A chicken egg is one of the most familiar items of our daily diet. The average American eats one egg a day, or 365 eggs a year. There is a variety of ways to prepare an egg for breakfast. Some prefer a boiled egg; hard, soft, or medium; some like it fried, or poached; others prefer an omelet, in one style or another. Whichever way one eats one's egg, it is a very nutritious food.

An egg is a good source of proteins, minerals and vitamins. Eggs are also an important ingredient in baking and cooking. Eggs (especially bad ones) are known to have been used as a flying missile carrying a message of displeasure, but this use is not recommended.

The purpose of an egg is either to produce a chick, or to be used as food. As a matter of fact, because the egg is so familiar to us as an item of nutrition, we hardly, if ever, give it a thought as being any thing but a food produced by chickens, just as milk is produced by cows. Yet the egg is one of the most wonderful things in Nature, as we shall presently see.

The egg that reaches our table is a freshly laid egg, which was taken away from the hen as soon as it was laid.

Countless millions of domestic hens and chickens are raised every year to provide eggs for our needs. Most of the eggs are produced in large chicken farms, which specialize in raising poultry for egg-laying and/or meat-producing. But there is hardly a farmer anywhere who does not raise some chickens.

Food is not the only purpose of the egg, as we have already mentioned. The main purpose of the egg is to produce a chick, that will produce eggs, that will produce chicks, and so on.

The familiar question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" might be puzzling, but not to anyone who knows the first portion of Chumash. There the Torah clearly tells us that on the fifth day of Creation G‑d created all winged birds after their kind. This includes also the egg-laying chicken, of course.

Left to itself, the hen would not give up her eggs even for a royal table. It would lay a number of eggs within a few days, and then "brood" on them, that is, sit on them to keep them warm until the chicks hatch from the eggs. This is what all birds do, and the hen is no exception.

It takes 21 days for a chicken egg to hatch. The mother hen warms the eggs with her body. She sits lightly on them, so as not to squash them, covering the eggs with her thick fluffy underbody feathers and wings.

She often plucks some feathers from her body and stuffs them among the eggs, the better to protect them against cold drafts that might kill the chick inside the egg before it is hatched; for the eggs must be kept at a uniform temperature. It is wonderful to see the care and devotion of a brooding hen, patiently sitting on the eggs day and night, rarely leaving them unprotected. All the eggs are equally precious to the mother hen. Since the eggs which lie in the center receive more warmth than the outlying eggs, the hen rotates them from time to time, rolling out the eggs from the center outward, and rolling in the outside eggs directly under her. She does this with her beak, and with great care and motherly love.

In our days of technological development and mass production, the hen is spared the trouble of hatching her eggs. Instead, the hatching is done in mechanical hatcheries. Here incubators, or egg hatching machines, are used, and the heat is supplied by electricity. It still takes 21 days to hatch the eggs, and the temperature is the same (102 - 103 F), but the quantity of chicks that can be hatched in incubators is almost unlimited. Some of them can hatch as many as 1,000,000 chicks at one time! In the United States, nine out of every ten chicks which farmers buy for egg-laying, or for meat-raising, come from commercial hatcheries.

The most wonderful thing about an egg is that after 21 days in the incubator (or under the brooding hen), out comes a live baby-chicken, a chick! Nothing is left of the egg except an empty and broken shell!

Let us consider, for a moment, what the egg consists of, and how it turns into a live baby-chick.

To begin with, the egg has an outer shell. The shell of chicken eggs is of a white or light-brown color.

Under the shell there are two white thin skins, called membranes; an outer and an inner membrane. They lie close to each other, except at the larger end of the egg, where they separate to form an air-pocket.

Inside the inner membrane is the white of the egg. Inside the white is the yolk, which is contained in a very thin skin. In the average egg the white is about twice the quantity of the yolk.

The air-pocket is very important, be cause the baby that will develop in the egg will have its beak pointed to this air pocket and will get its first air by breathing from this pocket. The egg shell itself is porous, so that air can seep through it.

It is easy enough to answer the question, "What does the egg consist of?" It is quite another thing to find an answer to the question, "How is a live chick born in the egg?"

The egg, in itself, is a "dead" thing; it has no life in it. Yet, when the egg is kept under a steady temperature for 21 days, out comes a live chick! Where did this life come from? This is the great mystery of Creation. G‑d alone, the Creator, knows the answer, for He is the Giver of life.

The more you think about the egg and the chick, the greater grows the wonder. The live chick that emerges from the shell is made of flesh and blood, nerves, bones, feathers, and a host of other things which make up the live chick. Are these things already in the egg? Surely not! Would you like to get with your omelet a portion of feathers, nails, a beak, etc.? Not to fear; you will not find these things in your omelet if it is made of a freshly laid egg. For us Jews, even a speck of blood in the egg makes the egg unkosher. Certainly, the egg we eat does not contain any of those things which we find in a chick! How, then, does the white and the yolk of the egg turn into a living body of a chick? This, too, is one of the deepest mysteries of the Creation.

No less astounding is the following fact: When the chick emerges from the egg-shell, nothing is left of the egg but its broken shell. This means that the white and yolk of the egg, with all the chemical elements of which they consist, are in the egg in the exact proportion which is necessary to make up the various parts and organs of the chick's body. Would it not be a terrible calamity if the egg would have material only for one eye, or if there would be a shortage of that stuff which makes the wings, with the result that the poor chick would have but one wing, or one leg, and the like?

It is wonderful indeed how everything in the egg is so exactly put together that nothing is too much, nor too little, and everything is used up completely to make a perfect little creature!

When a person builds a house, an architect makes a careful plan, and the builder works out all the details of the materials required for the house. The builder usually finds himself short of this or that, and there is always a mess of leftovers piled near a building project. But the Creator has so prepared and arranged the "building material" in an egg, that nothing is left but an empty shell!

It is explained in our holy Books that one of the reasons why it is customary to eat an egg as a sign of mourning, is that an egg has no "mouth" and cannot complain. Similarly, the mourner who has lost a close relative must not complain to G‑d for having taken away a dear one. This is also the reason why the "last meal" (Seudah ha-mafsekes) be fore the Fast of Tisha b'Av begins, consists of a hard boiled egg dipped in ashes, as a sign of mourning for the Destruction of Jerusalem and the Beth Hamikdosh. (An exception is made when Tisha b'Av occurs on Shabbos and the fast is postponed for Sunday when no such meal is eaten since there is no mourning on Shabbos.)

The egg, thus reminds us to keep our lips sealed and utter no complaint against Divine Providence. Indeed, an egg has no mouth and cannot complain. But if an egg did have a "mouth" it would not stop proclaiming the wonders of the Creator which are to be found in the simple and all-too-familiar chicken egg.