New Yorkers were treated to their first snow storm of the season last Sunday. After the storm, it was a beautiful sight and it was good packing snow for snow balls and snow men, but it presented a very real set of challenges. My wife and I had two weddings (among the five that were schedule in Kew Gardens Hills alone), one in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx, and it was quite an adventure. The plowing of the streets was the worse we’ve seen in decades, possibly due to a work slow down by the NYC Sanitation Department in protest of budget cuts.
By Thursday the street were navigable and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, gave a shiur at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel about Inyanei D’Yoma (relevant topic of the day), namely the Halachos of Snow. It was an amazing shiur, which you can download here, highlighting that in addition to the snow on the ground, the abstraction of snow is also a beautiful sight.
The Ramchal in the Book of Logic teaches us that the labor of the intellect is to see things as they really are, but we often make mistakes and come to false conclusions. The two most basic functions of the mind in the quest for knowledge are the activities of comparison and differentiation. Mistakes can occur in either one of these two activities, when we compare things that are not similar or differentiate things which are not really different.
This is where snow as an abstraction is so fascinating as Rabbi Schachter gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the issues involved when we compare and differentiate the realities of snow in various circumstances. I mentioned the snow was great for packing, so one of the questions we can ask is whether our construction of a snow man on Shabbos would be considered building or not?
Another question is in what ways is snow similar to water. We know that a collection of water in a Mikveh has certain spirtual properties in that it can remove spiritual impurity. What happens if you had a Mikveh filled with snow and you immersed yourself in it. Is it considered a body of water at rest on the ground like a mikveh filled with water or perhaps the nature of snow prevent it from acting as a collected body of water at rest?
As we walked through the streets in the aftermath of the storm the snow was packed solid and piled high. Is that packed snow considered an extension of the ground or not? To build an eruv, the marker has to be at 40 inches above the ground. When packed snow covers the ground do we measure from the top of the snow or do we measure from the ground?
Rabbi Schacter dealt with many more issues regarding the abstractions of snow and I highly recommend listening to the audio. The physical reality of snow presents one set of issues, but the abstraction of snow sheds an entirely different spotlight on this wondrous creation in Hashem’s world.