The Impact of Greatness
Yonah - Chapter 1:4
Before we begin this week's lesson, I must offer a clarification of the
previous lesson - False Refuge. The intent therein was not to, G-d forbid,
denigrate relationships with other people or to imply that they are
extraneous or harmful to proper worship. On the contrary, Judaism demands
that internalized spirituality be carried into and exercised through everyday activities within the community of men. Rather, what was adressed is
using other humans as a refuge, to better escape the demands of sincere
engagement with the Almighty. One must not run away from G-d to
relationships; rather one must pursue a sincere and abiding pursuit of
Hashem and his teachings and then establish family and society on proper
Now to this week's lesson.
What would it be like for an average person to meet a prophet? Would his
elevated spiritual stature be immediately recognizable; would we perceive
the "the Divine Presence" that rests upon him? Would we be moved or shaken
by the palpable sanctity that emanates from a person of G-d?
I think that the answer to this question can only be offered by those who
have met spiritually advanced people, no longer to be taken for granted in
our day, place and age. Had you been fortunate to have spoken, confided in
or be affected by such an individual, I am certain that your answer would
have been unquestioningly affirmative. The charisma and the sense of
purity and transcendence that envelope a sincere servant of G-d cannot be
communicated in words but only through experience. It something that is
sensed by everyone around him or her.
The Tanakh describes many meetings between prophets and other individuals
that typify this fact. Among them, in Kings II:8 is a portrayal of the
effect that an anonymous prophet had upon a group of military leaders and
generals, leading to coronation of Yehu. The Sages in Sifri Zuta 14:34,
quoted by Rashi inform us that this prophet was Yonah.
Let us read this passage together.
"And Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets, and said
unto him: 'Gird up thy loins, and take this vial of oil in thy hand, and
go to Ramoth-gilead. And when thou comest thither, look out there Jehu the
son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi, and go in, and make him arise up
from among his brethren, and carry him to an inner chamber…
"So the young man, even the young man the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead.
And when he came, behold, the captains of the host were sitting; and he
said: 'I have an errand to thee, O captain.' And Jehu said: 'Unto which of
us all?' And he said: 'To thee, O captain.'
"And he arose, and went into the house; and he poured the oil on his head,
and said unto him: 'Thus saith HaShem, the G-d of Israel: I have anointed
thee king over the people of HaShem, even over Israel. And thou shalt
smite the house of Ahab thy master, that I may avenge the blood of My
servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of HaShem, at the
hand of Jezebel…. And he opened the door, and fled. Then Jehu came forth
to the servants of his lord; and one said unto him: 'Is all well?
wherefore came this mad fellow to thee?' And he said unto them: 'Ye know
the man and what his talk was.' And they said: 'It is false; tell us now.'
And he said: `Thus and thus spoke he to me, saying: Thus saith HaShem: I
have anointed thee king over Israel.' Then they hastened, and took every
man his garment, and put it under him on the top of the stairs, and blew
the horn, saying: 'Jehu is king.'"
Yehu was sitting in a company of his equals, all accomplished military
leaders, all captains of large companies, men who had seen their share of
heroism, treachery, suffering and defeat - men not easily impressed. Yet,
as soon as they saw Yonah, they were stricken with a premonition for they
saw that he was not a common person. They immediately recognize greatness
and they knew that this man did not come to them for trivial purposes.
Note how they attempt to drawn this realization in mockery and scorn,
calling the messenger a madman, denying the importance of his message.
Yet, as soon as Yehu shares it with them, they know, they know that this
was a prophet of G-d. Immediately and unanimously they embark on a
dangerous and uncertain rebellion and void their previously secure
allegiance to the king to crown one who was previosuly their equal. Such
was the impression that the "mad fellow" made upon this group.
Now, imagine the effect that Yonah must have had upon the captain and
sailors of that ship. And what a scene must it have been. The unexpected
storm blows them off course into a small provincial port and there waiting
for them is a most unusual man, the likes of whom they have never seen
before. A man of wealth and privilege, a man whose face is shining with
spiritual splendor, he hires the entire boat and immediately they sail.
From whom is such a man escaping and why is he in such a hurry? Is it the
king of Israel, the King of Assyria, or perhaps, someone greater than mere
mortals? As they embark upon their voyage they sense that they are no
longer a part of ordinary reality but of some great and immensely
important drama. Moreover, under his influence they find themselves
experiencing strivings and longings that they had never known before. By
the hour, they are elevated. It is no wonder that they single him out from
all the other passengers when the unusual and unexpected storm threatens
The impact and impression the Yonah made upon the sailors goes a long way
toward explaining their behavior toward him, of which we will treat in the
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Meir Levin and Torah.org.