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Snow Sculptures

Friday, 31 January, 2014 - 9:00 am

This week I went with my family to the McCall Winter Carnival. We were amazed at the remarkable creations that artists formed from the snow. That white, fluffy mush that can often be a nuisance was transformed into a sophisticated and beautiful source of imagination and delight.  Watching the artists transform raw snow into cars, astronauts, cupcakes and octopi was a remarkable experience.

After enjoying the snow sculptures, my daughter made a noteworthy observation.  “People can make beautiful designs from the snow,” she said. “But Hashem forms all the snow in the whole world. He is the real snow sculptor.”

In fact, as we drove through the magnificent snow-capped mountains, her words began to sink in. The majesty and glory of His creations are truly beyond our comprehension.  Her words heightened our enjoyment as we frolicked in the snow.

***

But the notion that snow is a gift from G-d is not always embraced. I thought for a moment of the unfortunate people in Atlanta, who were stuck in the freezing snow for hours and hours. I thought of some of my friends in Florida and California, who would much prefer to visit me in the spring or summer.  I thought of the elderly snowbirds – for whom life in winter’s paradise might be hell.

That doesn’t mean that sunny California is the solution to all. Think of the thousands that are moving away from the smog and congestion. I recall fleeing Miami virtually every summer to escape the unbearable, muggy heat.

In fact, experiencing the solitude of the mountains also has its downsides.  When an important phone call needs to be made – you likely will find yourself without cell phone reception. Depending on your viewpoint – and on the need – you may consider that a drawback.

It turns out that our appreciation of G-d’s wonderland is truly subjective. I may enjoy one aspect and someone else may relish another. Today I can adore the snow; tomorrow I could abhor it.

***

This week’s parsha, Terumah, teaches about the Mishkan, the mobile sanctuary that G-d instructed the Jews to build. It was home to the menorah, altar, table and other holy items.  It was the central place of Jewish worship. And it was also home to G-d.

Hashem promised the Jewish people that, “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” The Tabernacle did not serve merely as the prime location to worship G-d; it was also an abode where G-d dwelled amongst us.

But how is this unique to the Mishkan and the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem that succeeded it? Isn’t G-d to be found wherever we experience Him? Or – as a great rabbi once said – G-d exists wherever you let Him in. Can’t we have private experiences that rival that of the Mishkan?

***

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of the Chabad movement) explains that although G-d exists everywhere, His revelation is not equal in all spaces. That’s why you might revel in His splendor on a sunny beach, while your neighbor may take pleasure in G-d’s presence hiking in the wilderness. All are expressions of G-dliness. Yet they are subjective experiences. We absorb G-d’s expression according to our unique character and circumstances.  We each extract the hidden nature of G-d in our own way.

The Tabernacle and the Holy Temple were special because G-d’s presence was automatically revealed.  In other spaces and situations, the subjective recipient must determine whether and how she can relate to her Creator. In the Mishkan, that experience was guaranteed. To be sure, we have free will and can choose whether to engage – if we are to turn on our spiritual antennae or not. But should we elect to tune in – in the Holy Temple – we are guaranteed reception.

***

The Torah’s messages are both eternal and personal. If the Torah instructs us to create a space in which G-d can dwell, it must carry over to each of us today as well.

Until Moshiach comes, we don’t have a space in which G-d’s presence is automatically revealed. But we do have many occasions and places where we can choose to find G-d. The process may come naturally during a stroll through the forest, on the ocean’s shore or at the birth of a baby. But every moment can indeed be transformed into a G-dly one. Taking ordinary moments and infusing them with sanctity – by doing a mitzvah – reveals the hidden energy of G-d.

Each time we uncover G-d’s presence, we bring the world one step closer to a time when He will once again be revealed fully and automatically here on earth. May it happen speedily in our days!

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