The D’var Torah as Religious Struggle

The struggle to find personal meaning in words of Torah and to share that message with the community is the essence of Jewish spiritual maturation.


The preparation and delivery of a talk on the Torah portion, a
d’var Torah
, by a bar/bat mitzvah child is an old custom that is very much alive today. This encounter of each child with his or her Torah portion is unique and personal, and the process of deriving meaning from this text and sharing it with others is a serious undertaking. Excerpted with permission from A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC).

[The d’var Torah] is the core of the bar mitzvah event, the moment at the heart of the ritual when there is the deepest and closest encounter with God, or with the boy’s [or girl’s] own wrestling with his life. It crystallizes the life-path that Jewish men have been ideally expected to walk: not only hearing God’s Voice through the words of Torah and the Prophets, but also engaging with these words–wrestling with them–so as to bring into the world their own new Torah. 

Only in this way could they become full adult members of the people “Yisra-el.” For the very name of the people echoes the night of terror and transformation in which Jacob turned his lifelong struggle with his brother into a Wrestle with the Nameless One, and was himself renamed Yisra-el, “Godwrestler.”

So the encounter with God is intended to feel like an earthquake, shaking the new 13-year-old loose from his old attachments and assumptions. His response, his own d’var Torah, is intended to bespeak his adulthood–his ability to do what for centuries Jewish men have done, teach their own Torah


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Phyllis Ocean Berman directed Elat Chayyim's Summer Program and is coauthor of Tales of Tikkun.

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