Our daily readings for the next month or are from a very unusual, but extremely interesting, and often inspirational book, Ecclesiastes. The title means “one who addresses the assembly,” and so is sometimes translated as “Teacher” or “Preacher,” but you’ve never heard sermons like these. If you’ve ever woken up feeling cynical, wondering “Why bother?” you will find a kindred spirit here. Ecclesiastes teaches us that to be a person of faith doesn’t mean always having a sunny disposition. As in the first chapter:
1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
To counteract the pessimism of the above reading, here is a breathtaking prayer from the 13th Century philosopher / teacher / Rabbi, Nachmanides. It was recently rediscovered in an ancient Spanish liturgical book of prayers, and translated into English just this year.
Please, O Lord who creates without having a creator
And who conceived a thought and power from potential to action, brought forth light which illuminates all of the lights from the beginning until the end, for all of the illuminations.
Please, with your unseen, refined and pure power, establish my thoughts in your service, in awe, in trembling and in reverence.
You have brought to light every mystery.
Make me wise to know your commandments, and as a hawk soars over its prey (Job 29:36), allow me to understand and guide me in the path of your commandments
And in the ways of repentance instruct me
Because you are a God who desires the repentance of the wicked
And the spirit of grace flows forth onto those who know and those who do not know, and in the attribute of your beloved ones from ancient times, bless me with sublime favor, as my absolute light
And this is your favor that you shall do for me
And may I not tremble in fear of you (Job 13:21)
And raise me up on the balance of grace
And guide me in your truth and fulfill me from its delights
And from their great light, enlighten me
And like the mountain of your inheritance (Jerusalem), bring me and plant me
And between two cherubs, may your word come and console me
And desire me and receive me
And may the foundation of your world establish my soul and may it be bound up in the bundle of life, the pure soul you have placed within me, and in the great all-encompassing crown, may it be included
Include me in your exalted attribute of goodness, with every blessing and splendor∙
Please, may my supplication come before you
And may your ear be inclined to my joy
And may my prayer come before the sanctuary of your holiness
And from the good oil of the two olives and the wellspring, pour upon the seven candles of the entirely gold menorah (Zechariah 4:3)
And shower upon he who longs for your kindness and sees your goodness through spiritual channels from higher wellsprings and lower wellsprings (Joshua 15:19)
And you are the one who knows that I do not unburden my plea before you due to my righteousness, but rather by the merit of my forefathers I have based it, and by the greatness of your mercy and your humility and the memory of your attributes.