In discussing the use of a newly laid egg on Shabbat or Yom Tov, the Gemara quotes a baraita which teaches that using such an egg is forbidden; nevertheless it can be covered with a bowl to protect it and then it can be used when Shabbat or Yom Tov has ended. The examples given by the baraita of possible uses for the egg are of some interest – the baraita suggests that it might have been used to cover a utensil or to support a bed.
Support a bed!? The rishonim were quick to ask why the baraita would suggest supporting a large, heavy object like a bed with an egg.
In truth, mechanically speaking, the structure of an egg is, theoretically, very strong – strong enough to withstand enormous pressure without breaking, even though its shell is very thin. Practically, however, without a specially prepared apparatus, it would be impossible to have an egg actually support something large and heavy.
Therefore, the logical approach to the baraita is the one suggested by the Me’iri and others. They explain that the “bed” referred to is not a bed that people sleep on, but rather a type of bowl or other utensil that is used on a table, which, because of its shape – some say that it has a rounded bottom like that of a small ship – needs to be supported by something. An egg, apparently, was the object of choice to hold up this “bed.”
To support his theory, the Me’iri points out a word in Arabic for such a table utensil – hamta – which is similar to the Hebrew word for bed: ha-mita. In Mishnayot Ma’asrot (1:9) we find the word hamita used in such a context, and the Rambam in his Perush ha-Mishnayot there translates the word as a small earthen vessel that is sometimes used on the table.
Some suggest that the Gemara’s reference is to an ordinary bed, but that the egg is not supporting it, rather it is placed next to the bed to serve as a type of amulet or charm (e.g. for procreation).