Posing the Riddle.
Qoheleth begins in not quite the way we expect: “Vanity of vanities!…Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” At this point, we may picture the dinner guests squirming in their seats. But let’s dig deeper. “Vanity”, in our culture, connotes being narcissistic, meaningless or hopeless. None of these bode well for Solomon’s case. But the word itself, like many Hebrew words, is not an abstract concept like “vanity”. It is a word picture, and it means: breath. Air. Myst. Vapor.
Qoheleth’s point is not so much that life is meaningless, hopeless or self-serving. This would betray, I would argue, the entire thrust of the book. Rather, his point is that life is short. We wish to live a rich, full life, but it is so vaporous, isn’t it? Qoheleth is merely repeating the words of his father, king David:
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
How can one find satisfaction when that night we must all go into - death - awaits us?
Solomon is not solving life’s riddle, here. He is merely presenting it.