Sociology at Queensland University in Australia in the Social Work Program. He is a dedicated Bible teacher exploring the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith. He has taught Internationally in many countries including Europe, North America, Hong Kong and China. Aaron is the Director of Research and Education at Christ Church. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 3 children.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Yom Kippur 5778

It is Yom Kippur in Jerusalem 5778, the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. There are no vehicles on the road and like many other Israeli children, my family has already partaken of the time honoured tradition of riding your scooter down the main street after prayers. This day is observed even by secular Jews, who throughout the rest of the year wouldn’t venture near a synagogue, will find themselves in prayer today. Even the United Nations officially recognised the importance of Yom Kippur in 2015 and decided never to hold any official meetings on this day.

Contrary perhaps to some, this is not the saddest day in the Jewish year. That honour goes to the day called Tish B’Av and the destruction of the Jewish Temples. The Scroll of Lamentations is read on Tish B’Av and records much sadness and loss. According to many Orthodox Jews, today is a happy day. While the central themes are atonement, repentance, fasting and prayers, the day is also about forgiveness and life in the World to Come. Forgiveness and Life are indeed something to be happy about. During the synagogue service, the Scroll of Jonah is taken from the Ark and is read and discussed throughout the afternoon. 

Why read Jonah on the holiest day of Yom Kippur? There are a few things to learn from Jonah. Jonah endeavoured to escape God’s providence. He ran in the opposite direction but ultimately was unsuccessful in getting away from the Divine Will. Repentance also reminds us we cannot escape the consequences of our actions and the Divine Judgement ahead of all of us. God spared Nineveh and this also reminds us of the fruit of true heartfelt repentance, Forgiveness from Heaven! Note that the people of Nineveh were saved and forgiven without animal sacrifices and without a Temple and priests. Mercy is shown to the Gentiles. 

Jonah also presents the hope of resurrection. Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish (the whale) while trying to escape God’s call. Remember we don’t get to make the Call we just have to answer the Call. Jonah answered it inappropriately. In Chapter 2 of Jonah, we find him praying in heartfelt anguish and penance. It’s where we find him doing the praying that’s interesting. 

ויאמר קראתי מצרה לי אל־יהוה ויענני מבטן שאול שועתי שמעת קולי׃ (Jonah 2:2)

Jonah 2vs2 says that God heard Jonah from the ‘Belly of Sheol’. In verse 1 we are told that Jonah is in the belly of the fish. But then God hears him from Sheol. Sheol is the place of the dead. Translated often in English as the grave, or the pit. Sheol is where everyone goes after they die. Except for Korah and his family when the earth opened up under them and they went alive down to Sheol in Numbers 16. This would infer then to a Jewish hearer … and remember the Bible is an Oral book. You heard the Word of the Lord more than you read it. During the 2nd Temple Period and at the time of Jesus, the printing press hadn’t been invented yet. This would infer to a Jewish hearer that Jonah was dead. He had died after being eaten by the fish. Yet there he is praying! And repenting! Even after he is dead. How can this be, and what can we learn from this?

Jesus also gives us teaching about the afterlife in the Gospel of Luke in which two men die; a rich man and a poor man, whom he calls Lazarus (after His friend in Bethany). Interestingly, in the Latin Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible), the name of the rich man is Nineveh. In the parable we find both men communicating, seemingly cognizant of what is around them and even of each other, they even appear to be able to move. Yet they are indeed, according to the parable, very dead. Death is never the end. You can even think, move, talk, pray, and in Jonah’s case, even repent. 

Jesus also declares to a wicked and adulterous generation that they should look for the sign of the prophet Jonah in Matthew 12. What is the sign? Ressurection! Jonah was dead, eaten by the fish. While in Sheol he prayed, sort after the Lord, and repented. God wasn’t finished with Jonah (and Jesus wasn’t finished with Lazarus either), and in a powerful display of love and mercy, He resurrected Jonah to answer the Call and save Nineveh. 

Yom Kippur is a joyful day then, of hope of the resurrection and a place in the World to Come. We believe in this hope, and trust that the Messiah is preparing a place in the World to Come, rooms in His Father’s house, with our names inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life. This makes it a most joyful day indeed. Now, time to go outside and scooter some more :)