Breishit: Something to Notice

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.

Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.

The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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Virginia blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day. Manages is on hiatus.

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