In my “spare” time, which has been much diminished lately, I have been working on a Sukkot Haggadah. I will be releasing it later this week as a free PDF download. Just as was the case for my Shavuot Haggadah, it is very incomplete.My plan was to get a start on these haggadot this year and have something more complete ready by next year.
What I will have available in my Sukkot Haggadah for this year is less than I had hoped. Yet, even incomplete, there is plenty of useful information and inspiration for your holiday (Sukkot begins Friday night, October 2, and end Friday, October 9). The Haggadah will have:
–Biblical Readings About Sukkot
–Laws and Traditions of Sukkot (a brief summary)
–A Guide to Sukkot Prayers
–Questions and Answers With Maimonides
–Sukkot After the Bible
–An Introduction and Some Readings and Comments in Ecclesiastes (Qohelet).
The following is an introduction to Ecclesiastes that is included in the Haggadah.
Ecclesiastes is the legacy of an unknown figure who calls himself Qohelet. Related to the word qehillah, the name Qohelet has something to do with congregating or assembling. James Crenshaw suggests that the name is not about speaking to gatherings of people, the common theory, but rather is about one who assembles sayings and proverbs.
Ecclesiastes is a collection of sayings and proverbs mixed with reflection and philosophical searching.
J.A. Loader (Polar Structures in the Book of Qohelet) proposes a theory about the reason for Qohelet’s pessimistic philosophy. After Israel’s period of exile, God became more distant. Prophecy faded. Miracles were a distant memory. Many forms of Judaism filled the void of obvious divine presence with different ideas of mediating presences of God’s work in the world. People spoke of the shekhinah, of mediating angels (who were named and classified in detail), and of the word of God active in worldly affairs while God himself was distant. Qohelet, says Loader, refused to fill the void of God’s distance because his appraisal of reality did not allow it. Using the tools of wisdom, he found systematized wisdom empty. He concluded that God himself actively caused the vanity of life.
Loader’s theory has merit. There is a strange absence of miracles, prophecy, or reference to a revealed Torah in Qohelet. Instead we find the much-repeated phrase “under the sun.” If God chose to resolve all of life’s difficulties in person as in the Exodus from Egypt, life would not be vanity. But the reality is that God is hidden. There is no lasting gain. Death and chance level everything so that justice cannot be seen.
Did Qohelet believe in more than what is under the sun? There are a few indications he must have. Even discounting the final epilogue of the book which was likely written by someone else, Qohelet indicates in several places that he believes in the end wisdom will be better than folly and fearing God is the wise thing to do even if there is no evidence under the sun for reward and punishment. Qohelet, it should also be said, is no deist. He attribute the simple joys of life as well as the vanities of life directly to the activity of God. Rather than solving life’s difficulties, God actively makes vanities happen.
Suppose with me that Qohelet did believe in more than what is under the sun. Is there still value in writing of a painfully honest philosophical search resulting in the conclusion of vanity?
Absolutely there is value. In the first place, Qohelet gives us practical wisdom about how to live in the world where God is distant. Second, Qohelet helps us understand how to use wisdom critically to deconstruct false wisdom. Third and most important, Qohelet obliterates all the easy answers of his time and of later times which present a false optimism about life and lasting meaning. In our time, for example, Qohelet’s words are an impenetrable challenge to atheistic humanism.
Using wisdom, Qohelet gives an unwelcome dose of reality. He teaches us a way to practically face the hiddenness of God. He turns us away from easy answers. Without saying it, he leads us to look beyond the realm under the sun, beyond the realm where God is distant, to a time when God will be present in a tangible way. There is no satisfaction in anything else.