A Royal Egg

Four Types of Eggs in the Talmud

Four different types of egg are mentioned in the Talmud, and they each have a different status in Jewish law. The four types belong to two different groups: 1) eggs that were laid by a hen and 2) eggs that were found inside a slaughtered chicken. The Talmud explains that no chicks will hatch from the latter type of egg, and if by mistake someone paid for the eggs with the intention of hatching them, he is entitled to a full refund. But if someone asked for eggs that had been laid by a live hen, but was given eggs from a slaughtered chicken, if his intention was to eat the eggs and not to hatch them, then he is not entitled to a full refund but can only claim the difference in price between the two types of egg, because laid eggs are also of superior quality for eating. The second classification depends on whether the eggs were fertilized by a rooster (the Talmud calls such eggs, “eggs of the male”) or whether they were produced by the hens without the presence of a male, merely by the hen warming its body against the earth. Obviously, no chicks will hatch from an unfertilized egg, which means that there are two conditions necessary for an egg to hatch: it must be from a fertilized egg and must also be laid by a live hen. The law in the case of fertilized or unfertilized eggs is the same as the abovementioned law regarding eggs laid by a live hen and eggs found in a slaughtered chicken, and like eggs laid by a live hen, fertilized eggs are considered to be better for eating.

The Talmud continues to explain that fertilized eggs are only laid by day, because chickens only procreate by day and there is a rule that “any creature that propagates by day is born by day.” Nonetheless, unfertilized eggs may be laid by night, although they too are usually laid by day.[1] When there is a rooster present, the rule is that the hen’s eggs are considered fertilized, as long as the rooster is no more than sixty houses away and no river separates between them (unless there is a bridge across it, even a flimsy one).

This Talmudic discussion is all relevant to the law of an egg that was laid on Yom Tov, a festival, which in general, may not be eaten or moved until the festival is over. However, if the egg was discovered while it was still dark, and there is a rooster in the vicinity, then one is allowed to eat it because it was obviously laid the previous day, before nightfall when the festival began.

Another relevant factor that is deduced from the classification of eggs in this way regards the law concerning an egg in which a blood-spot is found. If a blood-spot is found in an unfertilized egg, the egg may be eaten once the blood has been discarded, because the blood is obviously not a sign that a chick is being formed. This is true of eggs produced on modern egg farms where the hens are enclosed in coops where no roosters at all are present; consequentially, they are all unfertilized.[2]

Four Types of Egg in Kabbalah

God’s Essential Name, Havayah, and its four letters (yud-hei-vav-hei) provide us with one of the most basic structures for contemplating ideas. Given a classification system like the one of the four different types of eggs discussed in Jewish law, we can deepen our understanding of it and the relationship between its elements, if we are able to correctly identify and build a correspondence between them and the letters of Havayah. This same correspondence can also shed new light on our understanding of God’s Name.

In Kabbalah, the four letters of Havayah are first and foremost related to the sefirot. The correspondence between the four letters and the sefirot provides us with an essential base upon which to base our new correspondence.

In this case, the letter yud of God’s Name, which represents the sefirah of wisdom, the Father Principle (Aba), corresponds to an egg laid by a live hen. Wisdom is the source of vitality, as the verse states, “wisdom vitalizes its possessors,” and “they will die, but not in wisdom.”

An egg discovered in a slaughtered chicken corresponds to the upper hei of God’s Name, representing the sefirah of understanding, the Mother Principle (Ima). Finding the egg inside its mother is clearly representative of this level, but the act of slaughtering also corresponds to understanding.[3]

A fertilized egg corresponds to the vav of God’s Name, which represents the 6 sefirot from chesed (loving-kindness) to yesod (foundation), associated with the Small Countenance (Zeir Anpin), the male aspect that is born of the union between the father and the mother, just as this type of egg is an “egg of the male.” Another reason why this type of egg corresponds to the vav, which has a numerical value of 6, is because the hen follows the rooster a distance of 60 houses, which relates to each of the six emotive powers that are represented by the vav of God’s Name, when they all mature to include ten sefirot of their own.[4]

Unfertilized eggs correspond to the lower hei of God’s Name and to the sefirah of kingdom. The sefirah of kingdom is the feminine persona (Nukva of Zeir Anpin) and also corresponds to the earth. In this case, the hen (corresponding to the feminine persona) was warmed by the earth and therefore this egg corresponds in particular to the sefirah of kingdom.

As mentioned above, in order for chicks to hatch from the eggs, the eggs must be both fertilized and laid by a live hen. This indicates the connection between wisdom (the yud of God’s Name) and Zeir Anpin (the vav of God’s Name), the two male persona as in the Kabbalistic conundrum, “What is his name [referring to wisdom, the Father Principle] and what is his son’s name [referring to Zeir Anpin].” As we saw, the contribution of the males is not only in regard to the eggs fertilization but also in regard to its quality as food. In contrast, the feminine persona, the eggs of the slaughtered chicken and the unfertilized eggs that were warmed by the earth, have no ability to hatch chicks at all and even though the eggs are edible, they are not of such a good quality as those that correspond to the male persona.

To summarize:

י

yud

wisdom

egg laid by a live hen

ה

hei

understanding

egg found in slaughtered chicken

ו

vav

zeir anpin; the six emotive powers

egg fertilized by male bird within a distance of sixty houses

ה

hei

kingdom

unfertilized egg produced by the hen when she is warmed by the earth

A Political Egg

In Hebrew, hakbalah, from the same root as Kabbalah, means “a parallel” and studying Kabbalah is indeed based on drawing parallels. We can learn much about the world by recognizing the parallel structures in reality and drawing analogies between them. For instance, from the above correspondence concerning different types of eggs, we can learn something important about… politics. In fact, modern egg farms reflect the current political trends, as we shall see.

First, let’s take note of the unique quality of an egg in general. The egg is an intermediary stage in the procreation process that is not apparent in mammals. Yet it can either herald the termination of the process if it is an unfertilized egg, or, if the egg is fertilized, it could be a transition stage that continues to develop until the chick forms and hatches. A fertilized egg can only be produced when there is interaction between a rooster and a hen and the Talmud refers to them as, “eggs of the male.” Without the rooster, the hen, by warming herself against the earth, is only capable of producing unfertilized eggs that although edible, will never hatch. From this perspective, one could define unfertilized eggs as “artificial eggs” as reflected by the fact that they are considered inferior to fertilized eggs for eating purposes. As mentioned, in the modern egg-farming industry, eggs meant for consumption are all unfertilized eggs.

Now let’s take a look at the current state of politics. In Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, the word “state” (מדינה) is of feminine gender, as is the word “kingdom” (מלכות) the feminine sefirah of the ten sefirot. In general, politics is associated with the sefirah of kingdom and is thus considered to have a feminine nature. As for modern democratic politics, the feminine gender is most appropriate, because democracy means that the ruling party is no more than the sum total of its voters. The leaders are expected to take the entire population into consideration and reflect all their varying self-interests and differing opinions while merely offering a stable framework in which everyone can live relatively peacefully with everyone else. Under such circumstances, however strong and stable the ruling power may be, and however controlling and enterprising it may be, by definition, a democratic state remains in a feminine condition and merely sets the borders in which the population can survive.

In general, the rectification of this minimalistic situation can be achieved by appointing a king. A king is a true leader who has the power and the initiative to set goals and achieve them, uniting with his kingdom to bring about dynamic, fertile results. In Kabbalistic terminology, this refers to the union between the feminine sefirah of kingdom and the male aspect of Zeir Anpin. Practically speaking, the king reflects not only what there is in reality but he also takes a firm stand, planning a well-defined strategy by which to achieve his goals. This type of royal leadership is a tool that is able to implement the Torah in practice, and allows us to realize our covenant with God, who commands reality and elevates it. This is the task of the righteous king who leads reality to its consummation. In contrast, as long as the kingdom is entirely feminine and receiving, with no male energy to invigorate it, like an egg, it will remain sterile and static, unable to bring new life into the world.

The main teaching of the Zohar is that the feminine sefirah of kingdom will eventually be fertilized by her husband, the persona of Zeir Anpin, thereby uniting the Almighty (referred to as, Kedsha Brich Hu) with the Divine Presence. Separating the sefirah of kingdom from her rightful spouse, and thus promoting her husbandless state is considered a fundamental sin and a flaw referred to as, “cutting down the sprouts.” The ultimate goal is to achieve a union between the King and His kingdom.

Our association between the current state of politics and a chicken coop should now be obvious: a hen without a rooster can indeed lay many eggs when she is warmed by the earth or by her fellow hens in a hot and crowded coop, but these eggs are always sterile and no chick will ever hatch from them. They are even of inferior quality for edible purposes. This is the condition of politics today, in which the only vital energy available is that of the lowest aspect of reality or by the friction created between the various political factions. In this way, democracy is able to lay many eggs that can be eaten but this is actually a sterile state of existence that can never cultivate new life. Like much of modern reality, eggs produced under such conditions are “virtual” eggs that are born but can never give birth. Even if there is a blood-spot in the egg, it is not life-giving blood. When you taste such an egg, you feel that something vital is missing.

Rectified reality is the produce of the union of the male and female aspects, as in any healthy family. Any woman who lives alone, with only herself and her girl-friends for companionship is not only missing something vitally important in her life but is actually in a very detrimental moral state of affairs, similar to that of the ancient Egyptian lifestyle, which the Torah has forbidden us to duplicate.[5]

This is one of the important differences between sanctity and kelipot (the shells of impurity that surround reality): in sanctity, fruition is always the result of a union between male and female, whereas in the kelipot there is a state of “virtual” self-pollination, that does not bear true fruit.

This idea is explained in Chassidut with reference to the verse, “The wrapped [sheep] are for Laban [representing the kelipot] and the connected [sheep] are for Jacob [representing sanctity].” In sanctity there is a state of connection and communication, whereas in the impure shells there is a tendency to curl up in one’s own wool to warm up.

Finding the Lost Gardener

In his story, “The Seven Beggars,” Rabbi Nachman of Breslov writes, “There is a country where there is a garden and in that garden there were fruit that had all the different flavors in the world and all sorts of aromas in the world and all the different colors and flowers in the world – all in the same garden. There was a gardener who was responsible for the garden and all the people of the country lived a good life because of the garden. But the gardener went missing and everything in the garden should have certainly been ruined, because there was no gardener responsible for the garden any longer. Nonetheless, the people were still able to survive from the natural growth of the garden.”

In our case, the garden is a parable for the current state of politics, which desperately needs a gardener to tend to its needs. As a garden needs a devoted gardener, so too a kingdom needs a dedicated king so that the people of the country can indeed live “a good life.” Without a gardener the garden is unable to revitalize itself and bear fertile fruit and its becomes inevitable. Like an unfertilized egg, even if the natural growth of fruit is able to sustain the population, the dynamic vitality of real, fertile fruit is lacking.

Yet Rabbi Nachman’s story continues to describe how the missing gardener is actually wandering around amongst us, although people think that he is just a crazy lunatic. Then they finally recognize him and identify him, “Suddenly a commotion arose, could it be that this crazy man wandering around is actually the gardener?! They went and brought him… and I said, ‘This is certainly the true gardener.”

As long as people surrender to the state of politics as it is, without understanding that it needs rectification, the gardener can never be recognized, even if he is wandering around among us, we just think that he is crazy…. The way to find the gardener is by never despairing of rectification. We need to be aware of the disadvantages of the current situation, while remembering all the while that the situation demands rectification.

We have seen that if there is a rooster in the vicinity of the hen, even sixty houses away, even if she needs to cross a flimsy bridge over a river, she prefers the attention of a male bird to warming herself on the ground. In addition, even when no male is present forcing the hen to warm itself on the earth, the hen retains its natural instinct to lay eggs during the day and continues to behave as if her eggs are fertile. Returning to our use of the egg as a metaphor for kingdom, this means that the reality of the lower worlds that manifests in politics still nurtures an inner expectancy that the male redeemer will soon come, even when there is currently no male energy available.

Even though today’s eggs are unfertilized, most authorities are still of the opinion that an egg with a blood spot should be discarded. If we contemplate this notion from a more profound perspective we can explain that this means that we never despair of finding a real, fertilized egg.

In a whimsical mood, we could say that the rectification of the “chicken coop” (לול) can be found in the phrase, “Were it not for Your Torah being my amusement, I would be lost in my poverty” (לולי תורתך שעשועי אז אבדתי בעניי). In the words of King David, this verse expresses the fact that even in the poverty of exile, we are not prepared to substitute our the feeling of wondrous joy we get from God’s Torah for anything less and our only hope is in “Your Torah.” The hen is not prepared to separate from her mate, nor is she prepared to be satisfied by the superficial achievement of laying infertile eggs and brooding on them without them ever hatching.

This fact infuses us with hope that the current political state, which we have likened to an modern, artificial chicken coop, can be rectified. Just as the hen instinctively knows her origin and continues to prefer fertilization by a rooster, so it is too with the public today. Even though the current democratic trend turns its back on the idea of a royal redeemer and makes believe that it can be warmed by its own energy, nonetheless, we still retain a point that has never given up on the hope that we can escape from the closed coop in which not even one male is present, and eventually meet a real rooster.

The Hebrew word for “rooster” (תרנגול) has a numerical value of 689, which is equal to the phrase, “the Eternal one of Israel [will neither deceive nor revoke His decision]” (נצח ישראל). The equality suggests that just as King Saul’s reign was replaced by that of King David’s when the former betrayed his duty to observe God’s commandment to wipe out the nation of Amalek, so too, if democracy, the current ruling power, cannot fulfill its purpose, in its place will rise a true king from the dynasty of King David.

Bringing all these different metaphors together, this means that when the gardener returns to the garden, and the kingdom connects to the king, then the “hen” will no longer be warmed by the earth but will warm the earth herself. The appointed king will bring all of reality back to God, by giving birth to a generation of righteous offspring – fertilized eggs that will hatch into winged chicks, the warmhearted Jews who the Ba’al Shem Tov wished to see; Jews who are devoted to God and draw their energies only from Him.

A Chicken Marriage

Regarding the best time for marital relations, the Talmud states,

The sages taught, “Any creature that procreates by day is born by day; any creature that procreates at night is born at night; any creature that procreates by day and by night, is born by day or by night.’ ‘Any creature that procreates by day is born by day’ refers to a chicken. ‘Every creature that procreates by night is born at night’ refers to a bat. ‘Any creature that procreates by day and by night’ refers to humans and others like them.”

Although humans procreate by day and by night, in general, the most modest time is actually at night. In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and his wife were naked yet felt no shame, marital union during the day was permissible. After their sin, when the evil inclination took hold and infused man with sexual desire, marital union in sanctity should only be in a dark, closed room. In this case, we see that the chicken’s propagation during the day indicates the rectification of Adam and Eve’s sin.

We have already mentioned that the connection between God and the Jewish people is like a marital relationship, however, under the current circumstances, their union is not overtly visible, conducted as it is in the darkness of exile’s night. Yet, when the daylight of redemption arrives, the loving relationship between God and the Jewish people will be open for all to see.

According to the sages, the rooster, who placates the hen before procreation, bears an example from which men should learn proper marital conduct.[6] In Hebrew, a rooster is also called gever, one of four synonyms for “man.” We should all learn from the rooster who wakes up at day break and announces that the time for procreation has arrived, and as we see the dawn, announce the same, for all to hear clearly, that the rectification of the current chicken-coop politics lies in the Jewish people’s uniting with God in marital union in broad daylight, without any misgivings. “And God will be for you a light forever,” when the Jewish nation becomes “a light unto the nations.”

On the night of Passover, as we celebrate our redemption from the straits of Egypt, there are two symbols of redemption on the Seder plate: a chicken wing, to commemorate how God redeemed us with an outstretched arm, and an egg, which is called a beiya (ביעא) in Aramaic and is conjugate to the word ba’a (בעא), meaning “desire”. Together, the chicken wing and the egg symbolize God’s desire to redeem us with an outstretched arm.

May we soon merit the ultimate state of redemption and a rectified state of God’s kingdom on earth, as represented by a fertile chicken egg.

Notes

[1] In modern egg farms, there are lights on all day and all night, to encourage the hens to lay more frequently.

[2]  In organic egg farms, the hens roam around freely and there are usually a few roosters present.

[3] Every Jewish town must have a Rabbi, corresponding to wisdom, and a shochet, a ritual slaughterer, corresponding to understanding.

[4] Within the persona of zeir anpin there are two other relatively male sefirot, beauty and foundation, both of which lie on the central line. These two sefirot can unite with the female aspect of kingdom and each of them is represented in the Talmud by the expression that corresponds to one of the applications of buying eggs: one said, “Who has eggs laid by a live hen to sell?” and one said, “Who has fertilized eggs? Who has fertilized eggs?” When referring to fertilized eggs the request is repeated, indicating that there are two different possible types of fertilized eggs within zeir anpin, those that are fertilized by the sefirah of beauty and those that are fertilized by the sefirah of foundation.

[5] See Maimonides, Issurei Biyah, 21:8.

[6] Eiruvin, 100b.

1 Comments

  1. May the rooster be a gentle Buff Orpington.

    Being a big chicken fan, I never considered the holiness potential. If anything, from observing many breeds of chickens, I would have to say that they are Egyptian influenced, with their fighting, puffed up pride, and status seeking ways. Blessings to you for presenting a parable on chickens from a Torah perspective.

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