Pesach – a time to take flight

  • ChiefRabbi
As Pesach approaches, I am drawn to the verse that describes how G-d took us out of Egypt “on the wings of eagles” (Exodus 19:4). Each year, we are told to relive the experience of leaving Egypt, and I imagine being lifted from slavery and oppression “on the wings of eagles”. What better way could there be to express our transition from the earthly bonds that constrain us to the spiritual transcendence that G-d gave us than through the exhilarating, soaring rush of the eagle’s flight.

Rashi explains that there is far more to this analogy. Based on the Midrash, he says that the eagle’s wings represent the nature of G-d’s protection over us. The eagle is unique. While other birds carry their young in their talons because they fear the eagle which soars above them, the eagle carries its young on its wings. As a bird which flies higher than any other, it has no fear of attack from above. All it fears are the arrows of man from below. This is how G-d protects us. We cling to Him, rushing and soaring to freedom, safe in the knowledge that we are protected from above.

The remarkable thing about Jewish history is, simply put, that we are still here. We are part of an eternal nation, connected to each of the generations who came before us. We are protected by G-d, riding on the wings of eagles, as we rise above all the adversity that has confronted us throughout the ages and across the continents, to survive, albeit sometimes bloodied and wounded, but ultimately to thrive.

As a people under G-d’s watchful care, we have defied all of the laws of history. Even today, as Israel celebrates 71 years of G-d’s miracles and protection, the country is still surrounded by implacable enemies, but G-d continues to carry and protect us on eagle’s wings, helping us to soar above our adversaries and those who seek to destroy us.

But there is even more to this analogy. The rush of the eagle’s flight also conveys the speed with which G-d liberated us from Egypt. The matzah that we eat on the seder night, a symbol of our redemption for all time, is an annual reminder that our bread didn’t even have time to rise. The rushed departure itself has become emblematic of the exodus. The Maharal explains that the lightning speed of the exodus was a manifestation of G-d breaking through the natural world and its constraints. We did not leave the bondage of Egypt through a natural, historical process, which takes time. Our redemption was an instantaneous, divine process. It was supernatural.

This divine dynamism – depicted by the image of a soaring eagle – becomes a call to action: “Be light as an eagle” says the Mishna in Pirkei Avot. Too often, we get bogged down by life. We become consumed with angst, submerged in introspection and inertia. The Mishna urges us to live life energetically and enthusiastically. Like an eagle. With a sense of urgency for the task at hand, which is to uplift ourselves and our world through our mitzvot. The Maharal says that this sense of urgency comes directly from the soul; it is a supernatural force that infuses our heavy, lifeless bodies with an electrifying pulse. It is, in fact, the source of life itself.

“On the wings of eagles” reflects another inspiring dimension of the great moment of the exodus. G‑d took us out of Egypt to soar with the vision and mission of the Torah, which elevates our lives. The mitzvot are a framework for living life on a higher plane, for soaring “on the wings of eagles” – directing our energy to productive and creative living, forging close relationships with our creator, with our fellow human beings, and with ourselves – ultimately building a better world.

When we live “on the wings of eagles”, when we soar above the material view of our world, we get a different perspective on life. The Torah tells us that the world we live in is not a random accumulation of molecules that came about in an ad hoc and haphazard way. It teaches us that there is structure and intention to reality. It assures us that an all-knowing, all-loving creator made everything with purpose, that He implanted within our bodies an immortal soul, and that everything we do can be infused with meaning, purpose, and eternal significance.

Freedom is about transcendence and our potential to reach for greatness. Freedom gives us a renewed perspective on life – the ability to look down on the world from soaring heights and see its beauty, meaning, and purpose. To see its G-dliness.

As we sit around our seder tables this year, let us feel the inspiration of being carried by G-d “on the wings of eagles”.


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