In our last talk about the magnificent Bald Eagle, we left you at the point where we mentioned the symbolic importance of the "King of the Birds" to many nations of the past and present. To the Roman caesars, as to the German emperors and Russian czars, the eagle served as a symbol of power. The United States adopted the Bald Eagle on its national emblem as a symbol of independence. However, long before these nations adopted the eagle for their national emblems and coats-of-arms, the eagle, as a symbol, meant something quite different to the Jewish people.

Whereas, to other nations the eagle has been a symbol of physical strength, the eagle is physically an "unclean" (non-kosher) bird for Jews. It is mentioned first of the unclean birds enumerated in the Torah, in deference to the eagle's "royal" standing (Lev. 11: 13). However, the eagle has a wonderful way with his young; he is most kind and solicitous towards his helpless eaglets. Describing the manner in which G‑d had brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, G‑d said, " And I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you unto Me." (Exod. 19:4). Commenting on this verse, our Sages declare that this does not refer merely to the swiftness with which G‑d led us from Egypt to Mount Sinai, but also to the loving care and protection, which G‑d bestowed upon them. "The eagle-our Sages explain-acts differently than other birds. Other birds carry their young in their feet for fear of a stronger bird that might swoop down upon them. But the eagle fears only man who might shoot an arrow from below; therefor he carries his young on his wings (Deut. 32: 11), in order to shield them with his own body" (Mechilta, Yisro 19; Tanhuma, Ekev 2). This is a reference to the Pillar of Cloud, which G‑d placed between the fleeing children of Israel and the pursuing Egyptians, which absorbed all the arrows, which the Egyptians shot at them.

In his famous Song Haazinu, Moshe Rabbenu speaks in similar terms:

He (G‑d) found him (the people Israel) in a desert land,
And in the waste of a howling wilderness;
He led him about, He instructed him
He kept him as the apple of His eye.
As an eagle stirs up his nest, flutters over his young;
Spreads over his wings, takes them, Bears them on his wing,
So G‑d alone did lead him. ...

(Deut. 32: 10-12).

The eagle is the symbol of mercy (rachamim) in Jewish thinking (Zohar III, 233a). Mercy is one of the great qualities with which G‑d created the world and takes care of all His creatures. This Divine quality is symbolized by the image of an "eagle's face" in the vision of the Heavenly Throne which the Prophet Ezekiel describes (1: 10) .It is one of the first of the Thirteen Attributes (Mercy of G‑d (Exod. 34:6f.). Mercy is not "blind" love, nor is it strict and impartial justice-love's contrast (in the scale of positive qualities). Mercy is a perfect blend of both love and justice, with love as the chief (but not sole) ingredient. It is a very important, perhaps the most important quality.

Inasmuch as we must emulate G‑d's qualities, we must strive to develop this great virtue of mercy. We must have compassion with other creatures, even though they may not be worthy of our love. Above all, we must have mercy upon our own soul, which has a very hard time during its confinement in our body. It came to us from heaven, where it was so near to G‑d, in order to bring life and light to our body through the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of the Mitzvoth, which are G‑d's Wisdom and Will. But all too often, the tables are turned, and the poor soul is crowded out and almost "evicted" from its nest by the material desires and passions of the body. At such a time, especially, it is necessary to arouse the quality of mercy upon our soul, and this can best be attained during daily prayers if we take the trouble to concentrate on what we are saying, and pray with due devotion. In this way we can help our soul "stir up-the nest...flutter... spread forth its wings" and bring us closer to G‑d. Indeed, the " Alter Rebbe," the author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch, explains this verse in terms of Teshuvah-repentance and return to G‑d (Likutei Torah, Haazinu 77c f.).

We do not have to "acquire" this quality of mercy; it is already embedded in our soul. We only have to give this quality a chance to be expressed in our daily life.

King Solomon marvels at the "way of the eagle in the sky" (Prov. 30:19). A wonderful sight it is indeed to see an eagle soaring majestically high in the air, until it is but a speck in the sky. It stirs in our mind the wonder of the soul as it, too, constantly yearns to soar upwards to the heavens above.