On the Wings of Eagles


There is much to learn from the poetic imagery in Parshat Ha'azinu. The image that particularly stands out is that of the nesher, eagle. The eagle which is one of the toughest of birds shows its more gentle side while parenting its young.

In Dvarim 32:11 it says: "Like an eagle who rouses his nest, fluttering over his young, He extends His wings, grasps them, He bears them on His wing."

Rashi comments that God used compassion and sympathy when dealing with the Jewish people in the same way that the eagle is compassionate with his children. The eagle does not enter his nest suddenly. Rather, he makes noise from afar in order to rouse his children so that they will be capable of receiving him. He flutters over his young, but does not press himself on them. He hovers, touching yet not touching. God acted the same way when He gave the Jewish people the Torah. He didn't use full power. He didn't want to scare them.

Rashi continues his commentary: The eagle extending his wings and grasping them refers to the eagle transporting its young not grasping them with his feet like the other birds (which fear the eagle who soars above them). The eagle only fears the arrow of man and therefore carries his children on his wings saying .Better let the arrow enter me and not enter my children". So too God carried the Jewish people (Shmot 19:4) "al kanfei nesharim", "on the wings of eagles".

Rashi concludes: When the Egyptians pursued them and overtook them at the sea, the Egyptians propelled arrows and projectiles at the Jewish people. Immediately, God protected them. As it says in Shmot 14:19-20: "The angel of God moved from its position when it traveled in front of the camp of Israel and went behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them. It came between the Egyptian camp and the camp of Yisrael..."

Since the founding of the State of Israel, we are again conscious of the image of the eagle protecting its young. In 1949-1950 when 50,000 Jews were airlifted from Yemen, the Biblical phrase al kanfei nesharim was used to describe the airlift (It was also called Operation Magic Carpet which invokes images of Aladdin rather than the Torah.) As each airlift brought Jews emigrating from different countries such as Russia and Ethiopia to Israel, the term al kanfei nesharim was used again.

Over the past few years through the efforts of Nefesh B'Nefesh, we have seen full planes of North Americans arriving in Israel. I was fortunate enough to make Aliya on one of those flights last year. I truly felt that I was being lifted al kanfei nesharim.