Ariel Ben Avraham – Ecclesiastes: The illusion of vanity and the reality of love
“The words of Koheleth, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1)
The book of Ecclesiastes (Congregation) is introduced as the thoughts and speech of the son of David who is Solomon the king of Judea that rules in Jerusalem. Let’s recall that the land of Israel was called the kingdom of Judea with its capital Jerusalem. It is relevant to remark that the name Solomon means “he to whom peace belongs” and Jerusalem means “I will see peace” or “peace shall be seen”. The first interpretation refers to God “who shall appear or shall be seen in wholeness, and the second to the peace that is experienced before God.
King Solomon calls himself “Congregation” in this book to represent the entire community (kehilah) of Israel as a unified soul, intellect, emotion, feeling, speech and action, and also to direct his own reflections to them as one of the fundamental lessons to understand the dynamics of human consciousness in the material world. He shares his wisdom with us to open our eyes, ears, hearts and souls to what is truly transcendent in life and to hold on it as the essence and purpose of our existence.
“Vanity of vanities! Said Koheleth. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! What profit does man have from all his labor that he toils under the sun?” (1:2-3)
We must understand vanity as the futile quality of what is temporary and unable to be attained or taken with us after we leave this world. This invites us to reflect on what ultimately remains with us as something to have in any other dimension we may enter after we die. King Solomon wants to ponder about what do we do every day that makes us believe that it is something we actually can gain or acquire.
“So [God please] teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalms 90:12)
A materialistic approach to life would answer that all we work for is toward our immediate and future benefit, regardless if it may be riches or possessions, for these provide for us not only our daily sustenance but the pleasures and delights we believe must have while we live. Questions arise in regards to what is more important besides fulfilling our immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter.
We often quote the oriental saying that “rich is not the one who has more but the one who needs less”, and in between that which makes us fulfilled enough not to want more of what we need.
“Generation goes and generation comes but the earth stands forever. And the sun shines and the sun goes down, and there it shines. It goes to the south and circles to the north, on its rounds the wind returns.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4-6)
We look around and see that our lives don’t last like the sun, the earth and the winds, in spite that they also remain doing what they do without profiting. Our Jewish oral tradition considers some of God’s creations as entities that fulfill His will without questions or hesitations, while humans are the only ones He endowed with free will to choose either to do the same or not.
These verses invite us to consider the earth, the sun, the wind and the elements that comprise and sustain life also as fellow creatures with a purpose in God’s creation, and learn from them even if they appear as mechanical and repetitive as we may be particularly when trapped in the vicious circles of obsessions, attachments and addictions.
“The sea is not filled, there they [the rivers] return [to the sea in their] going. All things get tired, man can’t speak nor the ear filled with hearing.” (1:7-8)
Nothing in human consciousness is completely filled or satisfied as long as everything is temporary, for temporariness by itself is limited and fights to be eternal or at least permanent as the sun and the earth appear to us. Here we understand the “sea” also as the realm of imagination that is never filled or contained.
In our pursuing of permanency we indeed get tired, for all is temporary in human consciousness. Words are not enough no matter how much we speak or hear. Thus we evoke the episode of the child that wants to pour the ocean into the little hole he dug in the beach, for such is human consciousness in its desire to assimilate the vast complexities of God’s creation.
Our limitations show us the constrains of living in the frame of time and space, thus we realize that king Solomon wants us to focus on what really matters that transcends life, for it is eternal and not bound to our limited perception, conception, fathoming or feeling.
“There are many plans in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s counsel will prevail.” (Proverbs 19:21)
In this scenario God’s words in the Torah comprise the counsel that prevails, for it transcends time and space. We can summarize it as the goodness He wants us to live permanently. Goodness is what prevails while evil is always temporary and destined to disappear as God promised, although the choice between them is always ours. Either we follow ego’s fantasies and illusions as the “many plans in man’s heart”, or love’s ways and attributes inherent in the goodness.
Ariel Ben Avraham’s book on the Jewish conception of God’s love according to the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish theology. How we relate to God’s love as our common bond with Him. You can order the book directly from the author at email@example.com. From the book: “Let’s be aware that we are emanated from God’ love. Whatever we are and have come from Him and it is His, including the love that we are and give. Love is our essence and identity.”
Kochav Yaakov, Shomron (Samaria), IsraelAriel Ben Avraham (f. Zapata) was born in Cartagena, Colombia in 1958. After studying Cultural Anthropology in Bogotá moved to Chicago in 1984 where he worked as a television writer, reporter and producer for 20 years. In the 1990’s he produced video documentaries related to art, music, history and culture such as “Latin American Trails: Guatemala” distributed by Facets.org. Most of his life he studied ancient spiritual traditions and mysticism of major religions, understanding the mystic experience as the individual means to connect with the Creator of all. Since 2004 he studies and writes about Jewish mysticism and spirituality mainly derived from the Chassidic tradition, and the practical philosophy of the teachings of Jewish mystic sages. The book “God’s Love” is the compilation of many years studying and learning Jewish mysticism. The messages of his book are part of the content, exercises and processes of a series of seminars, lectures and retreats that he facilitates in Israel.