We cannot fathom God’s judgment or mercy. We can only take heart in knowing that He “pardons and forgives”; that He is “the gracious One who repeatedly forgives.” In the Shemoneh Esrei blessing asking for forgiveness we refer to God as our Father, reminding Him, the Tur explains, that a father does more than punish: He forgives, loves, and guides His child. He shows the child the way to return. This is the lesson God insists Jonah convey to mankind for all time, even to Nineveh.
Is it any wonder then that Jonah is held in such regard?
We embrace his humanness, his weakness, even as we cling to the message he delivered. All mankind is called to teshuvah. All mankind can seek God’s mercy.
To destroy Jonah’s tomb is to rail against God’s mercy and message. And yet that is exactly what the Islamists of ISIS did. As the Gaza fighting drew our attention, distracting our thoughts from other areas of the world while Israel did battle against the Islamists of Hamas, ISIS cut large swaths of violence and destruction in Iraq and Syria.
Their medieval beheadings, crucifixion of children, and denigration of women are barbaric acts in their own right, but by destroying Jonah’s tomb they sought to destroy the hope God brings to the hopeless. That the tomb had been located in Mosul, the modern name for Nineveh, adds poignancy and irony to the wickedness of these people. Even more, it is good to bear in mind that Jonah’s tomb was a shrine to Muslims as well as others.
Certainly ISIS would have preferred killing the prophet to merely destroying his tomb, but even these murderous barbarians cannot destroy God’s message and hope.