Piecing Together the Puzzle (Private-Religious)

3, 4, 5

This lesson will introduce students to the idea that everyone must play a role in perfecting the world, a concept known in Hebrew as tikkun olam. Modeling the concept of tikkun olam as a collaborative effort will put the overwhelming task within the students’ reach. Students will understand that they too can help shape their surroundings.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne to two forty minute periods

The learner will:

  • define tikkun olam and philanthropy.
  • brainstorm ways in which s/he can take part in tikkun olam.
  • collaborate on an effort to illustrate various opportunities for tikkun olam.
  • Student copies of traditional texts regarding tikkun olam (see Handout One and Handout Two)
  • Large self stick notes
  • Poster shaped as large world
  • Large blank puzzle pieces (available at www.jigsawpuzzle.com) Number pieces in order before distributing to students.
  • Large graph paper for School/Home Connection graph
Home Connection 

Have students take home the list of activities that qualify as tikkun olam. Instruct them to ask five people how many times per month they do each activity and to keep a record of every person’s answer. As a class, make a graph to show which tikkun olam activities are done most often.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Instruct students to close their eyes. Tell them that they are now going to travel to a perfect community. Ask them to visualize what they see around them. Allow students to open eyes and write 2-3 sentences describing their perfect communities. Share responses. Guide students to focus on serious characteristics of perfect communities. Write list on board or paper.

  2. Explain that there is a Jewish concept of tikkun olam which requires everyone to help perfect the world. Define tikkun olam as acts of loving kindness to repair or perfect the world, and explain that it is each person’s responsibility to leave the world a little better than it was when s/he came to it. Tikkun Olam is one form of philanthropy – giving time, talent and treasure, and taking action for the common good.

  3. Share text from Leviticus 19:16 and related commentary regarding tikkun olam (see Handout One).

  4. Ask students to think of three actions that they can do in order to make their perfect world. Distribute three self stick notes per student and instruct them to write each idea on a different one. Have them note if the idea is an example of giving of their time and/or talent and/or treasure.

  5. Have students share their ideas and post their notes on the poster shaped like a large globe. Ask one student to act as a recorder and to make a list of all tasks mentioned. This list can later be sent home to complete the school/home connection activity.

  6. Ask learners if they think tikkum olam is an easy or hard task. Ask them to raise their hands if they think they can do it themselves. Ask them to raise their hands if they think it would be better to work with someone else. Have some volunteers explain why this might be true.

  7. Explain that tikkun olam is a collaborative effort because all people work on repairing the world together.

  8. Introduce the text from Pirkei Avot (See Handout Two) and allow students to answer the question on the worksheet. After hearing their thoughts, explain that many commentaries explain that Rabbi Tarfon is talking about the task of serving God and perfecting the world. He is saying that there is a lot to be done and each person has a limited amount of time to do it. He concludes that it is no single person’s responsibility to perfect the entire world, but everyone must do whatever they can. Note: Pirkei Avot, translated as Ethics of Our Fathers, is a compilation of sayings by rabbis during the Mishnaic era regarding ethics.

  9. Compare this concept to a jigsaw puzzle where every piece seems small but, in reality, is of fundamental importance for finishing the task. So too, every kind act that a person does is of fundamental importance because, when put together, these acts perfect the world.

  10. Give each student 3-4 attached puzzle pieces and tell them that we will collaborate to illustrate the concept of tikkun olam. Instruct them to choose one activity that was listed as being helpful to perfect the world and make a picture on their puzzle pieces.

  11. Have students assemble puzzle and write the quote from Pirkei Avot in the middle. (Each student can write a few of words.)


Instruct students to pick one activity that was illustrated which they either do or would like to do and write a paragraph about how this activity is tikkun olam. Assess whether or not their paragraphs demonstrate an understanding of the concept of tikkun olam.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
    2. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe a benefit of group cooperation.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.1 Give examples of philanthropic traditions of diverse cultures.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe one reason why a person might give or volunteer.