The word “havel” — vapor, mist, steam; futility, vanity — features prominently in the book of Ecclesiates/Kohelet, beginning with the second verse:
The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Utter futility! [havel havalim] — said Koheleth —
Utter futility! [havel havalim] All is futile! [ha-kol havel]
(JPS translation, 1:1-2)
The second child of Adam and Eve, Hevel [Abel], who is not, in fact, long for the world, carries a name associated with impermanence. The translator Everett Fox, among others, notes this:
Hevel: The name suggests “something transitory” (see opening book of Ecclesiastes: havel havalim). — Fox, The Five Books of Moses
In a recent discussion at Machon Micah (the intergenerational education program at Temple Micah, Washington, DC), Rabbi Danny Zemel highlighted the tension between “acquiring” — kaf-nun-hey, as in the name Cain (Kayin) — and impermanence, as in the name Abel (Hevel), in the portion Breishit and in Kohelet, which is read during the holiday of Sukkot…sometimes within the impermanent confines of a sukkah.
For complete citations for Torah commentaries, translations, etc. please see Source Materials.
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