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Why the Egg (Beitza) on the Passover Seder Plate?

Why the Egg (Beitza) on the Passover Seder Plate?

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Question:

As I brush up on the details of the Seder, one thing keeps bothering me. We always have an egg on the Seder plate, and we eat it without any pomp and circumstance during the Seder. I know all about the reasons for the matzah and maror (bitter herbs), but why an egg?

Reply:

You’re actually asking about two separate, albeit related, customs regarding the egg: a) having it on the Seder plate; and b) eating it.

Let’s start with the Seder plate.

In Memory of the Sacrifices

In addition to the paschal lamb (korban pesach) that was brought for Passover, there was an offering called a korban chagigah (festival sacrifice).

On each of the three festivals—Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot—there was a mitzvah to go to Jerusalem and celebrate in G‑d’s House. Since it would be inappropriate for one to come emptyhanded, there was a special mitzvah to bring a a festival offering to be enjoyed during the holiday.1

On Passover, the korban chagigah was (usually2) offered on the fourteenth of Nissan, along with the korban pesach. In commemoration of these two offerings, the sages instituted that there be two cooked dishes at the Seder.3

Others explain that these two dishes are meant to correspond to the two messengers, Moses and Aaron, whom G‑d sent to take the Jews out of Egypt.4

These two cooked foods are traditionally the shank or neck of a chicken, and an egg. Why the egg? Some say because it is very easy to cook.5 But there are deeper explanations as well.

Food As Prayer

The classic explanation given in the name of the Jerusalem Talmud is that it is customary that one dish be a zero’a (usually a shankbone) to correspond to the korban pesach, because the word zero’a literally means “arm,” alluding to the verse which states, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm . . .”6; and that the other, corresponding to the korban chagigah, should be an egg. In Aramaic, an egg is called bey’a, which also means “pray” or “please.” Thus, the foods silently plead, “May it please the Merciful G‑d to redeem us with an outstretched arm.”7

Eggs in Mourning

Others explain that an egg—a traditional food of mourning, since its rounded shape symbolizes the cycle of life—expresses our mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple and the lack of these sacrifices.8

Consolation in Egypt

Along with mourning comes with consolation. Thus, some say that the egg evokes the suffering and subsequent consolation from G‑d that the Israelites experienced. This is in line with what we say in the Haggadah, “Therefore, it is our duty to thank and praise . . . He who did all these miracles for our fathers and for us. He took us out from slavery to freedom . . . and from mourning to festivity . . .”9

Free from Paganism

Many of the ancient Egyptians held religious beliefs that prevented them from consuming meat, fish or eggs. On the night that we celebrate being taken out of Egyptian bondage, we make sure to have both meat and eggs on the Seder plate, showing that we are not bound by their pagan beliefs.10

The Mouths of Our Enemies

We use an egg, which has no opening, for on this day “the mouths of our enemies became sealed shut” like the smooth, closed egg.11 When witnessing the miracles of Exodus, it became clear to all that G‑d was protecting the Israelites, His favored people.

Eating the Egg at the Seder

The following reasons, although similar to the above reasons for the egg placement, were specifically given by various commentaries regarding the eating of the egg (with other reasons given for the egg placement), so I have therefore distinguished them:

More Mourning

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rema) explains that the custom of eating the egg at the Seder is an outgrowth of having an egg on the Seder plate, and it is eaten as a way of mourning the destruction of the Temple and the lack of the korban pesach.12 Others explain that while the egg is placed on the Seder plate in commemoration of the korban chagigah, it is eaten as a sign of mourning.13

Rabbi Isserles points out that the night of the Seder has a unique connection to the destruction of the Temple, as the first day of Passover always falls out on the same day of the week as the Ninth of Av, the day of the destruction of the Temple.14

According to others, there is a tradition that Abraham passed away on the night of Passover, and the egg is eaten to mourn his passing.15

Egg With an Eye to the Future

While many of the explanations about the egg have to do with mourning our past, the egg also symbolizes our hope and prayer for the future. When a chicken lays an egg, the egg appears to be a completed object. Yet in truth it isn’t complete, and the egg is just a preparation for the live creature that will emerge from it later. So too the Exodus from Egypt, while at first appearing to be an end in itself, in truth is only a preparation for the Final Redemption, with the coming of Moshiach—may it be speedily in our days!16

Footnotes
1.
See Deuteronomy 16:14; Talmud, Chagigah 6b; Sefer ha-Mitzvot, positive commandment 54; Sefer ha-Chinuch, mitzvah 488.
2.
If the fourteenth was Shabbat, then although they would still bring the korban pesach on that day, they would defer the korban chagigah.
3.
Talmud, Pesachim 114b.
4.
Maaseh Rokeach 59, citing a responsum from Rabbi Sherira Gaon.
5.
Kol Bo 50, cited by Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim 473.
7.
Orchot Chaim, Leil Pesach 12; Kol Bo 50; Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim 473, citing the Jerusalem Talmud. It appears to missing in the standard editions of the Jerusalem Talmud. See, however, the addenda (hashmatot) to the Jerusalem Talmud, Pesachim, ch. 10, and Sefer Raavyah (ed. Aptowitzer) sec. 525, p. 162, fn. 3.
8.
Kol Bo 50; Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim 473. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that according to this reason, it would seem that our ancestors had once used other types of foods, and it was only after the destruction that they started using eggs (Haggadah Shel Pesach Im Likkutei Taamim u-Minhagim, Seder Haggadah, s.v. ha-Zero’a and ha-Beitzah).
9.
Kol Bo 50.
10.
Keter Shem Tov (Gaguine), vol. 3, p. 94, based on Ibn Ezra, Exodus 8:22.
11.
Amarekel, cited in Haggadah Sheleimah, p. 66.
12.
Darchei Moshe, Orach Chaim 473:10. See also Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, Orach Chaim 476:6.
13.
See Haggadah Shel Pesach Im Likkutei Taamim u-Minhagim, Seder Haggadah, s.v. Ha-Zero’a, ha-Beitzah and Shulchan Orech.
14.
Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 476:2.
15.
Leket Yosher, p. 85.
16.
Seder Haggadah, Sefer ha-Zemanim by Rabbi Yaakov of Izhbitz, s.v. Shulchan Orech.
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Discussion (24)
November 11, 2016
Egg
My family does the Passover meal but we don't really do the egg at all, is that bad? I mean, we do just about everything else.
BZ
Indiana, United States
April 21, 2016
Can I boil the eggs the day before please?
Angy Sander
London
April 20, 2016
To Amy
It's enough to have one whole egg on the Seder plate and for the Seder leader to eat it at the right time during the Seder. You can choose to provide whole eggs for the guests or cut them in half or quarters.
Chabad.org Staff
chabadone.org
April 19, 2016
Who eats it?
If you have many people at your passover table, should you provide an egg each or just one to be eaten?
Amy J
Auckland, NZ
April 1, 2015
boiled egg?
I thought it had to be a roasted egg, not boiled. That was according to Hungarian tradition....
Anonymous
Melbourne
May 11, 2014
Re:
Although the egg itself is on the seder plate to remember the sacrifice in the Temple, it itself is not a sacrifice, and therefore may be eaten. The custom not to eat the shankbone on the seder plate, is not because it itself is a sacrifice, but rather because it may be confused to be a sacrifice, and may appear as if one is eating sacrifices outside of the Temple. The egg, however, is clearly not a sacrifice, and is merely a remembrance, and therefore may be eaten.
(See Shulchan Aruch Admu"r HaZaken OC 473:21 and 476:6)
Shaul Wolf
May 7, 2014
Thanks for the response. I was thinking about burying it as well. Sacrifices don't belong in the trash and considering it is a symbol of mourning, it seems fitting for it to be buried.
Cherisa Rempe
Gulf Shores
May 7, 2014
Gulf Shores Question
you could bury it. That's what my friends do.
Anonymous
May 7, 2014
I found out within the past year that I am Jewish on both sides of my family and I liked to learn more about Jewish customs and traditions. So if the egg is considered an offering and not to be eaten, according to the March 19th Anonymous poster, what do you do with the egg when you're finished with your plate? Just throw the offering in the trash??
Anonymous
Gulf Shores
April 7, 2014
Re: Anon COLO
In order to have a complete Seder plate, as per Jewish custom, one must have an egg on the Seder plate.
Zecher L'chagigah
East Jerusalem