A Gentle Cynic

“The gentle cynic of the Bible has no message for the oppressed and the beaten of life as do the Prophets.”

In his sermon of January 27, 1963, Rabbi Olan starts from the view of the Bible as “the record of a people’s history in search of the true meaning of life and human destiny.”  The voice of the gentle cynic, as recorded in Ecclesiastes, tells us that “all is vanity,” and Rabbi Olan discusses the author’s various reasons for this pessimistic stance and the resulting choice to enjoy what you can in life, to seize the moment.

If we are looking for clues to “the true meaning of life,” this cynical attitude obviously comes up short. It is, in Rabbi Olan’s words, “a privileged luxury of the rich since the poor cannot experiment with the joys and pleasures of existence. The poor respond to the prophets who seek justice and righteousness.” 

Reading this today, we cannot help but think of our ecological predicament: focusing on short-term comfort, pleasure, and riches has kept us from thinking clearly about the future and taking the necessary steps to slow the degradation of our planet.  What would the Prophets say about this?  What would Rabbi Olan say?

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*Written by guest blogger Frances Olan*

(Rabbi Olan quotes the Book of Eccelsiastes and Rabbi Bunam of Pshysha.)