“Every Yom Kippur, congregations all over the world read the Book of Jonah, as set out for us in the Babylonian Talmud. Most people believe this haftarah is chosen because it models complete repentance: From the king to each individual, by decree, everyone fasted and turned from evil ways….
Yet, the book is named for Jonah, the only prophet to be chosen to warn a people outside of Israel of their impending destruction by God for their evil ways. Jonah decides not to accept what he believes is an impossible mission. Eventually, he realizes that it is futile to run and impossible to hide. Ultimately, he fulfills God’s mission to warn the people of Nineveh. But, once his job is done, Jonah is still a very unhappy prophet.
I believe that we read the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur afternoon to remind us that sometimes we are Jonah. We have times when the responsibility of the world is thrust upon our shoulders and we have times when we feel very much alone….
The biblical text tells us that Jonah was in the whale (literally, dag gadol, 'a big fish') for three days (Jonah 2:1)…. Jonah wasn’t doing 'nothing' for three days and three nights. I believe he was reflecting and examining his thoughts and actions. With time to think, Jonah was forced to confront his fears, his loneliness, his mistakes, and his God. We are Jonah, doing exactly the same thing for our sacred Days of Awe….
Yom Kippur is the day for At-One-Ment, to be with yourself emotionally and spiritually. It is a time to confront fears and failures, pain and loneliness. Jonah had to realize that he was not being sent to Ninevah alone, without God. And we are not being sent into a new year alone.”
—Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, on rj.org