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Ecclesiastes: 2:15

I don’t in a general way look to Kohelet for comfort. I do have to say, though, that there is a kind of bleak optimism in the view that our struggles are the struggles of mortal men, but that the Divine Creator is not subject to our smallness and impotence. Eccl 2:15:

Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.

I haven’t, I think, talked about how Kohelet uses heart, and I don’t know that I have anything useful to say. It’s probably worth keeping in mind that Kohelet doesn’t think of heart as the seat of romance so much as the seat of, well, selfhood. As in the heart of the matter. Kohelet sees some sort of distance between his self (ani) and his heart (libi) such that when he really want to emphasize something his self says it to his heart. V’amarti ani b’libi he says to his heart in the first sentence, and then V’dibarti v’libi in the second, losing his self but keeping his heart. I suppose we can keep an eye on which self is which, as we carry on.

Hm. I wonder… in the first sentence he says to his heart k’meekrey ha-k’seel gam-ani yeekranee what happens to the fool gam-ani happens. If we go back to the previous verse, where he said shameekrey echad yikarah et-coolam (what happens to one happens to all) we see that he has replaced echad with k’seel and et-coolam with gam ani. We go from general to specific, replacing a generic person with a fool and all with me. Maybe the gam is just an intensifier, maybe it is there just to provide that extra syllable to match the last verse. But maybe it’s in some sense saying “everybody… and also me”. I think most of us engage in some “everybody… and also me” thinking, now and then. But it is perhaps: all of me, my heart and myself? Consider that in the last verse it is Kohelet’s ani that knows what he tells his libi in this verse.

Anyway, moving on: if what happens to a fool happens to me, v’l’ma khakhm’tee ani az yotayr. What/my wisdom/me/profit. Yes, profit, this is a version of that yitrown we have been hearing. You could read this as what is left over of my wisdom, or what profit do I have of my wisdom. Very different senses, I think—I think it’s lovely to ask: if I die and a fool dies, what happens to my wisdom? Surely all we know comes from what is left of the wisdom of the dead, the surplus beyond folly that they invested—not in themselves but in their relicts. In us.

But, kohelet continues to his heart, shegam-zeh havel, it is all vanity/emptiness/vapor/futility. So perhaps he does not believe (as we will get to) that such an investment yields returns. But my main discovery (so far) is the value of interpreting negatively phrased rhetorical questions as implying contrasting positive answers. So when I read a question saying what good is wisdom to me, I hear that there is something contrasted with me that wisdom is good for. When I read that all of this is havel, I ask: What, then, is not havel? Begin by assuming that there is a profit of wisdom that is not futile, and that the answer is contrasted to the self as we have been discussing it. Specifically, that wisdom does not profit the self because the self must die. Where, then, is the profit of wisdom? In what does not die. The Divine wisdom is different from our wisdom, because our wisdom (surplus of our folly) dies with us, while the Divine wisdom is undying.

Can we then ask ourselves: how can we invest the surplus of wise-me over all-fools, so that it is not futile but returns to the Divine?

In the wake of the election, Ursula Vernon asks:

She is asking specifically about the lost access to healthcare for her fellow artists as we have voted to rescind the promise of the ACA. But it seems to me, as I hear this verse, that it is what Kohelet is asking about wisdom: what are we even for if not to save as much wisdom as we can? The answer for Kohelet, for wisdom, again as I read this verse today, is that we are creating this surplus of wisdom for the Divine. That it is futile to try to keep it for yourself, or even to think of it as for human use. Wisdom not mere breath when it is added to the Divine Creation… which of course it always is. What is futility and emptiness and breath is trying to own wisdom, to profit from it and keep the surplus. What is not havel, as always, is the work you do for the Divine.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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