Provide an overview of Ashrei. It is an acrostic poem of the Aleph-Bet. The main messages include: People are happy when they are close to God; God cares about the poor and the oppressed; and, God rewards good behavior and punishes evil.
Print out a copy of the Ashrei and cut it into paper slips, with one line of the prayer per slip. Have students pick slips out of a container and put in order of where they appear in the prayer.
Round the World: each student reads their line, and the rest of the class repeats. Students can toss a ball to the next readers, to get them more active.
Once everyone has read, they will find their line in the Siddur and figure out its translation.
Each student will illustrate the message of their line on a piece of paper. Put all of the papers together on the wall as a 'Visual Ashrei.'
What does Shema u'Verchotecha mean?
- Shema and her blessings
- Discussion: They tell a story. Lets try to figure out what the story is. From what you know about Jewish history and Torah - what story do you think the rabbis who wrote our tefillot would want to tell? What story should Jews be reminded of on a daily basis? Take ideas, and have someone write them on the board.
Pass out Siddurim. Let's look at the story. Which blessings are connected to the Shema? And what is their purpose? Go through the below list, have the students read each blessing in chevruta, then summarize as a class and discuss the related questions below:
- Yotzer Or (morning), Maariv Aravim (evening). Ask: what are these prayers essentially about? CREATION. Discuss: Why should we start with this? Point out that the Yotzer Or says God creates each day anew - the process of Creation is still happening.
- Ahavat Olam. What is this prayer about? COVENANT. What is covenant? A relationship, love.
- Shema. What's this about? REVELATION and the giving of the TORAH. Discuss: What does revelation mean? Literally, revealing of Torah at Sinai. But what does Revelation mean to you? (learning something new in class, realizing something about yourself, revealing a secret to a friend.)
- Geula. What is this prayer about? Exodus from Egypt, a merciful God that helps us get out of difficult situations and is capable of wonders. REDEMPTION. What does redemption mean? Return. Why would this be included in the story the rabbis wanted to tell? What is important about it?
Say to students: Now that we know the basic story told by the Shema and her blessings, let's look at some specifics. These blessings contain a lot of mitzvot. Let's see how many we can find!
In chevruta, students will read through the blessings (in English) and find as many mitzvot as they can. Encourage them to get creative and think of ones that aren't explicit - there's no one right answer! They will likely come up with:
- Shema in the morning and evening (when you lie down and when you rise up)
- Teaching children
- Less explicit: worshiping only one God, study of Torah
Discuss: Which of these mitzvot do you practice? What do those mean to you?
Types of Prayer
What are the 3 types of prayers that we have in the service?
Use "parent" metaphor: in an ideal world there are 3 different types of statements you use with your parents.
- Requests: Bakashot
- Praise: Shevach
- Gratitude: Hodaya
Split students into pairs, giving each a prayer book. Students must find and categorize into Bakashot, Shevach, or Hodaya as many prayers as they know. When done, bring the group back together to compare how they categorized the prayers.
Split class into 3 even groups, and assign each group a different category of prayer. The students' mission is to make the case for why their type of prayer is the most important in having a relationship with God.
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