Seven men – including 4 rabbis – happened upon by an Israeli paratrooper in a closed military zone on the Hermon mountains on Monday, were on a mission of their own – to safeguard the sanctity of the Jews of the city of Metulla.
The Jewish Press’s Yishai Fleisher was on patrol during reserve duty with his paratrooper battalion on the snow-topped Hermon mountains when he happened upon an unexpected group of men. “As I was patrolling, I saw a group of people who were clearly Hareidi Jews using pitchforks on the snow, and approached them to ask what they were doing.”
As it turns out, the men – all of whom had military clearance to be in the area – were representatives of Israel’s National Center for Family Purity, and had made the trek to the Hermon to gather snow for a mikvah (ritual bath).
“The men informed me that they had clearance to be in the closed military zone for the purpose of collecting the snow for the people of Metulla,” Fleisher said.
Scraping the snow
It all began when the water of the mikvah of Metulla became dirty and had to be emptied. The local religious authorities hoped that the water would be refilled by a late spring rain, but that rain never came. Not knowing how to solve the problem, and wanting to provide the 1,500 residents of Metulla the ability to sanctify themselves in the ritual waters, as laid out in Jewish law and practice, the Rabbi of Metulla called Rabbi Shaya Pfoyfer of the Family Purity Center.
With a team of 3 additional rabbis and 3 workers, Rabbi Pfoyfer made arrangements to come to the Hermon, to collect snow for the mikvah. Jewish law requires that mikvah water be “living” – rain or snow. However, the means by which this water can be collected are laden with legal requirements and technicalities, necessitating supervision by religious authorities.
Rabbis collecting snow for the Metulla mikvah
Because the snow cannot be carried in vats or other closed containers, which would render it “non-living”, or drawn, huge construction materials sacks were marred by a series of rips in the bottom, to allow the snow to be collected in an incomplete vessel, and retain its “living” status. The snow was not shoveled into the bags – which would have yet again compromised its “living” nature, but rather knocked off of snow drifts into the bags with pitchforks.
After 2 hours, 1500 liters of snow were collected in about 15 huge, ripped sacks, which rested on wooden palates. The palates were forklifted onto a waiting refrigerated truck and transported to Metulla for the mikvah.
A sack of snow collected for the Metullah mikvah
“I took a few pictures of them, and I asked if I could join in and help fill a few bags, so that I could take part in this beautiful mitzvah,” Fleisher said. “The Hermon is a beautiful place, but taking part in this mitzvah made it all the more meaningful. Thank God for this year’s snowfall, which continues to be important for Israel and the Jewish people.”
The Hermon mountains are mentioned a few places in the Tanach, but the first mention is in Devarim (Deuteronomy), Chapter 3, Verse 8-9: “At that time we took the land from the hand of the two kings of the Amorite that were on the other side of the Jordan, from Arnon Brook to Mount Hermon – Sidonians would refer to Hermon as Sirion, and the Amorites would call it Senir”. Rashi, the great Torah commentator, notes in these passages that the names given to the Hermon by other nations were relevant because four nations contended for control of the Hermon, each giving the peaks a different name. The Torah notes this, according to Rashi, to show how desired the Land was.