Megillas Koheles

On Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos we read Megillas Koheles. This book aims to hammer into us a basic lesson: Worldly pursuits lack substance; only spiritual pursuits bring true satisfaction. The following selection from the Maggid’s commentary on Koheles brings out one aspect of this lesson.
Shlomo HaMelech writes (Koheles 2:2): “Of merriment, I said, “[It is] mingled,” and of joy, “What is this doing?” The Midrash expounds (Koheles Rabbah 2:2):
Of merriment, I said, “It is mingled.” Said R. Abba bar Kahana: “How mingled is the merriment the Gentiles engage in within their circuses and theaters!” And of joy, “What is this doing?” – “What would a Torah scholar be doing entering these places?”
The Maggid asks: In regard to avoiding Gentile entertainments, why does the Midrash single out Torah scholars from among all other Jews?
The Maggid explains as follows. Ultimately all forms of comedy and amusement are ephemeral and empty. Yet sometimes a person needs such entertainment. As our Sages say (Avos 4:3): “There is nothing that does not have its place.” The Rambam teaches, in his Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Deios, that a person should always strive for the middle path. Hence, if a person falls into sadness due to some untoward event, the necessary cure is to bring himself to a state of extreme joy through jokes. In this way, he will return to the middle path. This is the excuse for going to theaters and taverns: People go because they have become seized with sorrow, and they need some cheerful diversion to bring them relief.
Such a solution, however, is fitting only for simple people, who have no other way of relieving their sorrow. A Torah scholar is different. The holy Torah is Hashem’s source of joy, and it brings joy as well to the hearts of men. As Dovid HaMelech says (Tehillim 19:9): “The directives of Hashem are upright, gladdening the heart.” Why, then, should a Torah scholar seek relief from sorrow elsewhere? This is what the Midrash is saying. Shlomo declares that merriment is a mixed pursuit. It is laudable on occasion, as a way of bringing joy to the melancholy. Hence circuses and theaters play a useful role. But a Torah scholar has no business entering these places, for he has a better way to relieve his sorrow.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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