Yossi Feintuch

God loves the eagle!

In this weekly (monumental) Torah portion Yitro (Jethro) God reminds the people how He (metaphorically) borne it ‘’on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me’’. What is in the eagle (nesher in the Hebrew) that is so admirable, so God resembles His carrying the people in the wilderness like the eagle carries its eaglets on its back?

In his last farewell poem at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses invokes the image of the eagle (likely the golden eagle or the griffon vulture) as a model for teaching and protecting its children. Indeed, the eagle “stir[s] up the nestlings’’ to wake them up so they would leave the nest and learn to fly. Obviously, flying for all fowl means life, while the Torah demands: ‘’…and choose life’’ which is understood by the Rabbis to mean teaching one’s child a craft or profession to be able to make a decent living.

And it is the eagle parent whose total dedication to successfully teaching its children how to fly, even in record heights, that might serve — as such — a role model for human parents.

By hovering ‘’over his fledglings’’ while spreading out his wings to take and carry his eaglets ‘’on his pinions’’, as Moses puts it (Deuteronomy 32:11) the eagle, as Rashi comments, does not suddenly enter its nest; rather, it hovers nearby it in order to first awaken its eaglets. And when it takes them on its back – unlike all other birds who carry their young ones by their pinions as a means of protection from the eagle itself who flies higher than them – the eagle exposes itself to a hunter’s arrow, thus protecting the life of its eaglets with its own body. Hence, the eagle is a symbol of the kind of supreme protection that God provides Israel with.

Moses speaks of an eagle’s care for its fledglings as an obvious analogy with God’s care for Israel during the wilderness wandering. Since the Torah enjoins its followers to ‘’follow in God’s pathways’’ (D 28:9), or imitate God to wit, it is the eagle’s ways that are to be emulated.

David the Psalter must have known of the severe molting, or the shedding of their feathers, that eagles undergo for two weeks at about five years of age only to be “renewed”; David wishes for God to similarly renew his own spirit and redeem it ‘’from the pit … [and be] ‘’renewed like the eagle’s’’ (Psalms 103: 4-5). Isaiah too is aware of the eagle’s renewal in its worn-out feathers from which he derives inspiration for the exiled Judeans in Babylon.  Why, the Persian king, Cyrus, is about to defeat and supersede Babylon, and thus adumbrate a new era and revival for the Judeans, even their restoration to their homeland.

Yet, Rashi and Ibn Ezra relate the exiled Judeans’ renewal of strength to the bird’s wings that regain their ultimate strength as the day progresses and hot air currents replace the cold air of the morning hours, when these birds rest on the ground or on rock ledges. The eagle restores its strength daily with the warming up of the air as it restarts its daily and circular flight that does not require active flapping of the wings and allows it to glide at ease once it reaches its desirable altitude. And from there on repeating the same pattern, namely, gliding to the next stream of hot air is what allows the bird to remain afloat with a minimal waste of energy. These are powerful lessons that Bible readers can learn from the eagle.  Hence, God’s resemblance His own protection of Israel to the eagle’s ways.

About the Author
Ordained a Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994; in 2019 this institution accorded me the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. Following ordination I served congregations on the island of Curacao, in Columbia, MO. Currently serving a congregation in Bend, Or. I received academic degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (B.A. in International Relations and History), New York University (M.A. in History), and Emory University (Ph.D. in U.S. History). I am the author of U.S. Policy on Jerusalem (Greenwood Press), and numerous articles on biblical themes in various print and digital publications. I have taught in several academic institutions, including Ben-Gurion University (Beersheba, Israel), and the University of Missouri (Columbia, MO). A native of Afula, Israel. A veteran of the IDF.