As Pure as the Driven Snow
There is nothing like an early morning snow. The brown winter earth is covered by a stunning white tablecloth – pure, clean, and unsullied.
As the day goes on, the snow becomes victim to reality; people have to walk upon it, and drive through it, and before very long its pristine whiteness begins to fade and to turn into gray and brown.
By nightfall, the pure countenance of the morning has been transformed into slush and mud.
Before going to sleep we glance out the window for one last look at the darkened snow. Perhaps it will snow again overnight; perhaps in the morning we will once again be greeted by another blanket of purity and pristine whiteness.
Is there any way to maintain the bright whiteness of a morning snow, any way to keep it from being violated by our human footsteps? Only by constructing a fence around an area of snow, to keep out all human traffic, can this be done. But even as we construct that fence, we know in our heart of hearts that it is inevitable that snow is impermanent. Soon enough – even fenced in – it will shrink, melt and disappear.
Only a hazy memory will remain.
THERE IS nothing like a newly born baby. Its soul is pure, clean, and unsullied.
But as it grows into adulthood, it becomes victim to reality. The world around invades its pristine “whiteness,” its lovely purity begins to fade, and as time goes on, the “whiteness” is only a dim memory. The discoloration of reality has taken over, and what was once pure and sacred and eternal has been transformed into something ordinary and profane. But the memory of the purity does not entirely disappear, and the soul keeps hoping that tomorrow the “whiteness” will somehow return.
Is there any way to maintain the bright “whiteness” of the newly minted soul, any way to keep it from being sullied by exposure to the realities of the world?
The world cannot be kept out. A human being must interact with those around them. Physical fences of wood and stone cannot be built, and if built, will not hold. But it is not inevitable that a human soul must become tarnished. On the contrary, unlike the snow, it is only through contact with human beings and through living a life of holiness that the purity of the soul can be maintained. It is not the Jewish way to cloister oneself into a monastery in order to avoid the taint of human frailty. Through charity and acts of lovingkindness; through learning and living of Torah values; through reaching out to others with generosity and sensitivity; through self-introspection; through reaching out to God by prayer and the study of His Torah; through personal integrity in dealing with others and with one’s own self – all these, collectively and individually, maintain the pristine “whiteness” of the human soul, and in fact enhance it.
Unlike snow, whose whiteness becomes more and more sullied as the day goes on, the human soul’s coloration – if attended to properly – only intensifies as life goes on. Unlike snow, the soul is eternal, and the human being has been granted power over it. Depending on what we choose to do with it, it need not shrink, or melt, or disappear.
In the period between the sunrise and sunset of our lives, we have been granted the power to make it ever more pure.
I LOVE the snow because of its innate stillness and calm, and its ability to force us to slow down the pace of our lives. But I love the soul even more – because, unlike snow, we have been granted the power to choose whether it will turn to muddy slush, or will glow ever more brightly as the day goes on.
This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on February 18.
Thank you, Rav Feldman. Your writings enter the heart and penetrate the soul, you continue to inspire and instruct from sunrise to sunset. THANKS!!
A good meditation on the notion of purity. Seems to me that snow also tends to hide flaws, whereas a pure soul is an honest soul — that is, will admit to moral shortcomings, and attempt to repair them.
> Before going to sleep we glance out the window for one last look at the darkened snow. Perhaps it will snow again overnight; perhaps in the morning we will once again be greeted by another blanket of purity and pristine whiteness
You clearly do not have a driveway to shovel. That would blow the whole analogy out of the water.
There isn’t enough blood in this article to generate the usual commentary from the web community of pundits.
I beg the indulgence of the moderators to include this comment: Thank you, Rabbi Feldman and may Hashem grant you and your loved ones good health and nachas, and many, many more productive years.