Of Snow and Snark

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, December 16th, 2016 – 16 Kislev, 5777

Ask me about the Kindness Commons™ if we run in to each other in the hall.

My family and I are heading out for some R&R and a family gathering. We are leaving right after Shabbat, so this column will resume on my return after the new year.

But each and every person must face trial. Even if one receives God’s godliness into their thoughts (as explained in a different Torah commentary), nevertheless each person is tested with ten trials, as it is said about Abraham, “Abraham was tested with ten trials, and withstood them all. (Mishnah Avot, 5:3) 

And the trial is that they strip you of the Connection with which you were connected to the Holy One through Awareness. At the moment when you come into the trial, only Freewill remains with you; for without this it would not be called a trial. Certainly, through the connection, “the tzaddik holds his path. (Iyov/Job 17:9) and in this way your Awareness is diminished, though not completely removed. If you withstand the trial, it is because it was already fixed in your heart from before when you had expansive Awareness. – Me’or Einayim 13:3


I try not to allow myself snark. It’s a lovely, seductive and ultimately diminishing emotion by which you make yourself feel better than others, if only in some small way. Most of us engage in snark at moments. Some of us get caught thinking about the world in this way a great deal of the time. It would be easy to dismiss the quality of snark as either, “that’s how people are,” or “well that’s not a particularly attractive personality trait.” I’d agree with you that it’s not attractive, but let’s not dismiss it too quickly. Snark highlights an important part of our humanity. People have a deep-seated need to feel needed and to feel important.

This past Tuesday, Laura and the boys picked up a man with an intellectual disability at the bus stop by the JCC. He was headed to Southwest Community Center. The bus driver wouldn’t pick him up, telling him the bus was too full with students. So Laura, trusting her honed psychological awareness and her mother’s instincts that the person posed no danger to her children, pulled over. The boys got it too, and Shayah hopped out of the front seat, offering it to this stranger who they dropped off at the Plaid Pantry across from the community center.

While on their short ride, this man who suffered a real intellectual deficit kept telling them (perseverating is the term), “I am too important to miss my exercise class at the center, because my mom and my dog count on me.” My mom and my dog count on me.

Full stop.

This story floored me with its pithy eloquence and its expansive awareness. How many overachievers work hard because they don’t understand what this simple man got (grokked). We are all important, not because of the grand things we accomplish, but because, if we are lucky, our fates are wound up, like a skein of yarn, in other people’s lives. We matter for no reason greater or lesser than that. Other people count on us, and we do something of value for them. Our lives are connected. In that basic awareness, this man of humble capacities expressed a wisdom which surpasses that of many of us who are more gifted intellectually.

Snark is one way we fill that intrinsic human requirement to know that our existence and our very lives matter. It’s what we turn to when we fail to muster a deeper trust and faith in the world, the universe and even God. It is a protected form of connection that sees the target but misses the bull’s eye by the width of the ego.

A week ago, it snowed in my town of Portland. Maybe an inch and the city shut down. Portland has not always been my home. Years spent in the midwest and the northern Atlantic inured me to snow. I don’t mind skidding in my vehicle because I have experience pulling it around and regaining control. I sort of enjoy it. I’m proud of that skill, and I suppose I was seeking some recognition for the effort behind it. So I slipped into snark on a Facebook post, mocking how slight a snow can close this town and reveling in its sweet emotion.

But the universe is always providing us with feedback. God’s voice is out there waiting to be witnessed. On Wednesday, I’m pulling into my driveway. The hill is slick, and my control is limited. I lose traction, downshift, brake, then pop in reverse. A few iterations, and I’ve overcome the slip. I’m inching up to my driveway and so close to my garage. That, of course, was the moment the driver hit me, as their Wrx Sti lost control and plowed into my bumper. They were following too close the entire time I descended the hill–despite the fact that I had switched my hazards on to gain a bit more distance between my car and those who followed me. It’s not just about my snow driving skills. It’s about my community and how the least of us manages.

You know, we all have these challenges and trials that rise up at us, often when we least expect them. In some inexplicable way, though, they tie back to those moments when we loose our connection to God. One sign of that sever, that break, is when we seek what we need in indirect ways. Snark is one of those oblique ways we seek to get our needs fulfilled. It is a loss of our more expansive awareness when we forget what Laura’s hitchhiker remembered. Our lives have significance simply because other people depend on us. And because God loves us not for what we do, but for that we are.

Blessings of peace,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. What have you caught yourself trying to prove you matter to others? How have you lost your grace in the attempt?
  2. In recent days, who has been an unlikely teacher of wisdom to you?

We are still planning another evening of soup, sandwiches and “guerrilla compassion” this Saturday night, December 17th. The weather may be severe, but that probably means those who are living out doors will especially need a hot cup of soup. Please let me know if you are interested in participating. We will be meeting at my house at 5:45.