Way of Solomon: Finding Joy and Contentment in the Wisdom of Ecclesiastes

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"Thus I understand the simple truth of life:
There is nothing better than for you to rejoice
in every deed done in harmony with the moment.
For doing is your purpose;
in doing is your meaning.
Leave the result to those who come after you,
and attend solely to doing well ...

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"Thus I understand the simple truth of life:
There is nothing better than for you to rejoice
in every deed done in harmony with the moment.
For doing is your purpose;
in doing is your meaning.
Leave the result to those who come after you,
and attend solely to doing well that which must be done at all."

In this thoughtful, fresh interpretation, Rami Shapiro presents King Solomon's philosophy as that of a Taoist sage and the book of Ecclesiastes not as a lamentation of life's vanities and meaninglessness but as a guide to reality and how to embrace it with joy and tranquility. Shapiro's Ecclesiastes shows modern spiritual seekers the way to truth, gratitude, contentment, and joy.

Traditional translations of Ecclesiastes dampen the hopeful spirit of Solomon's message, while Shapiro's rendition illuminates an ancient wisdom as timely and relevant today as ever. Shapiro boldly asserts that Solomon didn't in fact cry "vanity of vanities," as his words are so often translated, but rather, "Emptiness, emptiness, all is emptiness." Read this way, the message becomes a meditation on the promise of finding joy in even the most ordinary of daily acts and true peace of mind in our contemporary world of ego and artificial distractions.

Positioning Solomon as a realist with the instincts of a Zen master who seeks a path away from illusion and toward true enlightenment, Shapiro presents an innovative, engaging translation of the full text, and then lingers over the most moving and important passages, offering real-world examples of how this classic book of wisdom can be incorporated into our own lives. Solomon beseeches us to accept impermanence in orderto embrace the present with freshness of body and mind. He calls on us to engage each moment, lest we miss today by agonizing about yesterday or daydreaming about tomorrow. And he urges us to recognize and celebrate the interdependence of all things, so that we may act justly and compassionately.

Shapiro's passion for the timeless message of Ecclesiastes is evident throughout The Way of Solomon. He encourages us to read with open minds and hearts, to savor the wisdom of this ever-popular book of the Bible, to consider its implications carefully for our own lives, and to commit ourselves to testing its truth against our own experiences.

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Editorial Reviews

Deng Ming-Dao
Shapiro's insight is as genuine and deep as it is startling. His long meditation on his chosen scripture and his direct experience as a rabbi shine through on every page.
Harold Kushner
Reading Ecclesiastes with sensitivity and imagination, Rami Shapiro finds startling and valuable insights.
Sylvia Boorstein
Rami Shapiro has given us two gifts, an illuminating contemporary rendering of this timeless spiritual classic, along with commentary of everyday, personal stories that reveal the joy-filled wisdom of Ecclesiastes. I loved it!
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Most people identify Judaism with the Confucian book of Deuteronomy and are unaware of the Taoist voice in Ecclesiastes. Once again, Rami Shapiro discloses the Yin side of Torah in his rendition of the Way of Solomon. He brings balance for the contemporary person to stay in connection with our ever renewing ancient faith.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060673000
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Rami Shapiro is the senior rabbi of Temple Beth Or in Miami and directs the Simply Jewish Fellowship, the What Would a Mentsch Do? Project, and the Sh'ma Center for Jewish Meditation. An award-winning poet and essayist, he lectures widely on contemporary Jewish spirituality.

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Read an Excerpt

Of all the texts of the Bible, it is Ecclesiastes that speaks to me most Powerfully. Traditionally thought to be the mature work of King Solomon, Ecclesiastes offers an honest and hopeful view of life-a refreshing change, from the harangues of the prophets and the simple faith of the patriarchs. Solomon speaks with authority, insight, honesty, and compassion. He pulls no punches and does not hide behind simplistic theologies. He is a thousands-year-old sage whose message could not be more timely.

My fascination with Ecclesiastes began in the spring of 1972—I was a student of religion at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts-one of eight men studying full-time at the college. I rented one of two rooms on the second floor of a two story farmhouse at the east end of town. The fellow in the next room was also a religion major, with a concentration in Chinese religion.

While studying Ecclesiastes, this neighbor had stumbled on the fact that the Hebrew word most commonly translated as "vanity" could also mean "emptiness." King Solomon was suddenly transformed in my eyes, from Hebrew philosopher to Taoist sage.

I remember the moment he shared this insight with me. He burst into my room and in a voice bubbling with excitement began to translate the text of Ecclesiastes. It was one of the most transformative moments of my life. The idea that Solomon had been crying, "Emptiness! Emptiness upon emptiness!" rather than the well-known "Vanity of vanities!" shook me deeply. Suddenly the whole book of Ecclesiastes changed for me. It shouted at me, clamoring for attention. I could not get the text out of my mind.

I read the book in the original Hebrew and in everyEnglish language version I could find. While no translation dared say what I was hearing from Solomon, the Hebrew continued to throb with new meanings.

For the next ten years I read and studied the text and its commentators. From each commentator I learned something new, and yet each one left me longing for elaboration of that offhand revelation in my Northampton farmhouse. No one saw Solomon as the Hebrew Lao Tzu.

Yet the more I read, the more convinced I became that there was a dimension to Ecclesiastes that was being ignored. I had no desire to reinvent the text or to read into it something that was not there. On the contrary, what I felt called to do was to reveal what was clearly there, just overlooked. But it was not enough to simply translate the text. Something more was required.

Ecclesiastes, is a, testament to the spiritual insights of its author, Solomon. It comes from his deep seeing into the nature of reality. Solomon looked and saw that all is empty of permanence; he also saw that human energies are largely invested in a pursuit of permanence-a pursuit that is doomed from the start. Ecclesiastes is his report of his journey to the heart of reality and his insights into how we should live, given the fact of life's impermanence. The only way to do justice to the text is to follow its author in looking at reality.

In other words, I found that, for me, merely reading the Hebrew and translating it into English was not enough. I had to for myself if what Solomon had said was true. I had, to stand with Solomon and look into the nature of reality alongside him. Then, speaking from the inside out, I could render not simply his words but also his insights into contemporary English.

My work with Ecclesiastes followed three levels of engagement. First, there was a mastery of the text. I could stretch the meanings of the Hebrew, but I could not violate them. Second, there was the study of the commentaries that have grown up around the text. These would reveal the multiple dimensions that other readers of Ecclesiastes have seen and shared for centuries. And third, there was the practice of meditation. It is one thing to understand the, ideas, Ecclesiastes contains and the mystical commentaries these ideas have engendered. It is another to look for myself and see if what I have read is true.

Solomon was looking beneath the surface of things, and. I needed to do the same. What you are reading is, then, not only a translation of the text but also a personal verification of its meaning. I am not simply relating his teaching; I am attesting to its accuracy. I see the wisdom of Solomon as a steadfast guide to living life fully. I apply his teachings to my life daily. They never fail to show me the way to truth, gratitude, contentment, and joy. Solomon's message is not limited to his time; indeed, he speaks as cogently to us as he did to his contemporaries. Our circumstances may differ, but our struggle to understand life and how to live it Well is the same.

If Solomon were living today, he would find the world far more complicated than the ancient world he inhabited, yet no more complex. The complexity of life is generated not by the tools we use but by the illusions we cultivate and live by. And the illusions of our day are no different than the illusions of Solomon's time—the illusions of permanence, separateness, and control.

We insist that the world is permanent, and then do all we can to keep ourselves from the truth of its fundamental impermanence.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2001

    A must read for stressed and harried individuals

    The translation of Ecclesiastes is superb. It allowed me to be more at peace and gave me a better understanding of God's will. At times, the commentary was outstanding. At others though, Shapiro's theology was too 'New-Agey' for me. Enjoy the outstanding translation and thought process. Ignore his 'We are all God' theology.

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