Dvar Torah: Dos and Don'ts

Factor your audience's expectations and the limits of their patience into your presentation.

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You Have Cast Your Bread Upon the Water

You should know about an important aspect of giving a d'var Torah that is quite unsettling. You can work very hard on a talk only to find that it falls on deaf ears. On the other hand, you can whip up a little something that morning and discover that it saves someone's soul.

It is more than slightly bewildering to have a couple tell you 10 years later how this or that d'var Torah that you gave changed the direction of their lives, saved their marriage, or convinced their son to return to Jewish life.

You may not remember who they are or what it was you said, even though you feel sure it couldn't have been what they heard. I mention this because teaching Torah is real responsibility. People are often quite open and vulnerable on a Shabbat morning. Once you send out your words, you never know just what use people will make of them. So be sure they are the words you want to say.

Giving a d'var Torah should not primarily serve to feed your own ego, although it may do that too. it should be an attempt to perform a holy act, and it is within that context that you should make your preparations. If you keep that in mind you may find personal pleasure and growth among the by-products of your efforts. You may even become a great Torah teacher.

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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.