This Too Shall Pass

There is an amazing, beautifully done video making its way around the world via online news and social networking. I am especially glad I first had the chance to view it this weekend, one during which my parental patience was tried and things in general were just getting me down.

Here is what you are about to see:

“Over the course of 2009, Norwegian Eirik Solheim recorded brief 30-second video clips every week of the view from his balcony in Oslo. The result of all this archiving is an amazing time-lapse video that synthesizes the entire year into a 120 seconds. You can learn all about his techniques on his website.” (From the Huffington Post)

A classic from 1965

Watching the seasons change right before my eyes made me think of the verse from Ecclesiastes (3:1): “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” This, from the King James Bible, isn’t the most accurate translation from the Hebrew, but I like the way it sounds. Besides, it’s the version that inspired The Byrd’s 1965 classic, Turn! Turn! Turn!

More importantly, the video reminds me that time does, indeed, pass and that gam zeh ya’avor. This Hebrew phrase, often mistakenly thought to appear in the Bible, means “This too shall pass.” Some surmise that it was derived from Psalms 57:1, but most Jews attribute it to a folkloric parable about King Solomon:

One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.” “If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah, “I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?” “It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility. Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah. He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity. “Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled. To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “Gam zeh ya’avor” — “This too shall pass.” At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.

Abraham Lincoln made reference to this parable in an 1859 address, and there is a custom among some Jews to wear rings inscribed with the phrase (or its acronym), particularly during or after having coming through a seriously trying period in life. Fortunately, my situation is not at all grave, but rather the usual mishegas of raising teenagers.

Some prefer a tattoo to a ring, but it can be problematic if it is spelled wrong, as it is here.

There is no need for a ring, anyway, when I have this beautiful artistic creation to watch and remind me of the rewards of patience and the wonders of the cyclical passage of time.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Note: It turns out that the misspelled Hebrew tattoo seen in the photo in this post is just one of many. Check out the plethora of permanently inked mistakes at Bad Hebrew Tattoos.


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11 Responses to “This Too Shall Pass”

  1. suzy Says:

    I had no idea that “this too shall pass” may have come from an ancient israelite folklore. I know it may also have roots in Persia, but do you know where I could find a footnote or source for the story you quoted above about Solomon and Beniaiah? Where did you find it!?


  2. Renee Ghert-Zand Says:

    I have had trouble tracking down the original source of this folktale. I believe it was inspired by the verse in Psalms that I mention in my post, but it is unclear to me where/how/with whom the tale originated. It seems to simply be part of the oral tradition. Please let me know if you are able to track down a definitive source.

  3. suzy Says:

    Thanks for responding! If I find it, I will let you know:)

  4. Bryan Says:

    It is and isnt from the bible. It is not word for word, it is a paraphrase of a reoccuring theme in the bible. The teaching it is based upon is that this world is only temporary but eternity is forever. It is a call to christians to lay their treasures in heaven not on earth, and also a reminder that God is over all and all obediance is due him is one is seeking salvation. Its could be almost a slogan that has been used by Christians because of the persecution the 1st century Christians endured. Deut. 30:1, Job- 11:13-18, 1 Cor. 11: 1-13

  5. Bryan Says:

    If I missed anything or if i have extrapolated wrong, please let me know.

  6. Avi Solomon Says:

    I have tracked down some sources of the folktale here:

  7. Lincoln Says:

    Thanks for this post! May I borrow some of your ideas for my next sermon? =)

  8. whittaker Says:

    good info… thanks

  9. Liz Says:

    Could someone tell me if I wanted to have this either engraved in a ring or as a tattoo exactly how it should be written
    Thanking you in advance

  10. Karla Says:

    This phrase comes from King Salomon how or why is uncertant. I also wanted a tattoo but I don’t want it in modern hebrew I would like it in ancient hebrew but it’s very hard for me to find it.

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