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.

Published by


Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s