Parshat Shavua: Kohelet

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama. 

By Shayna Hulkower

Even though this week it's Shabbat like usual, there is still something a little different. The time between the first and last days of Sukkot is a special time, known as Chol Hamoed, and on Shabbat Chol Hamoed we read a slightly different Torah portion. In fact, this week we read one of the five megillot in Torah: Kohelet.

Many are familiar with this megilla without even realizing it. It is the source of the oft-quoted 'A time to ... and a time to ...". It is a beautiful and deep poem in it's own right, deserving of more time than we can give to it here. One thing that even the average reader can pick up from a translation of the megillah is that life is futile. The narrator, named Kohelet, often says of everything in life that it is, "Hevel, havalim" - vanity of vanities, or futility of futilities. These are not the musings of a disgruntled artist - it is generally agreed upon that the author is in fact Shlomo Hamelech, known as the wisest man to ever live, so what he has to say should be taken seriously.

The question beckons us: why read such a deeply sad theory of life during the only holiday where it is a mitzvah to be happy? In the question we have our answer. Any time in life we experience great joy, it is easy to be swept up in it, and want to only pursue happiness always. While there is no mitzvah to be sad, often the choices we have to make in life are not the ones that make us happiest - at least in the short term. In addition, life is about more than just enjoying oneself. While spending a week in the sukkah is fun - time away from work spent with family, friends, and good food - the sukkah is meant to remind us of the transitory nature of life. Just as the sukkah does not have a solid roof or foundation, so too we should not think we are any more secure in our homes. It is a reminder that at all times it is G-d who protects us, and we are here for a purpose.

At the end of the day, we should all enjoy our time in the sukkah, and in life, without losing sight of the fact that the happiness we experience in life is a bonus and not an end to a means in itself. Chag sameach!

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