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Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center

A Jewish Community Built on Caring, Prayer and Learning

210-10 Union Turnpike, Hollis Hills, NY 11364
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Shabbat Hol HaMo’ed Sukkot 5780

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It’s one of the Hebrew Bible’s most famous passages: chapter three of Kohelet, or Ecclesiastes. Pete Seeger’s folk song popularized it, and The Byrds recorded the version most people know: Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season). In our annual chapter-by-chapter ritual reading of Kohelet, we will chant and ruminate on this poignant passage this Shabbat Hol HaMo’ed Sukkot.
 
A cursory look at the poem, which is in the first part of a longer chapter, leaves us with a basic understanding of the workings of the world. Everything and its opposite has an appropriate time; but time has constraints. We don’t control time. As scholar Michael V. Fox writes in his JPS Commentary on Ecclesiastes, “In everything we do, we should wait until the time is ripe rather than straining against the natural flow of events. Yet, unfairly, we cannot be certain of discovering when the right time has arrived.”
 
Given that Kohelet has told us in the first two chapters that much of life is futile, it should not surprise us that he emphasizes the futility of trying to control time. And he begins his poem of opposing pairs by saying, “[There is] a time for being born and a time for dying.” This is the ultimate example of time being beyond our control. Birth has a gestational period, give or take a few weeks, and death, Kohelet believes, is an event whose date we don’t determine. But every couplet that follows is different, in that the activities are, at least to some degree, subject to people making decisions. 
 
On Shabbat morning, I want to look at a few of these couplets, particularly those in which the “negative” behavior may actually be one of wisdom. In other words, perhaps knowing what is called for at a certain time makes what might seem fatalistic into a sign of human agency.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom uMo’adim Lesimhah,
Rabbi David Wise