The book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet in Hebrew) is associated with the holiday of Sukkot for reasons that are obvious and for reasons that are not so obvious.
For the obvious, Sukkot is a harvest holiday and Ecclesiastes venerates the way that God appears to us in the cycles and rhythms of the natural world. As Pete Seeger quotes in the song ,"Turn! Turn! Turn!", Ecclesiastes says that there is "a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant and a time to reap" (Ecclesiastes 3:2).
Ecclesiastes begins in despair with the narrator telling us how all things end in emptiness and meaninglessness. Wisdom, he says, brings no lasting satisfaction because "increased wisdom leads only to increased sorrow" (ibid., 1:18) and because wisdom and the wise are soon forgotten. Pleasure, too, he teaches, is a path that leads only to emptiness. Those who give themselves over to their desires quickly find that it leads to foolishness that contains no lasting satisfaction. He also tests the value of ambition and achievement as a source of fulfillment, but he states that pursuing great achievements is also vain and meaningless in the end. "When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve," he says, "everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind" (ibid., 2:11).
So, what does bring lasting satisfaction if not wisdom, pleasure and achievement? The narrator says that the only thing he has found to find meaning in life is to see everything as being "from the hand of God" (ibid., 2:24). It is only by recognizing that the world does not revolve around us, but that we are part of a plan much larger than ourselves, that we can know satisfaction.
Paradoxically, it is only when you see yourself as part of the pattern that existed before you were born, and that will continue long after you die, that you can find ultimate meaning and satisfaction in life. You entered the world unwittingly and without your consent. You were given the world as a priceless gift that you did not ask for. Knowing this, and this alone, is what gives life meaning.
"God has made everything beautiful in its time. God also has set eternity in our hearts; yet we cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end" (ibid., 3:11). The world is made meaningful by patterns and cycles that are here for us to discover. God gave us the desire to seek them out, and we find meaning in fitting our lives into them, even though they ultimately are beyond our understanding.
That also is the meaning of Sukkot. We spend these seven or eight days surrounding ourselves by the sukkah and we know that we are immersed in a world of nature that we did not create. The roof of the sukkah is made up of natural materials and of stars because creating a palm frond, a corn stalk, an evergreen branch, a red giant or a white dwarf is also beyond our ken. Yet, we sense the passage of the cycles of time around us. We know that we are in the right place under the sukkah's roof because God has given us the desire to know the patterns of being that surround us and to glimpse, as if through the branches, a bit of eternity.
To everything (Turn! Turn! Turn!) there is a season (Turn! Turn! Turn!), and a time to every purpose under heaven!