On Yom Kippur at Tefillas Mincha we read as the Haftorah the entire sefer of Yonah which concerns the journey of his mission in fulfiling Hashem’s wish to bring the city of Ninveh to teshuvah. Why did Hashem choose the city of Ninveh whose inhabitants were gentiles to arouse them to teshuvah and no other gentile city. We don’t find that Hashem sent Avraham who was the pillar of chesed in the world, to go to Sodom and transform them into BaaleiTeshuva. What is it about Ninveh’s teshuvah in particular that Hashem wanted to convey to Am Yisrael through Yonah? How did Yonah know for sure that they would do teshuvah? This is derived from the fact that he ran away from Hashem in order that He would not communicate with him outside Eretz Yisraeland he would thereby be unable to complete his mission? In Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 10 the commentator Radal answers this question that Yonah was certain that the inhabitants of Ninveh would do teshuvah since Pharaoh of Mitzrayimwho the only survivor of Kerias Yam Suf, was the present king in Ninveh. Pharaoh knew from Yetzias Mitzrayim the might and greatness of Hashem which he personally experienced, and did not doubt for a second that Hashem’s threat to destroy Ninveh if they did not change their ways was real and imminent.
We want to suggest another approach to these questions. The city of Ninveh is first mentioned in Bereishis 10,11
מן הארץ ההיא יצא אשור ויבן נינוה ואת רחבת עיר ואת כלח. וכתב רשי כיון שראה אשור את בניו שומעים לנמרוד ומורדים במקום לבנות המגדל יצא מתוכם.
Rashi comments that when Ashur, a descendant of Shem, saw that his children were listening and following Nimrod’s rebellion against Hashem by building the Tower to make war with Him, he left with his family and built the city of Ninveh. In Yona 3,3 , the city of Ninveh is described as ונינוה היתה עיר גדולה לאלקים a colossal city to Hashem. The Rashbam comments that it was then the biggest city on earth.
We would venture to say that the intention of Yonah in building this עיר גדולה was not only to distant himself from the Kingdom of Nimrod who was rebelling against Hashem, but also to build a center to support just the opposite campaign of Nimord. Ashur built a place where one could find Hashem in the world and embrace Him, unlike Nimrod who strove to drive Hashem out from earth.
Note that both structures that of Nimrod and Ashur were rooted in the word גדל, the מגדל of Nimrod and the עיר גדולה of Ashur. Each one represented an opposing camp, one of kedusha and one of tumah. One migdal stemmed from an egocentric narcissist, built for self promotion of making himself great and famous, in contrast to Ashur whose goal was to build an edifice in order to make Hashem great and the central point of one’s life. To this the passuktestifies when is states נינוה העיר הגדולה לאלקים. The entire city embraced the pursuit of a spiritual life as hinted in the gematriah נינוה, that with the letters and name equal לאלהים.
Let us analyze the names of the Ninveh and the other cities that Ashur built as mentioned in the passuk. נינוה . The letters ינון translates as kingdom and גדל(Rashi Megillah 10b נין – לשון ממשלה, וכן ינון שמו (תהלים עב) ימשול ויגדל). The remaining letter ה represent the last letter of Hashem’s name יהו’ which the Mekubalim write that it symbolizes malchus. Ashur built this city to reflect Hashem’s kingdom in the world which was the opposite of Nimrod’s kingdom. As the Seforno writes on our passuk בלתי מסכים למלכות נמרד Ashur was in total disagreement with Nimrod’s malchus and meaning of life. The gemarah in Sanhedrin 98 brings one opinion that the name of Moshiach will be called ינוןwhich are the basic letters of the city נינוה. This indicates that Ashur rejected the idolatry worship of Nimrod and his civilization and embraced the Messianic revelation of Hashem echad.
The passuk mentions a second city of his called רחובות. We also find this name in sefer Bereishis referring to the third well dug by Yitzchak which was the only one upon which there was no argument concerning ownership. The Sfas Emes in a few places writes that the third well symbolizes Shabbos.
בשפת אמת תולדות תרל”ב הבארות לחפור למצוא הארה הגנוזה הנסתרת בגשמיות וחיצוניות ורחובות הוא בשבת כי בשבת מתפשטת כח הנקודה הפנימיוות להאיר גם אל החיצוניות וזה הרחיב ה’ לנו (כו כב) שמתרחב הנקודה הגנוזה שיש בכל דבר שמשם עיקר החיות. ובתרל”ד כתב (משלי א כ) ברחובות תתן קולה קול התורה והדברות שמחייה את המאמרות ובשבת שבני ישראל מעידין כי להשי”ת בארץ ומלואה מתעורר קול הש”י, בנקל להאדם לשמוע בשבת קול. וזה שכתוב ברחובות תתן קולה. וכתוב אם שמוע תשמעו בקולי ר”ת שבת (שמות יט ה).
The Sfas Emes explains that everything in nature has a נקודה פנימית a concealed spark of G-dliness which sustains it. On Shabbos this spark expands (רחובות) and reveals itself which enables a person to acknowledge and contact Hashem as the sole creator and sustainer of creation. Likewise, Hashem created the world with Ten Sayings which are sustained by the Ten Dibros given at Har Sinai. The word of Hashem transmitted in the Ten Dibros and Sayings preserve the existence of this entire world. On Shabbos since the concealed spark reveals itself one can also hear the dibbur and קול of Hashem in creation. ברחובות on Shabbos the day of expansion, allows for the קול of Hashem to be revealed. An allusion to the words of the Sfas Emes is found in the gematriah נקודה הפנימית equals ביום שבת. It is on the day of Shabbos that this נקודה הפנימית becomes easily accessible. Also note that the letters of that are adjacent following אשור are the letters בתזש which spell ז – שבת that the seventh day of the week is the holy Shabbos. Asher built a city that symbolized the theme of Shabbos of recognizing and acknowledging Hashem as the creator of all nature.
According to the Sfas Emes comment on Shabbos, this city that Ashur built was founded on the foundations of the emunah that a Yid can glean from Shabbos, the belief that Hashem is the creator and sustainer of creation and not Nimrod or any other of his powers and idols.
The passuk continues to say that Ashur built another city כלח. The acronym of the city is כי לעולם חסדו the recognition that Hashem’s intervention to build a world was rooted in His middah of chesed and kindness, giving instead of taking, life instead of murder, peace instead of war, selflessness instead of selfishness, all the latter being the motivations and foundations of Nimrod for building his giant Tower for his civilization. In Iyuv 30,2 the word כלח means strength and vitality. The message was that Hashem does not age nor reach a stage where He loses the ability to perform perfectly. His chesed sustaining and serving the universe is the same as from the beginning of creation – כי לעולם חסדו.
The passuk further says that between נינוה וכלח was built the city of רסן which means reins. The purpose of reins is to restrain and hold back from an action especially from an animal. The message is that in order to be spiritual one must be able to use mental and emotional reins to stop the animalistic soul from indulging too much in this world. Discipline and obedience are the fundamentals of religious observance. Only a city that embraces the character of רסן can build a place of Ninveh which symbolizes the malchus of Hashem and fully recognize כלח, the constant chesed and kindness of Hashem.
It is not too far fetched to say that in reality these four cities were really not separate cities but rather all descriptions of Ninveh. Note that the passuk in its beginning description of the city of Ninveh does not even call it an עיר. “He built Ninveh and Rechovos עיר”. It appears that Ninveh together with Rechovos was one עיר. Then he build כלח which is also not called an עיר. Then between נינוהand כלח he built רסן which is also not called an עיר. Only after he built all four the passuk says היא העיר הגדולה which Rashi says is going back on Ninveh. Yet in the beginning when the Torah mentions the first time that Ashur built Ninveh it doesn’t describe it a עיר הגדולה? It could very well be that in a deeper understanding all these three names רסן רחובות כלח were descriptions of the characteristics and fundamentals maalos which Ashur implanted in the city of Ninveh. Only when he finished implanting all of these ideals and beliefs in the city of Ninveh did it become עיר הגדולה the great city and movement that opposed the מגדל of Nimrod which was his propaganda of the ultimate culture, one void of G-d.
Why did Hashem want to save this city specifically? Because its founder was a chasid of Hashem who uprooted himself and his family from negative influences that supported a hedonistic life style, a culture that sought to remove Hashem completely from their lives, concoct their own rules and decadent morals and do as they please. Avraham also had an encounter with Nimrod who ordered him to be thrown into a furnace because he would not accept idolatry worship. Unlike Ashur he was told by Hashem to do the same, to uproot himself from and his family and follow the path of Hashem. Because of Ashur’s devotion to Hashem and sacrifice of tearing himself apart from the rest of humanity, Hashem sent Yonah to bring the city of Ninveh to teshuvahand thereby spare the inhabitants, whose founder himself sacrificed everything in order to bring about a Teshuva Revolution.
It is brought down that the script in which the Torah is written is called KesavAshuris. Rav Zev Hoberman ztl writes that it is called so because of the righteousness of Ashur. At the time of Nimrod and the Tower, the only language was Lashon Hakodesh. Every person that was involved with Nimrod’s building of the Tower lost the Lashon Hakodesh and its script, for Hashem created seventy other languages. Ashur who separated himself from that culture and its idolatry never lost the Lashon Hakodesh and its script. It was for this reason that Lashon Hakodesh was called Kesav Ashuris for Ashur and his descendants were the transmitters of the original singular language in the world in which the world was created.
Ashur’s life story and his pivotal place in history is hinted in the first passuk of Tehillim. אשרי האיש אשר לא הלך בעצת רשעים ובדרך חטאים לא עמד ובמושב לצים לא ישב כי אם בתורת ה’ חפצו Happy is the person who did not follow in the counsel of the wicked the path of the sinners and sitting with the scoffers. We suggest that this is also hinting to the generation of Nimrod. אשרי האיש אשרHappy is the portion of אשור, for he לא הלך עמד ישב did not in any way allow himself to be influenced by Nimrod’s culture. לא הלך עמד ישב is gematriah אשור including the four letters and the name.
Now let us talk about why on Yom Kippur do we read the story of the teshuvahof Ninveh. Why was Yonah the messenger? The letters of נינוה are the identical letters of יונה. Yonah obviously had some deep connection to this mission to return back the city of Ninveh to the derech of Hashem. Even more so, Yonah had a deep connection to אשור as well. Yonah is called in the first passuk בן אמתי 503 and counting the six letters and the two words בן אמתי we arrive at 511. אשור equals 507 and with its four letters also equals 511. This tells us that Yonah especially had an inner relationship with Ashur.
Another parallel between these two is the usage of the root word גדל . In Yonah we find the usage of this word way above the norm. The passuk says וה’ הטיל רוח גדולה אל הים והיה סער גדול בים. Further וייראו האנשים יראה גדולה. Yonah says כי בשלי הסער הגדול הזה The passuk further says וייראו האנשים יראה גדולה. After Yonah was thrown overboard into the sea the passuk says וימן ה’ דג גדולHashem prepared a big fish to swallow him. לך אל נינוה העיר הגדולה, ונינוה היתה עיר גדולה לאלהים. The inhabitants did teshuva מגדולם ועד קטנם. Further ויזעק מטעם המלך וגדוליו. When Yonah witnessed their teshuva, וירע אל יונה רעה גדולה. Afterwards Hashem designated for Yonah a plant to shade him וימש יונה שמחה גדולה. Why does the pessukim have to repeat every time when it describes Ninveh that it was an עיר גדולה. The answer is because it is referring back to the time and purpose when it was first built by Ashur. It was built as a protest against the false values and philosophies of a powerful Nimrod whose goal was to eradicate the presence and consciousness of Hashem from earth. Ashur invested all his energies to make Hashem great by creating a center for avodas Hashem to bring back the dimensions of Man who was created with the image of Hashem. Pitted against each other, it was Ashur’s גדול to reveal מה גדלומעשיך ה’ versus Nimrod’s מגדל a center of hedonism and satiation of bodily earthly cravings.
Yonah knew that a city which was founded with such sacrifice and purity, and built solely on the ideal to discover Hashem in every atom of the universe, will and can never sink to a point of sin from which they cannot return to Hashem. If the source is 100% pure and solid it can never be lost. טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו. Yonah might have felt that his generation of Am Yisrael is so far gone that they could never be aroused to do teshuvah. Any effort to do so would be fruitless. Hashem wanted to demonstrate to him that he is definitely wrong. Take the entire Ninveh which was a city full of gentiles, since it originated from such a pure source it could fully return to Hashem even though its inhabitants sinned. Surely then, Am Yisrael who are Hashem’s chosen nation and whose source are the Avos Hakadoshim, kal vechomer they can return to Hashem even though they have sunk to the lowest of the low.
Now we can understand why Hashem chose Yonah to bring the city of Ninveh to teshuvah. Yonah didn’t believe in the ability of Yisrael to do teshuvah. Yet Yonah was a person who inwardly could relate to the essence of the city of נינוהas seen from its letters and to אשור its founder as we brought above. He could hear the mussar and message of Hashem about the ability of Yisrael to do teshuvah proven from Ninveh more than anyone else. All throughout Yonah’s journey he encountered the גדל to impress upon him the good and pure source of Ninveh and its founder. He realized first hand the words of the gemarahYuma 86
אמר רבי חמא (בר) [ברבי] חנינא גדולה תשובה שמביאה רפאות לעולם שנאמר ארפא משובתם אהבם נדבה אמר רבי לוי גדולה תשובה שמגעת עד כסא הכבוד שנאמר שובה ישראל עד ה’ אלהיך
And for this reason also Ninveh is called עיר הגדולה לאלקים because they immediately did teshuva and repaired their ways. So never say to yourself that I am too far gone to change and return to Hashem. One can do teshuvahimmediately. The kikoyon the plant that Hashem grew for Yonah was grown immediately. The big fish swallowed Yonah immediately after he was thrown into the water. So too, one can do teshuvah immediately and transform his life from being a מגדל of Nimrod to a עיר הגדולה לאלקים through the immediate power of גדולה תשובה .
May we merit this תשפ”ב the fulfillment of the passuk מגדול ישועות מלכו ועושה חסד למשיחו לדוד ולזרעו עד עולם
– Rav Brazil