Hey. First, my apologies. I know that I have totally neglected my blog for several weeks now. There were, of course, mitigating factors- my family was in the Holy Land, I was in my sister's apartment, and also, I didn't really feel like it. And, unfortunately, the blog is not going to be terribly busy in the next couple of weeks, because Law School Orientation starts Sunday. That's right-this Sunday. As in "the day that would be Simchat Torah for me if I was still a chutznik." Yeah. And Heavens only know whether or not I have a dorm room... So anyway, I'm going to be a bit busy, so we'll have to see what happens.
And now on to the post. This post, as perhaps you would be able to tell even without the lengthy introduction/disclaimer (but where would be the fun in that?) is spawned more from desperation to get back to posting than actual inspiration, so I'm sorry if it degenerates into yet another dull, angsty rant about my high school experience. Here goes:
We learnt Kohelet in twelfth grade. The first thing that my teacher announced as an introduction to the subject was that Kohelet was not a depressing book. The life that it degrades as pointless is a life dedicated to pursuing physical pleasures, while a life devoted to spirituality is not pointless, but beautiful. This interpretation was supported by translating hevel as 'ephemeral' and reading a lot of passages as not really questioning the afterlife or the soul or things like that.
Fine. It's a legitimate track, and certainly there is a thread in Kohelet attacking hedonism. But I think that this interpretation misses the thing that makes Kohelet so cool. The Talmud says that the chachamim wanted to ban (or hide, or bury) Kohelet because a) it contradicted itself and b) it contained things that leaned towards minut (heresy). The Talmud never goes back and says "but really, it didn't and that was all a misinterpretation." Never says "and then other chachamim came along and said it didn't." It says that they included it a) because the beginning and end are words of Torah and b) because every heretic statement was later contradicted by an acceptable one.
In other words- Kohelet should not- cannot- be read as a single, unified book. It is an ongoing internal debate, the kind that just about every thinking person is going to have. All those angsty, going-off-the-derech questions- they're all in there. Kohelet, as a book, is devoted to that angst, that questioning, that depression, that struggle.
And the fact that it's in Tanach means that the struggle is acceptably in Judaism. And not just if you figure everything out and end up happy and calm, with all your questions answered. Because even with the last couple of p'sukim, Kohelet doesn't have any answers. Never comes to the conclusion that there is an afterlife, or that life is just, or that anything has any point at all. The only vague conclusion that I saw was that that you shouldn't spend all of your life trying to figure out the big questions- if you always watch the clouds, you never plant; more books is more trouble and so forth. Which is hardly a conclusion, but more of angsty frustration at your own angsty frustration.
Anyway, the point is this: teaching Kohelet as just another happy, reasoned book that teaches you to devote yourself to holiness is robbing it of its most basic lesson: It's okay to struggle. Maybe even mandatory to struggle. It's okay to question, to contradict, even to despair. And even someone who loves G-d enough to write Shir Hashirim, who is wise enough for Mishlei, even he can wrestle with the biggest questions. And lose. And keep on fighting.