A cheder pupil once asked me, with an expression of great puzzlement on her face, why there was a bird sitting on top of the keter Torah, the Torah crown, in the Ark. As I explained about the verse in Deuteronomy which described the paternal care shown by an eagle to its chicks as an example of God's care for the Israelites when they wandered in the desert, comprehension dawned, and for at least the next three years she asked me every Sunday to show her "the eagle in the Ark".
The wildlife documentaries that delight many of us have chosen birds of prey as a subject frequently and it is easy to understand why, for large or small, they are majestic and magnificent birds. But nothing enthrals more than when the lethal airborne killing machine becomes a tender parent, tearing tiny strips of meat off prey to feed its young, and, when hot, spreading its wings over the nest to protect its vulnerable infants.
This Shabbat finds us at our most vulnerable, poised between the Day of Judgement and the Day of Atonement, uniquely aware as we are of our sins, our failings and our inadequacies: when we turn to God at this time, if our repentance is to be efficacious in the long term, we do not need the equivalent of a divine security blanket giving us comfort, but rather we need to feel the presence of the God of power, authority, reward and punishment. We need to soften the sternness of God's face with our sincere regrets, with our prayers and our confessions and feel that face turned towards us in love, acceptance and forgiveness, suffused with the tenderness a mighty eagle shows its young.
Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh