Ecclesiastes – Chapter 3

Turn, Turn, Turn

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Yes, The Byrds’ 1965 hit single “Turn! Turn! Turn!” gets almost all its lyrics (excepting the last line and the refrain of “Turn! Turn Turn!”) from the first eight verses of this chapter. The song credits should properly read, “Lyrics by King Solomon, Music by Pete Seeger.”

There’s a time for everything: a time to be born (i.e., at the end of nine months) and a time to die (be that as it may); a time to plant and a time to reap; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break and a time to build; a time to cry and one to laugh; a time to mourn and one to dance; a time to scatter stones (as in Lamentations 4:1) and a time to gather those stones (as in Zechariah 9:16 – the referent in these verses being the exile); a time to hug and a time not to hug; a time to search and a time to lose; a time to keep and one to throw out; a time to rip and a time to sew; one to be quiet and another to speak; one for love and one for hate; a time for war and a time for peace. (Many of these times refer to the exile following the destruction of Jerusalem, contrasted with the return in the Messianic era.)

What benefit does one derive from all his labors? Solomon says that he has witnessed the things people do with the resources G-d provides. G-d made a wonderful world and He gave every person the capacity to understand it to some degree, some people more and some less. He did not, however, give any person the capacity to know it all. (Rashi explains how the time of a person’s death is a mystery to him. It may be near, so he should repent, but it may also be far, so he should not hesitate to undertake long-term projects, like building houses and planting vineyards.) Solomon says that he knows that there is nothing better than for a person to rejoice in what G-d has given him and to do good things for others. If a person rejoices in the Torah, it is a gift from G-d.

Solomon says that G-d’s creation is eternal and that man cannot fundamentally change it, though G-d occasionally works miracles so that man should be in awe of Him. (Rashi gives the examples of changes in nature that occurred at the time of the great flood, as well as making the sun move backward in the time of King Hezekiah.) That which has already happened is a model for that which will be; G-d will avenge those who have been wronged, so what have their oppressors truly gained?

Solomon says he saw corruption in places of justice, but he knew that G-d would judge both the righteous and the wicked according to their deeds. As we said earlier, there is a time for everything – and that includes the payment of sin! G-d should let those who oppress the weak know that they truly have no power and are no better than animals. Animals and people both die; man is not superior in this regard. Both decay in the dirt, though man’s soul ascends to be judged, while an animal’s spirit of life doesn’t. (Therefore, don’t act like an animal, whose actions have no consequences!)

And so, Solomon says at this point that there is no greater good than to rejoice in one’s deeds. The work of his hands is his rightful portion, as opposed to a life spent pursuing riches. When a person passes on, he will not see how – or even if! – G-d apportions his wealth to his heirs.

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