Sunday, November 28th 2021   |

Kohelet

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

We customarily read the Book of Ecclesiastes (“Kohelet”) in conjunction with Succot: commonly, on the intermediate Sabbath of the Festival or on Shemini Atzeret… though there is no mention of this practice in the Talmud.

Rashi explains the Hebrew name of this Biblical work: “Kohelet” (from the root k.h.l., meaning “to gather”) is so called, he says, because its author “gathered together many different forms of wisdom.” This relates to the long-standing belief (see Succah 55B) that the seventy bulls sacrificed over the course of the Festival were offered on behalf of the seventy non-Israelite nations of the world. Kohelet, Rashi proposes, draws upon global sources of wisdom to honor Succot… just as the People Israel brought sacrificial offerings on behalf of that global community.

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (“Netziv,” 1816-1893) taught that representatives of the seventy nations came to witness the sacrifices offered in their names… and to listen to the reading of Kohelet (Harchev Davar, Numbers 29:12; see also Zechariah 14:16-19).

Kohelet is worldly, Rashi understood, in its openness to a variety of philosophical approaches and traditions. Succot pilgrims complemented that openness by celebrating the Festival in the presence of non-Israelite guests… proudly sharing with “outsiders” our distinctive spiritual and philosophical synthesis.

“Who is wise? One who learns from everyone” (Avot 4:1).

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the past National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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