Social Action and Responsibility 1

  • 60 minutes
  • Grades: 9-12
  • Lesson Plan

by: Mark Rosenberg

Students are introduced to the the concept of “Tikkun Olam” and study several Jewish sources. They arrive at a working definition of the term chesed.


The central goal of this unit is to explore and analyze the Jewish underpinnings of social action in order to inspire students to enthusiastically participate in Chesed activities. To accomplish this, it is first essential to establish that it is important for our students to begin thinking beyond themselves and their families and acknowledge that the world is “broken”. How can we expect or inspire students to take responsibility for Tikkun Olam if they may not see the world as fractured? The teacher should briefly introduce this unit and explain, with the opening trigger, that we will be exploring the issue of social action and Tikkun Olam.

Lesson objectives

By the end of the lesson students will:

1. Know the definitions of Tikkun Olam and Chesed.

2. Know that Judaism regards the performance of Chesed as an obligation incumbent on every Jew.

3. Be able to read passages in the Bible and rabbinic literature (in Hebrew or in English).

4. Be able to understand a translated Biblical or rabbinic text.


Tikkun Olam


Gemilut Hasidim

Resources & Equipment needed

Bibles for students
Worksheets (see appendix)


1. Opening Trigger: Question for class: what do you think of when you hear the phrase “Tikun Olam”? Encourage students to consider where they have heard these words before. On the blackboard list student comments make and try to guide students to mention the Aleinu prayer. Explain Aleinu contains the words לתקן עולם בעול מלכות. What is significant in saying this? Explain that the term “Tikun Olam“- or healing the world – is a fundamental concept in Judaism and we will be learning about it more in this unit. Ask students: what in the world needs “healing”? Can they think of injustices they see in the news, Internet etc.? Explain that before we can heal the world, we must first explore and discuss our own personal responsibility to care for people around us.

2. Text Study: Source 1 – Mishna Avot 1:13: ‘Think-Pair-Share’ activity. Each student must answer each of Hillel’s questions in writing and try to think of ways to resolve the contradiction of the first two comments/questions. Following this, ask students to pair up in havruta to share answers and come to a consensus. Finally, the teacher should call on a few students to share comments. See the teacher’s guide in appendix 1 for more guidance. Explain that we will now move from a discussion of a personal nature and look at a Biblical example of how Avraham makes huge efforts to help others.

3. Text Study: Source 2 – Bereishit 18:1-8: This passage is chosen to further the students’ conceptualization of what it means to reach out to help another person. Avraham is our historical, religious pioneer especially when it comes to faith and deeds of loving-kindness. Students could answer the questions inhavruta to see the tensions he faced and what the text says about a person who is willing to reach beyond their own personal interests. See the teacher’s guide in appendix 1 for more guidance.

4. Definitions: Following our questions on Avraham’s behaviour regarding the visitors, we must accurately define what the word Chesed means and how Judaism transforms a “good thing to do” into a practical exercise. Define the term Chesed and create a working definition of each idea using the students’ language. Gemilut Hasadim, literally meaning “the giving of loving-kindness,” is a fundamental social value in the everyday lives of Jews. It is an act that an individual completes without the anticipation of receiving something in return. There is no fixed measure of Chesed, which is one reason why rabbinic teachers articulate the importance of doing it all the time.

5. Text Study : Source 3 – Shulchan Arukh Yoreh Deah 335(Optional): Look at source 2 with the students and answer the questions together. This is a practical look at how the Rabbis codified our responsibility to do Chesed. The excerpt gives us clear directions how to go about visiting the sick. See the teacher’s guide in appendix 1 for more guidance.

6. Brainstorm:Create a class “brainstorm list” of ways people can help/fix/act (do Chesed) to others. Preserve and use this as an artifact to be used in continuation of the unit. Examples of Chesed are: comforting mourners, visiting the sick, helping the infirm, hospitality for visitors, etc.

7. Summary Activity: Source 4 – JL Peretz story retold by the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks: This story provides a positive example of how someone does a deed of loving kindness. However, the source also offers the opportunity for a higher level discussion. What is the meaning of a spiritual person who is close to God? Is action or learning more important in Judaism? The enigmatic phrase, “and maybe even higher” at the end of the story offers interesting insights for discussion. In order for students to appreciate the depth of the story, it is important to give them a little background of the historical debate between Chasidim (represented by the Rebbe) and Mitnagdim (The Lithuanian scholar). The Chasidim stressed devotion and closeness to God while the Mitnagdim believed that serving God meant learning of Torah. The Mitnagdim often belittled the Chasidim as unlearned and ignorant. The story shows the “turn around” of the Mitnaged who realises the great devotion and Chesed of the Rebbe and that by doing Chesed one can reach the greatest heights of spirituality. (To learn more about the historical debate, read the section “Chasidim and Mitnagdim” here –

7. Homework: Ask students to do one act of Chesed before the next lesson and write a half page response detailing either their own feelings or the reaction of the person whom they helped.

8. Extension: Explore these web-based resources to learn about Chesed in action: Meir Panim – Relief Centres in Israel Reut High School, Jerusalem Ziv Tzedakah Fund, International