Words to the Wise
Do wealthy people have an easier time facing their mortality than poor people? One would think so: the more you have, the more you want to protect from the vicissitudes of life such as accidents, illnesses, death and crime. The purchase of life insurance, of other forms of insurance, and of various safety and security measures would seem to be natural decisions.
But they often are not so easy. People of means often lose sight of the target as frequently as do their less affluent counterparts, even though they have more to lose. How curious.
The legendary King Solomon is a good example. His book, Ecclesiastes, is read in synagogues around the world at this time of year. Here was a man who literally “had it all”: extraordinary wealth, immense power, a multitude of servants, and many wives and children; yet at the end of his life he asked himself, in essence, “If I die anyway, why does anything matter?”
If a man of such stature could be perplexed by his own mortality, who’s to blame us “ordinary folk” for wondering about the meaning of life? Fortunately, the King came to an exciting and inspirational resolution of this dilemma. His words of wisdom apply very much today.
Biblical scholar Ethan Dor-Shav has distilled this wisdom for us. Here are some of the insights from his analysis of the King’s book:
Life is a series of fleeting moments. Make the best of each one!
“Like fleeting cherry blossoms, almost sacredly ephemeral, the transience of (life ) inspires Kohelet’s (King Solomon) existential transformation…For it is precisely the transience of these things that moves us. By understanding the fleeting nature of life as a whole, Kohelet is no longer paralyzed by the burden of death. Life’s transience is dynamically transformed into a powerful motivational force: An urgency to live, to experience joy, to take action, and above all, to learn. ..To the end, life itself must remain the focus of man’s existence.” (1) p. 21
Choose to experience joy in life – but to also learn from the experience.
“An appreciation for joy grows steadily out of such an understanding…To Kohelet, joy is not a consolation prize, or an elixir for life’s pains. Neither is it related to the promise of a life to come. Rather, joy is a value in and of itself; it is what it means to be truly alive.”
“Yet even joy, it seems, is not the final destination for Kohelet. Ultimately, if there is an underlying message in the Book of Ecclesiastes, it is this: That only in understanding the transience of life do we attain the beginning of wisdom; and in turn, only through the wisdom derived from our experience of life may we in some way take part in that which is eternal.”
“Kohelet realizes that true wisdom is the one thing that is not dependent on transient circumstances. Yet all of the transient circumstances in this world serve as the means of acquiring it.” (1) p.21
What you have learned from life is your legacy. Pass it on!
“Everything but wisdom is transient, teaches the king, and history has proven him right. Neither Solomon’s riches, nor his power, nor even his monumental Temple in Jerusalem survived under the sun. What has indeed lasted, however, is the legacy of his wisdom, embodied in the Book of Ecclesiastes. … And no small measure of that light is reflected in the understanding that only ideas can defy time, transforming the world” (1) pp. 22,23
(1) DOR-SHAV, ETHAN. “ECCLESIASTES, FLEETING AND TIMELESS PART II.” Jewish Bible Quarterly. N.p., n.d. Web.