Sukkot, a Hebrew word meaning “booths” or “huts,” refers to the Jewish festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest, as well as the commemoration of the forty years of Jewish wandering in the desert after Sinai. Sukkot is celebrated five days after Yom Kippur on the 15th of Tishrei and is marked
by several distinct traditions. One tradition, which takes the commandment
to “dwell in booths” literally, is to build a sukkah, a booth or hut. A sukkah is often erected by Jews during this festival, and it is common practice for some to eat and even live in these temporary dwellings during Sukkot. Thanks to our mighty Sukkah builders!
The first Megillah of the year!
On Rosh Hashanah Rabbi Harris challenged us to read five short Jewish books from Tanakh, including four megillot:
– Jonah on Yom Kippur
– Ecclesiastes during Sukkot
– Esther on Purim
– Song of Songs during Passover
– Ruth on Shavuot
Sukkot begins this year on the evening of Oct. 8, 2014. Over the next seven days let’s read Ecclesiastes, called Kohelet in Hebrew. There are study questions below, and you may want to join an informal Lunch & Learn, Thursday, Oct. 9th at the Downtown Library at 11:30 a.m., or Tuesday, October 14, at noon in the sukkah at Temple.
Background of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes
The megillah of Kohelet is found in the third part of the Tanakh, called the Writings section. You can order an English translation of all five megillot plus the book of Jonah. You can see a less modern on-line English translation of Kohelet.
Tradition teaches that Kohelet is one of three biblical books written by King Solomon(10th century BCE). Scholars believe it was written around the 2nd-3rd century BCE. It is the biblical book closest to presenting an actual philosophy of life. Kohelet asks fundamental questions about meaning, purpose, and hope.
There are at least three reasons why Kohelet is read during Sukkot:
- It talks about rejoicing, and one name for Sukkot is ‘the season of our rejoicing’ (z’man simchateinu)
- It talks about the impermanence of life, and a sukkah represents transience and uncertainty
- “Autumn” is the season of our lives when we think about mortality, a significant theme of the book
Questions for Reading Kohelet
- Chapter One: Are you surprised a book of the Bible opens with the statement that “all is futile” or “all is vanity”? The statement will vary depending on the translation. If you were choosing what books would be included in Tanakh, what criteria would you use?
- Chapter Two: Kohelet describes his great material success as ultimately meaningless. Think about what his back-story might be. What might have happened that has caused him to search for meaning and interpret life as he does?
- Chapters 3-6. What does Kohelet believe about God? How does his belief compare to your own?
- Chapters 7-8.Chapter 9. Particularly in this pre-election season, how do we attune ourselves and encourage others to hear “words spoken softly by wise men”? Do we live in an environment where those words are heeded? (9:17-18)
- What might be better about the day of death than the day of birth (7:1)?
- How would you describe Kohelet’s emotional state? When have you felt like this? Is this an emotional place where you are comfortable? (8:9-14)
- Chapters 10-11.Chapter 12. “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe God’s commandments! For this applies to all mankind: that God will call every creature to account for every deed, known or hidden, be it good or bad.” Is this a satisfying conclusion to the book? What of Kohelet’s philosophy will you continue to think about for the rest of the day?
- Who can you trust? What might this teach about how we use our words, even in private? (10:19-20)
- Do you hear these words as hopeful and promising, or disheartening and grim?