Parashat Vayakel (ZOHAR) - About JONAH and the fish, Zohar 198b
Rabbi Abba discussed a text:
G – d commanded the fish to vomit out Jonah but where and when did G – d speak to the fish ?
Rabbi Abba replied that this happened at the time of Creation on the fifth day. Then G – d appointed a certain fish to swallow up Jonah and retain him in its body for three days and three nights and then vomit him out.
The ZOHAR (BOOK OF SPLENDOR) provides us with a fascinating insight on the deeper meaning on the Book of Jonah. Later on, the Vilna Gaon used the Zoharic idea and published his own commentary on Jonah.
It says in the Zohar:
Jonah descending into the ship is symbolic of man’s soul that descends into this world to enter into his body. Why is she called Jonah ? Because as soon as she becomes partner with the body in this world she finds herself full of anger. Man, then, is in this world as in a ship that is traversing the great ocean.
Furthermore, man in this world commits sins, imagining that he can flee from the presence of his Master, who takes no notice of this world. G – d then rouses a furious tempest; to wit man’s doom, which constantly stands before G – d, and demands his punishment. And the man is thus caught by the tempest and is struck down by an illness, just as Jonah “went down into the innermost part of the ship …”.Jonah was in the belly of the fish which is identified with “the belly of the underworld (Sheol)”. “Three days and three nights” – These are the three days that a man lies in his grave before his belly splits open. After three days, man receives punishment in each organ. In his eyes, his hands, his feet. This continues for 30 days, during which time the soul and the body are being punished together. The soul therefore remains all that time on earth below, not ascending to her place. After that the soul ascends whilst the body is being decomposed in the earth, where it will lie until G – d is bringing about the resurrection of the death (Tchiat Hametim).
As soon as the fish swallowed Jonah it died, but after three days was restored to life and vomited him forth. In a similar way the Land of Israel will in the future first be stirred to new life, and afterwards “the earth will cast for the death”.
It has been affirmed that in quitting this world a man has to pass seven tests. The first is the judgement of heaven when the spirit leaves the body. The second is when his actions and utterances march in front of him and make proclamation concerning him. The third is when he is placed in the grave. The fourth is the test of being in the grave itself. The fifth consists in his being consumed by the worms. The sixth is the suffering endured in Gehinom (a kind of spiritual cleansing process). The seventh test is that his spirit is condemned to roam to and fro in the world, and is not able to find a resting place until his appointed tasks have been completed. Hence it behoves man continually to review his actions and to repent before his Master.
While reading this particular verse in the Zohar, I suddenly just felt like Jonah.