Teachings: Torah, Dvar Torah, Speech

Creating a More Meaningful Torah Service

When the words of the chapters assigned to a particular week enter our consciousness and our "soul stream," we can learn something new and interesting about ourselves as individuals, families, humans and peoples. This new awareness is what may be meant by the term "revelation." This is Judaism at its best -- exciting, meaningful, growthful. Torah reading can be a high point of a services. Here is how to give everyone present a greater opportunity to be included in the Torah reading.  I first saw Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi lead a service using this method at Philadelphia's P'nai Or community, and he is indeed, credited with having developed it. During my travels I'm seeing this approach beginning to appear across the full spectrum of Jewish life.

Creating a Meaningful Dvar Torah

Giving over meaningful guidance on the Torah portion during a religious service is not so much a speech as it is a mitzvah, a sacred act called “giving a d’var Torah.” A d’var, “a word” of Torah, is a brief teaching where you connect your Torah portion with the heart, mind and spirit of those present. Israelis often refer to this practice as a derasha, or drash, an “explanation” of the Torah portion.

Example of Group Aliyah Themes for Parsha Toldot: Bar Mitzvah of Aaron Roffman

B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

This week's Torah parsha is Parshat Toldot. It begins with the birth of Jacob and Esau. Isaac and Rebecca were barren and had no children until one day when Rebecca became pregnant. The parsha then talks about how Jacob and Esau grow up struggling against each other for power.

Visualization: Torah and Her Garments

B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

Imagine it is time for you to go up to the Torah, perhaps your bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. You are about to become a witness and participant in the reading and interpretation of Torah. Go ahead, approach the aron, the ark; it represents the Ark of the Covenant, in which the Israelites carried the carved tablets with the Ten Commandments in the wilderness. The doors of the ark are opened. You will cross a threshold in your life as an elder or leader of the community places the Torah in your arms. The sacred mantle of leadership is upon you.

Metaphors Be with You, Cleft of the Rock

There are many approaches to Torah study. My favorites are Remez - finding hints to meaning and Sod (samech daled in Hebrew, pronounced Sohd) - when the text becomes a portal of expanded, seemingly mystical, awareness.

Interview Method of Dv'ar Torah Preparation with a Student

Bmitzvah.org: B Mitzvah! The Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah (R)evolution continues

Interview of Bar Mitzvah student as a Torah study process. Note: With an exceptionally anxious student this can be a helpful way to actually give a scripted Torah teaching on the day of Bar/Bat Mitzvah, both of you up there doing this dialogue together.

Rabbi: What did you learn in this portion that surprised you?

Kevin:  First, Noah didn't even challenge God's decision to destroy civilization.

Themed Aliyot: Making the Torah Section of the Service More Relevant and Memorable

The most important thing when you get up to teach Torah is not what the portion means to you, but rather, as a new leader of our people how you will help those present connect to the weekly Torah reading. Here's a brief "how to" guide for creating a theme for each aliyah in order to help those present connect to the meaning of reading the Torah.

Try Our Torah Portion Surprise Quiz

Create a quiz like this about your Torah portion, put the questions on one side of a page and the answers on the other and give to those attending your services/ceremony as they arrive; or include the questions in a bar/bat mitzvah e-invite and let them know the answers will be available at the services/ceremony!

What is Torah? How is a Torah Made?

Bmitzvah.org: B Mitzvah! The Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah (R)evolution continues

The Torah is not what it seems to be. It is much more than a collection of bible stories. Torah is the foundation text of Judaism, one of the most ancient of wisdom traditions. Torah is the sacred meeting place of the generations. It is where we dialogue, dance and wrestle with our ancestors’ visions and formulate our own. Yes, Torah is a place to find and make meaning. The meaning is often hidden, buried inside the text and inside of you.

Torah technically means the scroll, which contains the first five books of the bible, also called a Humash, from the Hebrew word for five. Jews do not appreciate the term Old Testament and consider it a put down. We more often use the word Torah, from a Hebrew root from archery instruction meaning "giving direction." Torah can also to refer to the entire Jewish bible which is also called Tanakh (T= Torah, N= Neviim, prophets, KH= ketuvim which includes books such as Job, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Psalms and many more) and Torah study also refers to the whole body of Jewish law and teachings (Talmud, Mishna, Midrash, Zohar, Codes, Responsa, etc.)

What Is Trope?

Trope is the term for the notation system for chanting Torah. Trope are symbols for when to pause and where to stop in the Torah reading. They each have a different set of associated notes and when strung together become the chant for a given portion. The technical term for trope is Ta'amei haMikra, "the flavor of the reading."

The Gift of Hevruta: Studying Your Torah Portion with a Friend

Bmitzvah.org: B Mitzvah! The Bar and Bat Mitzvah (R)evolution continues

One of the greatest joys of life is the experience called hevruta. The root of hevruta is the word haver "friend." Our sages said: "Take yourself a friend, go and study." Simple  yes, and there are a few guidelines that make the experience safe and a bit more profound.

The "And" method. This kind of study is collaborate, additive and non-competitive. Each person’s insights are honored, supported and treasured by the other. You are going on a Torah adventure together. When you have a different insight from your friend you express this by first empathizing with what s/he said.