This is an appropriate theme in this season of Yom Kippur.

 
While the conventional emphasis that day is personal atonement, we might also see its implication for thinking about our communities' sins, accomplishments, and problems.


Nothing is certain. The possibility of disease and accidents are close to all of us. Collectively we should be concerned, if not actually worried, about things economic and political.


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Depending on our personal values, we can be more or less certain about the people currently in public office, with the capacity to make things better or more dangerous.


Recent events, i.e., especially since the election of Donald Trump, have increased uncertainties in many places, reflecting the weight of the government he heads. Brexit has added to the uncertainties of Britain, and because of that country's importance, in much of Europe. Angela Merkel's success in the election may add to Germans' sense of certainty, and to that of Europe, but the ascendance of the far right (Alternative) party is a cause for worry.


Somewhere near the top of our uncertainties is the unfortunate combination of Donald Trump and Kim Jung-un, as well as Iran's fiddling with the imperfect limitations of its international agreement, and the spread of Muslim refugees.


Israelis are worrying about what's liable to develop in Syria due to Iran's growing role there, as well as the chronic possibilities of Palestinian violence from Gaza and the West Bank.


The recent attack alongside the community of Har Hadar required one mother to tell her children that the terrorist was the nice man who had been cleaning their house.


The event produced a typical response from the police and IDF. The killer's village will be closed for several days. No one will leave or enter, except for "humanitarian" cases. Close family members have been taken in for questioning, and may be held if found involved or aware of the man's intentions. Members of his extended family, which may involve dozens, will lose their permits to work in Israel.


However, the daily flow of Palestinian workers will continue. The benefits of providing work to Palestinians, despite the occasional incident, are thought to reduce the prospects of wider violence directed against Israel or the (relatively) moderate Palestinian leadership.


Nothing's certain, but this is the lesson learned from years of experience.


Due to this experience and high investment in security, our little corner of the world is less uncertain than those immediately threatened by the Trump-Kim confrontation, or the increase in Muslim populations in Europe and North America.


Below the level of the apocalyptic, Israelis are currently uncertain every time they get into their cars. The handicapped have been blocking roads on several occasions each day, in order to press their demands for larger stipends.


We can argue as to how much the unfortunate among us should receive, and whether a continuing disturbance is justified. The police have let them assemble with their wheelchairs, appliances, and electric bullhorns. Just now they are beginning to ticket and move those who impede traffic.


The cops are much tougher with the ultra-Orthodox. When they close roads, the police use batons and horses to move them.


Were Arabs to try the same tactics as the handicapped or the ultra-Orthodox, we could expect escalations and post-demonstration counts of the dead and injured.


Donald Trump is associated with the biggest of our puzzles.


Complexities of politics and government limit him on the domestic front, as well as the actions he can take internationally. However, his failure to stay within the limits set by his minders raises the issue of how foreign power holders may respond to his threats and insults. 


We can only wonder about the checks and balances upon the leaders of North Korea and Iran, or their rationality as they listen to Donald


The impending holiday of Succot provides an annual occasion to think about one of the complexities integral to Judaism.


The Otthodox ritual includes the reading of Ecclesiastes, which can be seen as questioning all that is said to be certain in other Books of the Hebrew Bible. .


Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher.
Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.
What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil . . .
Generations come and generations go . . .

All things are wearisome, more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. . . . 

with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. (Chapter 1)


There are those who say that the philosophy inherent in Ecclesiastes is more Greek than Judaic. And many applaud its supply of lyrics for folk singers

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (Chapter 3)


It's hard to quarrel with passages that remain timely, and might be read to those with power


The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded  than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. (Chapter 9)

Despite what seems clear in its words, there is no shortage of interpretations to make Ecclesiastes consistent with everything else in the Holy Text.


Scholars see the concluding passages as added in order to pass muster with the Rabbis who determined what would be included and excluded from the Hebrew Bible.
  
The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd.
Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
 Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
 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.
 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Chapter 12)

Ecclesiastes reflects one essence of Judaism that accepts anomalies from the ideal, as well as uncertainties. We've long recognized our inability to solve the knottiest problems. We've learned to cope, and work to limit the damage to oneself and others. It isn't neat. It provokes argument. But we've also been doing that from about the time that there were Jews.


And for those who ascribe to others of Judaism's many essences, may you enjoy all the blessings of the season.


גמר חטימה טובה
 
Comments welcome


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Irashark@gmail.com 
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