Dvar Torah: Seven Approaches

Thinking of your d'var Torah as an example of a standard form can help you plan what to say.

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Reprinted with permission from The Kosher Pig and Other Curiosities of Modern Jewish Life (Torah Aura Productions). The essay from which this article was excerpted, "How to Give a D'var Torah," originally appeared in New Traditions, published by the National Havurah Committee.

Your d'var Torah will almost inevitably fall into some rather specific categories or combinations of a couple of them.

The Microscopepreparing a dvar torah

From close up you look at very small fragments of a text in great detail and hope that as you magnify the specks you will discover whole worlds within them. You have to be sure to pick up your specks with care, but you will know that you have some nice ones if the commentators are as interested in them as you are. If they aren't, chances are you should forget it, too.

Example: Take the first word of Genesis or, better yet, the first word of Leviticus (which you'll need more because the story line is not as interesting), and describe how a series of biblical commentators have treated that word, what problem it represented for them, and what generalizations can be made about their resolutions.

The Airplane

Observe the text from a distance, survey the panorama, take note of interesting details, and then as you descend make observations on why the trip was worthwhile in the first place and how to appropriate what you have just observed for your more earthbound existence. The Airplane is especially suitable for those Torah readings that deal with ritual details at great length.

Example: After describing the architecture of the Mishkan [the Tabernacle that served as the Israelite's place of worship during their wandering in the wilderness] and its role in the lives of people, you might want to discuss the role of minutiae in the building of a religious life. As the French say, God is to be found in the details.

Or: A discussion of the Mishkan often suggests an evaluation of the difference between a Judaism that is fixed in one place, Jerusalem and the Temple, and the portable Judaism of the Mishkan that can be carried about wherever we go.

The Diving Board

This one begins with an idea from the text, takes a big jump, and carries it into another issue of greater interest to you.

Example: If the text deals with the furniture of the Mishkan, you can talk about the history of the artifacts used in the synagogue. Or if the text devotes a lot of attention to the dress of the priest, you can discuss Jewish traditions about dress and articles of clothing, the significance of the tallit [prayer shawl], the kippah [yarmulke], the special hats Jews were required to wear in the Middle Ages, or the self-imposed restrictions that Jewish communities once placed on fancy clothing.

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Rabbi Richard J. Israel

Rabbi Richard J. Israel (1929-2000), a Hillel rabbi for most of his professional life, was also an author, marathon runner, beekeeper, and teacher and mentor to many.