CHOL HAMOED SUCCOT
“Cast your bread among the waters, for you shall find it after many days” “The end of the matter, all things having been heard, fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man” I SPOTTED these two aphorisms on either side of an impressive gravestone in London’s Willesden cemetery, inscribed exquisitely into a magnificent stone. Both quotations are from the Book of Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, which is recited before tomorrow’s Torah reading. Traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, it has proved a popular inspiration for gravestone quotations, especially in the late 19th century!
Many aspects of Victorian morality and Jewish philosophy are naturally harmonious. But Kohelet contains an intriguing combination of morality and scepticism. The scathing nature of some of the sting-in-the-tail aphorisms found in Kohelet possibly also appealed to a new age of doubt and questioning. But the other obvious reason for choosing Kohelet extracts for the grave is the book’s focus on death.
Kohelet explores the inability of man to control his destiny and his frustration with the uncertainty of fortune. The only thing that can be entirely relied on is death.
At times, in this strange and compellingly beautiful book, death is to be dreaded, but at other times its arrival is anticipated as a friend, one that can be relied on and even welcomed. Death is the ultimate example of God’s ordering of the universe. This alternately exasperates and comforts the writer, but there it is, unarguably in chapter three: “a time to be born and a time to die”. This seemed especially to resonate with the Jewish Victorian paterfamilias ordering his epitaph and confronting his own mortality. MAUREEN KENDLER