VANITY FAIR EXPOSED
In many congregations it is the custom to read the Book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) on Shabbat of Chol Hamoed Sukkot. But why? What is the connection between the message of this book and Sukkot?
On the surface the two actually appear to be completely antithetical: Sukkot is a time of great joy and celebration – the diametric opposite of the sad and depressing theme of Kohelet, which was the final book written by King Solomon, reflecting the resignation that comes upon a man at the end of his life, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity…”!
We can find the answer in a surprising place: By comparing the book of Kohelet to another book about vanity written almost three thousand years later: The classic social satire Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, published in 1847.
Vanity Fair concludes: “Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? Or, having it, is satisfied? Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.”
Compare that to the closing verse in Kohelet: “The end of the matter, when all has been heard: Revere God and keep His commandments, for this is the entire man.”
The stark contrast of the conclusion of these two books illuminates for us the beauty and power of Judaism, underscored in Sukkot (it also demonstrates the glaring distinction between Jewish pride and Arab rage): Both books talk about the vanity of man and all his endeavors. But where Vanity Fair concludes with a dark ending leaving us cynical, resigned and hopeless, Kohelet leaves us filled with strength and hope, armed with the ultimate awareness of what is true and real.