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The Egg in Exodus

The Egg in Exodus


At Passover Seders around the world, one of the items on the Seder plate will be a simple hard-boiled egg. I would like to spend a moment on what we learn from this egg, how it truly encapsulates what Passover is all about, and one of the messages it has for us today.

One of the reasons we have the egg at the Seder is because it symbolizes the beginning of life, and Passover marks the very beginning of our national existence. But it’s more exact than that. The egg reflects the precise position of the Jewish people at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.

The egg reflects the precise position of the Jewish people at the time of the Exodus from EgyptLet’s look at the journey of our egg. The egg is first inside the hen. It is then laid and thereby freed from the constraints previously imposed upon it. But has the egg been hatched? Has a little chick emerged from the shell yet? The answer is no. The egg, you see, is only potential life. It is not yet a living being. One day, please G‑d, a chick will emerge and the cycle of life will continue.

When the Jewish People left Egypt they were just like that—an unhatched egg. Free from the prison of Egypt and the constraints of slavery—but they weren’t quite fully born. It would take seven weeks for them to stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and experience the great revelation of G‑d and receive the Torah. Only when they were given a way of life did the Jewish people receive purpose. Until Sinai, we were all dressed up with nowhere to go. On Passover we emerged from the confines of Egypt like the egg that drops out of the hen. But only at Sinai were we hatched and born properly.

The message for us? Political freedom without spiritual freedom is an unhatched egg, incomplete. We may have been free and unfettered, but we were still spiritually lost and morally confused.

Where I live, in South Africa, we understand this message very well. We have, thank G‑d, achieved political freedom in our beloved country. We’ve had 17 years of democracy with free and fair national elections. Everyone had a chance to cast their vote. But the fact is that most of our population is still as impoverished as they were before. Yes, many more now have access to water, electricity and housing, but for the majority of the majority, their lives have been unaffected.

Worse still, new freedoms bring new cultures, new lifestyles, and sadly, new decadence. Gone are old tribal values, and in their place is the empty, materialistic Western worship of all that is new and glitzy.

Freedom itself is only half the storyWe may be free from the oppression of the past, but we haven’t yet been provided with a coherent, wholesome infrastructure to help direct our aspirations.

So, freedom itself is only half the story. What we do with our freedom—that is the question. We need a purpose in life, and we need a moral, spiritual infrastructure to help guide us in life. Otherwise we wander aimlessly through the wilderness, and our freedom remains undeveloped potential.

Let’s not be unhatched eggs. Let us use our freedom wisely and achieve all our aspirations. Let us realize that Passover is but the beginning. Now we must consult the Torah to discover how to take maximum advantage of that freedom.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn, New York. In 1976 he was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul since 1986, president of the South African Rabbinical Association, and a frequent contributor to His book From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading was recently published by Ktav, and is available at Jewish bookshops or online.
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Jane L. Ohio April 15, 2017

That may all be true, but you miss the point that the egg did not enter into the Passover celebration until the Jews were captives in Babylon. Babylonians worshiped Ishtar (among others) and the feast of fertility they had for her in the spring prominently featured an egg. This is fairly well documented by Shulam and others. Rabbis can argue whether or not it's appropriate--that's above my pay grade! However, illuminating history properly is also important. Thanks! Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for April 24, 2017
in response to Jane L.:

Unfortunately, we Jews have been through many exiles and I think you may be getting your exiles confused... The Egg was introduced after the destruction of the second Temple. The Babylonian exile was after the destruction of the first Temple. That means that by the time they introduced the egg, it was, at a minimum, close to five hundred years after the Babylonians were relegated to the dustbin of history...

For more on why we have an egg at the Seder see
Why the Egg (Beitza) on the Passover Seder Plate? Reply

Ronald Archer La Mesa March 27, 2016

This is so excellent. Posted to Facebook and Google+. Thank you for this powerful insight! Thank God for the Jewish People, for the Torah! Reply

Lynn Jacques Brooklyn, NY April 25, 2011

Meaning of te egg at the Seder I am not Jewish. I was looking up the meaning behind the Easter egg, when I stumbled upon this most beautiful explanation of the symbol of the egg for Passover. I was touched by your exlpanation and want to thank you for openning my heart and mind to my own potential, as well of the potential of those around me (especially my children and my students). Reply

Rev. Steve Hill Decatur, USA April 20, 2011

Egg Thank you Yossy and Freddy for adding more meaning to what seems to be a simple egg. Reply

Dr. Freddy Maier Yanuv, Israel April 11, 2011

the egg There is even more about the egg. The egg comes from the hen (Tarnegolet) in Hebrew. from the egg comes out a chick (Efroah) in Hebrew.
Tarnegolet is written with a TAV and Efroah with an ALEPH.
The last and the first letter of the alphabet.
The egg is the necessary link between the "old life" finishing with the Tav and the new life starting with Aleph.
The egg is also used as a mourning sign, the end of a life and the beginning of a new eternal life in the World-to-come........... Reply

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