Is there any greater gift a headmaster can give to his students than a Snow Day? Like all beloved presents, it combines anticipation, surprise, and fun. Moreover, unlike other gifts, it carries no expectation of reciprocity, so it can be enjoyed without guilt of further obligation. With the regular routine of school suspended, a snow day also gives us the opportunity to reflect on things that we would normally not have the time to think about. Like snow. In this spirit, I would like to take the opportunity this week to share some biblical perspectives on our fluffy white friend.
Snow does not make a positive first outing in the Torah. When snow appears in the Pentateuch it is a sign of skin discoloration, when flesh becomes “…white as snow.” Our rabbis teach us that the appearance of skin turning snow-white (often, though incorrectly, termed leprosy) is a sign that the afflicted person has spoken lashon hara, gossip or slander. Living in post-biblical times, we no longer have this palpable external sign to make us aware of unkind speech, so we must be even more careful that our words are always positive and pleasant. Snow can remind us of the ancient punishment for disparaging others.
Snow carries a much more positive connotation in other biblical books. In the book of Job, we are reminded that snow is a gift from God, descending from heaven, which is dubbed “The Storehouse of Snow.” The prophet Isaiah explains the life-giving power of snow: “The rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish.” Snow reminds us of our dependence upon God, who brings life to the earth through the sometimes-frozen waters of heaven.
Snow is also a sign of God’s power, as we read, again in Job, “He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’”
Snow is a symbol of purity: “Wash me,” we read in Psalm 51, “…and I will be whiter than snow.” Isaiah, again, explains what this means: “Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’” Snow urges us to live a life of purity and holiness.
In a verse that feels very contemporary, we read in the last chapter of Proverbs about the caring mother and wife, the eshet chayil. Like our caring parents of today, “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed.” Snow makes us appreciate the quiet ways in which parents look after their children.
At Akiva, our Jewish values are not only taught in the Hebrew classroom. Kind speech, gratitude to God and our parents, and living a life of holiness, are principles that we teach and model in every language, in every interaction, in every part of our building. And we believe that these values must also extend beyond the walls of our school. They can be appreciated even when we are off school, enjoying the beauty of the snow.