Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) is read during Sukkot. This Shabbat, many congregations will focus Torah study on this fantastic and challenging book. Many of us know this for Chapter 3, “for everything under heaven”, not from our religious school education but more likely, from the Byrds album and their recording of “Turn, Turn, Turn”. But there are a ton of messages in this book for us. There is a horrid evocation of aging in Chapter 12. In chapter 1, however, (one of the great pieces of Biblical literature) we see an image that really speaks in a more truthful way to our generation.
This came up again this past week as I was doing a workshop on texts at a local CCRC. We were discussing choices that people make at this stage of our life and one person, in response to a question about a text, raised her hand and commented that for her there is an understanding that she realizes that she is part of something greater than her own self. This led to a discussion on the issue of legacy. I did point out that she was giving voice to Chapter 1 of Ecclesiastes and the image that we are are part of on-going process of life, imaged as a stream flowing into the seas “and the sea is never filled”. You can read this chapter in many ways, and people have seen it (and the book) as depressing. After all, the book begins wth the famous utterance that all is futile. But, as this woman noted, if you step back and think, you do come to understand that we are all part of something beyond our own self. Again, we can choose to see all life as futile, or we can choose to see our souls and self as part of a historical unfolding. We come to understand that “the eye never has enough of seeing, not the ear enough of hearing” (1:8) which means that we celebrate life, even though we know we cannot control it.
This season of harvest really is about renewal. As we have posted here before, the festival ends with Simchat Torah and renewal of Torah. We begin again, reading each passage with new eyes and listening with new ears. We continue to be part of the on-going Jewish approach to life, an approach that sees us a part of something beyond time and place as we seek to establish our legacy so that those who follow will be blessed. Wwe are a people of history, linked from generation to generation through community.
Shalom and Chag S’meach
Rabbi Richard F Address