The Torah Text
In Moses’ long poem, he describes God metaphorically “like an eagle who rouses his nestlings, hovering (yerachef) over his young, so did God spread God’s wings and take him [i.e. Israel], bear him along on God’s pinions” (Deuteronomy 32:11).
Ibn Ezra’s Teaching
ירחף. בנסעם מגזרת מרחפת וכן הענן עליהם בנסעם
Deuteronomy 32:11 HOVERING. When they journey. Yerachef (hovering) is related to the word merachefet (hovering) (Genesis 1:2). The cloud acted similarly when Israel journeyed. (Translation Strickman and Silver)
Reflections for the Path
Ibn Ezra points out that a word in this penultimate parashah links back to the very second verse in Torah. In Genesis, at the very beginning of things, the spirit or wind of God (ruach elohim) is described as hovering over the depths, conjuring a mysterious and dynamic image of God immediately prior to the unfolding of creation as we know it.
According to tradition, Moses wrote down Genesis at God’s dictation, and would have been familiar with this description of God. In his poem, then, perhaps there is significance to his linking God-as-Creator with God-as-Redeemer-of-Israel through the use of the word hovering.
In the Kiddush prayer over wine that sanctifies the beginning of Shabbat, we are told that Shabbat is zecher litziat mitzrayim (a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt) and also zikaron l’ma’asei bereishit (a remembrance of the works of creation). In Jewish tradition, we connect to God on two foundations, the very fact of existence at all (creation) and the historical facts of redemption from difficulty (exodus).
Moses adds a hovering God of the Exodus to a hovering God of the Creation. Like a mother eagle hovering over baby eagles as they fly, so too God was present with the Israelites on their journey from Egypt to Canaan.
Ibn Ezra suggests that the hovering happened in the form of the cloud, an apt observation considering that clouds usually float by, rather than stay and hover over people like the divine cloud did in the wilderness.