Telling Stories, Discovering Midrash, and Learning about Lilith - Lesson Plan for Families
This lesson plan is part of a larger Go & Learn guide entitled “Lilith Evolved: Writing Midrash.”
- Full Text of the Alphabet of Ben Sira 78
- Excerpt from the Alphabet of Ben Sira 78
- “The Coming of Lilith” by Judith Plaskow
Additional midrashim and Genesis stories for kids and families are included at the end of the lesson.
Opening Activity—Journey Game
Form a circle (or a few separate circles if your group is really large) and play the following game.
- The first person says out loud: “I'm going on a journey and I am going to take along a _____ (an item, for example, a dog).”
- The second person says “I am going on a journey and I am going to take along a dog and a ____ (her new item).”
- The third person must repeat the previous two items and add a new one of his own, and so forth.
- No one should be criticized for not being able to remember the chain of items once it gets long—instead invite the group to offer friendly reminders.
When you have gotten around the circle, invite anyone who wants to make up a story explaining why you need the specific sundry items your group has mentioned for its journey. A few versions of the story can be offered, if there are multiple volunteers.
Next, you can explain how this game is like the Bible and midrash: Many Bible stories may have originally been conveyed orally from one generation to another, and like in the circle, sometimes details get forgotten or changed in the retelling. Meanwhile, sometimes the story needs interpretation to understand it—why do you need these particular items? The text itself does not tell you, but it is fun to speculate. The story told about using the items on the journey is like a midrash.
Explain what a midrash is:
Historically, rabbis wrote midrash to explain parts of the biblical text that aren't clear. If there seemed to be a missing piece to a story, an inconsistency between two different passages, or a redundant word or verse, the rabbis would explain the problem by writing a new midrash, filling in the missing dialogue, reconciling the seeming contradiction, or showing how there is no redundancy since each word is there to teach a different lesson or practice.
Examples of Midrash
Ask if anyone knows an example of a midrash that they would like to share with the class. Allow time for a few examples to be presented. If no one has any to share, ask if they know the story about Abraham smashing the idols in his father's shop. Tell the story and ask if they think this story is in the Torah. Explain that this story is a midrash that has become so well known that it is hard to imagine the story possibly happening any other way. Discuss why the rabbis felt the need to create this midrash—what questions does it answer or problems does it solve? (It answers the question of why God chose Abraham in particular to be the father of a new people, which is never explained in the Torah itself.)
Review the two creation stories covered in Genesis 1-3, either by telling the two stories aloud or reading them together from the Bible.
Discuss which story people like better and why.
The Legend of Lilith
Introduce everyone to the rabbinic midrash about Lilith from the Alphabet of Ben Sira. The Alphabet of Ben Sira is a midrashic work from 9th-10th century Babylonia, which is written partially in Hebrew and partially in Aramaic. Its tone is satiric, and themes include the lighter aspects of life, and many proverbs.
Explain that the rabbis wrote the Lilith story to resolve the mystery of why there were two creation stories in Genesis. The rabbis invented the legend of Lilith as the first woman, in order to reconcile the two creation stories into one coherent narrative. According to the Lilith midrash, in Genesis 1, on day six of creation, God created Adam and Lilith at the same moment. Lilith expected full equality with Adam, but when he refused to accept that, she left him. Then God created Eve later, because Adam was lonely. Since she was created from Adam's side, she was more willing to be submissive to him. You can read an excerpted version of the midrash aloud, or you can retell as a story as you choose. (A full translation of the Lilith midrash is also available, but it may be too racy for family ed.)
Discuss the Rabbinic Midrash About Lilith
Ask, “If you had been Lilith facing the options presented, would you have gone back to Adam or not?” Explain that this midrash is one version of a story invented by the ancient rabbis to explain why there are two different creations of women mentioned in Genesis. It is not necessarily a true story.
There are other stories that can be told that also explain why there are two creation stories and two creations of woman.
The Coming of Lilith
Distribute Judith Plaskow's version of Lilith, entitled “The Coming of Lilith” to everyone and invite a parent/adult to read it aloud. Discuss this midrash.
- What does everyone think of it? What do they like about it? What don't they like?
- How is it different from the rabbinic version they just heard?
- How do they imagine Eve and Lilith might have actually gotten along if they had met?
- Does the story make them see God differently?
Writing Our Own Midrashim
Allow people to invent their own versions of what might have happened in the Garden of Eden between Adam and Eve, or Adam and Lilith, or Lilith and Eve. People can work individually or in groups, as they choose. They can have up to 15 minutes to write, draw, or plan a skit together. Then those who would like to present their own modern midrash about creation can share with the group.
The Seventh Day, by Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen (Kar-Ben Publishing, Inc., 2005)
This is a picture book story of God creating the world in seven days.
The Kids' Cartoon Bible, by Chaya M. Burstein (The Jewish Publication Society, 2002)
This tells the traditional version of Eve's creation from Adam's rib.
A First Book of Jewish Bible Stories, retold by Mary Hoffman (Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1994)
This tells that Adam and Eve are created at the same time, on the sixth day.
But God Remembered: Stories of Women from Creation to the Promised Land, by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1995)
This includes another midrash on Lilith from a feminist point of view.