Brooding

Today I went to visit my colleague’s baby. She gave birth on Monday, and ever since then, work has been completely crazy. I finally made it to her home today to see the reason for all the madness: less than two feet of skin and fuzz.

In truth, it is quite a beautiful baby. Long tapered fingers, sesame-seed-sized fingersnails, and two dark slits for eyes. I sat beside E on the coach and we ooh-ed and aah-ed for a good half hour. At least that’s what I thought we were doing, until another friend who happened to visit a chicken farm today told me that the proper word is actually “brooding.”

The first two dictionary definitions are relevant here: “To sit on or hatch eggs” (a la the mother bird brooding over her nest) or “to hover envelopingly” (a la the human mother brooding over the infant at her breast). The third meaning, “to meditate or be deep in thought,” may also be part and parcel of the earlier two (or at least the second, since I’m not sure how much meditating a bird-brain is capable of doing.)

I suspect that the Hebrew equivalent of “brooding” is “m’rachef,” because this term encapsulates all the above meanings. Examples can be found at the very beginning and at the very end of the Torah. In the second verse of Breishit, we are told that “the spirit of God hovered (m’racefet) on the face of the waters.” God was brooding over the waters, perhaps pondering the nature of the world He was about to create. And then at the end of the Torah, God is compared to an eagle hovering over its nestlings in His concern for His people: “He found him [Israel] in a desert region…He engirded him, watched over him…Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings, brooding over his young (al gozalav y’rachef), So did He spead His wings and take him [Israel].” God hovers lovingly over B’nei Yisrael in the incubatory world of the desert, waiting for us to hatch as individuals and as a nation.

But I personally think that all these meanings of “brooding” come together most beautifully in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur”:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. [k’vodo malei olam]
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. [shal na’alecha]

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. [m’rachefet]

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