The right to read this story during the ceremony is generally bought at a great sum of money. The richest people compete for the right to read it in front of everyone else; this is the climactic point of Yom Kippur.
People believe that this assures great success to a person for the whole year. They treat this like a simple tradition, without thinking about what is being said in this story.
The prophet Jonah receives a mission from the Creator to go to the sinful city of Nineveh and correct its inhabitants. Jonah the Jew doesn’t want to carry out this mission and bring about peace between the peoples of the world. He tries to flee and embarks on a ship that is about to set sail.
Jonah sleeps in the belly of the ship, showing that nothing concerns him. See how this story is symbolic; it teaches about the present situation of the people of Israel. And so the storm comes, the waves rise and threaten to sink the ship. The sailors draw lots to find out who is to blame for this storm, and the lot falls on Jonah. This is very much the way the nations of the world blame Israel today for all their problems.
Jonah acknowledges that he is to blame for everything, and agrees to be thrown overboard. In the sea he is swallowed by a great fish and remains in its belly for three days. During this time he expresses regret and understands that he is obligated to go to the sinful city of Nineveh and bring its inhabitants back to repentance.
So the fish released him on the beach directly on the way to the city of Nineveh. Jonah goes to the city and convinces its inhabitants to become good people. Then the Creator is revealed to Jonah and tells him that He could not abandon His plan to correct the whole world, for all the nations of the world are very precious to Him. And that is how this story ends happily.
See what kind of a story they give to us for the holiest day of the year, a day in which we must clarify and evaluate our condition, our work and actions throughout the past year, throughout all of our lives.
This speaks about relationships between people. All of the people of Israel must take upon themselves the role and the mission of the prophet Jonah and carry it out, not only to unite among themselves, but to bring the entire world to correction. And according to tradition, we pay a lot of money for this honorable right!
People assume that this action brings great success, and this is truly so, but to be truthful, it is not in the same sense that is commonly believed. If the people of Israel were to unite and bring the whole world to unity, we would expect great success.
From the Israeli Radio Program 103FM, 9/20/15