On Shabbat Chol Hamoed of Sukkot, or on Shemini Atzeret if there is no Shabbat Chol Hamoed, we read Megilat Kohelet after Hallel. The reason this Megila is read on Sukkot is because in a time of such great joy and festivity we may forget that it is Hashem Who provides us with everything we have.
King Shlomo, the author of Kohelet, wastes no time in conveying this message to us. In the second Pasuk of the Megila, he states, “The greatest of futility…the greatest of futility, everything is futile.” He describes several natural events that repeat endlessly, such as the rising of the sun and the flowing of rivers. If the natural things in this world continue forever without accomplishing anything, man, whose life in this world is brief, cannot accomplish anything here either.
Shlomo then enumerates the physical pleasures of this world, including wine, gardens, slaves, and treasures. King Shlomo had most of these treasures and the means to acquire the rest of them. This, however, did not make him happy, for it is all futile; his fate is the same as that of a poor person who did not amass a large fortune. What is the point of being rich if one cannot hang on to what he has acquired?
It is at this point that Shlomo puts Hashem in the picture. He tells us that there is an appointed time for everything, be it destroying or building, loving or hating, war or peace. It is Hashem’s decision as to when each of these things will happen and to whom. Shlomo comes to the conclusion that man can be happy with his lot in life because he is fulfilling Hashem’s will.
Shlomo then tells us to guard our tongues, for Hashem is in heaven and does not care for extraneous conversation; it is only through action that He is pleased. A man can be poor and oppressed or rich and content; these all do not matter for Hashem is watching over everyone to give each person what he deserves. It is not an individual’s call to want or need more, and it is not in his control.
Another futility King Shlomo speaks of is riches. A man can acquire so much in this world and still not be satisfied with his lot. A poor person is better than a rich person because at least he has nothing to begin with, whereas the rich man thinks he has a lot, even though he does not.
The riches of this world cannot be kept by any mere mortal, so what good comes from having them? It is best just to involve oneself in endeavors that are sure to last in this world. Having a good name is better than having worldly pleasures, for physical property can be gone in an instant, while the memory of good deeds lasts forever. It is better to comfort a mourner than to feast at a wedding, for the former is the true display of kindness.
Shlomo continues giving advice by telling us to obey nothing but Hashem’s command, for He is the one who decides our true fate. His ways can never be questioned because He sees the big picture and knows what is best for man. When an evil person seems happy and a righteous person is persecuted, do not think that the world has flipped over. Be happy that the evil man is getting his lot in this world of futility, whereas the righteous one will get his reward from Hashem when he rises to the eternal level in the World to Come.
Shlomo ends the Megila by telling us, “The end of the matter, when everything has been heard: fear Hashem, and guard His commandments for this is the purpose of man.” The only way that we can be truly happy is if we do exactly what Hashem tells us to do. Then our actions will not be in futility, for we will be good in Hashem’s eyes. This is what we should keep in mind throughout this holiday and throughout our lives. Worldly pleasures mean nothing in the long run, and although we may involve ourselves with these matters, we must keep in mind that everything in orchestrated by Hashem, and we will all get our deserving lot when we enter the realm of Hashem in the World to Come.