Kohelet: The Best of All Possible Lives Without Torah

Rambling, Torah

Imagine you and a lover are trying to save your relationship, which is in danger of ending due to apathy and wandering eyes. You recite love poetry, even the Song of Songs, to each other, but to little effect. The endless metaphors about the fullness of being together versus the emptiness of being apart ring hollow.

You love each other more than you love your relationship, so you start to ask a new question: What would be the best possible lives each of us could lead if we were to break up? You fill in the blanks with what to the best of your understanding is the best of everything.

The wisdom of Solomon is commonly understood by Christians as a tough but ultimately charitable account of human frailty. Though expressions of “all is vanity” can be found throughout Hellenistic and Indian thought, Ecclesiastes’ place in the Bible has made it the go-to book for Christians exploring this worldview.

As received by USA pop culture, “to everything there is a season,” “que sera, sera,” and “namaste” are all synonyms for “chill.” “All is Vanity” would make for a fine motto to slap on credit cards.

Learned as the Jewish Kohelet rather than read as the Christian and/or philosophical Ecclesiastes, the book presents the best of all possible lives without Torah: a life of ardent, earnest pursuit of knowledge and experience that culminates in a feeling of passive contentment.

Without Torah, human beings can make the world no better or worse than it ever has been or will be. There can be no assurance of life after death, either as an afterlife or a remembrance of one’s name and accomplishments. It’s foolish to expect too much of the tool-making featherless biped. “To everything there is a season…” refers to the variety of experiences one goes through amidst life’s ups and downs.

With Torah, every human action has eternal consequences. One’s possessions, family, and reputation may or may not endure, but the mitzvot one has performed, which contribute to the constant renewal of creation and revelation, are eternal. “To everything there is a season…” refers to the sanctification of time through mitzvot.

The lovers conclude that the best of everything apart would be nothing compared to an ordinary or even an unpleasant moment together. Thus has the relationship between YHVH and Israel endured millennia of apathy and wandering eyes.

And the old school version…

And the really really old school version (“To everything…” starts at 16:13 and ends at 18:02)


Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?


An excess of style (or is it anti-style?) overcooks the movie until it’s plenty gooey. The filmmakers put in an abundance, perhaps even an excess, of effort, but chose to engage only in the kind of work that doesn’t feel like work: the hours spent in an editing room with mutually congratulatory friends at play. Such efforts produce satire that doesn’t bite and comedy that doesn’t tickle.


Dont Look Back


The other day I texted this to a friend:

“I really thought Dylan’s life was over. Until today I almost pitied his continued existence.”

She replied by asking which of our mutual acquaintances named Dylan I was talking about.

Dylan Thomas never won the Nobel Prize. Robert Zimmerman has yet to receive his comeuppance.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence


For Dr. Dann, whose kind words encouraged me to resume this blog.

This fever dream wrings the sweat out of  a question: What’s the difference between a gentle man and a gentleman? The English would-be gentleman struggles with how to be. The Japanese would-be gentleman struggles with how not to be. Such men are too ashamed to hope, too proud to fear, and too stubborn to know. The gentle man patiently endures the gentleman’s blows, wishing every day could be Christmas.