By Danyel Goldberg
Shulamith High School Assistant Principal
אֹהֵ֥ב כֶּ֨סֶף֙ לֹֽא־יִשְׂבַּ֣ע כֶּ֔סֶף וּמִֽי־אֹהֵ֥ב בֶּֽהָמ֖וֹן לֹ֣א תְבוּאָ֑ה גַּם־זֶ֖ה הָֽבֶל
Whoever loves silver will not be sated with silver, and he who loves a multitude without increase, this too is vanity.
Sukkot is the time of year in which the harvest has ended. Crops are gathered, divided, cleaned, and put into storage for the coming year. Most of us are not farmers anymore, but we can imagine it as a time of great satisfaction, where one can literally see the fruits of our labor. Kohelet, however, reminds us that there is futility in such mundane accomplishments; they are fleeting. Even as the harvest ends and we have tangible proof of our hard work, we must continue to seek true fulfillment.
We live in a materialistic world, where people are constantly chasing the newest fad. It’s difficult to keep up, and people of all ages compete to have the newest and have the most. Kohelet is more than a reminder of the cliché, “Money cannot buy happiness.” Instead, it conveys a deeper message. Money, as a motivator, will never bring true fulfillment and satisfaction.
Most people today don’t know who Samuel Langley is. A funny thing, since at one time he was fairly well-known. He was an astronomer, physicist, inventor, and aviation pioneer in the late 19th century. He is the founder of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory—no small feat. Yet, no one knows him, his legacy not even being limited to general knowledge or a Jeopardy question. It’s a sad thing, really. He had so much potential.
In the late 1800s, the American government gave Langley $50,000 to create a flying machine. “You can have whatever you want,” the War Department told him, “Just create a flying machine.” He called up his friends at Harvard and the Smithsonian and put together a team of geniuses. “Money is no object,” he told them. I imagined they high-fived each other at the prospect of their paychecks, this “scientist dream-team.” The New York Times interviewed him several times during the process, the whole country patiently waiting for Langley’s flying machine to take off. Langley was promised an even larger bonus when he proved successful.
And yet, we’ve never heard of him.
Then there were two brothers from Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright, who had no money. They put together a team, too, except they barely paid them anything at all. “You can have the profits from our bicycle shop,” they said. They were working at the same time as Langley, with the same goal, but their motivation was different.
Langley wanted to be famous. He wanted to be rich. He was in pursuit of only the result, as was his team. They were in it for the money. The Wright team, well, they believed they could help people with a flying machine. They had no money, no education, just a belief that they could change the world.
On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers took their famous first flight. The New York Times was not there; in fact, no one was there at all. It took days for the American government to even find out. The Wright brothers are even said to have been excited about a possible partnership with Langley. After all, with all of Langley’s knowledge, surely he could improve on their technology. Except he didn’t. Disappointed with losing his bonus, Langley quit the next day. He was not the first to invent it, he did not get rich, he did not become famous, so he stormed out and was forgotten to history.
Kohelet is telling us to approach life like the Wright brothers, using meaningful intent as our compass. The Wright brothers achieved their dream, and found happiness and fulfillment, precisely because their motivation was altruistic. For those who are motivated only by money, they are doomed to live lives of quiet desperation, leaving behind a legacy that is lost to the memory of time. It is hard to shift focus away from money, but it is only then that we can find fulfillment and feel true achievement. It is as Kohelet states: “Whoever loves silver will not be sated with silver.”