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Message of Kohelet

It is our custom to read the Book of Kohelet on Succot. It appears that the commandment to be in a state of joy, does not go well with Kohelet. Some view this book as very depressing, when all of the vanities of the world, are pointed out.

According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the emphasis of Kohelet, is man’s mortality. Many people put the notion of death, out of their minds, and act as though they will live forever.

The message from its author, Shlomo Hamelech, is that if we don’t accept our ultimate demise, we will waste our lives with foolishness. The effort to amass a fortune, comes with the sobering possibility, that it will be squandered away by the next generation.

And so it is with all of man’s pursuits and achievements. They are not likely to last, nor is there a likelihood, that these achievements will be remembered for very long, after we leave this world.

According to Rabbi Sacks, the reason for all of the material pursuits, comes from a denial that our days are limited to 120 years, at best.

Succot, also known as חג האסיף, the Holiday of Gathering, was the most prosperous time of year, when most of society dealt in farming. They were not to let this prosperity go to their heads. Kohelet helped give perspective on the permanent and the temporary, the holy and profane.

The focus on our spiritual side, and our connection to our souls, is connecting to eternity. We do take with us the Torah we studied, and the Mitzvot we observed. And the true Tzaddikim leave an eternal legacy. Their contribution to the world is never forgotten. We speak of Rashi and the Rambam, as though they are still with us. This is the reason for the rabbinic statement, צדיקים אפילו במותם, נקראים חיים, “that the righteous, even after their death are considered alive.” Real joy comes from closeness to Hashem. This is the goal of Succot, and this is the message of Kohelet.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at www.cafehebrew.com