by Cantor David E. Reinwald
Sukkot is the first time we read from one of the megillot, the five scrolls, during the year. Even though it seems that the time for introspection has just ended with the closing of Yom Kippur, the reading of the book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet in Hebrew) seems to say otherwise. This book/scroll is attributed to the wisdom writings of King Solomon, falling in line with the style of Proverbs, and contains a chapter of verse known to many who know little else of the Bible. In Chapter Three, we find the famed text that eventually found its way (and “eventually” would mean thousands of years later!) to the song “Turn! Turn! Turn! – To Everything there is a Season” by The Byrds.
In its straightforward prose, this is one of the most understandable texts we read within the Tanakh. The main question though is what drew King Solomon to write this? It seems like he is taking his own spiritual accounting of his life, clearly in his old age as he says early on in the book that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He seems a bit spiteful in his older age, but this does not mean that we have to approach these words with similar angst or despair. There’s something incredibly profound and balanced about these words.
The Byrds actually were performing a cover of Pete Seeger’s song when they made their most-famous version of this song. The lyrics of the song are very close to the original text, but take liberties in a few places giving the song a bit more positive spin than the balanced positive/negative dichotomies of the original. This song has been covered by a plethora of artists, and each one has made it their own. Take a listen to some of the various settings on this special Spotify playlist, spanning the folk original, the hippie Byrds cover, and then everything from the slow jazz vocal styles of Nina Simone to the beachy voices of Jan and Dean, the 90’s alternative Hoi Polloi, bluegrass and classical instrumental takes on this melody, and finally a great harmonic twist with Wilson Phillips.