“Of the making of books there is no end!” (Kohelet)
“Of the making of books there is no end!” So ends the book Kohelet more
commonly called Ecclesiastes which tradition reckoned was a muse written by an aging King Solomon. Called by one scholar “A gentle cynic,” Kohelet records the thoughts of the King who in some despair tries to make sense of his life, a life filled with ambitions none of which were fully satisfying. It can be argued that its sentiment that “all is vanity,” is the most Buddhist of biblical perspectives. Solomon offers a review of all the things he attempted to accomplish but found all of them an ultimate vexing of the spirit. One conclusion he draws from his revelries is to be present and enjoy the moment or as the title of a book by a Jew turned Hindu Ram Daas “Be here now!”
If ever there was a living personification of Kohelet’s reflection “Of the making of books there is no end!” it would be the life of Harold Bloom recently deceased. Yale graduate, Yale professor, writer of books both iconoclastic and reverent, Bloom was a most distinguished educator. His original language was Yiddish but it would not be his last endeavor to acquaint himself with language. Ever the literary critic, Bloom authored a book about books called “The Western Canon.” In it he cites some 26 writers (four of whom were women) who authored numerous books and plays which he deemed as pivotal to understanding our civilization. A mere 576 pages, it covered the writings of Milton to Austen and Joyce to Tolstoy. Were one to read all of the works referenced one would have to sit endlessly in a library for weeks and weeks! Such was the eclectic reach of Harold Bloom.
The Moslem tradition coined the expression “people of the book,” to describe the Jewish peoplehood. In our quick internet age in which we are familiar with literature an inch deep and at times only a mile wide we Jews would do well to take to heart this man’s spirit. Scholars often note that the last line of Kohelet cited above was an add-on to serve as a bar against too much philosophizing. Often the quote is taken out of context. But for our purposes it can serve as a prod to make life more meaningful. Elie Wiesel, the great witness of the Holocaust and author was once asked, “Christianity has created great cathedrals, Moslems renowned architecture. What is it the Jews gave the world?” He answered simply, “Words!” From the time of the prophet Hosea who wrote “Take words to God,” to the present day we are a people of the book, a people of words.
Wishing you a Happy Chag Sameiach
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz, D.D.