Rabbi David Abudraham (14th C. Seville) suggests that the assignment of Kohelet to Sukkot was more than it being the one of the 5 megillot which didn’t have a clear thematic or seasonal tie to the holiday on which it is recited. Sure, Eicha belongs on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, Esther on Purim is, well…Purim, Ruth and Shir Hashirim (The Song of Songs) have seasonal tie-ins. Abduraham, and others, suggest that Kohelet was actually read to Israel by Solomon during Sukkot as a way of mitigating any feeling that if atonement for the last year was achieved on Yom Kippur, that starting the new year with a clean slate is not to be viewed as an opportunity to go on a sinful binge, thinking that you’ll catch up eventually. That would certainly take all of the meaning out of the season of repentance, would it not?
If you look carefully at the way that the 5 Scrolls (Chamesh Megillot) are assigned to each of the holidays, you see certain elements in common. Each of those 5 occasions has themes which take a negative and turn it into an actual or potential positive. The scrolls from the latter section of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible, or OT) all go there in their final verses, regardless of how or why they got there. Consider this:
ESTHER (PURIM) A story of oppression ends with a celebration of deliverance.
SONG OF SONGS (PESACH) The parallel up-and-down relationships between the author/lover and humankind/G-d ends with a prayer: “Flee, my Beloved, and like a gazelle or young deer, [be with me] on the fragrant mountain (a reference to the Holy Temple).
RUTH (SHAVUOT) The saga of familial mindgames and manipulation ends with a genealogy which leads us from the heroine to the Messianic line, descended from David.
EICHA (TISHA B’AV) After the harrowing descriptions of the horrors faced by the residents of Jerusalem, the final chapter is a prayer for retribution, but not without responsibility: “Bring us back to you, O G-d, and we shall return; renew our days as of old.”
KOHELET (SUKKOT) “The last thing, when all has been heard: fear G-d and keep His commandments, for that’s what is humanity.” The ultimate statement to balance out the freedom we may feel or the license we may be empowered to take having made it through the High Holidays.
By all means, let us celebrate our holidays, our heritage, our opportunities, our past, present, and future. But let’s also remember that walking on the right path is more than just avoiding the bad. It’s also being proactive to prevent it in the first place.
It’s one thing to run away from an impending flood. It’s yet another to build a dike that will keep the water away from not only your house, but your neighbors’ as well.
Next year, may we celebrate Sukkot together, but may we also celebrate the fact that individually, locally, and globally, we have worked together to keep ourselves high and dry.
Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sameach!
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen