Monday, October 13, 2008


Koheleth, Ecclesiates , regards life as simply a recurring cycle of sameness and inevitability. All striving, ambition and human effort is folly. How depressing! Nothing seems to be of any value to the author of this extraordinary book, and yet it is part of Holy Scripture, read in the synagogue on Hol Hamoed Succot,the intermediary days of Succot, regarded by the world as not only great literature but also a masterpiece of religious writing.
Kohelet sees whatever we consider to be of value, whatever is deemed to make life meaningful and worthwhile, as absurd. Physical pleasures, wealth, power, fame even wisdom are useless achievements. The ostensible ideals of justice, loyalty and hard work, mere illusion.
I revisit Koheleth and with new eyes connected to an open heart, I discover an insight that gives meaning to an otherwise empty human existence of vanity and futility.
“Therefore, I praise joy- simcha, for there is no other good for man under the sun but to eat, drink, and be joyful, and have this accompany him in his toil during the days of his life which God has given him beneath the sun.”(8:15)
“I know of no other good-TOV-in life but to be happy while one lives; indeed, every man who eats, drinks and enjoys happiness-u’reay TOV-lit.recognize the good-in his work, that is a gift of God.”(3:12-13)
What makes everyday, ordinary human existence so joyful? Has not Koheleth utterly rejected any hope of satisfaction not only from routine human activity but also from the extraordinary, the uncommon attainment of wealth, wisdom, fame and power? How then can one rejoice and moreover find meaning in the simple and ordinary pleasures of life -food, drink, toil and the sun shining in a clear blue sky? To understand Koheleth I believe we must look carefully and attentively to the source of such joy…’which God has given him’… …’that is the gift of God’…
Gratefulness for life in its most elemental components is the gateway to a sense of joy and meaning in life. The awareness of our good fortune in being alive constitutes a fundamental validation of life’s indefinable value and worth while ness. For simcha to be experienced as the fullest joy, conscious mindfulness of life as a gift from God is a sine qua non.
It is not the quantity of acquisition or attainment but the quality of thankfulness embedded in our response to each and every gift that we enjoy under the sun.” In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast.
Why do we read Koheleth during Succoth? It is the time of our rejoicing,’zeman simchataynu,’ a period of harvest and bounty, our Jewish Thanksgiving. Can you think of any more appropriate book than Koheleth to recite in the synagogue at this time? I cannot.
As long as we can perceive the gift of life through the shadows of painful hopelessness and despair; if we pay attention through the looking glass of gratitude beyond the clouds of ostensible absurdity and oblivion; if we find it in our hearts and prayers to recite daily-modeh ani lefanecha-I thank You- for the sunshine of each and every day, then our lives will reflect the light of simcha-the joy that is joined to the heart’s capacity to say ‘thank you.’

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