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Ecclesiastes 1:3 (BHS)

3 מַה־יִּתְרוֹן לָאָדָם בְּכָל־עֲמָלוֹ שֶׁיַּעֲמֹל תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ׃

What is left for the man for all his trouble in which he toils under the sun?

Alternative:

What good is there for man in all his cark and care beneath the sun?

What good is therefore man in all his toil and moil beneath the sun?

Notes:

יִּתְרוֹן

This noun appears only in Ecclesiastes. The verb ytr which forms the basis of the noun, refers to what is left over. By abstraction of the thought, it is what is left after work, hence a “profit”.

עֲמָלוֹ

His trouble/toil: the lemma appears 54 times in the OT and is translated various as toil, trouble, mischief, wearisome task. The archaic English word “cark” seems to come closest in meaning.

The related verb appears in the next phrase “in which he toils”. The Hebrew pun is difficult to bring out in English without emphasizing the similar sounds. The verb is used 11 times and always refers to labor with exertion.

The question of “What is the profit/gain? What is left over?” occurs three times in Ecclesiastes: 1:3, 3:9 & 5:16. 

The noun yithron appears in the book as follows:

Eccles 1:3

 

מַה־יִּתְר֖וֹן לָֽאָדָ֑ם בְּכָל־עֲמָל֔וֹ שֶֽׁיַּעֲמֹ֖ל תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃

 

What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?

 

Eccles 2:11

 

וּפָנִ֣יתִֽי אֲנִ֗י בְּכָל־מַעֲשַׂי֙ שֶֽׁעָשׂ֣וּ יָדַ֔י וּבֶֽעָמָ֖ל שֶׁעָמַ֣לְתִּי לַעֲשׂ֑וֹת וְהִנֵּ֨ה הַכֹּ֥ל הֶ֙בֶל֙ וּרְע֣וּת ר֔וּחַ וְאֵ֥ין יִתְר֖וֹן תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃

 

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

 

Eccles 2:13

 

וְרָאִ֣יתִי אָ֔נִי שֶׁיֵּ֥שׁ יִתְר֛וֹן לַֽחָכְמָ֖ה מִן־הַסִּכְל֑וּת כִּֽיתְר֥וֹן הָא֖וֹר מִן־הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ׃

 

Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.

 

Eccles 3:9

 

מַה־יִּתְרוֹן֙ הָֽעוֹשֶׂ֔ה בַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר ה֥וּא עָמֵֽל׃

 

What gain has the worker from his toil?

 

Eccles 5:8

 

וְיִתְר֥וֹן אֶ֖רֶץ בַּכֹּ֣ל ה֑יּ֯א מֶ֥לֶךְ לְשָׂדֶ֖ה נֶעֱבָֽד׃

 

But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.

 

Eccles 5:15

 

וְגַם־זֹה֙ רָעָ֣ה חוֹלָ֔ה כָּל־עֻמַּ֥ת שֶׁבָּ֖א כֵּ֣ן יֵלֵ֑ךְ וּמַה־יִּתְר֣וֹן ל֔וֹ שֶֽׁיַּעֲמֹ֖ל לָרֽוּחַ׃

 

This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?

 

Eccles 7:12

 

כִּ֛י בְּצֵ֥ל הַֽחָכְמָ֖ה בְּצֵ֣ל הַכָּ֑סֶף וְיִתְר֣וֹן דַּ֔עַת הַֽחָכְמָ֖ה תְּחַיֶּ֥ה בְעָלֶֽיהָ׃

 

For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.

 

Eccles 10:10

 

אִם־קֵהָ֣ה הַבַּרְזֶ֗ל וְהוּא֙ לֹא־פָנִ֣ים קִלְקַ֔ל וַחֲיָלִ֖ים יְגַבֵּ֑ר וְיִתְר֥וֹן הַכְשֵׁ֖יר חָכְמָֽה׃

 

If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed.

 

Eccles 10:11

 

אִם־יִשֹּׁ֥ךְ הַנָּחָ֖שׁ בְּלוֹא־לָ֑חַשׁ וְאֵ֣ין יִתְר֔וֹן לְבַ֖עַל הַלָּשֽׁוֹן׃

 

If the serpent bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage to the charmer.