The book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), which the Jewish people read during the festival of Sukkot, is seen by many to be a book of contradictions. In actuality, it’s a book that delves deep into the psychology of human behavior and encourages goodness, wisdom, compassion and good sense. The words of Kohelet are read right after the Day of Judgment and Atonement that are known in Hebrew as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s a time when Jews may feel especially merry for having successfully passed through these serious days, possibly causing them to go astray. The words of King Solomon provide a counterbalance to this exuberant relief and guides Jews in how to approach the new year ahead and the gift of life that they’ve been given.
The book of Kohelet was written by King Solomon, who was the son of King David. Status wise, King Solomon swung quite a pendulum in his life, with times that he was incredibly wealthy and times that he was considered a pauper. Which begs the question, what does the book of Kohelet have to say about money? In Judaism, there is an inherent understanding that people who are wealthy and people who are poor will each perceive money differently. Jewish scholars tell us that money can serve as a mirror or window into a person’s values and priorities and reveal his true essence. There are some people who care only about money. These people will be so dogged in their pursuit of wealth that they may not even live to enjoy the spoils of their efforts. These individuals do not have a balanced approach to the accumulation of their assets, and it is a sense of balance, above all else, that the book of Kohelet encourages in order to lead a satisfying life.
Money can be a blessing or a curse. In chapter two of Kohelet, King Solomon writes that he built homes, palaces, vineyards, gardens, and orchards with his money, all for his pleasure. However, he warns the reader not to become consumed by his desire for more and not to covet what others have, because ultimately hedonism is meaningless. Money is not the solution to everything. On the contrary, money can be a tremendous source of worry and provide more problems than answers. Though Judaism encourages the amassing of wealth, it is under the assumption that good will be done with the money earned. Often, though, that is not the case, with a person’s descendants acting contrary to his wishes, and the tests and tribulations that result amounting to serious hardship and even corruption. Given the way that money can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth, the sages advocate for a life of poverty over a life of wealth, because of the purity that abounds in a person who does not have much. Money is best used towards the pursuit of education so that wisdom may be acquired, and with it the knowledge of how to distribute money effectively. Despite a person’s best efforts to hold on to his wealth, however, money will come and go, and time is something that cannot be gotten back either. If man spends his time fruitlessly chasing money to ill effect, his life will be devoid of purpose, and he’ll feel like he has failed.
It’s no wonder that so many people walk around in low spirits, feeling like they don’t have enough even when they have plenty, or that they’re not good enough even when there is much to recommend them. Kohelet urges mankind to keep sight of the golden mean and to stay balanced in all things. This means his approach to money as well as his attitude and countenance. And if a fellow happens along a man who seems down and depressed, he should use his mouth to offer words of happiness and blessing. Taking the time to cheer another person, and emitting sentiments of hope can heal their soul, bring renewed vigor to their spirit, and even change their destiny. So, take the time to let others know how much they are cared for, because doing so will serve as one small step towards repairing the world.