Dvar Torah: Preparation

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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.

Once you have identified a major question and a few sub-questions, you can begin looking for potential answers to these questions. No question has a single answer. Be prepared to explore several possibilities.

You can first look for answers within the text itself. If you are exploring a theological idea, look for other theological statements within the body of the text. To understand the juxtaposition of two concepts, check whether similar concepts appear elsewhere in the text.

After you have exhausted intra-textual clues, you may want to read other writers’ commentaries on the text. For insights into biblical texts, you might look at an assortment of medieval and contemporary biblical commentary. The works of some of the major medieval commentators have been translated into English.

As none of these writers will comment on every verse, you may have to hunt around before you find someone who directly addresses your question. (These commentators can also be helpful in guiding you towards the identification of an interesting question to start with.) Nechama Leibowitz’s series of biblical commentaries summarizes the comments of many medieval writers and also suggests provocative questions about the text.

Many contemporary Bible commentaries and reference books offer a historical, academic approach to the biblical text. These resources can be particularly helpful in explaining words and concepts, and in shedding light on historical details.

Based on your exploration of textual clues, the writings of others, and your own insights, formulate a thesis statement in which you suggest a possible resolution of your question.

You now have created the basis for the beginning and end of your d’var Torah. Begin by explaining your question, and summarize the text sufficiently to allow your audience to understand your discussion. At the end, offer your resolution of the issue. The body of the d’var Torah should guide the audience step-by-step from the question to your thesis statement. You may explore other possible resolutions, explain the steps through which you reached your conclusion, or discuss elements of the question you have chosen. Most importantly, the d’var Torah should be clear and concise and should lead your audience clearly from question to resolution.

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