Fast Days: Jonah 3: The Suffering of Others
“1 And the word of God came unto Jonah the second time, saying: 2 ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and make unto it the proclamation that I bid you.’ 3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of God. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, of three days’ journey.
4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he proclaimed, and said: ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
6 And the tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying:
‘Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing; let them not feed, nor drink water; 8 but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily unto the Lord;
Let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
9 Who knows whether the Lord will not turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?’
10 And the Lord saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and the Lord repented of the evil, which He said He would do to them; and He did it not.”
(See “Under the Guise of Righteousness,” “Fasting to Learn Compassion,” and, “An Animal’s Cry.”)
The King of Nineveh decreed that no one should have food, not the animals, and not even the nursing babies (Yerushalmi Ta’anit 2:1). He ordered that everyone in Nineveh experience a world without basic compassion so that they could cry out to God and plead for His compassion. This was not a fast that centered on my own personal deprivation and suffering, but a fast that touched the people to look around them and share in others’ suffering.
This is approaching a fast to enhance our awareness of the suffering all around us so that we will be moved to plead with God to have compassion on all of His creation.
It is appropriate to spend time on a fast day paying attention to the troubles and challenges of others, and focus on how much suffering we see around us, but to which we usually close our eyes.
This is a fast that points out those things we choose to ignore and to commit ourselves to behave in a manner that will never cause others to suffer.
When we are so moved by what we see to never cause suffering and to alleviate pain, we turn to God and plead for His loving compassion.