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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5776

Ein Ayah: Positive or Negative Outlook on the World

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:95)

Gemara: [We saw last time that there are apparent contradictions within Kohelet. The gemara now starts listing some of them, along with solutions to the contradictions.] In what way are [the sayings of Kohelet] self-contradictory? It says, “Anger is better than laughter” (Kohelet 7:3), and it says, “About laughter, I said that is praiseworthy” (ibid. 2:2). It says, “I praised happiness” (ibid. 2:15), and it says, “What is happiness there for?” (ibid. 2:2).


Ein Ayah: The foundation of all the moral ideas depends on the manner in which one looks at life – with a positive or a negative eye. It is possible for life as it is to find favor in the eyes of the beholder, from a physical and a spiritual perspective. If so, the person’s moral approach and his sympathetic way of acting toward society will impact his philosophy. If, in contrast, one looks at life in his times with a harsh, critical eye, then he will find that his internal moral approach is full of antagonism to society. Such a person will go about trying to improve matters with anger and by discrediting existing structures.

Therefore, the contradiction in Kohelet illustrates an extreme contrast in the correct approach to one’s desired internal emotions. It is worthwhile to take a look at life and determine whether there are more good and enjoyable things or more bad and saddening things. This exercise can be done in two realms: the ongoing and the occasional/unusual situations.

There are times that the problems that arise on an ongoing basis take away the positive aura from life, but one can still have special times and circumstances that make those elements of life special and justify happiness. It is also possible to have the opposite scenario: generally, life brings satisfaction, but there are times in which wisdom declares that the bad and bitter justify one being sad or angry. The contradictions in Kohelet are in regard to these fundamental points.

It is not possible for a person to be in a state of laughter on a consistent basis. Rather, it can come when one is exposed to something that is unusually gratifying. Similarly, it is not natural for one to be angry on a consistent basis. Rather, one is liable to become angry when certain particularly upsetting things which conflict with his internal desires occur. That is the reason that anger and laughter are the parallel and opposite possible reactions to extraordinary situations.

Happiness is something which can and should be in one’s emotional makeup on an ongoing basis. Therefore, whether it exists or is missing depends on how one should view the situation that exists normally. How great is the contradiction in Kohelet about these two elements of outlook on life. One is whether wisdom dictates that life contains more, qualitatively and quantitatively, upsetting moments that warrant anger or more positive and uplifting moments, which dictate laughter. On this point, there are apparently contradictory p’sukim. Similarly, we have a pasuk that says that happiness in the face of the normal flow of life is correct and another pasuk that indicates that there is not enough good on an ongoing basis to justify a consistent state of happiness.

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