Shabbat Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot/Intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot

Shabbat Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot/Intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot

Kohelet/Ecclesiastes

Now it is autumn and the falling fruit

And the long journey towards oblivion.

The apples falling like great drops of dew

To bruise themselves an exit from themselves.

And it is time to go, to bid farewell

To one’s own self, and find an exit

From the fallen self.

–D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), “The Ship of Death”

            In most ancient cultures, autumn was the season of death. The god or goddess of spring, Proserpina or Persephone for the Greeks, Freya or Frey for the Norsemen, would either die or go to sleep for the winter, and all of nature would reflect the loss: leaves would fall, cold winds would blow, and the snow would cloak all of nature in a mantle of impenetrable white. (It is no accident that Jesus is born in the winter and “dies” in the spring; the early Christians were taking the spring-god myth and reversing it, thereby making it easier for the pagans they were attempting to convert to identify with the new faith they were publicizing.) The pagan Canaanite neighbors of our ancestors were little different: for them, autumn was a time to gather in the harvest, drink deep of wine (or beer, which the Egyptians were the first to distill), and settle down to some serious orgies.

Only our ancestors greeted seasonal change by thanking the One God who had blessed their crops, gladly closing down their farms, vineyards, and ranches, and turning to their local shrine, or, later, the Holy Temple; there to present either their finest produce or the firstlings of their flocks to the kohanim, the priests, who would display them before God in thanksgiving. It is highly significant that our American Pilgrims (despite being anti-semitic to the Jews of their day) identified closely with the Israelites of the Hebrew Bible, and took their Thanksgiving observance from our Sukkot festival.)

And yet, surrounded as they were by the spectacle of withering grass and leaves falling from trees, our forebears were driven to ask themselves questions about the nature of human existence: was all of their getting and spending but a “vanity of vanities, an emptiness of emptinesses”? And, in the final analysis, “What do people gain from all the toil at which they strive under the sun? A generation goes, and a new generation comes, but the earth remains forever….All rivers run to the sea, but the sea is not full….All things are wearisome, more than one can express; the eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. What has been will happen again, and what has been done will be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun!” (Ecclesiastes/Kohelet, 1:2-9, adapted).

Of all the books in the Hebrew Bible, this one is unique in its cynicism, in its lack of idealism, in the very absence of God as a speaking or acting character. It is realistic, and there are parts which are truly painful to read as the years go on: one may be wise, and yet suffer in this life; one may be dishonest, and yet profit from his dishonesty. Still, of all the biblical books I have read, this is the one in which I revel most: it pulls no punches, and one knows what to expect from it. Although it is attributed to a “son of David,” and tradition considers its author to be Solomon, modern scholarship denies this; many of its words date from an age long after 960-922 BCE, the accepted time of that monarch; indeed, its language resembles that of the Mishnah, making a date of 300 BCE more likely—and the Mishnah, a book of laws derived from and commenting on the Torah, post-dates the Bible’s completion and canonization.

I always recommend Kohelet/Ecclesiastes to adult readers. Like all great literary works, one can return to it, year after year, and still profit greatly. It remains static, but we and our attitudes change. I return to it—and its cynicism—every Sukkot, like an old friend. I recommend it to you all!

 

Shabbat Oct. 15, 2011—17 Tishray 5772

Shabbat Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot

                        Page                        Chapter                        Verse

 

Kohen                        362                        33                        12-16

Levi                        363                        33                        17-19

Yisroel                        363                        33                        20-23

Revii                        364                        34                        1-3

Chamishi            364                        34                        4-7

Shishi                        365                        34                        8-10

Shevii                        366                        34                        11-13

Maftir                        697                        29                        17-25

 

Haftorah—p. 979, Ezekiel 38:18-39:16

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

 

 

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