Party TimeBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Seeing that wisdom and knowledge led to pain, Solomon decided to try partying a little. After all, wine and parties are pleasant experiences! But he soon discovered that this, too, was pointless. Laughter is inevitably mixed with tears and what does joy actually accomplish? Solomon endeavored to experience the gamut: partying, wisdom and foolishness, but he would not allow himself to deviate from the path of Torah during his investigations. He would, however, try different things so that he could determine the best way for a person to live.
Solomon erected great works: houses, vineyards, gardens and all kinds of orchards. He made pools of water and he had forests planted. He acquired many servants and flocks, as well as silver and gold, until he was richer than anyone. He had personal musicians serenading him, as well as many vehicles. He held onto his wisdom and his Torah observance, but he also indulged all his desires and his heart was happy with the result. But when he looked on all his accomplishments, Solomon realized that they were futile. After all, what benefit is derived from feeding all of one’s desires?
Solomon considered the advantage that wisdom (Torah) has over foolishness (sin). It’s like a person who pleads to a king after his sentence has been passed; he should have thought about his deeds in advance and avoided trouble altogether! Wisdom is as superior to nonsense as light is to darkness. Solomon says that he knows wise men have foresight, which fools lack, but both eventually pass away. If so, Solomon asks, what’s the advantage in being righteous? Eventually, both are forgotten (though the wise and pious have merits even in death).
All this made Solomon hate life; everything seemed pointless. Why should he work hard to accumulate wealth, just so his successor can walk in and inherit it from him? Who knows whether the successor will then handle things wisely or foolishly? Someone else will control his handiwork, so ultimately it was pointless. (The Targum applies these verses to the fact that Solomon would spend his life building up the kingdom, only to have his son Rechavam mismanage it, leading to a civil war and ten Tribes seceding.)
And so, Solomon became greatly discouraged about all he had done. After all, a person can work hard, with great integrity, and someone who did nothing to deserve it will end up owning it. Where’s the justice in that? What does a person really have to show for all his efforts? His days are full of troubles and his nights are full of worries. “Don’t get me wrong,” Solomon says, “eating and drinking and enjoying the fruits of one’s labors are good things to do. The ability to do so is a gift from G-d. Who is better suited to enjoy my own work than me?” To a person whose acts please G-d, He gives knowledge and joy, but He gives sinners the desire to pursue much wealth, which is ultimately futile.