Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On the Wings of Eagles - Table Talk for Yitro

Having lived through the recent Gaza war, Israel has seen its share of miraculous events. The story of the "mysterious woman" who saved numerous soldiers in Gaza has made the rounds around the world. Even less overtly miraculous events surrounded the Gaza War. When describing the recovery of 2nd Lieutenant Aharon Karov, "Doctors at Beillinson Hospital in Petah Tikvah called the soldier's rapid recovery miraculous." Other miracles occurred as well that Parshat Yitro allude to.
When introducing the giving of the Torah to Moshe and the Jewish People Hashem tells him,
כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב, וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם; וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל-כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי. (שמות י"ט:ד-ה)
"So you shall say to the house of Ya'akov and tell the Children of Israel: You saw that which I did to Egypt; and I carried you on the wings of eagles and I brought you to me." (Shemot 19:4-5)
Commentators wonder what Hashem means when he refers to carrying the people "On the wings of eagles." When did He carry the people at all? (Nowadays, as we fly to Israel in comfort on 777s, we have no trouble envisioning that image. But what did the Torah mean back then?) Different parshanim offer a number of possibilities, all of them figuratively.
Seforno explains the term in terms of uncharted territory: just as an eagle flies where no other bird can, so too did Hashem separate the Jewish people from the rest of the nations to bring them close to Him. Ibn Ezra sees the term as a symbol of strength - and of slow travel. The eagle cowers before no other bird, so he travels at his own deliberate pace without fear of attack. Similarly, Hashem could lead the Jewish people at a leisurely pace without fear of external attack.
Rashi also interprets the phrase symbolically, but in doing so offers us a new insight into the Divine protection that Hashem gives His people. Says Rashi,
כנשר הנושא גוזליו על כנפיו שכל שאר העופות נותנים את בניהם בין רגליהם לפי שמתיראין מעוף אחר שפורח על גביהם אבל הנשר הזה אינו מתירא אלא מן האדם שמא יזרוק בו חץ לפי שאין עוף אחר פורח על גביו לכך נותנו על כנפיו אומר מוטב יכנס החץ בי ולא בבני. אף אני עשיתי כן ויסע מלאך האלהים וגו' ויבא בין מחנה מצרים וגו' והיו מצרים זורקים חצים ואבני בליסטראות והענן מקבלם:
Like the eagle that carries his young on his wings; for all the other birds put their young between their feet, because they fear another bird flying above them. But this eagle only fears man, who may shoot an arrow (from below), for no other bird flies above her. For this reason she places her young on her wings saying, "It is better that the arrow should enter me than my child." So too – says God – did I do, (as it is written) "and the angel of God traveled…and he came between he camp of Egypt and the Jewish camp…" The Egyptians would shoot arrows and catapult stones – and the cloud would absorb them.
In other words, the "wings of eagles" formed a sort of shield, protecting the Jewish nation from external attack. No matter what the Egyptians fired at the people – whether weaker arrows or more powerful boulders – the projectiles continually missed their mark.
Does that sound familiar? To anyone living in Israel over the past few months, it's been a daily phenomenon. While we can never minimize the suffering of people who fell victim to Hamas attacks, time and time again the news would report multiple attacks and conclude the report by telling us that the rocket or mortar fell in an open area and end with the phrase, איש לא נפגע – "no injuries." Several times rockets fell in schools with no children in them. On days that school did meet the rockets fell out of range. Since 2005, Hamas has launched over 6,800 rockets and mortars into Israel. In 2008 3,278 rockets and mortar shells landed in Israeli territory. And while even one death is a tragedy, and Israelis have been injured and suffered from shock and trauma, the low, almost miniscule number of fatalities and injuries that we have suffered from such a withering attack is nothing short of miraculous.
It's almost like we're sitting "on the wings of eagles."