Engaging with the Other

In this hour-long text study designed for 9th-12th graders and adults, students will explore the Jewish value of inclusivity, as well as the challenges of engaging with those who are very different from oneself. Students will also consider the ways that difference can been seen as disgusting or wondrous, depending on perspective. The lesson uses Genesis 18:1-8, as well as Plimo, Kiddushin 81a – 81b and BT Shabbat 53b, as a way to engage the students in these themes.

August 29, 2013

By Rabbi Steven Greenberg

Lesson 3: Engaging with the Other

  Time needed: 60 minutes
Recommended age range: 9-12th grade, adults

  • Students will explore the Jewish value of inclusivity, as well as the challenges of engaging with those who are very different from oneself
  • Students will consider the ways that difference can been seen as disgusting or wondrous, depending on perspective

Materials: Copies of the text, one per each pair of students


Lesson 3, Text Study 1

בְּרֵאשִׁית  יח׳

(א) ויֵַּרָא אֵלָיו יְיָ׳ בְּאֵלוֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא יוֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם (ב) וְיִשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה שְׁלוֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים נִצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיַּרְא וַיָרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַרְצָה (ג) וַיֹּאמֶר אֲדֹנָי אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ אַל נָא תַּעֲבֹר מֵעַל עַבְדֵּךְ (ד) יֻקָח נָא מְעַט מַיִם וְרָחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם וְהִשָׁעַנוּ תַּחַת הָעֵץ (ה) וָאֶקְחָה פַּת לֶחֶם וְסָעֲדוּ לִבְּכֶם אַחַר תַּעַבְרוּ כִּי עַל כֵּן עֲבַרְתֶּם עַל עַבְדְּכֶם, וְיֹאמְרוּ כֵּן תַּעֲשֶׂה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ (ו) וִימַהֵר אַבְרָהָם הָאֹהֶלָה אֶל שָׂרָה וַיֹּאמֶר מַהֲרִי שְׁלוֹשׁ סְאִים קֶמַח סֹלֶת לוּשִׁי וַעֲשִׂי עוּגוֹת (ז) וְאֶל הַבָּקָר רָץ אַבְרָהָם וְיִקַּח בֵּן בָּקָר רַךְ וְטוֹב וְיִתֵּן אֶל הַנַּעַר וַיְמַהֵר לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתוֹ (ח) וְיִקַּח חֶמְאָה וְחָלָב וּבֵן הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְיִתֵּן לִפְנֵיהֶם וְהוּא עוֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ וְיֹאכְלוּ.


Genesis Chapter 18

1. And the Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre; and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2. And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the ground, 3. And said, My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, pass not away, I beseech you, from your servant; 4. Let a little water, I beseech you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5. And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and you comfort your hearts; after that you shall pass on; seeing that you are come to your servant. And they said, So do, as you have said. 6. And Abraham hurried to the tent to Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes. 7. And Abraham ran to the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it to a young man; and he hurried to prepare it. 8. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they


Discussion Questions:

  1. What does this text say about the relative importance of the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger?
  2. In the texts prior to this, Abraham has just circumcised himself, and is therefore in considerable discomfort during the episode recounted in the text. How does this make you see this text differently?


Lesson 3, Text Study 2


Plimo, Kiddushin 81a – 81b

Plimo used to say every day, “An arrow in Satan’s eyes!” One day, it was the eve of the Day of Atonement, and the Satan disguised himself as a poor man and went and called out at his door, and so bread was taken out to him. The poor man pleaded with Plimo, “On such a day when everyone is inside, shall I be outside?” Thereupon he was taken into the house and bread was offered him. “On a day like this,” he urged, “when everyone sits at the table, shall I sit alone!” He was led to the table and sat down. As he sat, it was evident that his body was covered with oozing sores. As well, he was behaving repulsively at the dinner table and Plimo rebuked him saying, “Sit properly!”

Said the poor man, “Give me a glass [of liquor],” and one was given him. He coughed and spat his phlegm into it. They scolded him, [whereupon] he fainted and died. Later, Plimo’s household heard people crying out, “Plimo has killed a man, Plimo has killed a man!” Fleeing, Plimo hid in an outhouse. The Satan followed him there and Plimo fell before him. Seeing how Plimo was suffering, the Satan disclosed his identity and said to him, “Why have you always spoken this way [saying, ‘an arrow in Satan’s eyes!’]?” Then how am I to speak? “You should say, ‘Let the Merciful One rebuke  Satan.’”


Discussion Questions:

In Jewish tradition, Satan serves as a reminder to G-d of G-d’s disappointment in humankind. When Plimo says, “An arrow in Satan’s eyes!” he is bragging about his ability to triumph over the evil inclination with which all humans contend.

  1. What is the real challenge with welcoming in all guests? Why can it be so genuinely difficult?
  2. What can be the consequences of welcoming a difficult guest? What are the consequences of not welcoming that guest?
  3. How would you respond to Plimo?
  4. Who do you side with in this text? Who is being taught a lesson here?


Lesson 3, Text Study 3


The Miracle Gender Bender

 תָּלְמוּד בָּבְלִי מַסֶכֶת שַׁבַּת דַּף נג’, עַמּוּד ב’

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּאֶחָד שֶׁמֵּתָה אִשְׁתּוֹ וְהִנִּיחָה בֶּן לִינֹק וְלֹא הָיָה לוֹ שְׂכַר מְנִיקָהּ לִיתָן וְנַעֲשֶׂה לוֹ נֶס וְנִפְתְּחוּ לוֹ דָּדִין כִּשְׁנֵי דֵּדִי אִשָּׁה וְהֵנִיק אֶת בְּנוֹ. אָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף בֹּא וּרְאֵה כַּמָּה גָּדוֹל אָדָם זֶה שֶׁנַּעֲשֶׂה לוֹ נֶס כְּזֶה. א”ל אָבַיָי, אַדְּרַבָּה כַּמָּה גָּרוּעַ אָדָם זֶה שֶׁנִּשְׁתַּנּוּ לוֹ סִדְרֵי בְּרֵאשִׁית. אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה בֹּא וּרְאֵה כַּמָּה קָשִׁים מְזוֹנוֹתָיו שֶׁל אָדָם שֶׁנִּשְׁתַּנּוּ עָלָיו סִדְרֵי בְּרֵאשִׁית.  אָמַר רַב נַחֲמָן תֵּדַע דְּמִתְרַחֵשׁ נִסָּא וְלָא אַבְּרוּ מְזֻנִּי.


BT Shabbat 53b

There once was a man whose wife died and left him with an infant to suckle and he could not afford to pay a wet nurse. A miracle occurred and he grew breasts like a woman’s two breasts and he nursed his child. R. Yosef said: Come and see just how great this man is that such a miracle was performed for him! Abaye said: On the contrary. How bad is this man that the orders of nature were changed for him.


Discussion Questions:

  1. Yosef and Abaye have very different responses to the story of the man who grew breasts. Fundamentally, what do you think is their disagreement?
  2. Where does difference feel monstrous in our lives, and where does it feel wondrous?
  3. Why does difference feel so difficult or even scary sometimes?
  4. People who are different from us can remind us that things can always change in our lives — and something like this could happen to us. We think, “it could have been me.” Share a time where you have felt that “it could have been you.” What was that like?
  5. What do you do to get over your difficulties in relating to people who are different? How do you turn a monster into a wonder? How do you truly welcome those who are different?
  6. How does your community or congregation become a place that can turn monsters into wonders, a place that all kinds of people can see as their home?


This text study was created by Rabbi Steve Greenberg for Keshet. We encourage you to download this resource and share it with others, as long as you credit Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Keshet.