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Family Service: Dvar Torah for Parshat Yitro

by Rabbi Dorit Edut

Everytime  I get on an airplane, I always say the Traveler’s Prayer which asks God to protect us from all kinds of mishaps and perils and to bring us safely to our destination.  It is a beautiful prayer, giving us much reassurance, as we ask God to “lead us toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace..” In fact, observant Jews say this prayer almost everyday because traditionally it is to be said if you are going more than 3 miles – and that, in our modern world, is something we do just to get to our schools, jobs, or shopping places.  While these can hardly be compared with overseas travel, yet taking the time to stop and be aware of how everytime we go somewhere, we are in need of some protection. Maybe we assume this happens naturally, or we are comforted by knowing that we have good insurance policies – but we can also stop and express our appreciation  that God has been watching over us and  ask that God continue to do so. Also we prepare ourselves this way to meet whatever challenges or opportunities will face us with an upbeat manner, knowing that there is always the chance  for us to bring more  peace, comfort, joy, and life into this world by our words and actions.

But what about our ancestors, how did they face the greatest journey of their lives – leaving Egypt for an unknown world, going straight into the desert under Moses leadership?  The Midrash tells us that  God comforted them by reminding them just how God had helped them get out of Egypt and protect them when the Egyptian armies came after them.  The Torah verse we read says : “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me.”  Why does God refer to an eagle? Isn’t this a fearful bird, a bird of prey? No, says the  midrash in Mechilta – The eagle is unlike every other bird that carries its young between its feet for fear of an attack by a bigger bird.  The eagle, however, is not afraid of other birds, but only of humans. Therefore, it carries its young on its back, willing to risk being pierced by a human arrow or missile from below  while protecting  its young this way.  So God was protecting the Jewish people from the Egyptians  and further shielded them with the Cloud of Glory through which the Egyptians could not see. 

How beautiful and comforting is this image! In fact, when the Jews from Yemen,  a small country on the Arabian Peninsula, were rescued and  brought to Israel  by airplane – which they thought was a big bird – they called this Operation On the Wings of An Eagle. There is also something very majestic about the flight of an eagle – perhaps that is also why it has become the national symbol of our United States .  But I think here it is also to remind of  both the awesome power of God and of God’s expectations of us. We were taken on this journey for a reason – and the reason given is simply but elegantly stated in our Torah portion: to become a kingdom of priests and a holy people. If we have the job of bringing peace to our world , then this is very special work that requires us to try in all the tasks of our daily life , everything that we encounter on our daily trips, to act with  an  awareness of the sanctity of life. Let us act like the eagle in protecting others who need our help and being courageous in the face of those who would try to stop us. Shabbat Shalom!