Parshas Terumah (5771)
As I sat at my window, looking out on the snowstorm that dumped tons of snow on major portions of the U.S. and Canada, I started thinking that this would make great material for my ‘z-mail’ this week – lessons we can learn from snow!
Then I thought of a fantastic title for the ‘z-mail’: Snow White and the Seven Lessons. The only problem is that I now boxed myself in to finding seven lessons we can learn from snow …. so here goes:
But first, a short introduction: We find the following esoteric teaching in Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 3): “From where was the [dry land of the] earth made? From the snow that is under G-d's Throne of Glory. G-d took it and threw it upon the water, the water then froze, and the dust of the earth was formed. As the verse states (Job 37:6) "To snow, G-d said: Become land!"
Now whatever this ancient Midrash really means is hard to tell, but one thing is clear: Snow, with all that it represents, is somehow integral to creation itself, and is there for us to learn its vital lessons for our existence here on earth.
1) Snow represents the idea of Teshuvah, change for the better, the ability to start over again anew. As the prophet Isaiah promises the Jewish people: “If your sins are like scarlet, they will become white as snow …” (Isaiah 1:18). Just like the white and pristine snow that falls to the earth covers over all the unsightly dirt and mud on the ground, so, too, can we cleanse and whiten our souls from whatever muck we have sunk into, and start all over again fresh and pure. Such is the power of Teshuvah. The famous kabbalist Rabbi Tzadok HaKohein of Lublin (1823-1900) in Divrei Sofrim (p. 42) points out that the word ka’sheleg (the Hebrew translation of the words ‘as snow’ in the verse mentioned above) has the same gematria (numerical value) as the word simchah, or happiness. And Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis explains in her amazing book The Committed Life: Principles for Good Living from Our Timeless Past that the Hebrew word simchah is actually made up of two words, sha mocha, meaning ‘to erase’. If we can learn to ‘erase’ our past mistakes through teshuvah and start again with a clean slate, we will be truly happy.
2) As with every good thing, there is also a downside to snow. As King Solomon writes, when extolling the virtues of the Eishes Chayil, the “Woman of Valor”, “She fears not snow for her household ...” (Proverbs 31:21). The Hebrew word for snow is sheleg, which, as also pointed out by Rabbi Tzadok HaKohein (ibid. p. 43), has the same gematria as shikchah, or forgetfulness. Snow, on its negative side, represents the power of ‘forgetting’ that which we were created to do, our ultimate purpose here on earth. As Rada”l explains in his commentary to Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (ibid.), much like the snow, which starts out so pure and clean and fresh when it first falls, yet by the end of the day is all muddy and dirty, we, too, come into this world all fresh and white and idealistic, yet, as life happens, we too often forget all those beautiful ideals and dreams of greatness we once had, and we busy ourselves instead with all kinds of bad behaviors that tarnish our souls. We must learn from the Woman of Valor not to ‘fear the snow’, i.e. to do all we can to keep our ‘snow white’ souls (and the souls of our children) clean and pristine, and free of any dirt, throughout our lives. [See Rabbi Emanuel Feldman’s wonderful essay Musings on Snow in his book Tales out of Jerusalem p. 347 who develops this idea even further.]
3) In the Psalms, King David writes in his praise of G-d and His many kindnesses, “He Who gives snow like fleece …” (Psalms 147:16). Snow represents G-d’s amazing compassion and love for His creations. As Rabbi Avigdor Miller explains in Awake My Glory, pp. 286-288: “The comparison [between snow and fleece] is not merely for poetic effect; wool and snow have significant similarities. Wool is noteworthy for its quality of insulation, due to the kinky fiber which imprisons the air; thus woolen garments prevent the body’s heat from escaping. The snowflakes are also shaped in such a way that air spaces are created between them when they fall. The enclosed air is an insulation that acts as a blanket to keep the soil warm in the winter, so that the frost does not kill the insects, earthworms, bacteria, and fungi that cultivate and enrich the soil. Also the roots and seeds that are to grow in the spring are protected from the freezing temperature by the snow.” (quoted by Rabbi Avraham Chaim Feuer in his fantastic commentary to Tehillim, published by Artscroll.)
4) Snow also represents G-d’s ultimate justness and fairness in His dealings with mankind. As Rabbi Eliezer Schach (1899-2001) once wrote in an original explanation of the verse “He Who gives snow like fleece” mentioned above, G-d only gives snow according to the fleece one has with which to protect himself. This reflects the Talmudic concept that “G-d doesn’t deal unfairly with his creations” (see Avodah Zarah 3a), meaning that He would never give us a test that we couldn’t pass. Since the entire purpose of G-d’s testing us is only to bring out that which is already inside us, by definition we must have the ability to pass the test, as hard as it may seem to overcome.
5) Snow represents balance, peace and tranquility. As mentioned before, the Hebrew word for snow is sheleg. What is fascinating is the fact that the numerical value of this word is 333. The three letters that comprise it are the three letters which represent the number 3 in ones, tens and hundreds (ש=300, ל=30, ג=3). To understand this, we must review the creation of the world. Rash”i in Genesis quotes a Midrash which tells us that G-d saw that the world could not stand on din, strict judgment, alone and therefore He combined chessed, kindness, and created the world with the composite of rachamim, mercy. G-d thus brought together opposite components (din and chessed) in order to allow the world to exist. Our job as well is to combine opposite elements within ourselves and to make peace. We have a physical body and a spiritual soul. Our mission is to utilize them effectively together and to elevate the body. This is the lesson of the snow. Snow is a paradoxical balance of opposing forces brought together for a united goal. It is not solid or liquid; it is a balance between the two. The number three is this exact balance. One is singular and alone. Two is opposing views. Three is the balance and resolution. With this, the pieces now come together. The word sheleg is thus the ultimate expression of peace and harmony - it is the epitome of three! [This ‘snow lesson’ is quoted from Rabbi Yosef Tropper on the website Close to Torah. See his complete article and many more great Torah essays at: http://www.closetotorah.com/tag/torah-perspective-snow/.]
6) Snow teaches us how to survive as Jews in the world today through unity and togetherness. Just as with snow, if we stick together, it’s a lot harder to ‘melt’ us. As we are taught by our Sages, when we unite as one under the banner of G-d and His Torah, no force in the world can destroy us. A famous Chassidic Rebbe once quipped: When two ‘Yidden’ stick together, they form G-d’s Name. ['Yid' – in the Chassidic pronunciation - is the Yiddish word for a Jew; it is also the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. When two 'Yidden’ come together as one, they spell out G-d's name, represented in the Siddur (Prayer Book) by two consecutive letter yids.]
7) [This lesson I heard from my good friend Zale Newman]. Snow reminds us that no matter how many billions of human beings there are on the planet, no two of us are exactly alike. As scientists point out – even though it is difficult for the average person to tell - it is very unlikely for two snowflakes to be exactly alike due to the roughly 1019 water molecules which make up a snowflake, which grow at different rates and in different patterns depending on the changing temperature and humidity within the atmosphere that the snowflake falls through on its way to the ground united. And the same it is with us. We were each given a unique set of circumstances into which we were born and with which we grew up - a particular set of parents, community, friends, environment, character traits, etc. – so that even though it appears to us that we are all pretty much the same, we are uniquely different. In fact, Rabbi Tzadok HaKohein of Lublin writes in Tzidkas HaTzaddik (#49) regarding the collective mission of the Jewish people, that each and every one of us was put on earth at a particular time in history, with a particular set of character traits, in order to effect a particular tikkun, or rectification, in the world that no one else before him of after him is capable of doing. Now that’s what I call unique!
I really hope you enjoyed these seven snowy lessons – which will hopefully remain with you long after the spring arrives and all the snow is gone.