The Book of Ecclesiastes:
Judaism’s Answer to Existentialism
In the foundation of jewish belief, there has always been a passion for meaning. The jewish people reflected on God’s purpose of history, nature, and every other aspect of life. And similar to the course of most civilizations, they’ve even questioned the most important idea: themselves. Once humans became self-aware we have asked “how did we get here”, “who created us”, and most important “why are we here”. The meaning of existence is a question humans will always ask. It is important for daily life because it gives purpose and direction. This question is even possibly the catalyst for the creation of religion and philosophy. Therefore, as all the largest religions have, Judaism also gives its own answer to this question. In the Torah is the book Ecclesiastes, which contains wisdom that not only that gives reasons to ponder our fleeting lives, but refutes a common reaction, and gives its own solution of the meaning of life.
The beginning of Ecclesiastes is a segment that contain general statements regarding the timelessness of the universe. The first statement comments on the futile existence of humanity, claiming “Generations come and generations go, while the earth endures forever”. A line that coldly declares that human mortality does not allow for any permanent effect in an eternal world. The universe will pertually continue, while every human will die and any trace of a person will eventually be lost forever. The following lines continue in the same pattern. An element of nature such as “the sun”, “the wind”, and “all streams” will ceaselessly continue their course until the end of time. All of these further represent the presence of humanity is meaningless in the grand scheme of time. The final axiom, “[A]nd there is nothing new under the sun”, reveals another depressing characteristic of humanity: there is no originality and humanity will always remain the same. While a person might concoct their own “creation”, in reality it will never be their own. Due to the extensive history of civilized humans, at some time in history every idea have been similar or exactly made. Also, there is the fact that since we’ve had to be educated on almost every subject matter, everything we know and create can never be properly appropriated to anyone. All our information is stolen from another. Therefore, adding another reason onto the list of why life is pointless. However, it is not only a point regarding originality, but human behavior as well. No matter if the environment or circumstances are changed, humans will always behave the same. It’s as if we can’t control the fate of humanity because our descendents will alway make the same choices and mistakes. Thus, the book of Ecclesiastes argues due to our mortality, the eternality of the universe, and the repetition of human nature and knowledge, life has no meaning.