The Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) offers thirty pairs of phrases elaborating on the theme of a “season set for everything” (Kohelet 3:1-8):
1) To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2) A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3) A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up
4) A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and time to dance;
5) A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6) A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7) A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8) A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.
— Kohelet 3:1-8 (“Old” JPS at mechon-mamre
“If you’re not 20 minutes early, you’re late,” my ballet teacher, Marie Paquet, used to tell her adult students: Without time to leave behind the outside world and prepare to focus, warm up physically and mentally, class could be frustrating, even dangerous. Over the years, I’ve realized that her adage also applies to worship services. Still, life and public transportation don’t always support early arrival to services.
But necessity, as I’m sure “they” rarely say, is the mother of invention in kavanah [intention]….
This past Shabbat, Shabbat Sukkot, I entered the sanctuary un-early and a little frazzled. Moreover, this particular service skipped over some introductory prayers that ordinarily help me focus. This left me struggling to follow the service. But, then, in a moment provided for silent prayer, I stopped struggling and simultaneously “heard,” quite clearly:
“On Your behalf, my heart says: ‘Seek My face!'” (Psalms 27:8)
I wish I could say that this verse instantly helped me find my way into the service. But I can say that I my inability to keep up became suddenly irrelevant. Moreover, I stumbled into a three-part message encapsulating the fall holidays. I am hoping it will carry — for me and others, I hope — the essence of the season of teshuva into the mundane, post-holiday world.
What went wrong at Babel, and how might the situation be redeemed? One answer, I think, is to be found in a whisper still reverberating from our shaky sukkot and the rustling of the lulav.
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]Continue Reading