Whats new under the sun Genesis, Ecclesiastes differ


Genesis 1:1-6:8

I Samuel 20:18-42

Shabbat Beresheet affords a student of the Torah an opportunity to contrast the opening chapters of Genesis with the Book of Ecclesiastes, the reading for Sukkot. The author of Ecclesiastes lamented that he would disappear without a trace. His stinging words are laced with sadness and futility:

Havayl havaleem amar Kohelet,

Havayl havaleem hakol havel.

"Vanity of vanities, saith Kohelet, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath man of all his labor wherein he laboreth under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh… That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: And there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:2-9).

The rock group The Byrds made Kohelet's memorable lines about "a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven" even more famous:

"To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn. And a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, #a time to die…"

The song may have hit the top of the charts, but its words are fatalistic, sullen and gloomy. They are the cynical comments of a man who believed that everything is predestined and that after his life, he would disappear without a trace.

What was Kohelet's complaint? The Hebrew word "havel" should not be understood as personal vanity. Its meaning comes from the notion of something being in vain. Kohelet spoke of fruitless, futile, worthless effort. Havel is the Hebrew word for something devoid of meaning. Havel is vapor. It is frozen breath on a cold winter's day. Like ephemeral frosty mist, Kohelet complained that everything is evanescent:

"And I also perceived that one event happeneth to them all. Then said I in my heart: 'As it happeneth to the fool, so will it happen even to me; and why was I then more wise?'…For of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no remembrance forever; seeing that in the days to come all will long ago have been forgotten. And how must the wise man die even as the fool…All go to one place; all are dust, and all return to dust" (Ecclesiastes 2:14-16; 3:20).

Kohelet's melancholy comments provide a sharp contrast to the drama of Genesis. Ecclesiastes teaches that nothing is new, "All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea in not full; unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again…All things toil to weariness" (1:7-8).

However, Beresheet insists that everything is new, fresh, novel and original and that rivers are a generative source of life that teem with an endless variety of God's creations.

History is not repetitive; life is not circular; we do not live only in eternal cycles of birth, growth, death and decay. We are not on an endless treadmill. Ecclesiastes is antithetical to the notion in Genesis that history has meaning, purpose and direction; it is linear, continuous; it has an objective and significance.

Genesis teaches that once the universe was an undifferentiated primordial mass. It was the tohu vavohu, a formless expanse, the chaos from which creation began.

But once creation began and a distinction was made between light and darkness, the world of endless possibilities was born and it has been operating ever since. It is no wonder that our liturgy refers to God as the source that daily renews creation. Our God is the God of creativity who set imagination and creativity into motion eons ago, a process that continues to today.

On the first day God created light, yet it was not until day four that the sun, moon and stars were created. What is the distinction between the first day's sunless light and the light of day four that radiated from the newly created celestial orbs? The first light, the light without the sun, is the spark of creative energy hidden away in the Torah between the white of the parchment and the black of the letters.

Unlike pessimistic Kohelet, the optimistic author of Genesis understood that there is always something new under the sun.

Recognizing that there are two different kinds of light and two divergent paths to life, students of the Torah can rediscover the light hidden in its sacred text and thereby uncover the purpose of their lives.