Torah and Winter (Rabbi Shalhevet)

Rabbi ShalhevetFor many, the months of November and December can be very difficult. There are less hours of sunshine daily. The weather is cold and dreary. Sadly, we know that there is plenty of time until the weather warms up. Winter is the time when the earth looks barren. Plants don’t thrive. Animals hibernate. Less and less natural life is seen. Some say that winter is when the earth is dead.

However, if we look beneath the crunching snow, we will see hidden life. In the North American forests, weasels and squirrels actually create a whole life under the protection of the packed snow. An entire “under-snow world” continues to thrive all throughout the winter. For insects, winter is actually the safest time for them to be young. They stay in rotted out trees, warm all winter where no predator can find them until they emerge in the spring and summer as full-grown adults. Yes, if we look deeper, we can see that winter is not a time of death for the earth, but actually of life, renewal, and rebirth. In fact, many things seem one way at first glance. However, a deeper look reveals very interesting points.

When we study Torah, we are taught that there are four ways to study. Together they form an acronym known as PaRDeS. It means “Orchard,” and we can hear the similarities to the English word, “paradise.” The acronym, PaRDeS, stands for P’shat, Remez, Drash, and Sod. These words refer to varying levels of understanding the text. The P’shat refers to the simple text. The literal meaning of the words. It’s what we usually teach our kids when we tell them a bible story. Remez is a bit deeper. It’s when we see the story as a metaphor. We glean lessons that we can take a little further. Drash means story and it’s where we fill in the missing parts of the bible with our own stories. And Sod is the secret. It’s what is so far underneath the surface, we sometimes don’t see it until the spring thaw.

The ways to study Torah and the Winter season are both metaphors for our lives. There are always multiple layers for us to see. The top layer of snow – fluffy white. The packed down layers that help protect the ground beneath. The layer of earth hiding the whole world underneath and of course, the universe that continues to exist just waiting to emerge in the spring. Every time we feel stuck. Every time we feel lost. All we have to do is keep digging to find another layer, until we find the one with life. And then we just need to bring that layer to the surface.