Counting the Omer: Day 11 — “Who knows 11?”
“Who knows 11?” asked many around the Seder table only 11 days ago, while singing “Echad Mi Yodea / אחד מי יודע / Who knows one?” – a traditional cumulative song sung on Passover and found in the Haggadah. Echad Mi Yodea enumerates 13 Jewish motifs and teachings, starting with the Oneness of God and ending with God’s 13 attributes of compassion (watch the song with it’s translation here). At the number 11, we find the answer to the question as “I know 11! Eleven are the stars of Joseph’s dream.”
Young Joseph, as can be read in Genesis 37:9, already a preferred son by his father Jacob, does not do himself any favors by sharing his second analogy-filled dream with his brothers: “Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, ‘Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’”
Joseph’s sharing creates a rift in an already strained relationship between Joseph and his 11 siblings. A rift of jealousy and mistrust, which leads to Joseph being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.
One might wonder how the 11 stars found their way into the Passover poem. The 11 stars, in and of themselves a source of mystery and inspiration to artists, poets and thinkers, are charged with the sense of alienation, separation and jealousy when associated with the story of Joseph and his brothers. What do we make of it?
It’s the 11th day of the Omer, and so it’s a good day to contemplate the 11 stars and their meaning, I find. The answer to “Who knows 10?” in aforementioned poem is “Ten are the Commandments” – the ten commandments, whose reception we celebrate at the end of our counting, in 38 days to be exact. I wonder if there’s some sense to be made in the choices Echad Mi Yodea makes with its enumerated motifs and whether there’s a reason why the 11 stars that follow the 10 commandments.
Perhaps we’re being reminded that, for as long as Passover is celebrated and days are counted, not even 10 commandments, representative of a whole Torah will ensure that disconnect, cruelty and injustice will seize to exist next to connection, goodness and and justice. Maybe this is a reminder for us to keep on doing our best as we live our lives, being aware of the joy and sorrow that keep co-exist next to each other and whose separation lines are sometimes so thin that we can’t tell them apart. Today might be a good day to contemplate these things. Tomorrow, on day 12 of the Omer, we might want to contemplate unity and connection when we think of all the twelve tribes of Israel (“Twelve are the tribes of Israel”) whose ancestors are Joseph and his siblings. And perhaps, two days from today, on day thirteen of the Omer, we can contemplate the ways to reach unity and connection by recalling the 13 attributes of compassion, just as Echad Mi Yodea enumerates when reaching its final 13th verse.