The Wisest Man in the World
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 go back to over and over again 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 are incredible!” that fill the comments section of Facebook posts. The 124 likes and numerous comments might give you a nice shot of dopamine but what has it given you really 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. Each 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 so 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. As a Jew we 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. Today (well maybe not today today, but today as in our day and age) we can hop on a plane and be there in hours. And that is one thing that definitely belongs on the side of the “good new days”.
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 fine. 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 level of aquisitions. 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 ends, so the only question is what will be your focus of the endless chase: material things or spiritual ones.
7:1 A good name is better than good oil. Normally oil is associated with cooking. But another historical use of it was that oil makes things look nice. It creates a shine and sheen. Kings were anointed with oil. So perhaps a modern metaphor today would be “A good name is better than nice clothes or a fancy car.” Because those 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.
7:21 Don’t pay attention to everything people say, that 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 usually the person who had spoken the negatives have long forgotten what he or she may have said. And even if they have not, 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.”
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 the chessed, the 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 shower upon you 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. Well said. Needs no explanation.
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