On the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews study the story of Jonah and the Whale. The Jewish educational and outreach group AISH says
In a certain sense it is very much the story of Yom Kippur’s essence — return to God. It teaches us about our voyage and ourselves.
Literary critic Judith Shulevitz has a nice essay about the importance of this story for adults during the Days of Awe.
You can almost see God’s thought-process here: If Jonah can bring such will and determination and even a certain nobility of spirit to ignoring me, how much more valuable will he be once I turn him to my ways? The further Jonah runs, the more he convinces God that he’s worth chasing after. And that’s what I think the satire is meant to get across in the Book of Jonah: We can go to any lengths, make ourselves ridiculous as possible, in your efforts to escape God, but the very intensity and absurdity and even the painfulness of our flight shows God how much potential passion we have lacked inside us, to say nothing of how much we must actually want and need him. And seeing that, God may laugh at us a little, but he will not abandon us.
Certainly one element in telling this story each year is that it puts some of the day’s meaning in terms children can understand.
The beautiful Rabbit Ears version of the story, narrated by Jason Robards, is only available on VHS, but I hope someday the entire series will be released on DVD. The Veggie Tales version has the company’s trademark silly charm.