Yom Kippur (Sefer Yonah) Part 2

  • 40 minutes
  • Grades: 9-12
  • Lesson Plan

Students finish reading Sefer Yonah and learn why Yonah was so uncomfortable carrying out God’s mission.


In this lesson, the students continue to examine and analyze the text of Sefer Yonah to fully understand one of its messages and why the text is read on Yom Kippur.

Lesson objectives

The student will be able to…

  1. Recount the story of Sefer Yonah (peshat) including the struggle between God and Yonah
  2. Explain why the story is read on Yom Kippur
  3. Describe one of the central messages of Sefer Yonah (that God acts mercifully and that He controls all creation, except for free will)


The student will…

  1. Develop hevrutah study skills
  2. Develop text analysis skills


The student will appreciate the text position that…

  1. God is the ultimate arbiter of justice
  2. God is all merciful
  3. God controls the world but allows Man to have freedom of choice
  4. the value of makhloket leshem shamayim (lit. arguments for the sake of heaven) and how through these our understanding of God increases
  5. The power of tefillah (prayer) and teshuva (repentance) to overturn a bad decree

Resources & Equipment needed

  • copies of Sefer Yonah (linked here)
  • worksheets


1. Continuation of working with worksheet. In hevrutot, students should read through chapters 3 and 4 of Sefer Yonah and answer questions 3-6, quoting from the text to explain their answers.

2. After completion, review answers, and promote further discussion with the students.

Question 3

“The word of God came to Yonah a second time: ‘Go to Nineveh…’”

3:1-2: God has to appear before Yonah again because Yonah is not convinced that he has to do his bidding. Once God appears to Him again, Yonah realizes that he has no choice. He goes to Nineveh and begrudgingly does what God asks of him.

Question 4

a) Nineveh was so large that it took Yonah three days to walk through the whole city. As he walked through it he called out, “Nineveh will be destroyed in 40 days”. These may be a summary of the words he said. Yonah does not tell them to do teshuva. His message is very negative. In fact, when the king orders his people to repent he says: “Who knows, maybe God will forgive our sin and His anger will subside and we will not be destroyed” (3:9), implying that Yonah did not suggest that this behavior might help them out of their predicament. Yonah’s words imply that Ninveh will be destroyed even if they do teshuva. Yonah perhaps, does not want Nineveh to repent.

b) The people of Nineveh believed in God and took Yonah’s message very seriously. They proclaim a fast and wear sackcloth. The King gives orders that even animals may not drink. He calls for his people to pray to God and for them to return from their evil ways.

c) “God sees their actions, that had returned from their evil ways.” Point out that the fasting and prayers do not seem to impress God. God only forgives them when they stop doing evil. This does not mean that fasting and prayers are not important, but they only count when they are accompanied by proper teshuva.

Question 5

At this point, Yonah does not know that God has forgiven Nineveh. He has done his job and he now waits on a hillside overlooking the city for forty days to see whether Nineveh will be destroyed. Nevertheless, he is very angry that Nineveh has been given this chance.

Question 6

a) It is only in chapter 4 that Yonah explains why he ran away. It would be a good idea to read the first two verses aloud to the class. The teacher should direct the students to focus on this pasuk.

If necessary, it should be read several times, focusing on the highlighted words:

“But it displeased Yonah exceedingly, and he was angry. He prayed to the Lord, and said: ‘I beg you, Lord, isn’t this what I said when I was still in my own country? Therefore I fled to Tarshish; because I knew that You are a gracious God, and compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy, and forgives evil.” (4:1-2)

Yonah is saying that he is unhappy because he knew that God would forgive them because that is God’s nature. Note that when Yonah recounts God’s traits, he misses out “Emmet”, truth, or justice. Yonah himself is “ben Amittai” (son of truth/justice), i.e. a person who believes in justice, not mercy. It appears that Yonah wanted Nineveh punished because he felt that that was what they deserved. It was unfair of God to forgive them just because they do teshuva. It makes a mockery of God, for one can sin one’s whole life and do teshuva and be completely forgiven. Yonah objects to this “easy solution”. He feels that sin must be punished appropriately. Nineveh should have the trait of justice brought before them and not be given the opportunity to defend. Yonah does not want God mocked, on the contrary, he wants the world to see the destructive conclusion that disobedience of God brings. Therefore, Yonah ran away so that Ninveh should not be given a chance to repent so that it should be punished.

This story is really a debate about whether God should punish or forgive sin. Yonah wants God to punish Nineveh, while God wants Yonah to help make Nineveh repent.

b) Often, people take heart when the wicked get their comeuppance and feel very frustrated when they get away with what they have been doing. They themselves can also feel cheated after they have been good all their lives yet their lot is the same. Furthermore, if sin is punished, people will have less inclination to sin.

3. The remaining questions will be completed in the next lesson.