The Timelessness of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes is typically read on the shabbat (sabbath) of the weeklong holiday of Sukkot. This means that, as Jews in Israel were being slaughtered by Hamas terrorists hopped up on poor man’s cocaine (Captagon), synagogues around the world were reading Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (Kohelet in Hebrew) contains the oft-cited passage, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Just as the seasons come and go in a seemingly endless cycle, so too do the events in history.
What irony that such Jew hatred would manifest itself in a pogrom in southern Israel, hearkening back to the pogroms in Eastern Europe. What has been, will be.
When you really think about it, it’s remarkable how far we have come as a species. And then something like this happens to remind us of how far we still have to go.
It could be just a coincidence of calendars and a good day to massacre Jews. Or was G-d trying to remind us of the lessons of Kohelet? In my mind, one of Kohelet’s lessons is that we can be cynical and yield to the fact there is nothing new under the sun and let the good and the bad repeat and dictate our lives, succumbing to what is anticipated, repetitive, and mundane; or, we can find meaning in the repetition and fight for something more sublime.
Image: Israeli flag by www.slon pics.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head. Sure, it ebbs and flows like the tide with periods of calm and tumult. But no matter how loudly we plea with humanity that it must never forget and, instead, learn from past evils, hating Jews seems to flow more than ebb.
We live, we die. We laugh, we cry. We prosper, we fail. We kill Jews. We let them live.
The outpouring of support from leftwing individuals, groups, institutions, and media, who generally don’t hesitate to criticize Israel, has been unexpected. It goes to show there is a line even they won’t cross when Hamas has crossed a line we cannot unsee.
But don’t get too cozy with that. Whether it’s Bill Maher agreeing with conservatives about Biden’s frailty or Democrats standing in solidarity with Israel, they are not making a long-term commitment; it’s just a moment in time.
And, to wit. It took only a few days before Biden and most Democrats demanded Israeli restraint, compliance with the laws of armed conflict, and approval of $100 billion in “humanitarian” aid to Hamas—hamstringing Israel’s ability to protect itself. What’s the point of cutting off water, electricity, and supplies to Hamas if Joe Biden sends it all to Gaza as “humanitarian” aid?
Like the planets orbiting the sun, Democrats and anti-Semites will almost always revert to their comfort zone. Nothing changes. Kohelet.
What shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention for the last few decades is the celebration of Hamas’s carnage by crazed leftwing radicals who absurdly insist that Israel orchestrated the slaughter (of its own people and future) to justify a war (that Israel doesn’t want or need while negotiating peace with Saudi Arabia).
Nor should we be surprised (or fooled) by the frenzied antics of Students for Justice in Palestine, their pals in BLM, CUNY professors and their acolyte students, the Squadistas, or the massive protests throughout the world fomented by Iran and far-left progressive groups.
For the world, the default setting is a near pathological anti-Semitism. Don’t like it when something happens? Blame the Jews. After all, as Tom Lehrer sang, “everybody hates the Jews.” Pile on.
It’s a tale as old as time: dastardly Jews conniving and plotting world dominion; vast conspiracies with banks and the media kept secret by 15 million Jews spread across the planet; and blood libels born in Europe that today pervade the Muslim world and cast Israelis as baby killers, including of their own babies.
Whether in ancient Egypt, Spain, Eastern Europe, Germany, or in their own backyard; whether by enslavement, the sword, pogrom, or gas chamber—the chants, the rhetoric, and the solution are nearly always the same: Death to the Jews.
Like the sun rising and setting and the cycle of the seasons, the timeless words of Kohelet echo in our memories. Just when you get comfortable and think the world is growing up, anti-Semitism resurfaces.
Ecclesiastes suggests that, through wisdom and abiding by G-d’s laws and commandments, we can temper the insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Otherwise, left to our own devices, the planet would just spin round and round, and we’d be stuck in a never-ending loop.
If world Jewry can be accused of anything, it is relentlessly reminding the planet that history not studied or heeded repeats; that the propensity for evil resides in all; and that we should always learn from the past and seek peace at all costs.
Perhaps the lesson that emerges from this confluence of Kohelet and the October 7th bloodbath is that there can be no peace with the Palestinians as long as their behavior is unchanged. Palestinians have charted a path along the circumference of the same circle: They are a revenge culture demanding a one-state solution veiled as a two-state solution, with the end being the extermination of all Israelis—a cunning enemy in bed with Iran, pretending to embrace peace while making Gaza better for all Palestinians, waiting to strike, and using work permits authorized in good faith to gather intel to butcher civilians, so no Israeli ever feels safe again.
Netanyahu is right. So as not to be stuck on the same path charting the same history, it is time Israel changes its behavior and drives Hamas into the sea.
We know that the cycle of anti-Semitism can be stopped when there is a will. For centuries, Christians persecuted Jews. Even after WWII, anti-Jewish sentiment was high among Christians who continued to blame Jews for the death of Christ. Jews were excluded from certain institutions. Quotas persisted at most universities. Slurs and invective were common.
After the camps were liberated, the world woke up to the reality that anti-Semitism is palpable, persistent, and so pernicious that it could kill on a massive scale. Despite sympathy and understanding, the Nuremberg trials, the establishment of Israel and the UN, human rights law, Holocaust education, memorials, and a Day of Remembrance, Jew-hatred persisted.
The Jews suffered alone, endured the tragedies alone, and bore the scars alone.
While most institutional anti-Semitism disappeared by the late 60s/early 70s, much remained in the culture. This changed significantly in the early 1960s with the Second Vatican Council’s nullification of Jewish collective guilt for the death of Christ. Among Evangelicals, a more subtle change evolved that likely had to do with the recognition that a good relationship with Israel is vital to preserving Christian life, practice, and religious sites in Israel, as well as eschatologically.
The wisdom that comes from G-d’s commandment to love thy neighbor and do unto others helped Christians break the cycle of anti-Semitism and become great friends of Israel and the Jews.
We might have been alone before, during, and after the Holocaust, but today we feel the loving embrace of Christians.
For that, we are eternally grateful.
While the Muslim world is addicted to hating and compulsively focused on exterminating Jews, it could change. Peace with Jordan and Egypt, Trump’s Abraham Accords, and Saudi Arabia negotiating with Israel are emblematic of that possibility.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is steeped in contrasts—a time to be born and die; weep and laugh; love and hate; have war and peace. While old blood libels and anti-Semitic tropes linger and the killing endures, the love, hope, and fellowship Jews share with Christians point to its possibility, one day, with Muslims.