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[KE CyberTorah] Everything Is Breath

Everything Is Breath

Everything is breath and hot air. So says the writer of Kohelet. All our striving and effort under the sun counts for nothing. Look upon our vast works and despair, for time consumes all and nothing that we do can ever have lasting impact. These are the words of Kohelet. 

Or I would say: this is the despair of Kohelet. According to the Rabbis, Solomon wrote these words as an old man, aware of his mortality. He saw the Israelite Kingdom he had caused to prosper, the wisdom and reputation, and realized that he too would die like all men. He thought: all that I have built will fall into ruin and be as if it had never been. My breath will leave me and everything I have built will fade away.

To everything there is a season. Sukkot comes again, reminding us of the passage of time. Another year is starting; the festivals are again upon us. There are missing faces at our holiday tables; people taken from us by age, by illness. And there are new faces; children, new friends. The Sukkah exists in a timeless now that holds all of us, but we enter it each year older, more marked by time and life. To everything a season under heaven.

In that timeless now of the Sukkah, I realize there is meaning. My impact will fade; I will be forgotten. And yet: I am alive now. I love and am loved. I breathe, I suffer, I rejoice. And: I bring joy and heart ease to others. How deep must the mark be for it to matter? In my breath there is also a hint of eternity. Breath can be evanescent, but also a timeless now. I live only in this breath, in this moment. It matters now, and now after all is all there is.

Solomon, who lived a life as a King, forgot what it is to lead. To lead is to serve. It is to dedicate the essence of yourself to those whom you serve so that they may prosper and live. Solomon took on many wives and amassed great wealth. He thought: I am to be a King on whom people can gaze and be pleased with the symbol of our nation. And he forgot: I am King so that I may serve my people.

Not once in the whole book does he imagine that tzedakah or love might provide meaning. Not once does he consider that love and shared practice exist eternally, in a moment that lasts forever. Its duration is irrelevant because it matters exactly as it is. Solomon, for all his wisdom, forgot to care, to serve, to love.

So I wish you a joyous end of Sukkot. I pray you feel the presence of lost loved ones with you, feeling their blessing and breath on you in the Sukkah or wherever you celebrate. I pray also that you remember the joy that comes from service and love. And finally, I pray that you have a chance to breathe, and in that breath to notice this moment, the now in which we are always living, and feel it with gratitude and joy.

Shabbat Shalom and Sukkot Sameach-
Rabbi David Booth

Tue, September 26 2023 11 Tishrei 5784