Snow Day; Grow Day

A couple I knew, misunderstanding the meaning of being loving parents, raised their children with no rules and little restraint.  You won’t be shocked to hear that their two kids grew into demanding little monsters.

The parents blamed the children’s teachers for why their children were ‘difficult’.  They explained that their children ‘had issues’ because of preservatives in food. They blamed the tiny tyrants’ grandparents.  They never were able to see their poor parenting as the central problem.

It’s hard to live an effective life when you are blind to cause and effect.

Imagine someone waking up on a recent morning in Washington DC, to discover that forty inches of snow fell in the night.  Shivering with cold, he turns up the thermostat to no effect.  He tries to turn on the lights, but the electricity is out.

Listen to him saying, “I can’t believe this!  What bad luck!  On the same morning, no heat, no lights, and on top of that, there’s a load of snow all over my yard.”  He sees three separate, simultaneous but disconnected inconveniences, not comprehending that they are all linked.

Snow reminds us of some otherwise invisible links in life.

Most of the elements and compounds that God created in the universe can exist in what we call three phases: solid, liquid and gas.  For example, one can heat solid gold until it melts into a liquid, and if we were to heat it further, it would become a vapor or gas.  Another element, mercury, which we know as a liquid, can be cooled into a solid and heated into a gas.

In the case of water, we know the phases respectively as ice, water and steam or clouds. However, only water possesses a mysterious fourth existence—snow.  Weirdly, snow seems to possess the characteristics of all three phases.  It is a solid—just look at a snowman or the hardness of a snowball.  For that matter, try shoveling it.

Almost instantaneously, snow becomes a liquid when you place it upon your tongue.  Finally, it behaves a little like a vapor as it drifts downwards from the sky in a way quite different from how rain and hail fall.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the solid phase of any substance reminds us of the past.  It has a shape and is unalterably fixed.  Events in our past are what they are—they have happened.

Similarly, the liquid phase is comparable to the present.  Our present is fluid. We can influence it by our actions as we can make a liquid take the shape of the container into which we pour it.  The gaseous phase is the future—cloudy, uncertain, difficult to grasp and quite unknowable.

Water nearly always carries a hidden double meaning in the Bible.  In addition to the life sustaining liquid we know, it also alludes to knowledge and wisdom.  This is why in many languages we use the metaphor, ‘thirsting for knowledge.’

The magic of Hebrew stresses the interconnection between the three phases of matter, life and learning through the Hebrew word for snow, SHeLeG. The word for this unique substance is made up of three letters whose numerical values are 300, 30, and 3 respectively. Each letter of the word is distinct, yet also linked to the others.

ש  ל  ג

G            L           SH

3           30        300


The word SHeLeG reminds us that the three phases of life, past, present, and future, are actually linked into one entity.  The totality of our beings is shaped by those who came before us as well as our own past actions. Our current activities inexorably sculpt our futures and the futures of those who come after us. Whether as parents or in our work, we are encouraged always to be aware of how the past, present and future weave together.

Through connection with God’s transcendent wisdom, granted to us through His Word, we can direct our path so that the road from the past, through the present and on to the future will be a positive and seamless one.

Reprinted from  2010

12 thoughts on “Snow Day; Grow Day”

  1. Dear Rabbi Lapin and Susan,

    Thank you so much for resubmitting this teaching on snow, “SHeLeG”. (Shin, lamed and gimel). You kindly answered my submitted question 3 years ago when we had lost a baby at 29 weeks in January 2014. It was a heart-wrenching and soul-searching time as we went through the forced birth of our dead child and wondering if we had done anything to cause it. Did we pray enough for her? Were we not careful enough to help her grow?…etc We made Sadie Grace’s memorial service a day to remain faithful to, not bitter toward, G-d and say, “Thy Will be done.” The morning of the memorial service we had an unexpected amount of snow fall throughout the night with a driving wind. Everything was white and covered. During the service we chose to worship G-d in song as we tried to follow King David’s example as he worshiped after the death of his child.

    Your teaching on “snow” confirms and reminds us of those past painful emotions and images. Back in that present time we reevaluated how we thought and how we would choose to respond. It has open doors for both of us to speak into others’ lives. Gratefully, we were blessed to have another daughter “Hope” – (tekvah, correct me if I am wrong.) in May 2015.

    Thank you so much
    Scott Struckel

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Scott–
      First of all, let me tell you how thrilled Susan and I are to hear that you and your wife are the happy parents of Hope, whose Hebrew name is indeed Tikvah. (Israel’s national anthem is HaTikvah–the Hope. The idea that Israel would come to represent hope for the Jewish people, as indeed it has)
      Thank you so much for writing; we both found your letter deeply meaningful. Regarding all that God does as righteous and learning what we can while accepting is very much the Biblical way.

  2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Dear Michael–
    We didn’t write it in the Thought Tool because, without a long background, it just all sounds too fantastic. But, yes, indeed, since English (along with other languages) did evolve out of Hebrew, it is very common to find certain connections linking English words to their Hebrew originals. So you’re absolutely correct….the words that English arrived at for solid, liquid, gas, are indeed related to the Hebrew letters with the numerical equivalents of 300, 30, & 3 consecutively. So you didn’t make a silly guess at all. Your intuition seems to be tightly focused.
    The English word aloof linked to first letter of Hebrew alphabet—‘alef’ and since Hebrew devalues vowels, it’s the same word. What is aloof? Thinking you’re #1 right? Which is exactly what alef is–number 1.
    Shin is solid, and our past is solid and fixed….it is what it is.

  3. I don’t understand the “past/present/future” connection with the individual letters of SheLeG. Does it have anything to do with “S(h)olid, Liquid, Gas”? I know it can’t, because we shouldn’t draw English conclusions from within Hebrew letters. But I’m just trying to make a silly guess to understand the bigger connection between each of the three letters. Bottom line, how would shin fit with the past? Thanks!

  4. Thank you for further insight, Rabbi. Just the other day I was listening to Dr. Tony Evans give one of his sermons on the names of God. Specifically, Jehova Rophe- please forgive any mis-spellings! Anyhow, he went on to emphasize how the Hebrew people were “stuck” between the Red Sea before them and the Pharaoh and his army just behind them.
    With the Lord’s blessing, Moses raised his staff and the Red Sea parted for safe passage of the Hebrew people. Celebrations were in order and an important song from Moses praising God was sung to the people.
    Not three days later at Mount Mara, did the Hebrew people face another water problem during their travels in the wilderness, complaining to Moses about no water. They ended up finding some- however it was bitter, undrinkable water. Once again, God provided (in His wonderful unconventional ways), and a tree of sorts was thrown into the water via Moses and the water was not only made drinkable…but sweet!
    As you are most aware, this was a period of testing as God was to be known as their Healer. Moreover, how Jehova Rophe not just provides, but provides in abundance…as just beyond the aforementioned “moment,” there were twelve springs provided for the Hebrew people (one for each tribe I understand) and 70 date trees to provide shade and sweet fruit.
    Water, of course, was the emphasis. From the Red Sea, to bitter undrinkable water, to the twelve springs. Jehove Rophe always provided as their Healer.
    Forgive me in the lengthy “retelling.” I have no biblical education…I sure hope I got it right!
    As I have come to understand, the springs are not just any water, but a resource of constantly producing fresh water for the people. The ancient Jewish wisdom you conveyed really hit home with me in driving the knowledge/wisdom aspect of water and really helping me understand a deeper side of this story in Exodus. Love it, thank you RDL!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing, Cams,
      It’s wonderful to see how deeply you are considering these questions

  5. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Dear Efiom–
    Ancient Jewish wisdom is so very insightful–it never ceases to amaze me too.
    Thanks for reading and particularly for writing,

  6. “It’s hard to live an effective life when you are blind to cause and effect.”….Very insightful.

  7. Just what i needed Rabbi. I am currently experiencing one of the most painful and sorrowing periods in my marriage, waxing and waning between the present liquid in a pressurized cyclider and simply being poured on the ground. I must focus on what will shape the present for me for the better and impacting my wife and I’s future for the glory of God. As you said look at the light house in the destination harbor making the small course corrections getting there.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear George–
      I hope you make wise decisions always and particularly in the present crisis. Make them with the longer term in mind…not how will this decision make you feel today or tomorrow but how will it make you feel five years from now.

  8. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Dear Sohnie–
    We should do the things in the present that will make the future much better for us than the past. We should realize that our past talks to us and reminds us of who we are and our future talks to us equally eloquently and reminds us of what we could become. The present is the thinly sliced instant of time in which we convert the future to the past.

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