Ecclesiastes 4

 

וְשַׁבְתִּי אֲנִי וָאֶרְאֶה אֶת־כָּל־הָעֲשֻׁקִים אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשִׂים תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ וְהִנֵּה דִּמְעַת הָעֲשֻׁקִים וְאֵין   4:1

לָהֶם מְנַחֵם וּמִיַּד עֹשְׁקֵיהֶם כֹּחַ וְאֵין לָהֶם מְנַחֵם׃

Eccl. 4:1   Then I turned back and could see all the oppressions that are being perpetrated under the sun, and behold, the tears of those being oppressed, and there is no comforter for them, but power is only from the hand of their oppressors; but there is no comforter for them.

וְשַׁבֵּחַ אֲנִי אֶת־הַמֵּתִים שֶׁכְּבָר מֵתוּ מִן־הַחַיִּים אֲשֶׁר הֵמָּה חַיִּים עֲדֶנָה׃   4:2

Eccl. 4:2   So I value the dead who have already died more than the living who are yet alive,

וְטֹוב מִשְּׁנֵיהֶם אֵת אֲשֶׁר־עֲדֶן לֹא הָיָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא־רָאָה אֶת־הַמַּעֲשֶׂה הָרָע אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ׃   4:3

Eccl. 4:3   but better than both of them is the one who has not yet been, who has not seen the work of evil that is perpetrated under the sun.

Verses 2 and 3 comprise an interesting insight on life in general.  Ranking humans as best not having been born, and those dead better than those living, the author reveals his disdain for and sharp disappointment in the world.  At the same time he also inadvertently exhibits his (sinful) bitterness toward God.  These two verses tell me that the author is not quite as wise as he thinks himself (although it seems the Talmudists agreed with him).

                                                                                                                                           [Return to Eccl. 6:5]

וְרָאִיתִי אֲנִי אֶת־כָּל־עָמָל וְאֵת כָּל־כִּשְׁרֹון הַמַּעֲשֶׂה כִּי הִיא קִנְאַת־אִישׁ מֵרֵעֵהוּ גַּם־זֶה הֶבֶל וּרְעוּת    4:4

רוּחַ׃

Eccl. 4:4   And I considered all labor and all the excellence of completed work, that it is the ardor of a person because of his neighbor. This too is vanity and vexation of spirit.

In this verse, the author seems to be saying that all our efforts are driven by competition with others.  I believe this is an oversimplified view.  In my opinion, much labor is undertaken because it is inspired by an innate desire to achieve.  And much other labor is due to the need to survive.  Still other labor is a response to boredom and a sense of futility.  Finally, more labor is in pursuit of perfection.  Some of these labors also possess an element of competition, but it is not necessarily the prime driver.

הַכְּסִיל חֹבֵק אֶת־יָדָיו וְאֹכֵל אֶת־בְּשָׂרֹו׃   4:5

Eccl. 4:5   The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.

טֹוב מְלֹא כַף נָחַת מִמְּלֹא חָפְנַיִם עָמָל וּרְעוּת רוּחַ׃   4:6

Eccl. 4:6   One hand full of quietness is better than many hands full of labor and vexation of spirit.

וְשַׁבְתִּי אֲנִי וָאֶרְאֶה הֶבֶל תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ׃   4:7

Eccl. 4:7   And I turned back and could see vanity under the sun.

יֵשׁ אֶחָד וְאֵין שֵׁנִי גַּם בֵּן וָאָח אֵין־לֹו וְאֵין קֵץ לְכָל־עֲמָלֹו גַּם־(עֵינָיו) [עֵינֹו] לֹא־תִשְׂבַּע עֹשֶׁר וּלְמִי אֲנִי    4:8

עָמֵל וּמְחַסֵּר אֶת־נַפְשִׁי מִטֹּובָה גַּם־זֶה הֶבֶל וְעִנְיַן רָע הוּא׃

Eccl. 4:8   There exists one, and there is no second; there is not even a son or a brother for him; yet there is no end to all his labor; still his eye cannot have its fill of riches.  “So for whom am I laboring and keeping my soul from happiness?”  This too is vanity.  And a miserable occupation it is.

The word in the parentheses is spelled with a second yad, which makes it plural, and it would be translated as his eyes, when it should be his eye.  The correction in the brackets omits the second yad, making the noun singular.

טֹובִים הַשְּׁנַיִם מִן־הָאֶחָד אֲשֶׁר יֵשׁ־לָהֶם שָׂכָר טֹוב בַּעֲמָלָם׃   4:9

Eccl. 4:9   Two are better than one, in that there is a better result for them to their labor.

כִּי אִם־יִפֹּלוּ הָאֶחָד יָקִים אֶת־חֲבֵרֹו וְאִילֹו הָאֶחָד שֶׁיִּפֹּול וְאֵין שֵׁנִי לַהֲקִימֹו׃   4:10

Eccl. 4:10   For should they fall, one can raise up his companion.  But woe to he who is alone, who could fall and there would be no other to raise him up.

גַּם אִם־יִשְׁכְּבוּ שְׁנַיִם וְחַם לָהֶם וּלְאֶחָד אֵיךְ יֵחָם׃   4:11

Eccl. 4:11   Moreover, should two lie together, then it would be warm for them.  But for one, how would he stay warm?

וְאִם־יִתְקְפֹו הָאֶחָד הַשְּׁנַיִם יַעַמְדוּ נֶגְדֹּו וְהַחוּט הַמְשֻׁלָּשׁ לֹא בִמְהֵרָה יִנָּתֵק׃   4:12

Eccl. 4:12   And though someone could overpower the one, two could stand against him, while the threefold cord cannot easily be broken.

טֹוב יֶלֶד מִסְכֵּן וְחָכָם מִמֶּלֶךְ זָקֵן וּכְסִיל אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יָדַע לְהִזָּהֵר עֹוד׃   4:13

Eccl. 4:13   A poor but wise child is better than an old and foolish king who does not recognize being admonished anymore.

This verse seems to be a hypothetical comparison of near extremes and is not intended to portray anyone in particular.  I believe it is introductory to the next three verses.

כִּי־מִבֵּית הָסוּרִים יָצָא לִמְלֹךְ כִּי גַּם בְּמַלְכוּתֹו נֹולַד רָשׁ׃   4:14

Eccl. 4:14   For from prison one comes forth to be king, though even in his kingdom he was born poor.

רָאִיתִי אֶת־כָּל־הַחַיִּים הַמְהַלְּכִים תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ עִם הַיֶּלֶד הַשֵּׁנִי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲמֹד תַּחְתָּיו׃   4:15

Eccl. 4:15   I observed all the living who are walking under the sun with the child, the second who would stand in his place.

אֵין־קֵץ לְכָל־הָעָם לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר־הָיָה לִפְנֵיהֶם גַּם הָאַחֲרֹונִים לֹא יִשְׂמְחוּ־בֹו כִּי־גַם־זֶה הֶבֶל וְרַעְיֹון   4:16

רוּחַ׃

Eccl. 4:16   There is no end to all the people, to all whom he is before. Yet those afterward would not rejoice in him.  Then this too is vanity and absurdity.

It seems that posterity is all important to the author.  Is that his vanity?  (Maybe everyone’s vanity?)

שְׁמֹר (רַגְלֶיךָ) [רַגְלְךָ] כַּאֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ אֶל־בֵּית הָאֱלֹהִים וְקָרֹוב לִשְׁמֹעַ מִתֵּת הַכְּסִילִים זָבַח כִּי־אֵינָם   4:17

יֹודְעִים לַעֲשֹׂות רָע׃

Eccl. 4:17   Guard your foot when you will go to the house of God, and be near to hear, because of the fools offering sacrifice, that none of them will be acknowledging committing evil.

In other words, fools offer sacrifices without repenting, since they cannot tell good from evil.  But why the expression, “Guard your foot?”  So that you do not stumble as fools do?  Incidentally, the error in the parentheses has an unnecessary yad, making the word plural, your feet, when it should be your foot.  The correction is in the brackets.

 

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