When I was 6 years old, a rock group called “The Byrds” released the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Later, in high school and college, I loved this song; I am sure that anyone who grew up in the 1960s responds to that classic guitar and percussion intro. The words are based on Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, which some communities have the custom to read on Sukkot.

In high school, we used to discuss various philosophers. My personal favorite was Albert Camus.My favorite philosopher was Camus He spoke about the myth of Sisyphus—the tragic Greek figure who eternally pushes a huge rock up the hill and then watches it roll back down again, pushing it up and watching it roll back down repeatedly. For Camus, this is life.

Camus believed that life was absurd, that there was no real purpose to it. He found comfort in the effort, in the here and now of rolling the rock back up the hill. He found comfort in the clarity of knowing that everything is absurd, but that we can still find beauty and pleasure in the moment. Camus tells us, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

I was fairly satisfied with that philosophy. After all, I had a pleasant life with a pleasant family. There didn’t seem to be much purpose in it, but I tried to make rolling that rock up the hill satisfying with a certain cosmic clarity—that even though everything is absurd, we can derive satisfaction by experiencing each moment mindfully.

The song by the Byrds led me to read Kohelet, written by King Solomon, in English. Even King Solomon says that everything is futile: “For what has a man of all his toil and his stress in which he labors beneath the sun? For all his days are painful, and his business is a vexation; even at night his mind has no rest. This too is futility!”

I thought King Solomon was right! Everything is futile; there is no real purpose to our endeavors. He understood, as Camus says, that everything is truly absurd. And Kohelet continues: “I therefore observed that there is nothing better for man than to be happy in what he is doing, for that is his lot.” Just what Camus said, I thought, only King Solomon said it 3,000 years before! Now that was exciting.

The irony is, I never finished Ecclesiastes. I stopped before I reached the end. And yet, the final words are the guidebook to negotiating the world in which we live. The end of the book gives us instruction on how to deal with the seeming futility of life:

The sum of the matter, when all has been considered:

Fear G‑d and keep His commandments,

For that is man’s whole duty.

So that is the entirety of man! Human beings have a spiritual essence, and this is where they make order out of a meaningless world. Not by being distracted by the pulls of this world but by nourishing their soul to become closer to G‑d. Of course, a Jew does not run away from the world. He raises up the material world; otherwise, the material world is just the rock falling down, again and again.

Eventually, I found myself in a seminary in Jerusalem, studying Torah. I began keeping Torah and mitzvot. I got married and raised observant Jewish children and now grandchildren. It was not until many years later that I came back to Ecclesiastes.

To everything there is a time, says Kohelet.

... there is a time for everything under heaven.

This statement is Why didn’t I get married younger? so comforting. Why didn’t this or that happen at a different time? For example, a person might say, “Why didn’t I get married younger? Why did I have to wait so long for my first child?” And yet, it all comes at the right time for each person. We have strong faith that all that happens to us, including when it happens, is for our own good. Emunah means faithfulness to the belief that everything is from G‑d.

This does not take away from the pain and sorrow of life, but still, everything is meant to happen at the right time. To me, this is very reassuring.

... a time to embrace ... a time to keep away from embracing.

Even our relationship with G‑d is like that; there are times when we feel G‑d’s proximity and times when we feel far away. In actuality, that’s only our perception. G‑d is always available. We get comfort by crying out to G‑d, even in our most painful moments.

And so, I thank the Byrds for their introduction to a lesson in Kohelet. After all, it’s where I started my journey from a secular, college-educated Jew to a full-fledged Torah-observant Jew, complete with Shabbat and kashrut: Turn, turn, and then, I turned some more!

All at the right time.