One thing on which all streams of Judaism agree is that some of the core principles of the Jewish religion revolve around g'milut Chassidim, kvod adam l'chavero and tikkun olam. But what exactly do those concepts involve?
High School students at Yeshivat Kadima of St. Louis have been exploring these questions as part of their course on Jewish History and Contemporary Jewish Issues. The students integrate textual studies with history and real life dilemmas as they explore Jewish issues of today in light of Jewish sources and Jewish history.
The second semester of the course began in the beginning of January with a focus on the relationships between chessed and the students' own lives in light of a variety of the teachings of the Rambam, one of the greatest medieval Jewish thinkers. During January, the class focused on "How to be Good." After viewing a thought provoking video entitled "For Goodness Sakes" the students took a poll in which they were asked to note some of the traits that make a person a good person according to the video. A second poll was used to compare traits that the students feel make one a good person according to Judaism. The students then moved to a linoboard where they expanded on their answers and expressed their thoughts about how Judaism emphasizes "caring for 'the Other'".
The next lesson involved creating a Powerpoint Presentation which focused on definitions of goodness that could be derived from reading traditional texts, particularly those authored by Rambam. A different textual source was presented on each slide, and each student was asked to add his/her own slide to the presentation with a modern-day example of the "chesed" implied in the source. In addition to the feedback given by the instructor, the students were asked to review and comment on each other's work.
The focus of the discussion then turned to the concept of "tzelem Elokim" – "the image of G-d" as the fundamental principle behind the Jewish concepts of g'milut Chassidim, kvod adam l'chavero and tikkun olam. Each student was encouraged to look at how he/she embodies "tzelem Elokim" by reflecting on the following questions:
1. Which of your qualities most reflects "tzelem Elokim"? Give an example of when your behavior reflects "tzelem Elokim".
2. Which quality that reflects "tzelem Elokim" do you respect in someone you look up to? This can be a family member, friend, teacher, anyone in your circle of life. Give an example of what this person did that makes him/her an example of "tzelem Elokim".
The students submitted their own thoughts and then commented on the answers that their peers had offered to further expand and clarify their visions of "tzelem Elokim".
The next session focused on giving Tzedakah, particularly on whether giving Tzedakah is a choice or an obligation? The students examined different sources that command us to give tzdekka and commented on the sources that they found to be most convincing. They then studied Rambam's pyramid of the 8 levels of giving Tzedakah and created a class PPT in which each student discussed one of the Rambam's levels of Tzedakah and related it to their own personal experience.
To summarize the lesson the students were presented with halachot and dilemmas which elicited serious thought about issues that are raised by the injunction to give Tzedakah. The students were asked to comment on those issues as they considered their own feelings and the dictates of Jewish law.