This Shabbos We Read Kohelet — some insights

This week, which is still Sukkot, on Shabbos, we will be reading Megillas Koheles.

KOHELES’ theme: Shlomo, who in history was wiser than all, richer than all, more powerful than all, tries to see what is the point of life. He questions, philosophizes , experiments…tries to get to the root of what life’s about and what is the true meaning in life. He begins with [verse 2] “hevel, havalim…” he mentions that the world is futility to the 7th degree. Why 7? Seven is the count of the physical world – seven notes of song (do, ray, mee, fa, so, la, tee in the words of the Sound of Music or CDEFGAB in the notes of the piano, etc). There are 7 colors on spectrum. 7 days of the week. Everything within the physical is summed up by 7. Hence, Shlomo is saying it is all futility. If you play every note of song, if you experience every color of the rainbow, if you live it up each day of the week – you still don’t know the secret of life.

[verse 3] “mah yisron l’adam” what benefit if there for man with all his toiling under the sun.” You work hard all your life…for what?

[verse 4] “dor holaych, v’dor bah…one generation dies, the next comes…” no matter what we try to achieve, we are only here in this world on loan. We leave. We die. The next generation comes along and thinks they’ll make it with their hard work. They, too, die. Waves in the ocean – one replaced by another, replaced by another,

And if you might say experiences are what all life is about…[verse 8] “you cannot say everything that is to be said, you can’t be satiated by seeing all there is to see, you can’t hear all you want to hear…” if you went to every Broadway show…there would still be shows you are missing…

And don’t think innovation is what it is all about…[verse 10] “mah she’haya hoo she’yeeheeye…” what was, will be, what was done, will be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun” Ya’ think we are original – the same petty human arguments, the same world wars, the same old, same old, happens in every generation.

[verse 11] “ayn zichron la’reeshonim” no one remembers those who were, and even ourselves who came after that there won’t be a remembrance. Think about it. Millions of people lived in each generation. Each one thought their life so important, that it mattered. However, no one remembers the details of their lives, or even their names. Sometimes we can stumble upon their name in a cemetery. But in some cemeteries, even their names have been obliterated with time. We pass through and no one will remember us in 100 years from now. Not our likes, not our names, not our beauty…not any of the things we might put effort into and pride ourselves on.

Now Shlomo takes a break to give you his credentials – to say that he is not saying this because he was an unsuccessful loser sitting on a street corner discouraged with a hand out. He was king of the world, rich beyond belief, able to build (which he did) and create and innovate. Yet, he knows it was worth nothing.

[verse 13] and he says he decided to try to figure it out. What did G-d do – give us a life that is meaningless in the long run? Is G-d trying to oppress us?

So Shlomo then decides maybe knowledge and wisdom would be worthwhile. However, he soon found, the more you learn and become aware, the more you get angry at what everyone else around you is doing. In fact, the more knowledge you have (let’s say of current events or repercussions of folks’ actions, etc.) the more pain you have.

CHAPTER 2: So now Shlomo turns to “happiness” (ah, therapists’ lines: just be happy). Shlomo quickly finds that what folks call happiness is stupidity (amusements parks, fun times…just a waste). He then tries wine.

He tries other things: [verse 4] – “I did great deeds, built myself houses, planted vineyards” [verse 5] “had terraces and gardens, planted every fruit trees…” He goes on explaining how much wealth he amassed. Forbes 500 would not come close to what Shlomo amassed in terms of wealth and possessions.

He saw that didn’t help give him meaning. He thought at least his wisdom made him a better person. But then he saw that dummies and wise people meet the same end. We end in the same grave.

[vesre 17] “V’sahnaysee min ha’chayim…” He began to hate life…because all seemed like a huge waste of time. [verse 18] He even hated his own accomplishments – because he realized that he amassed that fortune or created that innovation for those who would survive him…you can’t take it to the grave. Even worse, the person inheriting might be a real fool, who will misuse all and lose all.

Worse, when you amass fortunes, when you are chasing success, you can’t even sleep at night.


Now Shlomo begins to see some truths.

[verse 1] “La’kol zeman va’ays” Everything has a time and place. Just because you see that the point of life is not to amass money, doesn’t mean money doesn’t have a slot and a purpose. Everything, laughter, music, money, grief, crying – all has a purpose. None are the end purpose. All are tools to be used in right time and right place. [verse 2] “there is a time to be born, a time to die…” “time to kill, time to heal…”

[verse 11] “ehs hakol assah yafeh” G-d made everything beautiful in its time…” and what is the purpose of all that is beautiful in its time, you might ask.

[verse 12] so you can be happy within your lifespan and “do good in your life”

Only G-d is constant. Good people, bad people, animals – all die eventually. The constant, then, is G-d. “all is from dust and all will return to dust.” Not much different, it seems between the monkey and us. Except [verse 21] – our soul goes upwards and the animals lifeforce is buried with them.”

Ah – it is the soul that differentiates us from the animal. That is our eternity. G-d is the constant and our soul is what gives us the connection to eternity.


Now, Shlomo is quite jealous of those who already passed the tribulations in life and moved on to the next world. That doesn’t get him anywhere. So Shlomo starts trying to look for tools to live life right so he can earn Olam Habah. Some of the tips:

[verse 9] It is better two rather than one…” [verse 10] “for if one falls, his friend can raise him up…and if he would be one alone and would fall, there would be no one to raise him up.” [verse 11] “and when two go to sleep, they are warmed – but one alone cannot warm himself.” Verse 12 – and if someone starts a fight, two can fight against him…”and the three-strand rope is not quickly frayed.” No person should be an island alone. We should all look for a good friend, someone who helps us and enables us to grow, someone who is there to “warm us”, to make sure we don’t fall. And, if we can make it a threesome, even better.

Next few chapters continue with advice to make life meaningful.  Here are some wisdoms picked out from them:

CHAPTER 7, verse 1: “… the day of death is better than the day of birth.” Why? Because at birth we are just potential. If we die, having done right, it is the time of fulfillment of potential.

[verse 2] “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of festivity…” Because knowing we all die can ground us and keep us focused.

[verse 29] “I’ve found that G-d made the person straight, and they want many calculations.” Life is simple, good and bad is really more or less black and white – we just like complicating things. We want things to seem complicated so we can mess up with excuses.

CHAPTER 11, verse 1: “cast your bread on the face of the water, because after much time, you will find it [coming back to you]”. You never lose out by sharing and giving. All the good you do comes back to help you.

[verse 2] “ten chelek l’shivah” – give a portion to the 7. Yes, seven is futility. But give it its right use – use physicality for the right reasons.

[verse 6] “ba’boker zera es zaracha…” plant in the morning and in the evening don’t stop. When your young , accomplish. When you’re older, keep plowing and planting. For you don’t know which actions will have the reactions that is best for the world.

CHAPTER 12 – faith ought to start young, for that is before we experience life’s disappointment and bitterness. That faith, if we have it when we are young, can carry us through the hard times.

Really, we have to instill faith within ourselves as soon as possible, negotiate life by making the right choices, weather the storms and doubts we might encounter and then, [verse 7] “the dust shall return to the earth…and the soul will return to G-d Who gave it.” Then, [verse 13] “Sof davar ha’kol nishma, es Ha’Elokim ye’rah…” at the end of all, all will be heard, G-d should be feared, His commandments guarded/kept, because THIS is the point of there being man.   The point of life is to remember the mission of the soul, to keep connected to G-d, to do the mitzvos and to eventually return that soul to be judged by G-d.


About jewishspectacles

Jewish Spectacles-the kind you look through, not the kind you create!
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