Sunday, September 05, 2004

A drasha on Sefer Yonah

In anticipation of Yom Kippur, our shul has started a discussion group on the Book of Jonah, which is read at afternoon services.

I suspect the story of Jonah must be the shortest story in classical literature involving a whale (okay, "a great fish"). The longest is presumably Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.

With its subtle descriptions of life at sea, Moby Dick offers many insights into the first half of the Book of Jonah (the wet part). Sailors are a cosmpolitan, multinational group, religious and highly superstitious. Alone in a small vessel amidst the vast sea, they are deeply dependent on each other while constantly at the mercies of the elements. You might say they're in the same boat. (groan)

Pay close attention to how Jonah is treated by the sailors, how they speak to him, how they react to his story. A great deal can be said about this short book; for now, I'd just like to encourage everyone to read it carefully and thoughtfully - if possible, in the original Hebrew.

One insight-packed drasha (sermon) on the Book of Jonah can be found in Moby Dick itself, in Chapter 9 ("The Sermon"). Melville's preacher, Father Mapple, expounds on Jonah's story with eloquence and erudition. Suprisingly, there is hardly a single Christian reference in the sermon. Whether you appreciate his interpretation or not, it is of interest to Christians and Jews alike.

And it's several times longer than the original Book of Jonah!

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