In the beginning of Parashat Haazinu, Moshe describes the tenderness with which God cared for Benei Yisrael in the wilderness, comparing the Almighty to an eagle waking its young: “As an eagle arousing its nest – it flutters over its chicks” (32:11). Rashi, citing the Sifrei, explains that when an eagle comes to its nest while its chicks are sleeping, it does not fly straight into the nest, which would overwhelm and frighten them. It rather patiently hovers over the nest to wake its young slowly and gently. This analogy is used to describe God’s love and concern for people as He brought them into the wilderness and gave them the Torah.
It is hard to ignore the educational message allegorically conveyed by Chazal in this passage. When we seek to “arouse” our youngsters, to inspire them with religious devotion and draw them into the service of the Almighty, we need to proceed slowly, tenderly, and patiently. If we come at them too swiftly or too directly, we will overwhelm them. Youngsters need time to “awaken,” to grow, to develop, and to build a commitment. Chazal here urge us to follow the example of the eagle, which patiently gives its young a chance to awaken slowly, at a pace which is appropriate for them, without intimidating or overwhelming them.
In describing the eagle’s tender method of waking its young, Rashi writes that as it hovers over the nest, “nogei’a ve-eino nogei’a” – it touches the chicks ever so gently, barely making contact, in order not to frighten them. In education, too, we must employ the method of “nogei’a ve-eino nogei’a” – delicately balancing the child’s need for close attention and control with their need for personal space. Parents and educators need to be close to their charges, but not too close; we need to get involved enough to positively influence them, but not so involved that they are unable to grow and develop at a pace and in a direction that suits their particular needs, inclinations and temperaments. Just as the eagle exercises patience with its young, caring for them gently and tenderly, so must we give our charges the space, patience and sensitivity they need to “awaken” in a way that is right for them.