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Reading the Whole Book of Life: Ecclesiastes on the Search for Meaning


The Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue and The Brother John G. Driscoll Professorship in Jewish/Catholic Studies at Iona College were host to master teacher and eco-theologian Lawrence Troster, Berry Forum Rabbi in Residence. His talk, entitled Reading the Whole Book of Life: Ecclesiastes on the Search for Meaning , focused on how the Book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet in Hebrew) responds to the same spiritual and existential questions that many people face in their lives such as: What is the meaning of (my) life? Does God care about the world? Is there a pattern of existence or is everything random? Why do the righteous suffer? Is there some kind of existence after death?

While previous sacred texts like the Torah asserted that the world adheres to a pattern that is intelligible and moral, the author of Kohelet perceives no evidence of this.

Rabbi Troster's creative and original presentation used a fictional narrative of the life of the author of Kohelet, set in the 3rd century BCE, as told after his death by his student Joshua Ben Sira and incorporates poems, songs, novels, philosophy, rabbinic literature, and biblical texts, especially those from the books of Kohelet, Job and Psalms.

An appreciate audience of over thirty persons, including eighteen Iona students, were in rapt attention for the presentation which ranged over many challenging concepts and a wide swath of Middle Eastern history and scholarship. The author shows us that even if we do not see God, we are all in the Book of Life and our deeds are remembered. We can surely know great pain in this world but also great mercy. We can hope that people will look at the world honestly and not deny what we see. We must realize that while much of life seems to be "hevel, " (vanity, absurdity) evil is caused mostly by human greed and stupidity. We must realize the meaning of life is life itself. God does not forget us but shares our pain, rejoices with us in our good deeds and our joy, and cares for our lives. One of the audience members added that the Earth remembers what we do to Earth.

Rabbi Troster is the author of Mekor Hayyim: A Source Book on Water and Judaism. As the Rabbinic Fellow for the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), he has published numerous articles and has lectured widely on eco-theology, bio-ethics, and Judaism and modern science. Rabbi Troster was honored by the Temple of Understanding, one of the oldest worldwide interfaith organizations, as an Interfaith Visionary. He is Rabbi at Kesher Israel in West Chester , Pennsylvania.

Rabbi Troster delivering his talk at the podium at Iona College Photo of Rabbi Troster by Br. Kevin Cawley