Ecclesiastes – Chapter 1

Ignorance is Bliss

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Solomon says that everything is fleeting and insubstantial (“vanity of vanities”). What profit does a person see from all his labors in this world? One generation passes and the next one comes; doesn’t the world keep on spinning? The sun rises and sets, the Earth completes its yearly circuit around the sun, and it returns to its starting point. Rivers flow into the seas, but the seas are never full.

So, what profit does a person have? Everything is tiresome and monotonous. It would be impossible to enumerate all the vain pursuits of man, or even to conceive of them all. There’s nothing new – what was is what will be and vice versa. If someone claims a new innovation, we can easily point to analogous things in earlier generations. But mankind has a short memory and they don’t remember previous generations, nor will future generations remember this one.

“I am the Gatherer of knowledge,” Solomon says. “I was the king in Jerusalem and I decided to wisely investigate man’s pursuits. Man has an evil nature and is inclined to behave in a manner accommodating that nature. I perceived all of man’s endeavors to be pointless and futile. If a man lives a crooked life, he will not enjoy a straight path in the afterlife. If he acquires no merits in this world, they cannot be counted on his behalf in the Next World.”

“And so,” Solomon continues, ” I decided to acquire an unprecedented volume of wisdom. I wanted to understand not only knowledge and wisdom, but also madness and foolishness, all of which can frustrate a person. Knowledge can be troublesome and understanding what goes on behind the scenes can be very upsetting.”

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