Shabbat Hol Hamoed Sukkot 5777

We’re rolling through Sukkot, known as zeman simhateinu, the time of our rejoicing, when we suddenly get hit with this splash of cold water in our festive faces. There’s no more moody Biblical text than Kohelet, or Ecclesiastes. In both the opening and closing chapters, the author asserts: “Havel havalim…hakol havel–Utter futility…all is futile!”
As we prepare to read the final chapter of Kohelet on Shabbat morning, it’s worth exploring what the author means by this termhevel. Noted biblical scholar Michael V. Fox, who wrote the JPS commentary on Ecclesiastes, sees five different translations: vanity, futile, ephemeral, incomprehensible, and absurd/senseless. Each has a slightly different resonance, but the end result is the same: by saying that everything is hevel, the author has a dim view of the human experience.
The equivalent term for similar attitudes toward human motivations is cynicism. We’ve been witness to a great deal of cynicism in the public sphere recently. Is Kohelet’s attitude a healthy one? What’s the role of hevel in the way you see the world? And why would we emphasize it on Sukkot, of all holidays?
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Moadim Lesimhah,
Rabbi David Wise