The following classroom activity relates the Counting of the Omer to the Four Children of the Passover seder.
Wise Child: What are the directions, the laws, and the rules that our Torah teaches us about counting the Omer?
We are taught, in Leviticus 23: 15-17:
You shall count from the next day after the Sabbath (the second day of Pesach), from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, seven complete Sabbaths. The day after the seventh Sabbath shall you count, 50 days. Then you shall offer a new meal offering to YHVH.
You shall bring out of your habitations two wave-loaves; they shall be of fine flour, baked with leaven. They are the first fruits to YHVH.
We read this passage as we prepare to count the day. We then recite a blessing, as we do for everything, and we say “today is the ___ day of the Omer making ___ week(s) and ___ day(s).
Wicked Child: Why do you count the days between Pesach and Shavuot?
On Pesach I was freed from slavery and oppression, on Shavuot I will receive the Torah.
On Pesach I counted my family, how many of us made it out of the land of Egypt; on Shavuot I will count my blessings, the gifts I am given at Sinai.
In between I count the days between leaving Egypt and arriving at Mount Sinai, to remind me that, no matter how rough the road sometimes seems, it is not a great distance and truth can be found at the end.
Simple Child: What is this?
We count the days and the weeks: seven days in each week for seven weeks. Shavuot means “weeks” -it comes from the same root letters in Hebrew that mean “seven,” indicating that a week is a group of seven days. Shavuot is a group of seven weeks, each containing seven days, and is the culmination of our counting the weeks.
In the Jewish mystical tradition there are ten sefirot, or levels of awareness. Seven of these are associated with the seven weeks of the Omer, and likewise to the seven days of the week:
- Chesed = abundant kindness
- Gevurah = strength, awe
- Tiferet = beauty
- Netzach = eternity
- Hod = glory
- Yesod = foundation
- Malchut = leadership
In counting, then, we say that the first day is in the first week, and corresponds to the first sefirah within the first sefirah. This would be chesed in chesed, or abundant kindness in abundant kindness. Following this logic, the thirty-third day, which is the fifth day of the fourth week, would be hod in netzach, or glory in eternity.
By reflecting or meditating on the sefirot associated with the day and the week, we work to transform ourselves from slaves and prepare ourselves for our experiences at Mt. Sinai.
Child Who Does Not Know Enough to Ask: ? ? ? ?
We were only yesterday slaves in Egypt and we await gifts of understanding that we will receive in the Sinai wilderness. In order to reach our destination, we must be alert every step along the way. These days of the Omer are our steps from oppression, from Egypt, to a place where we can truly accept the gifts that are always around us.
Many people consider the days of the Omer, between Pesah and Shavuot, to be such a serious time that it is almost like they are in mourning. They do not cut their hair during these weeks, nor do they dance or get married or celebrate, but rather spend their time immersed in study and self-reflection.
The thirty-third day of the Omer, lamed gimel (and thus “lag”), is a break in the midst of the somberness of the season. Young children may receive their first haircut with a party for the community; weddings and other community celebrations are set for this day. It is considered to be a particularly bright day.
- How are Pesah and Shavuot connected?
- What is the relationship between release from oppression and the gift of Torah?
- Choose a day from the counting (perhaps today). Figure out what the sefirah of the day and the sefirah of the week are. Reflect, either internally or in writing or art, on what these sefirot mean in this order – sefirah of the day within the sefirah of the week.
- Why do we count these days and not the other days of the year?