Sunday, October 12, 2014

Joy in Serving God

Now all has been heard;
      here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
      for this is the duty of all mankind. 
— Ecclesiastes 12:13

A note to our readers: Today marks the fourth day of Sukkot, which is observed for seven days. Throughout this week, our reflections have been tied to this biblically mandated holiday. Since no work can be done today, this devotion was prepared in advance for you.

Sukkot is the holiday of joy. So why is it, that of all books in the Scriptures, we choose to read Ecclesiastes on this holiday? It’s not exactly an upbeat book. Yes, it is profound, wise, and even life-changing. But it doesn’t have much to do with joy. The underlying theme of the book is that we are all going to get old and die. Everything that we do in life – at least on the physical plane – is ultimately meaningless. We leave it all behind when we die. This is an important message, but is it consistent with the joyful theme of the holiday?

Consider the following tale told every year by one of Jerusalem’s old storyteller rabbis: A certain wagon-driver would often fall asleep while traveling and veer off the road. One time, he fell into a deep sleep and woke up in complete darkness. He realized that he had ventured into the “dark mountains.” The man was petrified, but soon saw a bonfire and discovered people there.

The citizens of the dark mountains welcomed him and encouraged the man to stay a while and earn some money before returning home. The man agreed. Suddenly, he realized that the dark mountains were made of diamonds! Immediately, he began scooping up diamonds to take home. But the people stopped him and said, “Those aren’t worth anything. Wax is our most precious commodity. If you want to become wealthy, become a wax merchant.” Which the man did, forgetting all about the diamonds.

After accumulating a respectable amount of wax, the man prepared to return home. He loaded up his wagon with the crates of wax. To keep them in place, he stuffed a few diamonds between the crates. When he got home, his family greeted him enthusiastically. “Where have you been?” they cried. The man told his story and proudly showed them his crates of smelly wax. But his family wasn’t interested in the wax. Instead, they exclaimed, “Look at these diamonds! We’ll be rich.”

Friends, we often mistake the valued commodities of this world — money, possessions, prestige, fame — as true wealth, when the real diamonds — acts of kindness, good deeds, faith — are all around us. As Solomon explained at the end of Ecclesiastes, the only important thing is to fear God and follow in His ways. Those are the real diamonds and they are available to us all.

Sukkot coincides with the harvest season. Whether we come to the holiday with a little or a lot, Ecclesiastes is read to give us the proper perspective. It doesn’t matter how much we have because that’s not where our joy will be found. True joy comes with serving God – and that, my friends, is priceless.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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