A Huff And A Puff And Then What?

https://www.sketchport.com/drawing/6256710813483008/is-blowing-in-the-wind used with CC license

In synagogues all over the world during the festival of Sukkot, the book of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes will be read during services, most likely on Shabbat. Kohelet is one of the “Five Scrolls” in our biblical canon, and each is read on a different occasion; Esther on Purim, Song of Songs on Passover, Ruth on Shavuot, and Lamentations on Tisha B’av. Each of those scrolls has a more direct and obvious connection to the respective observances that does Kohelet, and while the simplest reason for including it on Sukkot was to make sure that all five were read during the course of the year, there’s more to it.

Some rabbinic authorities in the past have connected this book to the requirement to “rejoice on the festival,” because the author Kohelet (often wrongly identified as King Solomon) reminds us that God wants us to rejoice and be happy, and to partake of the good things in life. Another reason, according to Rabbi Abraham of Lunel, is verse 11:2: “Distribute portions to seven or even to eight (who need)” which hints at the seven days of Sukkot and the eighth day which is Shemini Atzeret.”

While I didn’t do an exhaustive search, one reason I didn’t come across was Kohelet’s opening words as a metaphor for life: Havel havalim, amar Kohelet, havel havalim hakol havel. The words havel havalim are usually translated as either “vanity of vanities,” or “futility, utter futility,” leading the reader to believe that we’re going to hear from a grumpy old man.

However, hevel means “breath,” or “vapor,” and Robert Alter’s translation of verse 1:2 is “Merest breath, said Quohelet, all is mere breath.” Psalms 144, which is often part of funeral and Yizkor prayers, asks, Adonai ma adam va-tayda-eihu, ben enosh, vayikatzvei-hu. Adam la hevel damam, yamav k’tzel oveir, “God, what is a man that you should take note of him, mortal man, that you should think of him? Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow.”

In other words, life is fleeting. In the whole scheme of things, God is eternal, and we mortals have a finite amount of time to live our best lives. This is Kohelet’s message–life is temporary, and we need to live our lives fully and with moderation between work and play.

I see this temporariness as Kohelet’s connection to Sukkot. In the Torah God commands future generations to dwell in sukkot (huts), “So that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 23:42-43)

Sukkot, by their very nature, are temporary dwellings. A huff and a puff can carry one into a neighbor’s yard (ask me how I know!). A sukkah is open to the elements, and doesn’t offer the protection of a permanent dwelling. It could come crashing down on top of us, just like life.

Kohelet and Sukkot, coming just five days after the solemnity and soul-affliction of Yom Kippur, remind us that life is precious and fleeting, and that it’s up to us to take advantage of the opportunities we’re given for rejoicing, along with having the discipline to buckle down and do what we need to do.

 

 

1 Comment
  1. Rabbi

    Yasher kochech!! May I share b’shem omro?

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Latest Sermons

Shoftim: Can Destruction be Just?
Shoftim: Can Destruction be Just?

Photo: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. The spotted lantern fly has arrived in our area, and we’re being advised to squash them if we see them. This bug has no natural...

VaEtchanan: Until His Final Breath
VaEtchanan: Until His Final Breath

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/maltin75/6278446183 “Observe God’s laws and commandments, which I enjoin upon you this day, that it may go well with you and your children after you, and that you may long remain in the land that the LORD your God is assigning to you...

Parshat Pinchas: Looking For the Good
Parshat Pinchas: Looking For the Good

Photo: COSV from Wikimedia Commons. Women Gathering Wood, South Sudan My friend Sylvia (who says I’m her favorite female rabbi) is almost 98–may she live and be well–and is often troubled by the harsher judgments and more problematic passages in the Torah. And rightly...

Latest Midrash HaZak

Ekev: Standing on their Shoulders
Ekev: Standing on their Shoulders

  Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buff_Bill's_Circus Parashat Ekev Rabbi Arnie Samlan Ekev, the third reading in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), is a continuation of Moses’ farewell address to the Israelite nation poised to enter the Promised Land....

VaEtchanan: Rav Lach, It Is Enough For You
VaEtchanan: Rav Lach, It Is Enough For You

Photo by Rabbi Susan Elkodsi Va’Etchanan: Rav Lach, It is enough for you Rabbi Janet Madden, Ph.D Parshat Va’Etchanan opens with Moshe’s recounting to the new generation of Israelites that he pleaded with the Holy One to allow him to enter the Land of Israel. He...

Massei: The Journals of the Journeys
Massei: The Journals of the Journeys

Parashat Massei: The Journal of the Journeys Rabbi Ron Isaacs In 1960 I spent the summer at Camp Ramah in Canada. Advertised as a Hebrew-speaking camp, it was my first summer away from home. I decided to document my 8-week summer by keeping a diary which I still have...

Latest Personal Blogs

Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem
Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem

This past week, I participated in a Ritualwell class with Alden Solovy on "Writing From One Word of Torah." I distilled 3 stream-of-consciousness prompts on the word "Baruch/Berekh," the root of which can mean "blessing' and "knee, into this poem. Blessing my bended...

The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives
The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives

Photo: publicdomainpictures.net The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives An email from My Jewish Learning about “A Woman of Valor” prompted me to pivot the next evening’s planned adult learning session to looking at these 22 verses from Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs. These verses...

Live Long and Prosper?
Live Long and Prosper?

By Oklahoma Heritage Association, Gaylord-Pickens Museum - Author, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25656727 Live Long and Prosper? January 5, 2022 began the third year of the seven and a half-year cycle of Daf Yomi, the practice of...

Pin It on Pinterest