Friday, 8 January 2010

It's Been Snowing


Snow, of course it does, makes an appearance in this week's Torah reading. Moses, standing before the burning bush is told to remove his hand from his garment and finds it  'diseased, white as snow.' Indeed snow makes two other appearances in the Hebrew Bible as  a descriptor of the strange leprous-like Biblical curse of ‘tzarat’; Miriam becomes as white as snow  having slandered Moses and Elisha's manservant Gehazi  is similarly afflicted in II Kings.


The Bible also uses snow as a useful counter image, its ob    vious connection to cool winter days offering itself up for more poetic uses. In Proverbs we desire snow to cool the temperatures of a hot ancient harvest (Prov 25) and we suggest that that honour is due the fool to the same extent that snow is due in summer (Prov 26).  As a symbol, however, snow is most powerfully associated with purity from sin. In words central to our Rosh Hashanah liturgy we cite Isaiah, 'though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow ' and  Psalms, 'Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.'  Uncomprehending and looking out over a  destroyed Jerusalem the narrative voice of the book of Lamentations can't understand what went wrong, 'Her Nazarites were purer than snow, whiter than milk.' Snow is the symbol of sin-free purity, and the image reaches its zenith when Daniel looks out and sees God, sat on a lofty throne, clothed in a  garment 'white as snow.'


Symbols are glorious, of course, but the Bible certainly knows real snow. Jeremiah looks out at the 'snows of  Lebanon' and two of the Psalms recited in our daily service  take the opportunity to ensure that we know that the power behind snow is divine, 'God gives snow like wool, he scatters hail like ashes.' 'Fire and hail, snow, clouds and stormy wind fulfil His word.' (Ps 147 & 148).


At the end of the book of Job, God puts on a display of all the great natural forces of the world in a bid to get Job to understand how little of the secrets of the Universe a mere human could possibly understand and there, amongst the volcanoes and earthquakes, we read of a storehouse of snow, saved up as munitions for  a battle against the forces of evil.


Snow's  radiance draws our attention to the heavens. It reminds us of the power of nature - it stops us taking gentle cycles of seasonality for granted. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to heat our homes and wrap up as we crunch our way down icy pavements snow should also remind us of our obligations to  those without the economic ability to banish miserable shivering or the physical ability to  leave their homes in what is a dangerous time to be frail and unsteady.


Shabbat shalom

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