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The institution of the d’var Torah–literally a “word of Torah,” a lesson or sermon interpreting a text, which can be delivered by anyone, lay or clergy–reflects a fundamental Jewish belief in the infinite interpretive possibilities of Torah. This concept is best articulated in Mishnah Avot 5:22, “Turn it and turn it; for everything is in it,” and in the rabbinic assertion that each person who stood at Sinai saw a different face of Torah.
While the concept of the d’var Torah may be empowering, the prospect of preparing one can be intimidating. However, preparing and presenting a d’var Torah doesn’t necessarily demand vast Jewish knowledge or extensive rhetorical skills. It requires only a willingness to explore a text and to share your exploration with others.
First, choose the text that will serve as the basis of your d’var Torah. It is common for divrei torah (the plural form) to focus on the weekly Torah portion. You can locate the name of the portion for a given week in a Jewish calendar. The text of the portion can be found in a humash (a printed Torah for synagogue use which usually also contains haftarot, corresponding prophetic readings), available in any synagogue sanctuary. A d’var Torah may also focus on another Jewish text, such as a selection from the Talmud, a midrash, or a contemporary poem.
§ the actions of a particular character
§ the unexpected use of a word or phrase
§ the juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated words or themes
§ a strange or unfamiliar concept or practice
§ a difficult theological claim.
After identifying some potential questions, choose the one you find most interesting. Brainstorm other questions that arise from this initial question; e.g., if you have chosen to explore the actions of a particular character, you may wonder about this character’s actions elsewhere in the Torah, or about the ways that other characters behave in similar situations. If you are interested in the use of a certain word, you might consider the precise meaning of this word and think of alternative word possibilities.
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