Tomorrow is שמיני עצרת, and we will read (at mincha this year, because everything is different) מגילת קהלת. It is read on שבת חול המועד סוכות, or שמיני עצרת if there is no שבת. Why?
But that is an odd explanation. If the goal is to remind us to bring our נדרים to the בית המקדש, then we should read it before סוכות (the way we read פרשת שקלים before פסח). And the midrashic reading of תֶּן חֵלֶק לְשִׁבְעָה is very obscure; why not read the actual parasha of תרומות
ומעשרות ונדרים? So Avudraham brings a second explanation:
Which is good biblical hermaneutics, but just begs the question:
This fits with the theme of סוכות; true happiness is finding one’s place and purpose in life. But Kohelet doesn’t really say anything about ישמחו בחלקם; the conclusion is:
So Rav Olshin brings what I think is most often brought as the reason for reading קוהלת:
I want to look at a slightly different approach, based on Rav Elchanan Samet’s shiur on תהילים יט. There is an image that comes up again and again in קוהלת:
The image of עוה״ז that is הבל הבלים, is תחת השמש. What does the sun represent?
תהילים יט has two parts. The first is the “song of the universe”:
The second half is a praise of Torah:
They are connected because both are the revelation of רצון ה׳:
The first half continues:
The sun is full of joy at obeying ה׳'s will. Then the section ends with אין נסתר מחמתו, which is generally translated as “nothing is hidden from its heat” but the word is חַמָּתוֹ, not ֹחוֹמו. A literal translation is “nothing is hidden from its sunniness”. The sun (like all aspects of nature) fulfills רצון ה׳ completely and perfectly. It doesn’t have to make choices or balance values. It just is. There are no נסתרות in being the sun.
But people are different.
For the sun, אין נסתר מחמתו, there is nothing hidden from it being the sun, from fulfilling its duty. It by definition obeys the laws of nature; it has no free will. Human beings, however, have to choose to obey. Not everything is obvious; we have to ask, מנסתרות נקני. But because we have to make the choice, it is a higher way of serving.
But both ways of serving lead to happiness, but there is a difference in verbs. The sun is ישיש כגבור, while the mitzvot are משמחי לב. What is the difference between ששון and שמחה?
שמחה is the joy of שלימות. We can fulfill the רצון ה׳ by keeping the laws of nature. Every time we fall at 9.8 meters per second squared, we are obeying G-d’s will. But there’s no שמחה in that, because it doesn’t fulfill the unique role of human beings. את מצותיו שמור כי זה כל האדם. Simply being “sunny” is הבל, pointless, for a human being.
And that is part of the symbolism of the סוכה:
During the חג האסיף we are surrounded by the bounty of nature, but we need to get out from under the sun and concentrate on what it is that bring us true שמחה. And that is the lesson of קוהלת.