Using texts and experiential learning experiences, this lesson emphasizes the reasons why giving tzedakah, or charity, is a fundamental concept in Judaism.
One - Forty-five Minute Class Period
The learner will:
- define tzedakah.
- study traditional Jewish texts regarding tzedakah (charity).
- exchange gifts with classmates.
- reflect upon the benefits of giving to others.
Students will exchange gifts with their classmates in order to understand how it feels to give to others and to get from others. In late winter, Jewish people celebrate the holiday of Purim, the highlight of which is the reading of a special scroll called the Megillah. This text describes how Esther helped free the Jewish people from a wicked king. It is customary that small gifts such as traditional tri-cornered pastries called hamentashen are delivered to others. This is called shalach manos. If you do this lesson at this time of the year, children can fill baskets to take to senior residences.
Write the following questions on the board:
- What was the last gift you received, and how did you feel when you got it?
- What was the last gift you GAVE, and how did you feel when you GAVE it?
- Ask the students to sit in a circle. Tell the students they will take turns answering the questions from their own experiences, alternating from question one to question two around the circle. For example, the first person answers question one, the second person answers question two, the third person answers question one, the fourth person answers question two, etc.Tell the class that today they are going to explore the commandment to give to others who are less fortunate.
- Write the word tzedakah on the board. Ask the class if they have ever heard the term or if they know of any similar Hebrew words.
- Write the word charity on the board. Ask the class if they’ve ever heard the term.
- Explain that tzedakah is the Hebrew word for charity. Spend a few minutes discussing what charity is. Ask what words in English are there for giving or charity. Students may know words in other languages. You may want to introduce Spanish, French, Russian, or Arabic words for charity.
- Explain that the word tzedakah comes from the Hebrew word tzedek which means just or righteous. Ask them why they think tzedakah is righteous and just.
- Distribute the study sheet with traditional Jewish texts (see Attachment One). Assign each student a reading buddy and have them read through the quotes together. Tell them to answer the questions on the worksheet.
- Review texts and discuss their answers as a whole class (see Attachment Two for suggested answers).
- Explain that you are going to play a game called “Giants and Elves” (known in Hebrew as “Gamad and Anak.”) Have each student write his or her name on a piece of paper. Arrange the class into two equal-size groups and send them to opposite sides of the room. Have two separate boxes, one for each group. The children from each group will put their names in a box. Switch the boxes. Have each child pick one name from the box. They each should have a name from the other group. The name picked is the person’s (secret) elf. (Each student is a giant to one person and an elf to another person.) The giants are responsible for giving a gift to the elf. Tell them not to say a word to anyone about whom they picked.
- Provide each side of the room with a variety of art supplies. The students may ask for additional art supplies, but they may not cross to the other side of the room. Explain that they will use these supplies to make a gift for the elves. The gift may be a picture, an object, a poem, a story, etc. Ask them to personalize their gifts as much as possible.
- Give students about 25 minutes to work on their gifts.
- Have the giants exchange gifts with the elves. (Each student gives one gift and receives one gift.)
- Ask students to reflect, in writing, on what it felt like to get a gift and to give a gift. Discuss how giving and receiving makes them feel. Guide students to understand that it is important to give tzedakah because it helps others feel good and because it makes the person who is giving feel good.
- Afterward, ask the class if they think they would feel the same or different if that gift were not just something fun, but actually something they NEED. Share with the students some examples of things that you have that you need, and express how appreciative you are to those who gave them to you (G-d, your parents, your family, your friends, etc.) Ask the students to reflect on what they have that they appreciate.
- Ask students if they think it matters that they used materials that were supplied by someone else and not their own. Guide students to realize that ALL materials are, in fact, supplied by G-d. Suggest that the fact that all that we have really comes from G-d, gives us more reason to share it with others.
- Have students write a poem (or paragraph) expressing why they think it is important to give tzedakah.
Assess students based on their understanding of the texts. Also assess students based on teacher observations and participation in discussions. Use the following rubric for the poems or paragraphs:
Rubric: one point for each for a total of three points.
- Writing includes expression of feelings about tzedakah.
- Writing includes the importance of tzedakah.
- Writing shows complete thoughts and correct word usage.
Look at the lists of items that the students appreciate (from School/Home Connections) and choose one item that a large portion of the class wrote on their list (such as food, clothing, blankets, etc.). Begin a collection of this item to donate to a local shelter or soup kitchen.
Lesson Developed By:Shira Hammerman
Read the following texts with your partner. Then, answer the questions.
After reading the texts with your partner, answer the following questions.
What is tzedakah?
Tzedakah is charity. It is the act of giving to someone who is less fortunate and has less than you. Tzedakah is related to justice.
According to these texts, is tzedakah important?
Why do you think so?
The texts say that tzedakah saves you from death and brings peace. Both of those are very important.
List five things you would give to someone who is destitute.
Answers will vary but may include clothing, food, money, shelter, blankets, a job, toys, books, school supplies, soap, etc.
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