As healthy and humbling as it is to compare oneself with Jonah and his stubbornness, Ba’utha is a time meant to commiserate with the Ninevites — to unite our suffering as a community, as they once did long ago, to plead for a common goal: God’s forgiveness. We must delve into the mindset of repentant Ninevites, understand their supplication, and come to the same conclusion they did, if we are to truly be fulfilled by this liturgical season, and grow spiritually. We must realize, as they did, how they deserved God’s wrath, and how desperately they needed to cry out for forgiveness.
The Ninevites are difficult to empathize with though, because in the book of Jonah, the people themselves are somewhat ambiguous. It is not even specifically mentioned what they were guilty of, and how similar we may be on that account. The only way to know the Ninevites through the book of Jonah, is to look at the only character within the city that is specifically mentioned: the king.
The nameless King of Nineveh embodies the entire people’s reaction. When Jonah proclaimed Nineveh’s destruction, he gave no hope or alternative, no promise of mercy if they repented. The king however, did not despair and give up. Nor did he roll his eyes and disregard this foreign prophet of doom. The king’s reaction is remarkable:
“…he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” (Jonah 3:6)
The king casts aside his crown, regalities, and comforts, and dresses and pleads like a beggar before Jonah’s God. What’s more, he is not content to stop there, at his own repentance, but makes a city-wide proclamation that no person or animal shall eat or drink. All are to repent of their wickedness, pray, and plead for forgiveness.
The king is a very good example of how any true leader should be – whether they are politicians, kings, or just influential persons within a community or household. True, good leadership is inspiring those who look up to you, or those who are under your care to be better people, to live virtuously, to make the right choices, and feel the right things. And what better way to show that then by example? The king, when faced with hopelessness, dares to hope. When accused with great fault, he does not deny. When faced with death by God’s justice, he chooses to die to himself.
In order to get as much as we can out of this Ba’utha, and empathize with the Ninevites, perhaps the starting point is looking at the Assyrian king, and just how dissimilar we are.
Excerpts from the Liturgy – Tuesday of Ba’Utha
But the preacher did not tell; Ninevites they should repent.
Thus he showed to all who mourn, that they should go aid themselves.
He locked the door in their face, to show how hard they should knock.
The judgment that Jonah made, had the opposite effect.
Thus he showed how penitence, has the power to save all.
And how much the penitent, can gain mercy with boldness.
To your mercy do we beg:
open the door to our pleading
which knocks at the door of your grace.
Hold back Justice, O Gracious One,
lest you be enraged by sin.
Let your Will’s Love pacify.
“How has all this come to be? Nimrod’s seed has fallen low.”
The king told his warriors, his mighty men, and his knights:
“My dear ones, I now advise, in this battle, still to fight.
Let us fight like mighty men, lest we die like weakly ones.
For if justice is content, mercy will come to our aid.
But if justice is upset, there is no harm in pleading.
And if it is not content, there is no harm in begging.
Between justice and mercy, penitence will never lose.”