Parshas Breishis - Light in the Clouds

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 10/04/18

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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The very first mention of ‘Man’ in the Torah is when it describes how G-d did not yet send the necessary rain to generate the growth of plant life since there was no man to work the soil, and no one to appreciate its benefits. Only when man would be created and recognize this gift of rain and pray for its arrival, would the trees and vegetation spring forth.

Evidently the very essence of man is determined by his relationship and bond to G-d through the medium of rain specifically.

Indeed we are taught that rain is one of the three ‘keys’ possessed by G-d alone, and not entrusted to any angel or agent.

Yet on Shemini Atzeres when we recite the Prayer For Rain, we begin our petition by making reference to, אף-ברי אתת שם שר מטר, Af-Bri is designated as the name of the angel of rain.

Iyov describes how there are times when out of a ‘clear blue sky’ G-d will send a storm, drenching us in rain.

אף ברי יטריח עב יפיץ ענן אורו (לז יא), Even on a clear day He burdens the cloud, and the cloud spread about its rain.

Rashi however explains the verse as referring to the angel Af-Bri, who burdens the clouds and scatters its rain. This would seem to be the approach of The Kalir as well, who authored the Prayer For Rain.

Rashi though emphasizes that Af-Bri is more precisely the angel appointed over the עננים, the rain clouds, not the rain per se.

Perhaps it is indeed G-d alone who dispatches the rains. But it is the task of this angel to at times ‘cloud’ G-d’s blessing in the apparent darkness of a storm clouds. When life is suddenly disrupted on a clear sunny with unexpected challenge, G-d waits to see whether or not we will peer through the clouds and see His loving hand.

אף often denotes angst or anger. This word first appears when the wily serpent challenges Chava regarding her reluctance to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, exclaiming אף כי אמר אלקים לא תאכלו מכל עץ הגן, Is it possible that G-d forbade you to eat of any of the trees in the garden?

In this cynical ploy he plants a seed of doubt in Chava’s mind questioning the possibility that G-d could reasonably expect her to refrain from partaking that which she craved so strongly for.

This is the challenge we always face in our encounters with temptation. We often weaken in our resolve to remain steadfast in what we know to be true when we question ourselves: how can we be expected  to withstand the impossible difficulties we face? Can I really control my tongue, thoughts, or actions? Does G-d really think I am worthy enough or capable of overcoming these challenges? אף, Even me, or the circumstances I face, are possibly conquerable?!

When our ‘clear days’ are abruptly beclouded with the angst of obstacles, that is the moment we are expected to see with absolute clarity our purpose, enlightening the darkness with our faith and trust.

It is at these junctures of 'אף', of befuddled self-doubt, that we must implement the power of 'ברי', clarity of destiny and mission, to calm the storm clouds and permitting ourselves to nourish from His ‘rain of blessing’.    

We add to our daily prayers the mention of גבורות גשמים, the strength of rains and how G-d makes the rain descend, in the blessing of גבורה, Strength, where it  emphasizes the power of תחיית המתים, Revival of the Dead.

The Talmud equates these two powers stating that the ‘Day of Rain’ is as great as the ‘Day of the Revival of the Dead’.

The Ritva explains that just as plant seeds must first decay before they can regenerate their fruit through the moisture of rain, similarly the deceased must first decompose before they can be revived. The re-growth of seeds is the greatest testament to G-d’s ability to revive the dead.

Perhaps the deeper connection between the two lays in this awareness that the clouds of challenge in our daily life and the trial of sudden death and loss are both part of a greater process of rejuvenation that will be powered by the manner in which we faithfully see the rays of light through the clouds, never getting discouraged or despondent, that will culminate with the full revival of the dead.

Might this be the true understanding of man in his original designation as an עובד אדמה, worker of the land? It is not his role as a simple farmer being accented here, but as one who can mine the ‘power of the earth’ in conjunction with the ‘strength of G-d’s rain’, in creating from seeming deterioration, bountiful fruit of deed enmeshed with faith.

In Pirkei Shira it records that the Clouds of Glory sing the verse in Iyov, אף ברי יטריח עב יפיץ ענן אורו (לז יא).

May I suggest that it is those Clouds of Glory that revealed to us how G-d enveloped us in His loving embrace, which infused within us the ability to sense that warmth in the subsequent challenges we would face in the clouds of exile, who sing this praise.

They sing how Af-Bri, the angel who we empower through our faith, by grasping  the struggle between the forces of אף, that entice us to give up, and that of ברי, that represents our acute focus on our ultimate objective and our personal strength in overcoming doubt, is summoned to burden us with clouds of challenge. But in the end, יפיץ ענן, the cloud will scatter, אורו, His light, the brilliant illumination that stems from our bond with G-d.

Recently at the Bar Mitzva of Nat Braun, his father Ari shared with an intimate group of family and friends a speech he was waiting to deliver for over thirty years.   

When Ari was six years old, while spending Pesach at a hotel in Miami, he accidently bumped into another charming six year old, Nat Kates, while they were both playing in the water. An immediate friendship developed and they hung out together during the rest of the holiday. As providence would have it, Nat’s parents only a short time later purchased a home in Maryland, and unbeknownst to them at the time, was directly across the street from the Braun family.

Nat and Ari continued to deepen their friendship and became inseparable. Nat’s divorced mom wasn’t Jewish but his now remarried Dad and wife were. The Braun’s family older children became surrogate older brothers and sisters to Nat and his younger siblings. Nat, though not yet Jewish, was a special soul, who even at a young age possessed extraordinary character and sensitivity to others, and adhered lovingly to Jewish tradition. But more than anything else he pined for the day he would reach the age of Bar Mitzvah and makes the choice to become a full-fledged observant Jew. He shared this deepest yearning with Ari and they both simply couldn’t wait for that day to come.

One day at the age of nine while cavorting in a pool with his cherished buddy, Ari, he suddenly collapsed and couldn’t be revived. The pain was unimaginable as both families grieved this tragic death of their beloved Nat.

Thirteen years later as Ari was about to marry his wife Esther, he shared with her something he was carrying in his heart from that very sad day of Nat’s untimely death. He told her that his going forth in marriage with her would be conditional on her accepting that one day when they would merit to have a son they would name him Nat, in memory of his best friend. Esther immediately and lovingly agreed.

Seventeen years later, at the Bar Mitzvah of his beloved Nat, Ari shared how he carried the powerful memory of his special friendship with Nat Kates, and the unrequited longing of his buddy to choose to become Jewish. Those aspirations fueled Ari during the years of his own personal journey and growth in Torah and Mitzvos. That inspiration prodded him from the day his own Nat was born to raise his son in the spirit of his dear friend’s remarkable drive and inspiration, in sensing the joy of being Jewish and the privilege to choose it rather than simply accept its inevitability having being born into the faith.

One can despair in the face of sudden loss and disappointment, or one can choose to see the light radiating from even the darkest of clouds.

We are all on a journey to discover that light. We are in a constant process of rebirth.

May we be inspired by the heroes among us who inspire us to sing the beautiful song of the Clouds of Glory. Let the clouds scatter their light!


צבי יהודה טייכמאן