Which Came First: The Chicken or the Egg?

Vayomer Elokim yish’retzu ha’mayim sheretz nefesh chayah v’of ye’ofeif al ha’aretz al p’nei rakia HaShamayim (Bereishis 1:20)

Throughout the generations, philosophers have debated the age-old question of which came first: the chicken or the egg? What does the Torah, which is the blueprint for the Creation and contains the answer to every question, have to say about this hotly-contested issue?

On the fifth day of Creation, Hashem said, “Let the waters abound with swarming living creatures, and fowl that fly about over the earth across the expanse of the Heavens.” On the phrase meaning “living,” Rashi comments, “that it will be alive” — in the future tense. In the following verse (1:21), which relates the actual creation of the marine and bird life, the same expression which means “living” appears, but this time, Rashi comments, “that it is alive” — in the present tense.

On the sixth day of Creation, Hashem declared, “Let the Earth bring forth living creatures, each according to its kind: animals, creeping things, and beasts of the land.” Once again, this verse contains the identical phrase which means “living,” and Rashi comments, “that it is alive” — in the present tense. It is very uncharacteristic of Rashi to comment on the same phrase three times in a span of five verses. Further, it is not coincidence that Rashi switched the verb tenses between the verses. Why did he feel the need for these multiple comments, and what does this teach us?

Harav Yehoshua Leib Diskin explains that regarding Hashem’s command on the fifth day to create marine and bird life, His intention was for the waters to produce fish eggs that would yield fish, and bird eggs that would hatch and create birds. For this reason, Rashi stresses that they will be alive after they hatch. In the following verse, the Torah records that marine and bird life were actually created. In other words, the eggs hatched and produced the desired fish and bird species; for this reason, Rashi writes that they were alive, since this verse discusses their post-hatching state. On the sixth day, the Torah records the creation of land animals, which aren’t hatched from eggs. They were initially created in their living states, and for this reason, Rashi refers to them as already being alive.

The mystics teach that there is nothing which is not alluded to in the Torah. Although Rav Yehoshua Leib was coming to address a textual difficulty in Rashi’s commentary, his answer enables us to decisively resolve the philosophical dilemma by concluding that the egg was indeed created before the chicken.

Q: Rashi explains (Bereishis 1:1) that the Torah begins with the story of Creation, so that if the non-Jews accuse us of stealing the Land of Israel from them, we will be able to answer that Hashem created the entire world and is entitled to give any portion of it to whomever He chooses. What is the purpose in doing so, as no non-Jew will ever accept such an argument to our right to the Land of Israel?

Q: Rashi writes (1:11) that Hashem commanded the ground to give forth fruit trees which would taste like the fruits they would yield, but the earth disobeyed and instead sprouted trees which don’t taste like their fruits. As a result, when man was punished for eating from the tree of knowledge, the earth was also cursed (3:17–19). Why did Hashem wait to punish the ground instead of doing so immediately at the time of its sin?

A: Harav Elya Meir Bloch suggests that the claim to the Land of Israel given to us by the Torah isn’t for the purpose of pacifying skeptics who challenge and deny our right to the Land, but rather it’s for us. We are required to believe that our rights to the Land are Divine in nature, and if we internalize this concept and live accordingly, we will have nothing to fear from neighboring enemies. If, however, we fall prey to the mistake of maintaining that our territorial claims emanate from our military strength and the fact that we developed the previously barren Land, we will not be successful and we run the risk of having it taken away from us.

A: The Taz explains that it was the sin of the ground in disobeying Hashem’s command which was indirectly responsible for the sin of Adam. According to one opinion in the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 15:8), the forbidden fruit which Adam and Chavah ate was an esrog, and the Gemara (Sukkah 35a) teaches that the esrog is the only fruit that followed Hashem’s command and tastes like the tree on which it grows. Because of its unique status, Adam had a tremendous desire for it, which would not have been the case had the earth obeyed Hashem’s command, in which case all fruits would taste like the trees on which they grow. Therefore, the earth was punished at the time of Adam’s sin. Alternatively, the Kli Yakar points out that the primary victim of the earth’s punishment, which was that it would be full of annoying insects and thorns, was man. At the time of the earth’s initial disobedience, Adam hadn’t done anything wrong and didn’t deserve to suffer, but once he sinned, the earth could now receive its punishment.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.