"Ecclesiastes isn't a condemnation of life as worthless, and human effort as vain and futile, but rather a revelation into the impermanence of reality and a guide to how to live in the midst of impermanence and insecurity with a modicum of joy and tranquility," writes Rabbi Rami Shapiro, a prolific and highly respected multifaith writer and retreat leader, who is featured on our website as one of our Living Spiritual Teachers. In this illuminating book, he presents his translation and commentary on the controversial book of the Hebrew Bible ? for centuries, considered little more than a rant on the evils of vanity.
Shapiro has found Ecclesiastes to be a deep, rich text ? "an examination of life without escape." He believes that Koheleth delivers a recipe for living with constant change: "Eat simply, drink moderately, work constructively, and cultivate love and friendship with two or three others." In fact, Shapiro is convinced that Ecclesiastes is "the most honest and hopeful book in the entire Hebrew canon," very relevant to our times with its depiction of change, insecurity, corruption, the oppression of the poor by the rich, and the desperate search for meaning.
One of the most salutary things about Shapiro's commentaries on Ecclesiastes is his use of quotations and references to other religions. This practice adds both breadth and depth to his interpretations. In Ecclesiastes 3:1 Koheleth writes: "Everything in this world has its moment, / a season of ripening and falling away." It is sheer folly to try to grasp, cling to, or hang on to the moment. Instead of lamenting its passing, there is another way: "Reality's flow is endless, / moment to moment nothing is added / and nothing is taken away, / and its sole purpose is to open you to wonder." Adapting ourselves to the flow of time, we are blessed with the gift of wonder. Koheleth considers the rewards and pleasures of wealth and power and possessions but finds them all fleeting. In his commentary, Shapiro sums up a more sane approach:
"Male or female, the truth is the same: If you want to find joy in life, live simply: eat simply, drink moderately, work constructively, and cultivate a few close friends. That's it. But chances are you can't accept that. You want something more complicated. You want something you have to spend your life pursuing, something so rare that when you die without it you do not despair but imagine it was just too rare to find. Nonsense. Life is simple; joy is simple; but only if you have the courage to live simply enough to experience it."