After Yitro’s conspicuous visit to his son-in-law Moshe and much less conspicuous exit, the Jewish People enter the Desert of Sinai, approach and camp opposite Mount Sinai. Hashem calls out to the people from the mountain:
אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם; וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל-כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי וְעַתָּה, אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת בְּרִיתִי וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים, כִּי לִי כָּל הָאָרֶץ.
You have seen what I have done to Egypt, how I carried you on the wings of eagles and brought you to me. Now, if you will listen to My voice and keep My covenant, you will be my treasure between the nations, for all of the earth is mine. (שמות י”ט:ג’-ד’)
Just as we saw last week, Hashem is trying to impart to the Jewish People the importance of keeping the mitzvot by reminding them of the miraculous events of the previous months. Now, right before Hashem gives them the Torah, is an ideal time to look back to the otot and nifla’ot of the Exodus, and forward- to entering Eretz Yisrael “על כנפי נשרים,” settling there, being Hashem’s “סגולה מכל העמים.”
The phrase “ואשא אתכם על כנפי נשרים” seems, on the most basic level, to explain the miraculous way in which Hashem flew Am Yisrael out of Egypt and planned to drop them into Israel. Looking forward in the Chumash, we know that this will involve pillars of fire and cloud, impossible victories against massive armies and giant enemies, and other divine miracles. However, it is curious that Hashem uses this exact phrase to explain it. Any American, especially one from Philadelphia (home of the Eagles football franchise), cannot help but be filled with pride when looking at the majestic image of the bald eagle with its wings spread out. But, do not forget that our ancestors were taken out of Egypt by Hashem millennia before Spain, the country that forced out countless Jews from their homes, and deported Christopher Columbus to leave for the New World, was even thought of being founded. Why would Hashem use the eagle to symbolize our miraculous exit from slavery and entry into Israel?
Rav Teichtel takes this a step further in Em Habanim Semecha (Perek 3: Ot 18) by reminding us of an interesting fun fact that I myself had always known but never appreciated until I read this writing: the eagle, majestic as it is, is not a Kosher bird. In fact, as a bird of prey, it is very much out of our dietary purview (seeויקרא י”א and דברים י”ד)- even the most die-hard, observant American Jew would never consider adding a bald eagle to his July 4th barbeque menu.
With this in mind, Rav Teichtel asks; why would Hashem relate the Exodus to a non-Kosher animal? Surely the amazingness of yetziat mitzrayim could have been expressed just as well by using the imagery of a dove, or a sparrow. In fact, it’s hard to believe that anyone would have doubted how miraculously Hashem took us out of Egypt if He said He flew us out on the wings of a chicken, as domestic breeds cannot fly in the air for more than a couple of feet. Yet, here, our ancestors were told that they were taken out on the wings of the nesher, a bird of prey explicitly forbidden from being eaten by Jews. Why?
Rav Teichtel answers that the use of “וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל-כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי ” is a hint that is less intended for the דור באי הארץ in biblical times, and more for the דור באי הארץ in our times; that the final geu’lah may not come about in the most clean and “Kosher” way. When the time of redemption comes, many Jews will look at the vehicle that Hashem sent, the eagle, and will question if it’s really G-d-sent or not. “Why would Hashem send a non-Kosher vehicle to bring us home” they’ll ask, “if it’s really time for mashiach, then we’ll know, because Hashem will send a Kosher bird to fly us home.”
However, the symbolism of the כנפי נשרים in our sedra should serve as a reminder to these Jews that even though Hashem’s messenger to redeem our scattered exile will not appear to be Kosher, they should nonetheless realize that it is divinely sent, and it is a sign that our time of redemption has arrived. As Rav Yehuda HaLevi put it so nicely in Sefer Hakuzari: “וזה מוסר השכל לאלו התחסדים בזמנינו, ומביאים דיבה רעה על ישיבת הארץ מטעם שאין די כשר להם- and this is appropriate mussar for those who have made themselves [overly-] pious in our times, and speak badly of settling in Eretz Yisrael because it isn’t ‘kosher’ enough for them.” (as quoted in Em Habanim Semeacha, Perek 2, Ot 23)
Hashem has seen two millennia of Jews keeping mitzvot and staying strong in their emunah, and He has finally given us an incredible opportunity to return home, to be a סגולה בין העמים on the highest level. Following the founding of Medinat Yisrael in 1948, He not only opened the doors to return home, but sent the eagle to our doorsteps. Israel is perhaps the only country in the world that not only opens its doors to Jewish emigration, but pays immigrants to come… like significant amounts of money for newcomers to join the already-crowded cities. Not a bad deal, right?
Many, unfortunately, miss this entirely, as they see the eagle hovering outside of their window, waiting for them to board the non-stop flight to Tel Aviv and refuse to leave. They only see the non-observant Jews who run the State of Israel, and the secular Israeli state, which is not yet run on Torah law. They refuse to join, saying that there is no chance that these non-observant Jews, this divine-sent eagle, could possibly be part of the overall process of redemption. They ask; how could those who don’t observe even the basic tenets of Judaism, the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, possibly lead us in the geu’lah, to being a סגולה בין העמים?
To the woefully misled Jews who feel this way, I remind them of the “preamble” to the עשרת הדברות, the preface to the Ten Commandments. In order to truly be a סגולה בין העמים, we must see the eagle before us for what is, realize that its non-Kosher nature is part of Hashem’s ultimate plan, and enthusiastically jump on its spread wings and fly on it home to Eretz Yisrael.
May each and every one of us merit to fulfill this vision, Hashem’s dream for us and our dream for ourselves of being His treasure among the nations of the world, very very soon.