By Laura Seymour
Often I am asked to help someone with a d’var Torah, a bar mitzvah speech or any address that needs some Jewish content. The words “d’var Torah” mean “word of Torah,” and that really opens up a wide range of possible topics.
You may choose the Torah portion of the week or you can look for words that teach a lesson you want to focus on. Those are just some of the first steps to giving the perfect d’var Torah, so that people walk away saying, “Wow, I learned something!”
This week I came across an article that suggests many ways of understanding the text as well as how to share those understandings with other people. Here are the techniques that originally appeared in “New Traditions,” published by the National Havurah Committee, and were then posted on the website, MyJewishLearning.com:
Take a close-up look at very small fragments of the text, maybe even just a word or two.
Observe the text from a distance, and as you come down, make observations on the trip.
The Diving Board
Begin with an idea from the text. Then take a big jump and go into another area that seems connected.
In past times, a visiting rabbi would stand up to speak and “accidentally” drop his snuffbox. In looking for it, he would say, “That reminds me of a thought about. … ” He could then go off in any direction he wanted!
The Biblical Personality
Analyze a character in the Bible and the events in his or her life and relate it to our lives today.
Present discrepancies in facts or texts, and then explain how the pieces really do fit together.
Offer some historical insight (what was happening when … ).
These are all possible directions to take. The most important thing to remember, though, is that each of us can read the Torah and find meaning for ourselves that we wish to share with others.
One last thought. Being told that you must do a “d’var Torah” is often scary. And yet, I prefer to call it a JEM: “Jewish Educational Moment.” It’s just a moment to teach both others and yourself!
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.