On Yom Kippur it is the custom to read the Book of Jonah during the Mincha service, since the repentance done by the people of Ninve is supposed to awaken us on the current Day of Atonement. Many people forget, however, that before Jonah even arrived at Ninve to prophesize, he underwent an experience that carries for us an important example for today and for Yom Kippur as well.
The sages tell us that there are several types of prophets who are obligated to receive the death penalty. One of these is the prophet who “suppresses his prophecy”. That is, he has received a prophetic vision and is commanded to reveal it, but refuses to do so. Jonah came dangerously close to falling into such a category – fleeing the Land of Israel so that the “Divine Presence” will no longer rest upon him, and thus no longer be able to carry G-d’s message. The sages tell us that all this stemmed from Jonah’s love for the Jewish People. Jonah knew that the gentiles of Ninve would heed his call to repentance. Consequently, this might awaken the wrath of G-d against the Jewish People, since they, in contrast to the gentiles of Ninve, did not heed the words of the prophets and repent. He therefore chose to flee from his obligation to warn the people of Ninve, lest they “show up” the Jews.
Despite this love, and despite all his good intentions, Jonah was wrong. The role of the prophet is to speak the word of G-d, whether the message finds favor in his eyes or not, or if saying it endangers his life. It is irrelevant whether or not he has the most seemingly logical justifications for NOT saying the message. Speaking the truth can be very difficult, as Rabbi Kahane, HY”D, in his last article in the “Jewish Press” wrote, “You think it is pleasant to speak painful truths that cause pain to those who refuse to listen and who then react with pain and hate against the one who speaks? You think it is easy to be the messenger that brings forth the reaction, ‘Kill the messenger?'”
What this means is quite simple. A Jew who elevates himself to the level of a prophet has established a very special connection to G-d. But it is not enough. For a prophet to be a prophet, he must go out to the people and speak the word of G-d. Rabbi Kahane would convey this principle by quoting Eliyahu in Kings 1, chapter 10: “I am left all alone as Hashem’s prophet”. The Rav asked: Was it really so? Was Eliyahu the only prophet not killed by Achav and Izevel? What about the 100 prophets mentioned only a few verses before that were hidden in a cave? The Rav would explain by saying that Eliyahu was teaching a tremendous lesson for all to learn: A prophet hiding in a closet is not a prophet! The whole point of a prophet is to go out to the people and speak the truth without fear. Eliyahu WAS the only prophet around because he was out there fearlessly chastising the Jewish People at the time. Thus, Jonah, regardless of the reason he had, betrayed his special mission.
This is a vital lesson of Yom Kippur, for all the “Bnei Torah” and “Bnei Yeshiva” and rabbis who are also in a certain sense leaders or prophets of the generation. So many choose to sit quietly, afraid to attack the Hellenistic left and thus save the Jewish State from them. All these years they have refused out of fear to state the simple “Halacha” and real solution to the basic and burning Yishmaelite problem – whose status is so obvious according to Torah law that no honest rabbi could differ with it. The problem is that in public, everyone is suddenly silent. All these leaders are in a sense “prophets who withhold their prophecy” – for they know the Divine truth yet refrain from saying it. How we are now suffering from this silence!
May it be G-d’s will that on Yom Kippur the first to repent will be those who are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation. May they warn and chastise the Jewish People and no longer become a partner to the sins of the generation by way of their silence, and as a consequence, the Jewish People will repent and bring the Redemption.