Thursday, October 4, 2012

Vanity of Vanities

Most people are unknowingly familiar with the third chapter of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) because of the 1962 hit song by The Byrds:

"To everything - turn, turn, turn/There is a season - turn, turn, turn/And a time for every purpose under heaven."

Kohelet is one of the five megillot (scrolls) read on the different Jewish holidays (for a complete list, click here). Kohelet is read on Shabbat Chol Hamoed (intermediary days) of Sukkot.

The scroll begins: "The words of Kohelet, the son of David, king in Jerusalem," and thus the name of the book. As King David had no son named Kohelet, the author has traditionally been identified as King David’s heir, King Solomon.

If there is one thread that binds the twelve chapters of Kohelet together, it is the phrase: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (1:2). On the surface, this seems to be a rather depressing thought. However, that is not the message of Kohelet. It is the nature of humankind to not only take pride in one’s success, but to also take full credit for it. Certainly, people succeed as a result of their hard work, but only because this success is enabled by Divine Providence.

The message of Kohelet is perhaps best summed up in the following verses: "I have seen the task which God has given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith. He has made everything beautiful in its time;... man cannot find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end....But also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy pleasure for all his labor, is the gift of God" (3:10-13).

This too is one of the central ideas of Sukkot. Moving into a temporary dwelling emphasizes that the success of every person is, ultimately, in the hands of the Divine.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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