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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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BZ Indiana, United States 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. Reply

Angy Sander London April 21, 2016

Can I boil the eggs the day before please? Reply

Chabad.org Staff via chabadone.org 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. Reply

Amy J Auckland, NZ 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? Reply

Anonymous Melbourne April 1, 2015

boiled egg? I thought it had to be a roasted egg, not boiled. That was according to Hungarian tradition.... Reply

Shaul Wolf 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) Reply

Cherisa Rempe Gulf Shores 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. Reply

Anonymous May 7, 2014

Gulf Shores Question you could bury it. That's what my friends do. Reply

Anonymous Gulf Shores 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?? Reply

Zecher L'chagigah East Jerusalem 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. Reply

Anonymous COLO March 30, 2014

Does the egg have to be on the Seder plate to complete the Seder? Reply

Anonymous Oxford, England June 13, 2013

Thank You Thank you very very much this was very usefull with my prep Reply

Anonymous oxford, england April 19, 2013

thank you thanks this was really usefull!!!!! Reply

Anonymous March 19, 2013

The posters are right, Actually, if you hold that the egg is lzecher the korban chagigah, then you are not allowed to eat it! Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel March 22, 2012

Eating the Egg The egg is the size of the minimal offering. It is also a traditional food of mourning, eaten at time of remembrance. It is also there to remind us that life is round and never-ending...without beginning or end. Finally, it represents the birth of spring. Reply

joshua tosney leeds , uk January 19, 2012

thank u Thank you very much this helped with my home work. Reply

Anonymous Quinlan, Texas April 18, 2011

The Egg I thought that the egg part of the Seder came from the times of the Jewish exile in Babylonia and the pagan idol Ishtar. I am confused as to why it is now included. Reply

Tamir 88310 April 28, 2016

So, you do not really know the actual reason for the egg? To me it smacks of ishtar and is offensive. I do not see anywhere in Torah where we have an egg on passpver night. Where is this in Torah, please show me? Reply

Anonymous North Plainfield April 18, 2016

Passover Egg-Eating Traditions My father was raised Galitziana (sp?), my mother, Greek/Turkish Sephardic (may they both rest in peace). My father's family divided the egg between the entire family, each getting both yolk and white. As each slice was part of the whole, each of us eating the egg (dipped in salt water) was meant to keep us together as a family.
In my mother's family, the egg was treated more as a symbol of fertility and a more grown-up version of the Afikomen hunt: during the meal, the egg was hidden, and all the single women of marriageable age had to hunt for it. The woman to find (and eat) the egg was said to be the next woman present at that seder to marry (and one would presume, be fruitful and multiply). Reply

Roman Furberg Bellingham, Washington via jewishbellingham.com April 14, 2016

WHy the egg My explanation for the egg - it resembles the longer you cook it the harder it get ( the more you persecute us, the tougher we get and survive Reply

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