The very first message Moshe conveys on behalf of G-d after they encamp opposite Mount Sinai is to remind them, 'You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I had borne you on כנפי נשרים — the wings of eagles and brought you to Me.' (שמות יט ד)
Moshe continues to inform them that if they listen to G-d and observe the covenant, they will be the most beloved treasure of all peoples, becoming a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.
The purpose of the initial communication would seem to be intended to make them aware of how beloved they are in having merited an especial protection under the 'wings' of the Divine Presence.
Their being borne upon the 'wings of eagles' — who according to our tradition are heroically devoted to their young, soaring to great heights and placing their children protectively atop their wings, so that the hunters' arrows would be blocked and absorbed by its parent — is a metaphor for G-d's extraordinary devotion to His cherished children.
This would certainly be a most appropriate prelude to the acceptance of Torah, as it will put confidence into their hearts that no matter how difficult the undertaking of the yoke of the commandments may be, it is in their best interest, since they know that no one has their backs more than G-d.
The Targum Yonason though takes a different tack in understanding this verse. He asserts that we are to understand this verse in a more literal sense. He writes: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians; and how I have borne you upon the clouds as upon eagles' wings from Pelusin, to take you to the place of the sanctuary, there to solemnize the Pesach sacrifice; and in the same night brought you back to Pelusin, and from there have brought you nigh, to receive the doctrine of My law.
It might not have been actual 'eagles' that transported them, but on the 14th of Nissan the entire Jewish nation traveled to the Holy Land, carried on 'wings' — the Clouds of Glory — stopping at the Temple Mount, to slaughter the Pesach sacrifice upon the exact spot of the future Altar, and returning to consume it back in Egypt!
The emphasis, according to this Targum, is not as much about G-d's special protection, but more about a fantastical journey.
This is truly a marvelous feat deserving of awe, but how does this relate to the mission at hand, to accept the Torah? There were many other convincing miracles; the ten plagues, splitting of the sea, and the defeat of the Egyptians, what makes this more compelling, that is highlighted?
Reb Nachman of Breslov teaches that the nation מצרים — Egypt, is rooted in the word צרה — narrow, compressed, constricted, because it is a culture that is limited within the confines of the physical world. It only submits to nature and its restrictions.
The Jewish nation can transcend the material realm, flourishing in a world that confounds time, defies space, and conquers the carnal instincts of man that shackle men and quashes man's quest for the sublime.
On that fateful eve the nation 'beat the clock' gathering the scattered multitudes in record time, being transported to another state — the Temple Mount — and returning back to physically consume the Pesach sacrifice in spiritual ecstasy.
The Land of Israel is like none other, it operates beyond the laws of nature. Its focal point, the מקדש — Temple, is impervious to the elements, as indicated in the ten miracles that routinely transpired in its glory days.
G-d's protective embrace that is likened to the wings of an eagle, is equally indicative of His children's capacity to rise upon His back higher and above the 'ground zero' of an earthly existence and attain a consciousness of His presence that elevates us and separates from the gravitational pull of earthly urges and its consequences, even while we stand on 'terra firma'. (מכילתא)
The most vital lesson about the nature of a life immersed in, and defined by — Torah, is that we are bound to G-d and His word, not nature.
Rashi in the portion of Torah that commands us to wear ציצית — Tzitzis, cites a parallel between the expression regarding G-d carrying us on כנפי נשרים — wings of eagles, and the donning of Tzitzis on כנפי בגדיהם — corners of their garments.
He also adds, that the eight strings that comprise each of the group of twisted threads on each corner, correspond to the eight days that transpired from the day they 'left' Egypt, to the day they sang Shira after the splitting of the sea.
Didn't they leave on the morning of the 15th of Nissan — the first day of Pesach, and traversed through the sea on the Seventh of Pesach, seven days later? Why 8 strings?
The third Rebbe of Belz, Reb Yissochor Dov Rokeach, explained that based on the Targum it all makes sense. The first exodus took place on the 14th, Erev Pesach, when they quickly gathered, and 'flew' on the 'wings of eagles' to Yerushalayim, and eight days later passed through the sea on dry land.
The mitzvah of Tzitzis, which is a command that can accompany a person wherever he may go, envelops man within the, as it were, wings of the Divine Presence, creating an aura of protection, that immunizes those who fathom its depths, from the forces of gravity that lure man to sin.
The Arizal directs us to gather one's Tzitzit, when reciting the blessing immediately prior to Shma, at the verse where we beseech G-d to 'bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth and lead us with upright pride to our land…'.
It is also quoted in the name of the Arizal, that one should allow the Tallis that is bunched up on each of our shoulders until now, to drape down, embracing and wrapping us fully in its warmth.
We entreat G-d to elevate us in that realm that is impervious to the draw of earthiness, so that we may march upright to the sphere of holiness that is unique to the Promised Land.
These then are two sides of the same coin.
That first enlightening reality, that is the essence of what the mission of Torah is all about, is the entree into the world of a life of Torah. Once that goal is set, can we each begin the journey towards soaring to the heavens on the 'wings of eagles'!
צבי יהודה טייכמאן