Turn, turn, turn
There is a season
Turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven
-The Byrds/King Solomon
This Shabbat we read the book of Kohelet, Ecclesiastes. Kohelet was a nickname for King Solomon. The root of Kohelet is from the Hebrew word, קהל kahal which means a gathering or assembly. It refers either to the many people who would gather to hear Solomon’s insightful words of wisdom or to the fact that he gathered and compiled many proverbs about life. Indeed he authored three of the 24 books of the Bible and was most famous for his wisdom among others accomplishments such as building the First Temple.
Kohelet was written near the end of his life and in it he shares his musings about his accomplishments and their worth, or lack thereof as the case may be. It is filled with many timeless sayings that have much relevance today. Here is just a small sample, really small, of its vast wisdom. In truth, Kohelet is the type of work that one can study over and over and discover gems of life lessons:
7:5 It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools. Rebuke is never fun. But when someone who has experience and wisdom gives us constructive criticism, after the initial sting has passed, we grow and become better from the advice. This is in contrast to the constant chirpings of “You look amazing! You’re incredible!” that fill the comments section of Facebook/Instagram posts. The many likes and comments might give you a nice shot of dopamine but what has it really given you in the long run? Better to forego the superficial songs of praise that are here today and forgotten tomorrow and get some real and meaningful feedback that will change your life for good.
7:10 Do not say, “How was it that the former times were better than these?” for this question does not arise from wisdom. People have a tendency to think that things were always better in the “good old days”. But this is looking at the past through rose-coloured glasses. Every time period and every generation has it pluses and minuses. Yeah, today’s music is lame compared to the 70’s but then again, older people said the same thing about 70’s music back then too.
We can go on and on about how values are worse today, but on the other hand we have progressed in many areas as well. Behavior that would be accepted and normal a generation or two ago is now called out and unacceptable. And there are some obvious things today that are way better than the past. Jewish people happen to be living in a golden age of sorts. For thousands of years our ancestors prayed for and could only dream of being in the Promised Land. But today we can hop on a plane and be there in hours, surrounded by a vibrant, modern and thriving Jewish people and land. Nobody misses the pogroms of Russia or the desolate Land of Israel of 100 or 1000 years versus what we have today.
5:9 A lover of money will never be satisfied with money. Most people walk around thinking that if they had X number of dollars and wealth they would be content. But that is simply not true. I have written before that whenever you reach any level of material success, you get used to it and before long you start thinking of the next acquisitions. The rabbis in the Talmud rephrased this verse of Solomon by stating, “He who has one hundred wants two hundred, and he who has two hundred wants four hundred, and he who has four hundred …” you get the point. In life there is an endless chase for more. It never stops, so the only question is what will be the focus of this chase: material pursuits or spiritual ones.
7:1 A good name is better than good oil. Normally oil is associated with cooking. Historically another use of oil was that it made things look nice and beautiful. It creates a shine and sheen. Kings were anointed with oil. So perhaps a modern version of this proverb today would be “A good name is better than nice clothes or a fancy car” that make people look nice, beautiful and shiny. All of these are outward and exterior. A good name, a good reputation goes much further and lasts forever. People might not see it right away but when a person consistently acts with honesty and integrity, over time they earn the trust and respect of all those with whom they have interacted. The polish of a new car or piece of jewelry will fade but a good name never does.
7:21 Don’t pay attention to everything people say, so you not hear your underlings disparage you. The simple fact is that you cannot make everyone happy. Even the great Moshe, the greatest prophet and law-giver of all of history and humanity, had his enemies. So pay no heed. I know it’s not easy to do that and we get highly offended and insulted when someone has spoken ill of us and it reaches our ears. We tend to hold onto it, forgetting that the person who has spoken against us has probably long forgotten what he or she said. And even if they haven’t, life is too short to allow ourselves to get all worked up by such people. So learn to be a bit selective as to what you are willing to listen to. And if it does reach you, recite this little prayer that we say at the end of the Silent Amidah, “To those that curse me, let my soul be silent.” And if that doesn’t work, keep in mind something that someone once advised me regarding those who insult you. They are like a barking dog. Would you get offended by a barking dog? Then don’t get offended by their inane words.
11:1 Spread you bread upon the waters for after many days you will find it. This is not just sound advice to diversify your portfolio but more importantly speaks about doing good and acts of kindness to others. We can never know how our good deeds will affect another and how that may come to pay us back in spades much later on in life. Not that we do chessed – efforts of help and assistance to another – for a reward. But how often has something totally unexpected come back to us long after we have helped another? Share your bread and good fortune with another and don’t be surprised when its dividends appear later to shower you with blessings beyond your wildest dreams.
And finally… 9:7-9 Go and eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a good heart for God has already found favour in your deeds. May your garments always be white and may oil never desist from being upon your head. Enjoy life with the woman you love through all the fleeting days of your life.
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace
I swear it’s not too late