When we survey all that which was written and discussed about in the Haggadah, the egg gets scant attention.
The simple reason for placing the egg on the Seder plate is to commemorate the Festival offering which accompanied the Paschal offering, which is symbolized by the zeroa, the shank bone (or the chicken neck, as per custom). The reason for the Festival offering is based on the law that the Paschal offering has to be eaten when we are not ravenously hungry. The Paschal offering has to be eaten in a state of royalty, not gluttonously. Therefore, in the days of the Bais Hamikdash-the Holy Temple, to satisfy our hunger we would eat the Festival offering and only afterwards would we partake of the Paschal offering.
The question however still remains why do we use an egg for this commemoration? Wouldn’t a piece of meat be closer to the original just as the shank bone of the chicken’s neck is closer to the original more than an egg?
G-d Wants to Redeem Us!
The Jerusalem Talmud explains that the word for egg in Aramaic is bei’ah, which can also be translated as desire. This reminds us of the fact that G-d desires to redeem us.
However, this explanation itself needs further elucidation. Why would we focus on a word, which in translation, means desire, rather than focus on the object of G-d’s desire which is to redeem us? Where in the word bei’ah is there a hint to the fact that G-d’s desire is to redeem us? All it suggest is that G-d has a desire for something.
This leads us to the conclusion that, indeed, G-d’s greatest desire is for us to be liberated.
Purpose of Creation
The basis for this assertion is the idea that G-d’s greatest wish is to have a “dwelling place” in this physical world. According to a famous Midrashic teaching, this is why, He created the world. G-d created a world in which His presence is concealed; where even evil can flourish. It is then we, through our devotion to His commandments, reveal His presence. When we fulfill our mission, we reach a point where G-d feels totally “comfortable” dwelling in this physical world.
This Divine goal will only be fully implemented and realized in the time of the Final Redemption, the seeds of which were first planted at the time of the Exodus from Egypt and nurtured each and every year at the Passover Seder.
No Need to Spell it Out
Thus, when we place the egg on the Seder plate we are asked to remember the egg as the symbol of G-d’s greatest desire. So powerful is the association of desire with Redemption that once the word desire-bei’ah is invoked there is no need to spell out the idea that we are referring to the desire for Redemption. “Desire” is shorthand for Redemption.
[One can find a parallel to this style of “shorthand” in the Talmud’s interpretation of the Biblical word zaken-old as the person who acquired wisdom. The letters of zaken are the initials of the words “zeh” and “kanah”=”this is the one who acquired.” But where is wisdom hinted in the word? There is no letter in the word zaken that indicates or alludes to the acquisition of wisdom in particular.
The answer is that when we speak of a genuine acquisition it can only refer to wisdom. Any other acquisition is ephemeral. Anything that we may acquire today can be gone tomorrow. Only wisdom is a permanent acquisition.]
In truth, not only is G-d’s overarching desire to bring the Final Redemption, it also ought to be our all-embracing desire.
This is based on an enigmatic Talmudic translation of a word that appears in the Mishnah. The Mishnah discusses the four primary causes of financial damage for which one is liable. One of the four is the obscure word maveh. The Talmud (Bava Kamma 3b), cites an opinion that it means a human being. To prove this assertion it cites a verse in the Book of Isaiah (21:12) which discusses one who beseeches G-d for Redemption: “Says the watchman; morning comes, and also night; if you beseech [tivayun], beseech.” The word for beseeching in this verse is etymologically related to the word “maveh.” Thus, according to our Sages, a human being is a beseecher; one who prays for the Redemption.
The fact that his appellation for human being is employed in the context of causing damage contains a profound mystical truth that all of our desires, even for evil, are actually camouflaged desires for Redemption. That is indeed the inner desire of every human being endowed with a G-dly soul. The fact that we harbor desires for other things, including causing harm to others, belies the truth that our true inner desire is a desire for a perfect world that conforms totally to G-d’s plan. The fact that we can aspire for unhealthy and unG-dly things is due to our Animal Souls’ obfuscation of our G-dly soul’s inner voice.
The foregoing explanation for the egg as a symbol of the centrality of G-d’s and our desire for Redemption ties in with the other explanation that the egg commemorates the Festival offering. Included in the desire for Redemption is he desire for the restoration of the Bais Hamikdash and the resumption of the Sacrificial offerings therein.
The fact that the hint to G-d’s desire is in Aramaic translation is connected to the fact that Aramaic is characterized as the language of exile. Longer we are in exile the greater is G-d’s and our desire to be liberated.
A Hard Boiled Egg
The question still remains: Granted the egg is associated with the word desire and alludes to G-d’s, and our, desire for Redemption, but what connection is there between Redemption and a physical egg?
The egg possesses a unique quality; the longer we cook it the harder it gets.
Human nature is generally the opposite. The longer we wait for something to occur, the weaker will be our hope for it to materialize. It would therefore stand to reason that while the desire for Redemption was very strong at the beginning of our exile, that desire and hope would become weaker with the passage of time.
While this is generally true, it is not the case with our hope for Moshiach and Redemption. Despite the passage of close to 2,000 years of exile, the Jewish people have not given up. We are “hard-boiled eggs!” which hardens the longer it is subjected to the fire. Indeed, the Hebrew word for stiff-necked is kasheh-[oref], which also means hard. We are a stiff-necked, hardened people who, like hard boiled eggs, have tenaciously held on to the belief in and anticipation for the Redemption.