Group Size: 5-30
Estimated Time: 90 minutes
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Teach about the mitzva of HaChodesh, show how the moon works
Cookies; black and white circle of same size
Background: On the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan we read a special maftir from Sefer Shmot in which Am Yisrael is given their first mitzva, that of declaring Rosh Chodesh. This mitzva was a very important one for the Jews, as declaring Rosh Chodesh dictates when chaggim are held. It was one of the three mitzvot, along with Brit Milah and Shabbat, which was outlawed before the Chanuka story.
Game 1: Declaring the New Moon
To simulate this important activity, we will play a game we have done previously in snif this year, only with one twist. The game we will play is called alibi. Pick two people to be the criminals. They must go outside and plan out what their crime was, going over details to ensure that their stories will match. One at a time they are brought back in. One at a time the people in the circle must ask questions to them to see if their stories match up. For example, they might be asked, “What type of car were you driving?” or “What were you wearing?” Once the first person answers all the questions, the second one returns and is asked the same questions. If their answers do not match for three questions, they lose.
To increase the chinuch and fun, choose contestants by having them bid how fast they can come up with a story. (For example, two people may decide that they can do it in one minute, while another may bid 30 seconds. Whichever has the lowest bid gets to go out. However, perhaps only do this once or twice, to make sure everyone gets a chance.)
Explanation: During the time when there was a Sanhedrin (a main Jewish court that made laws) Rosh Chodesh would not happen according to a calendar. Today we have calendars that tell us what day Rosh Chodesh is. Back then, they had to rely on people seeing the moon and testifying that it was a new moon. If two people saw the new moon, they would go to Sanhedrin and testify. The Sanhedrin would test them, just like we did today, to see if they were telling the truth. If they passed, a Rosh Chodesh was declared. Because it was a big mitzva to testify that you saw the New Moon, people would race to the court as soon as they saw it in order to get the chance to do so. Thus, the people who can do it faster get to compete in our game.
Game 2: The Moon and its Phases
This isn’t really so much a game, but at least kids will like it (hopefully). Hand out a cookie to each kid. Tell them that they will each be allowed to eat the cookie, but for starters they must take only one bite of the cookie and then hold the rest up. Say a Bracha with them and then let them chomp. Once each kid has a cookie in the air, have them line up according to how much cookie they have left.
Explanation: This quick exercise is a way to teach the kids about Rosh Chodesh and the phases of the moon. The kids probably know that the moon changes in size, though they might not understand why or have a clear grasp on the concept. Basically, the moon goes through phases. At the “New Moon” you cant’ see anything. In the middle of the month, ie the 15th day, it’s full (a complete cookie). In between, it goes from small to large and back again. Use the black and white circles to show how this happens. Keep the white circle still and move the black circle across it. The black circle, for those who wish to know, is the shadow of the earth on the moon, blocking the sunlight.
The important thing about this is that it does not take 30 days for this cycle to complete, but rather 29.5. This means that months switch off being 30 days or 29 days. This is why declaring the new moon is so important – it can go either way. Any given month can be either 29 or 30 days.
Game 3: Bizz/Buzz
Sit the kids in the circle. The kids start counting off around the circle. Any time they get to a number that has a 5 in it or is a multiple of 5 they must say bizz. Any time they get to a number that has a 7 in it or is a multiple of 7, they must say buzz. You can start slowly by first only using Buzz or Bizz, and then later having both together. (1, 2, 3, 4, bizz, 6, buzz, 8, 9, bizz, 11, 12, 13, buzz, bizz, 16, buzz, 18, 19, bizz, buzz…)
Instead of having people get out when they mess up, keeping starting over from the same person, so that everyone always says the same number. Do for a bit until the people are fairly comfortable with what they are saying. Then add someone (a madrich) to the front of the line. Now everyone isn’t saying the same thing – they are all off by one, because a new person is the starter.
Explanation: This game is out way of trying to explain how adding one day at the end of a month can change the composition of the following month. For example, Rosh Hashana is always on the first day of Tishrei. If the 29th day of Elul is a Monday and we don’t add a 30th day, then Rosh Hashana will by on Tuesday. But if we DO add a 30th day, Rosh Hashana won’t be until Wednesday. This is the way that we are actually the ones who decide when chaggim are. We set what day of the week they fall out on. (Of course, today this is all done by a calendar, as we discussed above.) Ask the kids what day of the week they would most like a chag to fall out on. This is different than Shabbat, which is always in the same place. This is why it’s so cool that Rosh Chodesh was the first mitzva. Hashem created the world, and this is one of the things we remember on Shabbat. But by giving us mitzvot He made us partners, so we get to decide when Chaggim are.
Addition Games: To simulate this same idea there are a number of other games you could play in addition to or instead of Bizz/Buzz:
1. Concentration. Give everyone numbers and play a few rounds, and then give them new numbers off by one. (the person to the left of ‘0’ is the new zero.)
2. Frogs in the Pond. You go around the circle. The first person says “One Frog”. The second one says “Two eyes”. The third says “Four legs” and the fourth says “kerplop in the pond.” Then you start again. This time it goes:
2 frogs; 4 eyes; 8 legs; kerplop; kerplop in the pond; (so five people are involved.)
and then 4 frogs; 8 eyes; 16 legs; kerplop; kerplop; kerplop in the pond. After doing this a bit, switch everyone down one spot. Because it takes a while for everyone to get involved, you might want to do this one is groups of 6 or 7 kids.
3. And I’m sure there are a number of other games you could think of that could be done similarly.