« Democracy! | Main | Election Day, November 2016 »

Ecclesiastes: 2:14

We're on Ecclesiastes 2:14. We have just observed that wisdom/profit/folly as light/profit/dark, in the context of turning from achievements of labor to achievements of the mind:

The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.

Looking at the words, I want to say that I love the phrase ha-k'sil ba-khoshekh holaykh, the fool walks in darkness. I love the sound of it, the repetition of the ls and khs. It seems to me that the ba prefix almost connotates direction-towards, that is, the fool comes walking into darkness. None of my translations agree with that, though. Hm. Now it occurs to me to wonder if the bet in the first half of the saying connotes movement towards the head rather than placement in the head: hekhacham aynayn b'roeshow, the eyes of wisdom come to the head. Again, no-one at all says this, and I'm not really arguing that this is p'shat meaning, just a sort of poetic connotation. I like it, though: The eyes of wisdom come to the head. To the head of things, to the head of the wise person, to matters of importance. The word rosh isn't used in Scripture to mean the seat of thinking, by the way. It's the literal head, or the top of something (a hill, a building, a scepter), or a leader (the head of a tribe or a military band or a household). It's also used to indicate the first chronologically or the first in importance. My instinct might be to interpret the eyes of wisdom come to the head as being thinking about thinking, but that's not it, or at least wasn't it to Kohelet. Rashi interprets the verse as saying the wise man doesn't act until he knows the outcome of an action, which doesn't work for me. I might be inclined to say that the eyes of wisdom can see the top of the mountain, while the fool comes walking into darkness.

In the second half of the verse Kohelet uses ani when he doesn't need to (as he does in verse 12) to emphasize that it is his own knowledge—I mentioned in the previous note that most of my translations took verse 13 as a reference to a saying, assumed to be known to the readers, and about half of those take the first half of this verse as the same, putting it in quotes, and then pivoting on ani that the part before is an old saying, but the part after is Kohelet's own observation. Could be.

And what does he know himself? That shameekreh echad yikarah et-coolam, one's hap happens to all. The KJV here (one event happeneth to all) obscures that the noun and the verb are the same krh root, which is too bad, and both it and the other translations obscure the parallelism of one and all. I think the balance and rhythm of 13, the first half of 14, and the second half of 14 are really important to what's going on here. One the one hand, on the other hand. Wisdom is better than folly, light is better than darkness; wisdom has the eyes on the prize, foolishness wanders in darkness; but I know what happens to one, happens to everyone. The two hands match, in the end.

And again, to me, there is an echo: we know that fools and the wise have the same fate, but there is a Divine which does not share that fate. All people die. The Divine and the Divine creation endures. All rivers run to the sea, yet the sea is not full.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Post a comment

Please join in. Comments on older posts will be held for moderation. Don't be a jerk. Eat fruit.