Superman and the 10 Tests of Avraham Avinu: What Makes a True Hero?

What makes a true hero? In this activity, teens will examine the 10 tests of Avraham Avinu, and other major events in Avraham's life. Teens will discuss and debate: Which events made Avraham into the patriarch of the Jewish people? What made Superman a hero? What makes each of us heroes? What kind of events in our lives define who we are?

Through the activity and learning session, teens will learn that our personalities are most powerfully shaped by the small deeds that we do on a daily, consistent basis. The combination of all these "smaller" acts are the real way to achieve greatness.

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  1. Sit down with your NCSYers and open the conversation with the question: What moments have defined your life to this point? You can talk about your own experiences, and encourage the teens to share their own experiences as well.
  2. Next, ask the same question about famous superheroes. Which moments have defined their lives and their successes? When did Superman really become Superman? Was it when his parents died? Was it in the phone booth where he quickly changed into his uniform? Or maybe one of the numerous times when he saved innocent people from danger?
  3. Distribute the 20 cards in your envelope. On each of these cards is an important moment in the life of Avraham Avinu. Ask everyone in the group to choose 1 card that they feel was the transitional moment when Avraham rose to greatness and became the patriarch of the Jewish people. Make sure the NCSYers understand each of these major events, and the significance of each one. Have them compare, contrast, and debate their selections.
  4. After the group has had a chance to discuss each of these power moments in the life of Avraham Avinu, tell them that you would like to introduce a different approach to what made Avraham truly great that goes beyond this list of major events.
  5. Together with your NCSYers, learn through the session about the death of Superman and the ultimate collapse of the comic book industry. Help the NCSYers understand that the comic book industry became too focused on “big events” and "wow" moments, instead of focusing on what people truly loved about superheroes - reading about their everyday life challenges. What makes superheroes great is the development of their character over time and through many different circumstances.
    • Transition to what will ultimately be the take-home message of this session: Avraham’s place as a patriarch of the Jewish people - and what he is best known for - did not come simply from the 10 major tests of faith that he had to pass, but rather through his day-to-day actions of being a kind, caring, and compassionate person.
    • Study the Torah sources included in the session (the introduction to Ein Yakov, Gemara Brachos, and the Mishna in Pirkei Avos) that all point to the idea that consistently doing the right thing, in a modest way, day after day is what makes you into a great person and a real mentsch. It's not the one-time large donation to feed hungry children, or the few big community service events we attend that change the course of our lives, but rather the consistent good behavior done in a modest way in all circumstances.
    • The introduction to the Ein Yakov shows us the idea that even major themes in Judaism like belief in G-d and loving your neighbor are overshadowed by the idea of consistently serving Hashem on a daily basis, as is eluded to by the verse describing the daily korban tamid.
    • The Mishna is Pirkei Avos through the commentary of the Rambam point to the idea that it is better to give $1 every day for 1,000 days then to give one gift of $1000 because repeating a good behavior every day really changes a person for the better.
    • The Gemara in Brachos shows us the importance of modesty. It teaches us that true greatness is found in the quiet moments, not when we stand on a chair and bang on our chest.
  6. Close with some practical examples that may trip us up on a daily basis. For example, we may feel really good about volunteering at a food pantry, but at the same time be willing to cyber-bully a classmate. Or, we sign up for trips to visit sick children in the hospital, but never call our aging grandparents who would love to hear from us. There are many other examples that show that the real moments that define your life and define who you are are not the “glamorous” acts of kindness. Rather, real character development comes from the small things done on a daily basis.