Oct 12, 2009

Kohelet and Winnie the Pooh: Musings by Ken Sperber

Kohelet and Winnie the Pooh: Musings
by Ken Sperber
shared with permission
So it's Kohelet season--during Succot it is traditional to publically read the book of Kohelet--Ecclesiates--in synagogue.

It's a strange book to be included in the Bible in that it grounds its search for meaning in human experiences, rejecting any appeal to revealed truth from the beyond as is more biblically typical and expected. Kohelet reaches his conclusions about life and the world based on what he sees and he does not flinch. Of course its inclusion in the Bible arguably brings such an approach into the sphere of "legitimate" contemplation.

Anyway, it's a book I've never really studied or understood and I've been reading a wonderful commentary on it by Michael Fox (in the JPS Torah Commentary series). I happen to also be reading the Tao of Pooh. Kohelet concludes that human labor is ultimately pointless. Even human enjoyment is ultimately pointless (but being fun it beats the alternatives). You can't take it with you so the best you can do is live well and enjoy what you can.

So then there's Hoff's ridicule of the "Bisy Backson" and the poem he quotes from Lu Yu: "The breeze in the courtyard leaves and returns. . . Life is like that so why not relax. . . Who can stop us from celebrating." Compare to Kohelet: "The wind blows southward and northward; ever turning blows the wind; on its rounds the wind returns. . .I investigated life and found it is all like the pursuit of the wind (i.e. "life is like that"). . . Of what ultimate use is man's endless toil. . .Enjoy your happiness. . . For that alone is what you can get out of life. . ." Echoing Yu's "so why not relax," Fox explains Kohelet: "Wisdom is the means of attaining wealth and wealth makes pleasure possible; on the other hand, the person who did not toil had the real wisdom--the good sense to take it easy."

I was surprised to find the ideas expressed by Kohelet so in line with those expressed by Hoff's presentation of Taoist thought. Though one clear difference is that Kohelet is depressed by it and the Taoists are not.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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