Friday, January 09, 2015

Backwards Galosh

The goal of this blog is foster a warm + cozy conversation at your Shabbat table. Please print and share...

Jerusalem snow palmsNow that Jerusalem is enjoying its second snowstorm in as many years it feels like time to dust off the good ol' snow email, which seems to be becoming an annual tradition.

First a short story, then a question for your table, then an answer, followed by a final question.

The story takes place in snowy Jerusalem one year ago.

I had left the USA early enough to reach Jerusalem ahead of the snowstorm, but too early to have packed any snow gear.

When I arrived, in fact, the snowstorm was preceded by unbelievable torrential rain.

In Jerusalem, umbrellas are easy to come by.

Snow boots are not.

I thought, this is such a rainy place. Even without snow, there must be a lot of people who like to wear galoshes.

So I asked around. None of the local shoe stores understood the concept of a rubber shoe that you wear over another shoe.

Finally at about the 7th store the salesman at least had a clue what I was talking about and he even taught me the Hebrew name for it: andalayim (I'm guessing it's a Yiddish word formed from "on the na'alayim" - i.e., "on the shoes").

Anyway, this non-Yiddish-speaking shoe salesman who taught me how to say andalayim had no clue where to buy them, but someone else (maybe as a joke) suggested that I go looking in a Yiddish-speaking neighborhood to find them.

It turns out that the nearby Yiddish neighborhood of Belz had a shoe store and when I phoned up, the salesman told me that the indeed carried andalayim.

"But what size do you need?"


"Sorry, we're all sold out of Medium."

But this was no time to quibble over details. The blizzard of the century was blowing into Jerusalem and I was going to be stuck inside without boots?

So I took a cab to Belz and I managed to get one of his last pairs of small andalayim. They're rubber, so they should stretch over my shoes right?

The snow was already falling and I was pulling and pulling, trying to get these things over my shoes.

Would they tear first?

No way, they went on and I hobbled out of the shop back to the cab. I think the cab ride cost more than the andalayim. The problem was, when I got back to where I was staying, I couldn't get them off.

It became clear that I was going to enjoy snowy Jerusalem wearing galoshes without shoes. It seemed a bit backwards, but galoshes are galoshes, right?

So while the buses and taxis were immobilized, and most of the population either stuck indoors or resorting to plastic bags and rubber bands, I sailed through the white streets of Jerusalem in amazingly strong made-in-Israel rubber and five pairs of socks.

It was magical.

A blanket of snow is always magical.

Leading to the first question for your table:

Why is a fresh snowfall ALWAYS so magical?

Think about it for a moment.

Is it because snow softens the sounds, slows the pace?

Is it because snow closes schools and is fun to play in?

The Hebrew word for snow is sheleg.

Normally, we look for significance of a Hebrew word by how it's used in the Torah.

Sheleg is not used qua snow, rather to describe a perfect whiteness, as in "your sins will be made white as snow."

But the word sheleg has a peculiar quality.

Peculiar, that is, to those who study gematria (numerology). It's numerical value is 333.

Numerologists read that as: "The number three expanded to the utmost."

Or, "the ulimate in three-ness."

But what is "three-ness"?

The number 3 in Jewish thought represents something foundational about humanity: "The world stands on 3 pillars: Torah, Avodah and Chesed" (Pirkei Avot).

(Loose translation: wisdom, spirituality, kindness)

These three qualities are exemplified by the three Patriarchs: Avraham (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac), Yaakov (Jacob).

Perhaps this numerology is the key to the lesson of snow.

We need those 3 pillars - Torah, Avodah and Chesed - to have a stable world. Snow shows us what the world would look like when we get the right balance of those three.

Jlem snow boys 2It's magical - blanketing the world with a clean whiteness, smoothing over all the bumps, hiding all the dirt.

Yes, we know the dirt is there, and will be back soon enough.

But isn't it fun for a few minutes to pretend that it isn't?

But it's more than pretending. That magic is teaching us something.

It's reminding us what the world could look like all the time, if each of us worked on the area(s) where we are deficient in our own personal triangle.

Final question for your table: What's most lacking in the world - Torah, Avodah or Chesed?

Shabbat Shalom 

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