ON THE WINGS OF EAGLES
In Parshat Lech Lecha, we read about the infamous battle and victory of the four kings over the five kings, during which Abraham's nephew Lot (who was living in the city of Sodom) was captured. Abraham attacks the four kings and successfully liberates Lot, along with all the captured wealth of the city of Sodom.
In Parshat Lech Lecha, we read about the infamous battle and victory of the four kings over the five kings, during which Abraham's nephew Lot (who was living in the city of Sodom) was captured. Abraham attacks the four kings and successfully liberates Lot, along with all the captured wealth of the city of Sodom. Upon Abraham's return from the battlefront, the king of Sodom and Shem (the son of Noah) greet Abraham. Shem gives Abraham a gift, which he accepts, yet Abraham refuses to accept anything from the king of Sodom, swearing not to take even "a string or a shoelace" (Genesis 14:23). The Midrash reports that in the merit of this oath, Hashem gave Abraham's descendants a mitzvah having to do with strings - tzitzit, and that is the subject of the final segment of this week's Torah portion. What was the greatness of Abraham's oath and why was he rewarded with the mitzvah of tzitzit?
"Hashem said to Moses: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make for themselves tzitzit on kanfei bigdeihem - the corners of their garments" (Numbers 15:37-38). Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, explains that the Hebrew word "kanfei - corners" can also be translated as "wings", corresponding to the description of the way that the Jewish people left Egypt "on kanfei nesharim - the wings of eagles" (Exodus 19:4). Rashi, commenting on that verse, elaborates that most birds carry their young beneath them in their feet so that they can protect them from the attack of birds swooping down from above. However, the eagle flies higher than all other birds, enabling it to carry its young on its back, since it does not have to fear an attack from above. How is this a description of how the Jewish people exited Egypt?
Rashi, in a third place, quotes the Midrash that when the time came for the exodus, the Children of Israel had no mitzvot in which to involve themselves to merit redemption. Hashem therefore gave them the mitzvot of brit milah (circumcision) and korban Pesach (Pascal lamb). Through their involvement in these two mitzvot, the Jewish people merited the exodus. These two mitzvot were unique because they defied the two basic characteristics of Egyptian life - idolatry and adultery. The Midrash reports that while in Egypt, the Jewish people participated in the worship of the Egyptian gods, one of which was the sheep. Their taking and slaughtering the Pascal lamb made the critical statement that idolatry is wrong and that the Jewish people wanted no part of the idolatrous Egyptian society. Similarly, adultery was the accepted norm in Egypt. The circumcision declared that there is a moral code that Hashem wants us to follow. Only by deciding to abandon the immoral society that they had become a part of and clinging to what Hashem says, could the Jewish people merit redemption.
The baby sparrow needs to do nothing to be transported by its mother. It is just picked up. But a baby eagle must cling to its mother's back so as not to fall off. This is how the Jewish people left Egypt - by letting go of Egyptian values and clinging to Hashem, as "on the wings of eagles".
This was also the greatness of Abraham's oath. Abraham had no problem accepting the gift from the righteous Shem, but would not take even as much as a string from the king of Sodom, about whose city the Torah attests, "The people of Sodom were wicked and sinful toward Hashem, exceedingly" (Genesis 13:13). Just as the Jewish people would many years later reject the immoral Egyptian society, so did Abraham reject even the slightest connection to the abominable society of Sodom. For this decision, Abraham's descendants received the mitzvah of tzitzit: "And they shall be for you tzitzit, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray. So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to your G-d" (Numbers 15:39-40). The tzitzit remind us of the 613 mitzvot and prompt us to perform them. They warn us not to follow the abominable society around us, no matter how attractive it is to our eyes and how intriguing its philosophies may be to our hearts. Rather, by performing all the mitzvot, we will cling to Hashem.
When we perform the mitzvot and carefully scrutinize ourselves to remove from within us those abominable influences of the society in which we live, and we weed out those philosophies which are incongruous with the service of Hashem, we will certainly merit to see the final redemption, speedily and in our days.
Avi Lowenstein, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Yeshiva Toras Moshe in Jerusalem.
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