27 Mar THE TIMELESS SYMBOLISM OF THE SEDER EGG
The Timeless Symbolism of the Seder Egg
By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
One of the ancient symbols at the Seder table is the egg and there is a plethora of reasons why we eat it on Pesach by night. An egg is symbolic of birth and beginnings, and is therefore a fitting reminder that the Jewish nation was born on Pesach, and that our history as a people began as we exited from Egypt. Eggs also have the unique feature. The longer we cook them the harder they become. So too, says the Chasam Sofer, Zt”l, Zy”a, were the Jews: in Egypt, the more they persecuted us the more we increased, as the posuk says, “K’asher y’anu-u oso, kein yirbeh v’chein yifrotz – In direct proportion to the amount that they afflicted us, so did we multiply and so did we spread out.” Also, the egg is the counterpart of the zeroah and reminds us of the two sacrifices we ate from on the night of Pesach, namely the korban Pesach and the korban Chagigah.
But, the egg is also the premier symbol of mourning. Firstly, because an egg is round and, as such, it represents the wheel of life that turns and reaches everyone, when ultimately the fate of death touches us all. But, even more prominent is the fact that an egg is seamless. It has no openings and thus represents the mourner, for Chazal tell us, “Ovel ein lo peh – The mourner has no mouth.” He is speechless and dumbfounded by his loss and therefore the egg, which has no cracks, crevices, indentations, or niches, is a fitting symbol for the mourner who is silent in grief.
The reasons why we eat the food of mourning at our festive Seder table are also varied. One reason is because we are mourning the destruction of our Temple and thus our inability to enjoy the korban Pesach, the centerpiece of the ancient Seder. We also realize that every year, on the same night of the week in which the Seder falls, so too falls Tisha B’Av and therefore the egg brings to mind the destruction of our Beis HaMikdash. The egg is also a sad reminder of the passing of Avraham Avinu, whose yahrzeit is on the eve of Pesach.
But, there is another vital symbolism in the fact that the egg has no opening. The night of the Seder is the anniversary of Makos Bechoros, the Death of the Firstborn. Chazal tell us that, on that night, incredible devastation struck the people of Egypt. “Ein bais asher ein sham meis,” there was literally no house that was spared from death. If there wasn’t a firstborn in a particular Egyptian house, then the head of the household was struck down. Thus, in a very real sense, Egypt was silenced on this night. They were all in mourning. They were speechless and they had no mouth. The egg recalls this great miracle.
Why were the Egyptians punished in this devastating way? In Hallel we say, “B’tzeis Yisroel m’Mitzrayim, Beis Yaakov meam loez – When Yisroel left Egypt, the House of Yaakov from a land of a foreign tongue.” There is however, another definition of ‘meam loez.’ The word ‘laz’ also means slander and thus it can be rendered that Hashem took out the House of Yaakov from a nation that slandered us. As we know, the posuk tells us, and in the Haggadah we recite it, “Vayare-u osanu HaMitzrim – The Egyptians made us into evil people,” slandering us by saying that if an enemy would attack, we would traitorously join with the enemy and drive the Egyptians from their land. Using this terrible slander, they turned their backs on the kindness of Yosef and instituted the final solution of drowning our babies and crushing our people with avodas perech, the incredibly cruel and sadistic backbreaking labor. It was for this campaign of slander that Hashem silenced all of their mouths with the grief of Makos Bechoros.
Unfortunately, we too were affected from the Egyptian environment and also succumbed to the sin of slander, as we find that Dasan and Aviram slandered Moshe Rabbeinu to Paroh, and Moshe Rabbeinu made the declaration “Achein nodah hadavar – Now I understand the matter.” As Rashi explains, Moshe Rabbeinu declared, ‘Now I see why the Jews are suffering in Egypt. Because they are guilty of the heinous crime of slander.’ It would only be later, after suffering through the torture of persecution that the Medrash states that we were then worthy to be redeemed, “Shelo hayu bahem daleitora – There were no more talebearers among us.”
It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for silence is ‘sheket,’ made up of the letters shin-kuf-tes. Those letters also spell the Hebrew word ‘keshot,’ to adorn oneself, because Yiddishkeit recognizes the beauty of silence. When we have the self-control to hold back from talking about others, we beautify ourselves with the trait of refined speech.
It is scary to note what happened to Dasan and Aviram. As the Medrash reveals to us, for their slander against Moshe Rabbeinu, Hashem caused them to become impoverished by taking away their influence so that no one would take their word seriously. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the message and they continued in their sinful ways until they met a horrible end, dying with Korach and his cohorts. This teaches us how dangerous it is to turn a deaf ear to Hashem’s warnings and signals. Rather, the smart person, when something chas v’sholom goes wrong, always asks himself, ‘What must I change and how can I mend my behavior?’
The Seder narrative is called Magid. Once again it is interesting to note that an anagram of the word ‘magid’ is ‘dagim,’ fish. Perhaps this is because fish have no speech. We, on the other hand, utilize our speech but only to relate Hashem’s praise. The egg, therefore, the symbol of silence, is a terrific springboard at the Seder table to remind our children and our loved ones that we must avoid, at all costs, the ruination of talking about the flaws and weakness of others. This was the way of Egypt, which led to their doom. May it be the will of Hashem that we guard our tongues from speaking evil and, in that merit, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.