Eggs are prominent and pervasive on Pesah. In fact, so prevalent are they during the holiday week that one might suspect that the ancient Greek name for Pesah actually may have been Cholesterol!
Let's start with the Seder Plate, where a roasted egg (Beitzah ביצה), said to represent the holiday sacrifice, or Haggigah (חגיגה) finds a prominent place on a plate otherwise filled with symbols of subjugation and suffering: the roasted shankbone (זרוע), reminder not only of the paschal lamb whose blood was smeared on the doorposts of Israelite homes in Egypt on the eve of the 10th and final plague - the killing of Egypt's firstborns - and which was roasted whole and wholly consumed on that fateful night preceding the Exodus, but also of the z'roa netuyah (זרוע נטויה) the outstretched arm of the Almighty reaching out to rescue the people as promised; the bitter herbs Maror (מרור) and Hazeret (חזרת), evoking memories of bitter bondage; the parsley (כרפס) representing the hyssop used to paint the lamb's blood on the doorposts, and salt water (מי מלח), reminding us of the salty tears shed by slaves; the Haroset (חרוסת), a tasty pasty mixture reminiscent of mortar, meant to mitigate the bitterness of the herbs dipped into it, and lastly, the Matzah itself (לחם עוני) - the poor bread, the bread of affliction which our slave ancestors ate in Egypt and which was miraculously transformed by our tradition into the hastily baked bread of freedom, in consonance with the theme "from slavery into freedom."
So the roasted egg means what? Perhaps the loss of vitality and hope? A people steeped in sorrow, consumed by cruelty, sacrificed to the ambitions of tyrants and burned out - whose very bones have dried out, as in the vision of Ezekiel in Chapter 37?
But then, the egg reappears right before the the Seder meal, as a delicious and symbolic "appetizer," served peeled of its hard shell and, in most households, swimming in salt water representing the sea, source of life, and saline, a life-sustaining solution of similar pH to human bodily fluids.
It seems that the egg, a pagan symbol of fertility and the cycle of life and rebirth - of resurrection of life and nature in the spring after the harsh frigid northern winter - has now become a symbol of beginnings, not endings, not of hopelessness but of hope. Far from being roasted and with burnt and broken shell, it stands instead as a symbol of resilience to suffering. Most foods, when cooked, become softer and fall apart. The egg, however, gets tougher - hard boiled - the longer you cook it, an appropriate symbol of a people persecuted and "steeled by adversity" stubbornly resurrected as a nation determined to live anew.
Maybe Pesah SHOULD be called Cholesterol after all, in honor of the "incredible, edible egg," and the proudly adorned and lavishly decorated egg become one of OUR celebrated holiday symbols, too.
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