The world has been hit by a series of devastating natural phenomena. Powerful earthquakes and raging floods have created monumental scenes of destruction. With great pride, many Jews point out that the Israeli emergency response and search and recover units are often among the first to arrive with assistance. It is interesting to see the connection of these actions of goodwill to all humankind in the Biblical story of Jonah.

For most adults, a review of “Jonah and whale” is rather brief: Man gets swallowed by whale, lives inside the whale and gets spit out (Please note: the text specifies a big fish, not a whale). Some people might even recall why Jonah was in the fish in the first place (he tried to run away from fulfilling God’s instructions that he reprove the people of Nineveh for their sins).

According to the Midrash, Jonah ran away because he was concerned about shaming the Jewish nation if the citizens of Nineveh listened to the message of repentance, while the Jews would not.

After Jonah was released from the fish and presented his message to Nineveh and witnessed the entire city repenting, he was greatly disheartened. The narrative then reports that Jonah fell asleep, and while he slept, God caused a gourd to grow above him and shade him from the heat. But, that night, God sent a worm to destroy the gourd, causing Jonah to weep over the loss. God then rebukes Jonah for having pity on a plant that appeared and disappeared in one night, but having no compassion for the hundreds of thousands of people in Nineveh.

Although dispersed across the globe, the Jewish people are a tight-knit family and tend to stick together. When a tragedy strikes Jews anywhere in the world, Jews respond. But, one of the most important messages communicated by the Book of Jonah is that God views all of humanity as His children, and Jews are expected to show compassion to all people.

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