Nothing quiets a city like a snow day. The blanket of white flakes concealing layers of grit and litter, and dampening the noise pollution of modern urban life. The blare of sirens is replaced by the crunch of boots. The imprint of shoes, snow angels and sled tracks abound. To quote my 8 year-old neighbor, “Snow is my favorite color!”
I have just returned from my neighborhood sledding hill. I never feel more like a kid than I do when I am sledding. My inner child is elated. The sledding hill was a sea of colorful children in marshmallow like snow suits, joyful and inevitably tearful, and falling all over the place. There was free hot chocolate, snow forts and snow ball fights galore. Being at the park felt like I was inside the pages of a great kids book or a dynamic snow globe.
As winter storms and freezing temperatures sweep over much of Turtle Island, Philadelphia has been blessed with an actual legitimate snowfall. Given that in recent years I have been found having a “snowball fight” with the dusting on my deck, this is a complete delight and triumph of the natural world in the time of global warming.
But what is the blessing for a snow day?
This question appeared in the Kol Tzedek slack this morning. There are so many amazing Jewish blessings to be said over the natural world.
A blessing for rainbows?
A blessing for a shooting star?
A blessing for seeing the ocean after a long period of time?
A blessing for an earthquake, a comet, mighty winds or lightning?
That said, if you look in a prayer book, you will not find a clear answer about snow. This is clearly a mistake. Maybe we can attribute it to the fact that many of the blessings were written to address the natural wonders of the Land of Israel, and it had a rather temperate climate. But Jews have been living in freezing places like Babylon (modern day Iraq) and Ukraine for thousands of years. You would think it might have been edited in.
Some rabbis suggest saying the seasonal blessing that is inserted into the weekday Amidah, Mashiv ha-ru'ah u-morid ha-geshem, thanking God for making the winds blow and the rain fall. Snow is afterall a kind of frozen rain.
I suggest saying Oseh ma’aseh v’reishit - thanking God for making all of creation. It is the same blessing you might recite over an awesome storm or a shooting star. It says, the natural world is amazing and wonderful.
As I was taking in the snow day today, I thought to myself, this is a kind of nature-imposed Shabbat. A day in which we slow down and find joy right where we are. And then we come home spent and cozy up with a hot drink.
Just think of the words of the shabbat zemer Menucha v’Simcha,
“Light of gladness, O light of gladness,
Peace unto Israel,
Sabbath day of bliss, weave thy magic spell,
Weave thy magic spell…
Blue skies and green fields, blue skies and green fields,
Ocean's unceasing tide.
Glorious hosts of heaven, beaming far and wide,
Beaming far and wide.
Mighty whales and dragons fierce, mighty whales and dragons fierce,…
God's hand formed them all, sure God’s works abides,
Surely God’s works abide.”
May this snow day weave thy magic spell, glorious hosts of heaven, mighty whales and dragons fierce, God’s hand formed them all. And may we allow it to inspire our experience of rest and joy on shabbat all year long.
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.