Like an Eagle Protecting Its Young

How do you view your relationship with God? Is God watching your every action, sentencing you to judgment? Is God in the clouds, waiting for our prayers to ascend to Him? Is God leading us into battle, the “Man of War”?

My favorite image of God occurs in this week’s Torah portion. In the second Aliyah, God is described “as an eagle, fluttering over his young, He extends his wings, grasps them, He bears them on His wing.” God protects us from predatory forces that might lead us astray or take us on a path towards destruction, just as the eagle protects its young. Rashi from 11th century France comments that the eagle does not enter his nest suddenly, rather causing a commotion and disturbance over his children with his wings, between one tree and another, between one branch and the next, so that his children are roused and are capable of receiving him.” Upon first glance we must ask what is this about? How can a commotion or a rustling caused by the parent be good for the fledglings? The answer is that we are often sound asleep, missing God’s presence in our lives and in the world at large. We need this noise, just as we need the sound of the shofar, to wake us up and recognize God’s presence in our lives.

Rashi continues with his comment on why God is like an eagle fluttering over his young. He comments that God does not press Himself on them, rather hovering, touching yet not touching. This is like God who did not hit the Israelites hard from one direction but rather from all four. If something is right in front of you, you feel it, but if it hovers around you on all sides, like air or energy, you don’t always notice it. That is true with God, who is everywhere yet on account of being omnipresent is difficult to notice or feel.

Rashi’s commentary continues, describing God as an eagle setting its young on its wings. He points out a difference between an eagle and the other birds. Most birds put their young in their talons, which can be painful or at the least uncomfortable, for the young. If the children were on the wings of the parent, they would be vulnerable to birds of prey, like the eagle. The eagle, however, according to Rashi, can fly higher than all the other birds, and thus has the luxury of carrying its young on its wings. This is also how God is described in Parshat Yitro, when He reminds the Israelites how He carried them on eagles’ wings out of the land of Egypt.
Martin Buber, the 20th century philosopher, has an exquisite interpretation on this biblical verse. He asserts that the eaglets are afraid to fly, huddling together in the eyrie. The eagle arouses them, flapping his wings and hovering over them. Then he spreads his wings and sets one of the young upon his pinion, carrying it away, and by throwing it into the air and catching it, he teaches it to fly freely. What a beautiful image! If you have children, think about how you trained your child to ride a bike without training wheels: the trepidation that your child had to get on the bike, the reassurance you gave by holding onto the handlebars and s/he started to peddle, the fear s/he had as you let go, perhaps falling and scraping his/her knee but then the sheer thrill and enjoyment when s/he was able to ride on his/her own without training wheels.

This is in accord with how I see life. We are all afraid of making changes. Our parents (and our ultimate Parent, God) assure us that it’s ok to make changes, taking baby steps at a time. We take one step forward, then perhaps a small step backwards, but then we proceed forward on the path of our destiny. Sometimes we have to take a leap, as when the eagle lets go of its young in the air. When we leap, however, we need to remember that God is there, protecting us from crashing. God will always be like the eagle, hovering over us but at the same time enabling us to have the courage to take the steps we need to take. My prayer is that we have the wisdom to move forward, rather than letting the fear of the unknown and the comfort of inertia dominate our thoughts. Let us continue to feel God’s presence in our lives and move forward believing that God is with us as an eagle protects its young.

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