From the Navarre Bible Commentary (RSV-CE)
**First Reading: From: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
All is Vanity
 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity...
To work for prestige is to work without purpose
 **ecause sometimes a man must leave all to be enjoyed by a man who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.  What has a man from all the toil and strain with which he toils beneath the sun?  For all his days are full of pain, and his work is a vexation; even in the night his mind does not rest. This also is vanity.
1:1-2. The book begins and ends with the same words: “Vanity of vanities…” (v. 2; cf. 12:8). The phrase sums up wonderfully well the central idea of the book and is the sacred author’s assessment of the things of the world and the fruits of human endeavour, included among the latter being the acquisition of a superficial type of knowledge or wisdom that is clearly at odds with what we know from experience. The Hebrew root of the word translated as “vanity” means something like the “vapour”, “air”, and conveys the idea of something with no consistency to it, illusion, unreality. Some scholars link it to another root that means “fleeting”, “evanescent”, in the sense of something that man cannot grasp, and that is certainly an aspect of what the author is saying throughout the book. “Vanity of vanities” is the Hebrew form of the superlative, as in “Song of Songs”, On the Preacher, Qoheleth, see the “Introduction”, p. 257, above.
When reading this book it is useful to bear in mind that the author is a Jewish teacher, very familiar with the Law and the wisdom tradition of Israel, which, in reaction to the arrival in Judea of various currents of Greek thought, was asking itself very seriously about the validity of its own answers about the value of human actions and the rewards or punishments that applied to them; could it be that the hedonistic ideas (which took no account of God) being put forward by Greek philosophers in the squares and streets – could these have some validity? The Preacher takes issue with both traditional wisdom and the Greeks. With a great deal of common sense, he questions all these teachings (which were widely accepted) and concludes that they are approaching the subject in the wrong way. It is not that he is skeptical about the human mind’s ability to know reality; what he objects to is the failure of seekers after wisdom to go to the root of the problem: “The book of Ecclesiastes explains that exactly things are made of, and shows and makes clear to us the vanity of many of the things of the world, so that we might come to understand that the passing things of this life are not worth hungering for, and that we should not devote our attention to useless things or fix our desires on any creating thing” (St. Basil, In principium Proverbiorum, 1).
1:3-6:12. The first part of the book is devoted to showing that the type of wisdom man is bent on acquiring is of no use at all. To do this, it points out that if one looks around, one gets the impression that everything in the world forms part of one continuous cyclical movement in which one can never expect anything new to happen: things that seem new are not new at all (1:3-11). It goes on to argue, from experience, that the search for wisdom serves no purpose, for the wise man’s lot remains unchanged, no matter what he learns (1:12-2:26). To compound his argument, the Preacher goes on to report what he has seen – fraud and loneliness . . . And from his observation of things around him, he draws a similar conclusion: this, too, is vanity and a waste of effort (3:1-4:16). That being so, in a series of counsels (5:1-12) he expounds the key lesson of the book: “Do you fear God” (5:7). In other words, if one does not take God into account, even riches bring only evils (5:13-6:7). That being the case, what advantages does wisdom offer (6:8-12)? In this way the teacher of Israel, using a rhetoric similar to that of his Hellenist adversaries, composes a diatribe to show that the reasonable thing to do is to put one’s trust in God, for all the wisdom of this world is in vain.
Both of these notions – true wisdom and the fear of God – will be perfected in the New Testament message. True wisdom is in “Christ, in whom are had all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3). And the fear of God should be understood as love, not servile fear, because God is our Father. That conviction should govern what we do: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment and he who fears is not perfected in love (1 Jn 4:18).
2:12-23. Continuing with his argument, the Preacher lists some examples of how impossible it is to attain happiness by following the paths of mere human experience. Now he takes up another matter, also to do with traditional wisdom: the idea that the prospect of descendants makes a man happy, because they will appreciate all the work he has done and will benefit from it (cf. Prov 10:7; Sir 44:9). Seemingly the wise man thinks that that gives meaning to what he does and he derives satisfaction from it (vv. 14a-b). But as the sacred writer sees it, this also is vanity: wise man and fool, “the one fate comes to all of them” (v. 14c). Therefore the thought of posterity is sheer vanity, for both wise man and fool will be forgotten (vv. 15-16). So, life seems, in fact, hateful and depressing (v. 20). Indeed, all striving after these things leads nowhere (vv. 22-23).**