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Title: Respect For Other People

Major Focus: Interfaith Relations

Minor Focus: Brotherhood, of all mankind

Abstract: Honesty and fairness are basic to good human and interfaith relations.

Format: Midrash

"These are the rules (mishpotim) you shall set before them..."

Exodus 21:1

In Parshat Mishpotim (Exodus 21:1 to 24:18) we learn about laws to govern how we deal with other people. Showing respect and treating other people nicely is every bit as important as any other mitzvah in the Torah.

Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach once bought a donkey from an Arab donkey-dealer (they didn't have cars in those days!). When he got home, he found a valuable diamond hidden in the saddle. His students told him to keep it, because he could do many good deeds and help other Jewish people with it.

Rabbi Shimon refused to keep the diamond. He said that if one is to be a good Jew and a good person in this world, we must be truthful and not keep things which do not rightly belong to us. So he returned the diamond to the Arab donkey-dealer, who was truly amazed and said, "I didn't know anyone could be so honest! The Jews must have truly wonderful laws. Blessed is the God of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach!"

Teacher Study Guide

Text Background: Immediately after giving the Ten Commandments, the Torah deals with a variety of civil laws. The first group of laws deal with how people are expected to treat one another, and penalties for various cruelties. The second group deal with laws of property and liability.

Objective: An exercise in honesty and fairness as one of the basic lessons of good human relations.

Suggestion: Students should read the entire midrash and discuss the issues involved. The story lends itself to a mini-drama if students care to act it out.

Rabbi Shimon's point-of-view...

  1. Why did Rabbi Shimon refuse to keep the valuable jewel he found?
  2. How did he feel about his students who urged him to keep it?
  3. What about the rule of "finders keepers"?
  4. Have you ever been in a similar situation? What did you do?

The Arab's point-of-view...

  1. How did the donkey-dealer feel when Rabbi Shimon returned the jewel?
  2. Do you think this incident might change the way the Arab felt about Jews?
  3. Do you think such an incident might help relations in general between the Arab and Jewish communities?
  4. How might Israel and her Arab neighbors learn from this story?