Ecclesiastes and Chapter Eleven

People constantly strategize looking for a good investment – whether it is for a good financial investment (tough in our time), a good investment of time and energy, or a good social investment (i.e. whom to make an effort with and to try to connect with). I have heard it said by fine people, “So and so is not planning on staying in the neighborhood long term, so she may not be a good investment of friendship.” It’s almost like if a business announces it may go “Chapter Eleven,” no one wants to invest in it.

King Solomon, the wisest of all men, strongly disagreed.

In addition to reading Exodus 33:12-34:26, it is the custom in a large number of synagogues around the world to read Kohelet-Ecclesiastes this Shabbat. Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon at an advanced age after experiencing the frivolity of youth. A cursory reading could yield a sense of pessimism and a lack of hope. However, a proper study of the lessons therein provides great wisdom for life.

Chapter Eleven begins with the following verse:

שַׁלַּ֥ח לַחְמְךָ֖ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י הַמָּ֑יִם כִּֽי־בְרֹ֥ב הַיָּמִ֖ים תִּמְצָאֶֽנּוּ׃

Cast your bread upon the waters; for after many days you will find it.

Rashi, Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (1040-1105), the father of all biblical commentary advances an incredible interpretation of this verse:

שַׁלַּח לַחְמְךָ עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם-. עֲשֵׂה טוֹבָה וָחֶסֶד לְאָדָם שֶׁיֹּאמַר לְךָ לִבְּךָ עָלָיו, "אַל תִּרְאֶנּוּ עוֹד", כְּאָדָם שֶׁמַּשְׁלִיךְ מְזוֹנוֹתָיו עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:

Cast you your bread upon the waters. Do goodness and kindness to a person even about whom your heart tells you that you will never see him again.

The message of this verse is clear: Do the good that is in front of you now, and in due time you will see the fruits of your labor. Do not concern yourself whether it is a good investment. If it has come your way, it is your opportunity and duty to cast your bread upon it.

The Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey allocates funding to Jews around the world when in need. Whether there is hunger, poverty, or war, our bread is cast on the scene because it is the call of the moment.

G-d has promised the Jewish People that we will never go “Chapter Eleven” (disappear). G-d has also commanded us to take care of one another as best we can. Ecclesiastes provides us with this insight how to go about sharing that bread (largesse).

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence