Monday, January 30, 2017

Appreciating a Blanket of Snow

If you live in a northern climate, then the end of January might just be the beginning of the seasonal period when your attitude becomes “I’ve had enough snow, thank you.” And yet, while almost every inhabited spot on earth receives at least some rain, there are millions of people who live in places where they will never see a single snowflake.

Fresh snow, with its startling whiteness and bright reflection of sunshine, can be quite beautiful. It blankets the earth with a sense of newness, which is why, perhaps, the color of snow is frequently used as a reference to purity: “If your sins will be like scarlet, they will become white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

While snow day after snow day may not make one smile, that is because part of the modern condition of looking at snow is to see snow as an impediment to one’s will. The sages, however, noted that snow, particularly in higher altitudes, is a tremendous blessing. “Raba said snow is of equal benefit to the mountains as fivefold rain to the earth, as it says (Job 37:6): ‘For He says to the snow: Fall you on the earth, likewise to the shower of rain” (Talmud Taanit 3b).

Why is snow more beneficial than rain? Firstly, snow blankets the ground and actually insulates the soil from the damaging cold. This, perhaps, is why God is praised as “He who gives snow like fleece” (Psalms 147:16), since fleece is also a lightweight material that provides insulation. Secondly, since snow often melts slowly, it provides easier-to-absorb hydration for the soil, whereas rain, especially rain showers, pounds the earth, causes soil erosion and a great deal of water is lost due to run-off.

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