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Ecclesiastes, Fleeting and timeless

Biblical Philosophy

The examples are too pervasive to ignore. In one case, as we have seen, Kohelet refers to the transience of injustice: While evildoers may succeed, their success is only temporary. This knowledge, however, is linked directly with Kohelet’s own happiness at the fact—“Therefore,” he concludes, “I prized joy (hasimha).” The same holds true in his statements about the transience of youth. “Youth and virility are fleeting,” he famously declares, yet only after admonishing his reader to “rejoice (semah).” A similar point is made in the context of fleeting love: “Live with a woman you love all the fleeting days of your life,” he suggests—but only immediately after having told his reader to “Go, eat your bread with joy (besimha).”43 Indeed, only a few verses before the end of the book, the link between transience and joy becomes explicit, even emphatic: “Even if one lives many long years, he should rejoice (yismah) in them all, heeding the days of darkness, for they shall be many; all that transpires is fleeting (hevel).”44

From the first stage, then, in which hevel was but a small step from tragedy and evil, it is now never far from happiness. Thus the third stage represents a surprising turn. In it we find exuberant affirmations of life, and the joy and wisdom that it can bring. Kohelet has now learned, and seeks to teach, the deeper lesson of hevel: Transience as inspiration

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