Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Spiritual Meaning of Snow

by Rabbi Simon Jacobson

[Snow for Israel this weekend... ]

Nothing is as it appears. What lies beneath the enchanting snowflakes floating gently from heaven to earth? From whence do these white angels originate? Is this heaven speaking to us?

Mysticism teaches that everything in the physical universe has a spiritual counterpart. Just as a teardrop is a manifestation of human emotion, and anger is an expression of repressed energy, so physical phenomena actually evolve from and are a manifestation of a spiritual reality. Thus snow is a channel of energy, it is a Divine voice speaking to us through visual imagery so that we can experience it with our bodily senses.

Meteorologists may perceive snow to be a result of pressure systems and precipitation levels; physicists will recognize the subatomic particles that create snow; but the mystic sees the cosmic energy that snow manifests and the facets of our psyche that it illuminates.

Let us explore the spirit within the snow.

Water in all its forms is a symbol of knowledge. Descending water represents the transmission of knowledge from a higher to a lower place, the flow of information from teacher to student. On a cosmic level, rain and snow reflect different ways in which divine energy flows to us from a higher spiritual plane.

Water flowing downward thus describes G-d’s way of transmitting His energy to us and represents the conduit through which our material existence and G-d interact. The purpose of existence is to create unity between G-d and man, so that we, in our limited, material existence can become integrated and unified in an intimate and equal relationship with G-d. To achieve this neither the Divine nor the human can be compromised. Unity achieved on G-d’s terms would annihilate our identities, our existence. Can we (our egos, vanities, and needs) co-exist with G-d who is infinite, uncontained and undefined? And unity attained on our material, finite terms would compromise G-d, because He would have to limit Himself to our existence.

If water - the divine wisdom - were to flow continuously, it would totally submerge and obliterate, not allowing space for any other existence. So water flows in various measures to allow for the transmission to be internalized. Sometimes water flows as rain and sometimes it freezes to different degrees producing snow, hail or sleet, which are all metaphors for the teacher monitoring and transforming the flow into forms that the student can contain and assimilate.

Rain is a transmission that is more on Divine terms. Admittedly it falls in drops which symbolizes some level of contraction, but it flows continuously like a stream of information retaining its fluidity and it is absorbed quickly into the earth.

Ice on the other hand, is a transmission that is more on the recipient’s terms. The information has solidified into a compact state so that the student can internalize it. The flow has ceased and turned into a solid form, so the student is not overwhelmed by the continuous flow of new ideas.

Snow is an intermediary state between fluid water and solid ice. In order to appreciate the spiritual implications of this, we need to examine the properties of snow.

A snowflake needs at least two components in order to form. In addition obviously to cold air, it requires water droplets (vapor), and a nucleus. The nucleus is made up of dust, minerals or other microscopic particles in the air. A snowflake is formed when water takes shape around these microscopic particles and the cold air turns it into ice crystals. Thus snow has two components: water and earth - earth being the particles, and the water being the droplets. Earth is the material world - without any recognition of G-dliness; water is the knowledge of G-d - divine energy without any containers. Thus snow, being half heaven and half earth provides the perfect intermediary between these two worlds.

Snow consists of separate snowflakes that are actually independent properties - each comprised of about 100 ice crystals. Snowflakes cling to each other but they are not intrinsically one. In contrast, water is one unified entity. Although it consists of droplets, each drop joins with another and they become one body of water. What is the symbolism of this in the flow of knowledge?

When a teacher has to reach out to a student who is far beneath his or her level of knowledge and understanding, he or she cannot allow the water to just flow freely, it has to be dressed up in metaphors and it has to be paced. In order for the student to understand a new concept, the teacher needs to create a point of reference by using examples, anecdotes, stories, and analogies. Thus snowflakes represent the need to explain gradually, step by step, in a language that is accessible to the student.

Snow falls gently and silently, teaching us in our own process of educating others and educating ourselves, that we need gentleness. If we educate with a sledgehammer - with unceasing rain pour - it will simply submerge and destroy the crops. Even when it rains on earth, science tells us that on a higher level, the beginning process could have originated in snowflakes. So snowflakes are a symbol of that first gentle step.

Who has not been awed by the beauty of the city or countryside covered in snow? The serenity and whiteness of snow attracts us. We sense the purity of snow when we wake up in the morning and the streets, which are so often filled with grime, are all covered with a white blanket of snow. Snow is a great equalizer - no matter how big the building, or the car, whether a Lexus or a Hyundai, they’re all covered equally by the snow. Snow has the ability to cover over the impurities of life and remind us of our own purity.

So snow is heaven speaking to us - speaking to us through purity, speaking to us gently and gradually on our terms. Snow is the intermediary stage between heaven and earth; ice is a little closer to the level of earth; sleet is in between snow and ice. Thus every weather condition sends us a message and lesson - whether it’s rain, snow, ice, sleet or hail.

Ultimately, the intention is that the snow should melt and turn to water. Once the snow falls and blocks our driveways and streets, we want it to melt. In the education process the student needs to pause which requires a freezing of the water, but then at some point it has to melt and integrate into our system in order for us to grow.


The idea of educating through metaphor is further expressed through the numerical secret of snow. The gematria (numerical equivalent) of the Hebrew word sheleg [snow] is 333 [shin=300, lamed=30, gimmel=3]. It says in Kabbalah that sheleg is the gematria of three times the letter alef. When you spell out the letter alef, it is 111. [Alef, lamed, and fei is 1+30+80=111] So 111 times 3 is 333 which is sheleg.

What is the significance? The verse states, “Vayidaber Melech Shlomo shaloshes alafim moshel - King Solomon, [the wise one] spoke in 3,000 metaphors.” The number 3,000, three elefs [elef is one thousand], is snow. [The letter alef also refers to the word elef, 1,000]. So snow relates to the concept of three thousand metaphors.

What’s the relationship between the two? Sheleg, snow, is the concept of metaphor itself. The spiritual dimension of snow serves as an intermediary between Divine energy and the universe. Snow is the concept of explaining knowledge in metaphor. Its cosmic significance is this: To understand the process of how G-d created the universe, G-d could not allow the borders of divinity and spirituality to just flow ceaselessly and annihilate the boundaries of existence. G-d had to contain it, and the way He contained it is reflected in snow.

The mystique of snow is precisely because of its dual quality of heaven meeting earth, water meeting land. Next time you look at the snowflakes gently dropping from heaven, blanketing earth in its white embrace, remember that you are witnessing a kiss – the kiss of the Divine and the mundane.


Klishlishi said...

The photo reminded one of how "He spreads the snow like wool" (Tehillim 147). Snow is literally a blanket, for the air captured in the snow is an insulator which keeps out the frost which would otherwise kill the roots and valuable insects which hibernate in the earth..The white colour of snow repels the sun's rays retarding its melting which is instead gradual and fully absorbed, allowing more water to reach the new season of vegetation than rain which runs off: "snow is better than five rains!" (Taanis 3).

The angel in charge of snow (sheleg) is named Shalgiel (Avos d'R.Noson)! "Praise G-d from the earth... fire and hail, snow and vapors, stormy wind, doing His bidding (Ps. 148). In addition it symbolises moral purity: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool" (Yeshaya 1). "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow (Tehillim 51).

Anonymous said...

The words of our Sages and Torah scholars are like music for the ears and light for the soul!!!
Many thanks for posting this article!!

yaak said...

This is a great article.

Also, Rav Yitzhak Batzri, the son of Rav David Batzri, recently explained the mystical idea behind the snow coming at the end of the days of Shovevim. He says that Shovevim are a time for atonement, and snow also denotes atonement from sins. He said, "The fact that snow is expected to fall in Yerushalayim is a very good sign for Israel."

Anonymous said...

Is there a meaning that comes with snowfall on a funeral?

Devorah said...

Well I guess it depends if it was snowing beforehand, or whether the snow just happened spontaneously. I don't really know, maybe someone else does.

bracha said...

This must be among the choicest of your wonderful postings. Indeed, the words are like music is to the ear, as one of your commentors wrote. It is also: Toras Hashem Temima, Meshivat Nafesh: Loosely speaking: It is a BALM to the SOUL.

Interesting too, is the fact that this snow-fall comes to Israel at a time when we read Parashat Vayikra as among the pious it is customary to introduce the Chumash to a small child - his very first Chumash lesson being Parashat Vayikra which 'talks about'sacrifices. SeeRashi

I would love to bring this article to the attention of my Rabbi who also happens to be a seasoned mechanech/educator... I am sure that he will be very happy to read it.

Please would you let me know if the original appears in Hebrew, also?

Devorah said...

Bracha: this article is wrriten by Rabbi Simon Jacobson whose website is found at