Friday, August 28, 2009

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity


A skeptic finds his words canonized despite how they contradict the mainstream rabbinic wisdom, in fact the author's premise belies the whole Mosaic vision of a personal G-d that intervenes in history, a just and merciful G-d who cares about all his creatures.

It is a despairing, cynical almost pagan take on theodicy, and yet it made the cut and today is part of the most widely read book in the world. Makes me proud to be a member of a religion that has such a big tent, that can so tolerate the cynic.

It is traditional to read the scroll in its entirety on Sukkot, the harvest festival, when we reap what we have sewn. Seems fitting.

Rabbi Rachlis in tonight's discussion got it right. The author asks the right questions and throws out the knotty challenges. What he doesn't do is come up the right answer. His answer of despair is not the only response to an unjust, cold and cruel world. Victor Frankl reminds me that we always have the freedom to choose how we respond. In that last freedom there is a joy and a subtle but certain victory over the angst.

Read a bit from Chapter One below or better, read the whole book yourself (it isn't very long) and please share with me your reaction. I would really like that. Honestly. It would be a great comfort. Add a comment here or email me at or do both.

I picked this particular section as it hones in on the impotence of my weapon of choice, the intellect in our earthly struggles.

13. And I applied my heart to inquire and to search with wisdom all that was done under the heaven. It is a sore task that God has given to the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.
14. I saw all the deeds that were done under the sun, and behold, everything is vanity and frustration.
15. What is crooked will not be able to be straightened, and what is missing will not be able to be counted.
16. I spoke to myself, saying, "I acquired and increased great wisdom, more than all who were before me over Jerusalem"; and my heart saw much wisdom and knowledge.
17. And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I know that this too is a frustration.
18. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge, increases pain.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me the most meaningful and "true to life" portion of this chapter has always been the reference to the vexation caused by wisdom and that "increasing knowledge leads to increasing pain".

Only those with blind faith can ever hope to overcome this conundrum. When we developed the capacity to reason, learn and understand things we also created the capacity for frustration, self doubt and despair.

I doubt that I (a true cynic) will ever be capable of getting past this. Recently I visited a Catholic shrine and saw a saying that may help people like me...Pray, Hope, and Don't worry.

Perhaps it will serve to give me some comfort...I pray that it does!


August 29, 2009 at 4:53 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Those verses you typed, I think they mean it is trust that matters.

Probably, not very helpful. I think there is merit in what Victor Frankl says - gosh, I read his book so long ago. He is right about the freedom to choose, I think in the end I had to do that. Took me a very long while.

In a way, perhaps just relax now for a while. You don't have to do or realize everything all at once.

August 29, 2009 at 5:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bryan...guess one of the questions is can one be too smart for their own good...I struggle with that as I am doing campath consolidation after 3 chemo regimes per the wisdom of dr Kipps and against the wisdom of my present university of calif. dr who figures I will relapse and then not like that road but recognize the road may lead that way...I often wonder whether my ego and pseduo intelligence interfer with my ability to understand the ways of G-d...and then I read about martin luther and his flawed view of the jew...guess the key is who but oneself can make the decision??...Kipps...Rai??...Furman??...or Koffman?? the farm on the later for I have done for myself and me...with the recognition that what will be...will be...romanbob

August 30, 2009 at 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Is despair the author's conclusion? Or are his observations just a stop along the way?

I think he's making an observation. Knowing stuff increases vexation. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

It's true. Before I heard of CLL or 11q or FISH, I was blissfully ignorant. But is it better, wiser, more desirable to remain ignorant? No.

In the end, he isn't eschewing the intellect or pursuit of answers or the application of one's noggin. He's just not trusting in it for his salvation.

But make the most of the gifts you've been given because doing so serves purposes beyond what you can imagine.

Just my 2 cents.

September 2, 2009 at 4:59 AM  

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