Ecclesiastes – Chapter 4

Two Heads Are Better Than One

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Solomon says that he looked and he saw all those who are oppressed and have no one to console them. (Rashi says this refers to those suffering in Hell for their deeds.) Solomon praises the dead (i.e., those who passed away before they could be tempted to sin) more than he does the living (whose fates are still unknown). Better still is the one who was never born! The person who was never born never had to witness suffering at all.

When Solomon saw the work (Rashi says sins) that a person does just to impress others, he found it to be an exercise in futility. Foolish people are idle, with the result that they have nothing to eat. (The verse uses the phrase that he “eats his own flesh.” This could mean literally, but it more likely means that his body becomes emaciated. There are other explanations, as well.) It’s better to have a modest portion without aggravation than to strive for a lot of possessions by much trouble or, even worse, sin.

Solomon also considered those who have no family – neither sons nor brothers – but they still knock themselves out compiling wealth. Why? For whose benefit? The same is true of scholars without students, businessmen without partners, etc. Two are better than one, since they can support and encourage one another. If one falls, the other can help him. Who helps if someone falls alone? If it’s cold out, they can warm one another, but one person cannot warm himself alone. One person can be easily overcome by bandits, two put up a struggle, and three are not easily beaten at all.

A poor child with wisdom is better than an elder king who has lost his wits. Such a king will sin and will not accept it when others try to correct him. It’s as if he came to his throne from a dungeon and he degrades himself through his actions.

Solomon considered the generation of the flood and the descendants of Noah, who would survive and replenish the world. They had everything, but their generation was wiped out in an instant. The generation of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion likewise did not appreciate what they had, choosing instead to follow their improper urges. We should be careful when we go to the Temple, Solomon says, that we are there to bring voluntary sacrifices to praise G-d and not sin offerings to atone for our misdeeds. It’s far better to listen to G-d in the first place than to sin and then have to make up for it. Foolish people don’t realize how self-destructive that is!

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