Thursday, January 23, 2014


While walking to Synagogue this past Shabbat morning, a friend asked me, "What spiritual lesson do you see in snow?"
I responded that there are two basic views of creation taught by two different schools of Jewish mystical thought. The Ramak taught that creation was an act of divine engagement. The Ari z"l taught that creation was an act of divine withdrawal. Speaking from the Ari z"l's perspective, the Creator made the creation by progressively withdrawing his light.
The default state was His Infinite Light. He withdrew some of this light and a high spiritual realm was exposed. He withdrew some more of this light and a lower spiritual realm was exposed. He withdrew even more light and exposed an even lower spiritual. This process kept continuing until an utterly physical realm was finally exposed - yes, the one that's our address.
The creation of ice is just a continuation of this process. Even within the range of human perception there are entities of varying spiritual levels. Water has less limitations than ice. Hence, it's more spiritual than ice. When light (i.e. heat energy) is removed from water, it solidifies into ice.
My friend added, "Now I know why on holy occasions we wish each other l'chaim (to life) over an alcoholic beverage. Alcohol doesn't freeze. It symbolizes staying spiritual."
Then we arrived at Synagogue and I didn't have a chance to explore with him what makes snow itself spiritually unique, as distinct from just ice. Today, while contemplating the snow all around me I began thinking about the numerical value for the Hebrew word for snow, which is "sheleg". In ancient times, Jewish people used the Hebrew alphabet as numbers. There was no separate letter and number system, like in the western world today. The letters were numbers and numbers were letters. This meant that every combination of letters, i.e. every word, was also a number made by adding together the value of the letters. It happens to be that that "sheleg", snow, equals 333. In Jewish mystical thought, three is the number of compassionate balance. It symbolizes the third party which brings together the polarized extremes into a single harmonious entity - the peacemaker. Three threes, as in 333, symbolizes a very thorough compassionate balance - through and through.
So how does snow demonstrate compassionate balance? Straight forward thinking could reason that once the temperature descends to the freezing point, watery rain should simply morph into ice pellets - as water turns into ice. However, usually this is not the case. The Creator realizes that ice pellets can be too dangerous. So He reshapes the precipitation into something much softer, something more likely to land with a velvety touch rather than with an impact. He reshapes the precipitation into snow. Probably, part of the magic of snow's softness is that the flakes contains a lot of empty space.
This teaches us that if we want to teach a higher spiritual ideal to people who aren't yet holding there, don't try to bring down the teaching in the form accepted by the saintly sages. This kind of approach will mostly hurt the audience. It's like showering ice pellets on them. Rather, reconstitute the teachings in a more palatable form, partly by leaving a lot of empty space for processing, so it descends softly - just like snow.

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