Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
KOHELES CHAPTER 11
Our allotted time in this mysterious world of paradox is very short. Koheles moves towards the conclusion of his work with a few last words of counsel as to what we should do here to make the best of our situation.
"Cast your bread upon the water, for you shall find it after many days" (v 1) - "Practice goodness and kindness even to a person whom your heart tells you that you will never see again, like a person throwing food into the water, for the days are coming when you will receive your reward" (Rashi).
Verse 2: "Give a portion to seven and even to eight." The simple meaning of the verse is that one should give a share of one's food and drink to seven needy people and even to another eight who come after them, without saying "That's enough" (Rashi). On the level of Midrash, "Rabbi Yehoshua says, 'Give a share to seven' - These are the seven days of Pesach; '.and even to eight' - these are the eight days of Succos, while the word 'even' (GUM) comes to include Shavuos, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur" (Eiruvin 40b). "Rabbi Eliezer says, 'Seven' refers to the seven days of the week. Give one day, Shabbos, as the share of your Creator! Eight refers to circumcision on the eighth day" (Koheles Rabbah).
Verse 3: "If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth." - "If the clouds are full of water, they don't keep it for themselves but pour it out onto the ground, and then the ground gives rise to vapors so that the clouds become filled up again. Similarly a person who has wealth should not keep it all for himself but rather, he should share his blessings with others. Then, when his time of need comes, he will receive blessings from others. As long as a tree provides fruit, people come to water it, but if it falls, nobody comes to tend it any more since it gives no fruit. Similarly if a person does not give help to others, nobody will help him in his time of need" (Metzudas David).
Verse 4: "One who waits for the wind will not sow, and one who watches the clouds will not reap." Even though the wind may help the sower by spreading the seed, if he waits for the perfect wind to blow he will never sow! Likewise if we wait for perfect circumstances before carrying out our mitzvos and good deeds, we will never do what we have to do. We must understand that nothing can ever be completely perfect in this world, but we have to carry out our obligations NOW!!! Verse 5 thus goes on to teach us that man can never have full knowledge of all aspects of God's creation, just has he cannot know the nature of an embryo while it is still in the womb. He should therefore perform acts of kindness, marry, have children, study the Torah etc. without worrying if he might go lacking materially as a result, because he cannot know God's decrees as to who will be poor and who will be rich (see Rashi ad loc.).
Verse 6: "In the morning sow your seed and in the evening do not withhold your hand" - "If you learned Torah in your youth, learn Torah in your old age; if you taught students in your youth, teach students in your old age; if you had a wife and children in your youth, marry a woman with whom to have children in your old age; if you practiced charity in your youth, practice charity in your old age" (Rashi).
Verse 7: "The light is sweet." - "The light of the Torah is sweet, enlightening darkened eyes so that they see the glory of the face of the Shechinah, which in time to come will illumine the faces of the Tzaddikim, making them as beautiful as the sun" (Targum).
Verse 8: "For if a man lives many years." - Once again, Koheles reminds us to rejoice in the share God has given us in this world and use our precious time here to acquire many merits. For the "days of darkness" that come after the death of the wicked are longer than the days of their life in this world, and only merits - Torah and mitzvos - can save us from this darkness (see Rashi ad loc.).
Verse 9: "Rejoice, young man, in your youth." - "This is like a man who sarcastically tells his servant or his son, 'Go ahead and sin! Sin! For the time will come when you will be punished for all of them!' Likewise the wise man here says, 'Rejoice, young man, in your youth and go after the ways of your heart. but be assured that the Judge will bring you to judgment for all this'" (Rashi ad loc.).
Verse 10: "And put aside anger from your heart and remove evil from your flesh" - "Put aside the things that make God angry and remove the evil inclination from your flesh so that you will have a heart of flesh" (Rashi ad loc.).
"And remember your Creator (BOR'ECHA) in the days of your youth." (verse 1). The letters making up the Hebrew word BOR'ECHA, "your Creator" also spell out the words BE'ERCHA, "your well" and BOR'CHA, "your pit". It was on this verse that Akavia ben Mehalalel based his teaching, "Gaze on three things and you will not come to sin. From where did you come? A putrid drop (the 'well' from which you were drawn). Where are you going? To a place of maggots and worms (the grave or 'pit'). And before whom will you have to give an account and a reckoning - your Creator" (Yerushalmi Sota 2:2).
Verse 1 warns about the onset of "the years of which you will say, I have no pleasure in them" - i.e. the final years of life - thereby introducing the haunting and evocative passage in verses 2-7, which our sages taught to be an allegory about the pains and troubles of old age and bodily deterioration (Talmud Shabbos 151b). Rashi explains the details of the allegory as follows:
"Before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened." - The "sun" is the forehead, which shines and radiates when a person is young but which brings up wrinkles when he is old and does not shine. The "light" is the nose, which is the glory of the face. The "moon" is the soul, which radiates to a man, but when it is taken from him there is no light in his eyes. The "stars" are the cheeks. ".and the clouds return after the rain" - a person's light is darkened after his tears of weeping over the many troubles he has endured.
"On the day when the keepers of the house tremble." - These are the ribs and flanks, which protect the entire hollow of the body. ".and the strong men bow themselves" - these are the legs, on which the whole body rests. ".and the grinders cease because they are few" - these are the teeth, most of which fall out in old age. ".and those looking out of the windows are dimmed" - these are the eyes.
"And the doors are shut in the street" - these are the bowels. ".when the sound of the grinding is low" - this is the sound of the digestive organs grinding up the food. ".and one starts up at the voice of the bird" - When a person is old, even the sound of a bird can wake him. ".and all the daughters of music are brought low" - An aged person has no interest in listening to singers (cf. II Sam. 19:36).
"When they are also afraid of that which is high and terrors are in the way" - An old person is afraid to go out into the streets for fear of stumbling on little bumps and clods. ".and the almond tree blossoms" - this is the thighbone, which protrudes in old age like the blossom of a tree. ".and the grasshopper drags itself along" - A person feels his buttocks like a heavy weight. ".and the caper-berry fails" - the desire for women departs. ".for the man goes to his eternal home" - the grave - ".and the mourners go about the streets."
".Before the silver cord is loosed" - this is the spinal cord, which is white like silver but which after death shrivels and dries and becomes crooked inside the vertebrae, becoming like a chain. ".or the golden bowl is shattered" - this is a man's member, which used to gush with water. ".and the pitcher is broken at the fountain" - this is the stomach, which bursts after death. ".and the wheel is broken at the cistern" - the eyeball disintegrates in its hollow. ".and the dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God who gave it."
In addition to the above explanation of Koheles' allegory of old age and decline, Rashi also gives an equally detailed explanation of the same allegory as Solomon's call to Israel to remember their Creator while the Temple still stood, before the onset of the exile, when the light of Torah and the sages would become dimmed as trouble after trouble would strike.
Koheles now sums up his rebuke and final testimony to Israel in the same words with which he began: "Vanity of vanities. all is vanity" (Chapter 12 v 8 harking back to chapter 1 v 2). That which does not endure - this world - is mere vapor and vanity, and therefore we should focus all our efforts on keeping God's Torah in order to attain the enduring life of the World to Come.
If we ask why we should heed Koheles rather than any other wise preacher, smart thinker or philosopher, he explains: "And more than Koheles' having been wise, he also taught wisdom to the people and weighed and sought out and set in order many proverbs" (v 9). In the words of Rashi: "Koheles was even wiser than might appear from what is written in this book. He made 'handles' for the Torah, which was like a box without any handles to hold onto it. Thus he instituted the laws of ERUVS as a fence around the keeping of Shabbos, and washing of the hands as a fence to purity, and he prohibited 'secondary' incest relationships as a fence against incest."
"Koheles sought to find out acceptable words." (v 10). Metzudas David (ad loc.) explains: "Everything he wanted to know he sought to discover, and he exerted himself to find out the truth." The Talmud comments on this verse: "Koheles sought to be like Moses, but a heavenly voice came forth and told him: 'and words of truth written in proper form' - 'And no other prophet arose in Israel like Moses'" (Deut. 34:10; Rosh Hashanah 21b).
"The words of the wise are like goads." (v 11) - "Just like the goad directs the plow-ox in its furrow, so the words of the wise direct a man in the pathways of life" (Rashi ad loc.).
There is no end to the books of wisdom that could be written. We should not say that if we cannot complete studying them all, it is not even worth starting. For the moral - the "bottom line" - can be stated very simply: "The end of the matter, when all is said and done: Fear God and keep his commandments! For that is the whole duty of man!" Amen.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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