web analytics
August 4, 2015 / 19 Av, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

‘Sovev, Sovev’ – Round And Round We Go


“What a depressing book!” is a common response to reading Sefer Kohelet. It seems at first glance that Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, is telling us there is no purpose to all of man’s efforts, whether intellectual, material or social.

However, this nihilistic view often erroneously attributed to Kohelet is not only antithetical to many Jewish beliefs taught by the Torah, it is even contradictory to statements Kohelet himself makes. What then is the message of Sefer Kohelet? Is there a way to interpret Kohelet’s oft-quoted statement “Hevel Havalim hakol hevel” – “Futility of futilities, all is futile” – in a positive, perhaps even inspiring light?

The word hevel appears no fewer than thirty-eight times in the sefer, and if Shlomo HaMelech is telling us all is hevel, it is imperative to properly translate this word. When studying Tanach and trying to define a word, one needs to look at the first place that word appears and translate the word based on the context.

The first place the word hevel appears is in the story in Bereishit of Kayin and Hevel. Hevel is the first person to introduce mortality into the world since he is the first human to die. “Hevel” is therefore defined as vanity or futility since his death teaches us that nothing lasts, all is fleeting, life is like the breath released from our bodies – non-tangible, transient. But there was more to Hevel’s story than his death; there was his life.

In his life he achieved something wonderful and everlasting – a relationship with God. Through his sacrifice he was granted Divine deliverance, and “God turned favorably toward Hevel.” Though Hevel’s death taught us life is not eternal, his life taught us how to gain transience in this world through developing a relationship with God.

The very fact that Kohelet tells us he has “witnessed all the deeds done under the sun, and indeed, all is futile and accomplishes nothing” is meant to inspire us to live life to the utmost by filling it with spiritual endeavors and God’s Torah and mitzvot – the only pursuits that have lasting value as opposed to everything else that in Kohelet’s view is equivalent to “chasing winds.”

A couple of weeks ago I was at an amusement park with my family, enjoying the last few days of summer vacation. My three-year-old son wanted to go an a ride called Turtle Whirl. Needles to say, the ride featured a lot of whirling and spinning. I could barely look at it without feeling slightly ill. My husband graciously agreed to accompany my son and I happily agreed to watch from the sidelines and take pictures. However, try as I might, I wasn’t able to get a single picture – the ride was spinning so fast it was impossible to capture their smiling faces.

Isn’t life the same? How often do we have days – even weeks, months or years – when we feel like we’re spinning around so continuously it seems impossible to even pause long enough to catch one’s breath, let alone stay focused and find meaning in it all?

This idea is what inspired me to create the artwork “Sovev, sovev” pictured on the front page of this week’s Jewish Press. In the artwork, the majority of Sefer Kohelet is written in concentric circles – a dizzying feat in it of itself. As Kohelet instructs us, life and our daily activities are cyclical, just as nature is cyclical. The sun rises, the sun sets, the wind blows from east to west and then back again from west to east. As the Maharal teaches, human actions mirror nature.

Even the words of Kohelet seem cyclical – Shlomo walking us through his logic and analysis of human endeavors just to bring us back to the same point: “hakol hevel” – “all is futile.” The challenge through this dizzying ride of life is to find meaning and perspective.

The Avudraham explains that the words of Kohelet were culled from sermons given by Shlomo HaMelech every seven years on Sukkot when the Jews would gather in Yerushalayim to celebrate the holiday and fulfill the mitzvah of hakhel (one of the reasons the book is called Kohelet).

About the Author: Shira Gabriela (Saltzman) creates one-of-a-kind prestige custom Jewish artwork such as ketubot, illuminated manuscripts, handmade papercuts, and family trees. Her work can be viewed at shiragabriela.com. Shira has also taught Tanach for over a decade in Israel and the United States


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “‘Sovev, Sovev’ – Round And Round We Go”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
FM Moshe Kahlon to Present ‘Cornflakes Reform’ Budget
Latest Indepth Stories
President  Barack Obama.

How and when is it appropriate for pulpit rabbis to comment publicly on the Iran issue?

David Menachem Gordon

David was many things: Brother, son, grandson, nephew, uncle, cousin, talmid, comrade, AND a WARRIOR

Graffiti at Duma home that was torched in Samara.

Some Israelis seem to have forgotten no one has yet tracked down the murderers of Ali Bawabsheh.

On-The-Bookshelf-logo

Aside from my own 485-page tome on the subject, Red Army, I think Jamie Glazov did an excellent job at framing things in United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror.

“Isn’t it enough that the whole world hates us? WHy do we have to hate each other?”

Who said Kerry won no concessions from Iran? He secured pistachios and Beluga caviar for America!

In 2015, Israel’s fertility rate (3+ births per woman) is higher than all Arab countries except 3

The New Israel Fund, as usual, condemns the State of Israel rather than condemning a horrible act.

I sought a Muslim group that claims to preach a peaceful and accepting posture of Islam, Ahmadiyya

While Orthodox men are encouraged to achieve and celebrated for it, Orthodox women too often are not

Jonathan remember, as long as you’re denied your right to come home to Israel you’re still in prison

Reports of a dead baby, a devastated family, and indications of a gloating attacker.

“The fear of being exposed publicly is the only thing that will stop people,” observed Seewald.

“Yesha” and Binyamin Regional Council leaders said the attack “is not the path of Jews in Judea and Samaria.”

The occasion? The rarely performed mitzvah of pidyon peter chamor: Redemption of a firstborn donkey.

American leftists have a pathological self-inflicted blindness to the dangers of political Islam

More Articles from Shira Gabriela

“What a depressing book!” is a common response to reading Sefer Kohelet. It seems at first glance that Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, is telling us there is no purpose to all of man’s efforts, whether intellectual, material or social.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/sovev-sovev-round-and-round-we-go/2011/10/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: