The Cost of a Snow Day

While the “Great Blizzard of 2015” passed us by without having a major effect on the lives of those in our NY/NJ communities who were expecting a storm of epic proportions, we still ended up with some snow on the ground. It is hard to describe what it feels like to wake up to a beautiful white blanket of snow covering all that is unappealing outdoors during the winter months. But one must stop and thank Hashem for this aesthetically pleasing tableau, which does wonders to brighten the dark months of winter.

Along with the snow comes the “snow day,” a day for children to stay home and enjoy the snow and the togetherness of family for a “free” vacation from school. Those days aren’t too far back in my past to remember, and a little bit of the warm feeling I get from a fresh snowfall is undoubtedly due to the fond memories I have from those days in my childhood (because it certainly isn’t a result of the shoveling I now must do!).

As a child I loved those days. Now, as an adult and a father of children, I am not so sure. It might just be because it seems like there are more of them. When I was in school I don’t remember having off as often because of snow. Now, some claim this increase in snow days might just be because of global warming, or it might be that the bar was lowered to make cancelling yeshivah and school days acceptable at lower levels of snow accumulation. But I have begun to question if this is indeed the right way to approach snow days for our children.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way criticizing the decision-making of the mechanchim who run our mosdos hachinuch. I am sure that the reasons they choose to close school on the days they choose to do so are sufficient. What I am doing is wondering if the approach parents take to these days is the right one. Perhaps if it were different, the schools could decide differently about whether or not to cancel classes.

Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, famously said that an untold number of America’s Jewish youth had left Torah observance because of the attitude that their parents had that “es iz shver tzu zein a Yid — it is difficult to be a Yid.” When the children saw that their parents had struggled so much for Yiddishkeit, they figured that they didn’t need this burden that their parents sacrificed so much for. The way to keep this from happening, Rav Moshe explains, is that it shouldn’t be a sacrifice for us, as everything we can have we do have, and nothing we might do (such as chillul Shabbos or other devarim assurim) could change that. In a teshuvah (YD 3:71), he expands on this idea, explaining how to approach something when one feels that one is not on that level of emunah and feels as though what one is doing is a sacrifice. The correct approach is to see it as though one is making a purchase of something that is worth more than what is being given up. Nobody feels as though they lost money, Rav Moshe explains, when they purchase a home, despite its cost — because they value what they are getting in return.

Children aren’t easy to fool. If they see us doing something, they have this uncanny ability to see through it and pick up exactly what it is. One of the clearest memories I have of my childhood — snowstorms in particular — is that of my father digging out his station wagon (remember them?) to take me to yeshivah on a snow day. Imagine the powerful lesson it imparts to children when they see that their parent is willing to inconvenience himself so that his children shouldn’t miss a day of learning Torah!

And what kind of lesson do children learn when they see that the car can’t get dug out for the ride to yeshivah, but it does get dug out for some other reason later in the day — be it entertainment or anything else? Don’t children see that whatever that thing is, it is more important than their studying Torah in yeshivah?

And how do we reconcile children with the fact that they get to stay home when it is not easy for us to get them to school, but we expect them to go in on days when they feel it isn’t easy for them?

These are considerations that are easy for us, as parents, to shrug off. We are content with mesivtos being open. We tell ourselves that the younger children aren’t really so impressionable, and there is nothing wrong with being a little less “intense” when it comes to this idea of the impressions that they might be getting from these mixed messages.

But they really aren’t too young to be affected. The Mirrer Mashgiach, Harav Yerucham Levovitz, explains (Vayelech 31:12) that the reason we bring small children to Hakhel is because every single thing that happens to a child, even while still in a carriage, leaves an impression and affects the child’s growth in ruchniyus. Despite the fact that the child can’t understand, and doesn’t even remember what he heard, the fact that he attended Hakhel makes a difference to his future. That is how far, Rav Yerucham explains, the idea of chinuch has to be taken.

So before the next time we reflexively want to keep our children home from school to enjoy the snow, let’s ponder whether this is indeed what is best for them, and the lessons they could otherwise be learning about the importance of a day of learning Torah.