KOHELET – SHABBAT CHOL – HA’AMOED October 22, 2005 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
Good shabbos everyone, Chag Samayach .
There are five Megillah scrolls we read in different times during the years. We read Song of Songs on Passover, The Book of Lamentations on Tisha be-Av, Ruth during the holiday of Shavuot, and Esther during the Purim celebration. Kohelet, The Book of Ecclesiastes, which the Talmud records as the words of King Solomon and was edited by King Hezekiah, is read on the festival of Sukkot. The narrator of the book, Kohelet, urges us to fulfill G-d’s commandments, an appropriate resolution immediately following the high holiday period.
The sun is compared to Ecclesiastes, attributed to King Solomon. It starts with "I am Kohelet, son of David; I was the King of Jerusalem." He was the builder of the first temple; he was a man of peace, unlike the first King Saul and King David who were warriors.
Let us open the book of Kohelet and explore the core ideas of King Solomon. We immediately learn that he had everything imaginable, a "successful life"—built beautiful dwellings, palaces, vineyards, and pools. King Solomon acquired great treasures of gold, silver, fancy art, servants, maids and more. The text describes his wealth and still he was unhappy. Isn’t this true today whereby there are people who are materially extremely blessed? People who live in mansions with hot/dry saunas, limos with televisions, fancy cars, and servants, they have the capacity to purchase anything material their hearts desire, yet they still suffer from depression—they are not happy and something is still missing in their lives.
We see too that King Solomon did not feel content despite his bounty, so he started learning many languages, traveling, and writing books. Still, he could not find rest for his mind and soul. He again complains that he is not happy. Then he started rethinking about the overall purpose of his life, the big picture.
Why are humans never satisfied despite all they eat and posses? This endless yearning may be classified in 5 categories :
1) the quest for the unknown. 2) The desire for glory. 3) The quest for pleasure 4) the desire to acquire. 5) The desire to accomplish. Why does a person have so many desires? King Solomon explains that humans yearn because the creator made him a seeker. This perpetual dissatisfaction serves to incite him to constantly seek. As it says in the Psalms of King David 105:3, "Happy is the heart of those who seek Hashem."
In Chapter 5, he reviews how humankind labors and sleeps. Some rich people are described as afraid all the time, worrying about things that happen in the business market, worry which doesn’t let them sleep at night. Earning a livelihood, human relations and personal worries keep the mind racing and may ensnare the individual. At the end of chapter 9, Solomon concludes, "I should praise people who are happy… the goal of life should be to fear G-d and keep his commandments. The rest is vanity and futile. There is nothing new under the sun."
The sages want us to understand that as we pray so diligently on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur G-d said, "Ok, I will grant you another year of life, what are you going to do? What is your goal in this world? What will you do with your gift of life? How much energy and enthusiasm will you put into your own life? Ask yourself : Do I make use of the timely opportunities G-d sends my way? How can I use my time more wisely?
Abraham Lincoln, a famous American president, said, "And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years." Moreover, King David, the father of King Solomon said, "Were your Torah not my constant delight I would surely have perished in my affliction, (Psalms-Tehilim 119:92)."
Looking ahead (verse 2:14) states, "The wise man looks ahead." This idea is also explained upon in the Talmud (32a), "Who is wise? He who sees the future." One who anticipates what might transpire in 5 minutes is a wise person, one who looks even further ahead is even wiser; and the wisest are those who consider what the consequences will be in Olam-Habah (the World to Come). As we study the gems from Kohelet, we can gain so much wisdom for everyday use, particularly how to deal effectively with our world. The primary purpose of the Book of Kohelet is to help a person realize that the material pursuits of this world have no full value, unless they are utilized for the service of G-d. Thus, material possessions are meaningless by themselves. The awareness of G-d and His commandments is what gives meaning to everything in life and is for our benefit. This was King Solomon’s eternal message and his counsel for successful daily living. Shabbat Shalom.