By Larry Centor

Published by
 The Jewish Magazine, March 2002
Kol Ha'Eida, March 2007

It might seem odd to use a cartoon as the basis for a discourse on the significance of God and the traditions of Passover.  Still, despite a rabbinical interpretation discouraging portraying God as Man, cartoons often have the ability to make a telling point with a few well-chosen words.

The ancient Chinese adage states, “One picture is worth more than ten thousand words,” so perhaps Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoon is worth at least a few random thoughts.  We were unable to reprint the panel, so words will have to set the scene.

Larson’s single panel is captioned, “God as a kid tries to make a chicken in his room.”  A young bespectacled God has been attempting to create a chicken, without success.  A panel full of feathers and shattered equipment suggests that God has something to learn, at least about creating chickens.  He had apparently already decided to create the chicken before the egg, perhaps reasoning that there would then be a sitter for the inevitable egg.

In the Haggadah, it is a roasted egg, however, which is placed just to the left of the roasted lamb shankbone on the Seder plate.  This recalls the additional festival offering [Hagigah] brought to the temple in ancient days, its roundness symbolizing the circle of life.  No mention of a chicken.

Obviously, God will attempt to create the chicken again, and eventually He will succeed.  Like His images, God is persistent, but the time frame for His success in this endeavor is vague.  The written Torah first appeared about the time of the Exodus, some 3,500 years ago, circa 1490 BC, and 480 years [1 Kings 6:1] before the building of Solomon's temple.

Significantly, not a single mention of a chicken appears anywhere in the Five Books, not one in the entire Old Testament, although there is mention of winged fowl. [Genesis 1:21]

Surely, there were chickens by the time of Noah.  After all, did he not have two of them on the Ark?  They couldn’t have refused to board the Ark; the longest recorded flight of a chicken is thirteen seconds, not forty days.  Perhaps God was still struggling with the creation of the first chicken.

And here we come to what appears to be another Biblical paradox.  Genesis 6:19 reads, "And from all living things, from all flesh, you are to bring two from all into the Ark, to remain alive with you."

A few verses later, Genesis 7:2-3 offers, "From all [ritually] pure animals you are to take seven and seven [each], a male and his mate, and from all animals that are not pure, two [each], a male and his mate, and also from the fowl of the heavens, seven and seven [each], male and female, to keep seed alive upon the face of the earth."

A note to the verses suggests the apparent contradiction may be the result of two different sources, which could lead to a rather involved, albeit not too disturbing, polemic.  It has been suggested, for example, the extra “fowl of the heavens” were necessary to carry seeds necessary to propagate plant life.

The chicken, with its thirteen-second flight record, wasn’t about to help seed the new world. Maybe, just maybe, the chicken didn’t appear in that part of God’s realm until much later in history.  The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us, “The domestic chicken originally descended from the wild red jungle, gallus gallus, of southeastern Asia.”

This presents several problems.  If gallus gallus appeared after the Torah was placed on parchment, then it couldn’t have been on the Ark.  God, in this scenario, was probably still working out the kinks in the chicken genome at the time of the Flood.

Which brings us to another time-frame dilemma.  The chicken seemingly had managed to migrate across Asia by the time of the Exodus, since the first Seder apparently took place in the desert not long after the Hebrews fled Egypt.  And here we are confronted with the egg on the Seder plate.  If the chicken was not yet on the scene, whence the egg?  Could it be the contemplated progeny of another fowl?  In that eventuality, would we be enjoying duck soup as part of the traditional Passover meal?

These are questions of no great consequence, except as mental excursions into the realm of God and His ability to constantly surprise us with our own insights into the symbiotic relationship between God and Man.

Let us pause and reflect on the possibility that God can make mistakes?  He wants a chicken?  He makes a chicken.  First time.  He’s God!  The caveat?  If Man, who is quite fallible, is made in God’s image, cannot God be made in Man’s image -– and be equally fallible?  The chicken or the egg?  God or Man?

Or is God indeed Man, a reflection constantly at war with conflicting values?

We read little of God’s mistakes, but in every dispute there are at least two positions, and sometimes more positions than position takers.  How does God choose which position to favor?  Or does He even bother?  Which approach may suggest, of course, that God is passive, as opposed to active.

Even sitting back, reclining at some celestial Seder, is God aware of His own humanity?  And does not any reasonable definition of humanity include the possibility of fallibility?

If God’s Man is fallible, is it not reasonable to assume that Man’s God is fallible?

Here we have a reasonable approach to the Passover Seder, a philosophical exercise for which the answer is in our individual hearts.  Passover is, after all, a time to rejoice, to acknowledge wrongs made right, of slavery morphed into freedom, of a benevolent God freeing his chosen people -- while destroying Pharaoh’s troops, obviously not His chosen people in that particular time and place. 

What are we to make of this dichotomy of action?  He frees us to wander in the Sinai sands for forty years.  There’s that number forty again, but days have turned into years.  This does not even consider a Diaspora that was not one event but a series of forced and voluntary exoduses from Israel, the first of which dates to 720 BC.

But this is Passover, a special occasion, an Exodus to the Promised Land.  This is a time for clasping hands, not arms, for inclusion, not exclusion.  It is a time to think about God trying to create a chicken.  Why feathers?  Even in the finished bird, they don’t seem good for much.  Wings on the other hand...but we digress. 

We open the door for Elijah, God’s messenger, and welcome him to share this special occasion.  Really it is a symbolic gesture of welcome to anyone who cares to celebrate what is basically a feast of Thanksgiving.  It is Man’s way of telling God it’s okay to have an evolving image.

And around the Seder table, piled high with the foods of the feast, including chicken, and eggs, comes the opportunity to discuss the vagaries of our passage through this mortal life.  We welcome the suggestion that allows the mind to explore the possibilities that exist within each of our private universes. 

And perhaps this is the message God meant us to have.  It is not important whether the chicken or egg came first.  What is important is that we consider the possibilities, that we exercise our minds to the fullest, explore every avenue.

This we call progress. 

                                                                            ©2002 Larry Centor