Sample Chapter: Characteristics of a Memorable Dvar Torah

Characteristics of a Memorable B-Mitzvah D’var Torah (From Make Your Own Bar/Bat Mitzvah: A Personal Approach to Creating a Meaningful Rite of Passage by Rabbi Goldie Milgram)

A memorable B-Mitzvah d’var Torah

•     Helps those present to connect some aspect(s) of the Torah portion to their own lives

•    Touches on something in your life that is likely to have happened in the lives of others in the room

•    Offers emotional honesty, is very real

•    Takes an ancient event and interprets it in the light of current affairs

•    Directly addresses those present to involve and empower them—using “I,” “you,” and “we” language and ideas

•    Highlights ethical principles and action opportunities that most of those present can realistically implement

•    Brings an aspect of Jewish practice to life, a mitzvah, a blessing, a holiday ritual, a sacred phrase, and so on

•    Uses guidance from commentaries of the sages

•    Adds new perspectives from our own time

•    Reflects the human capacity for constructive change

•    Offers hope, insight, and inspiration for living

Reflect upon the d’var Torah you have just read by taking a highlighter and seeing if each of the points in this list is represented in it. Notice your own reactions, and make notes about what you would improve or change to make this d’var Torah more meaningful to you or those who you expect will be learning Torah from you at your B-Mitzvah.

     Let’s continue with ways to study your portion that will help you learn from it and prepare to teach from it to others.

Characters and Objects

As a way to focus in, prepare a résumé for a character in your parsha. This will involve reading other chapters to learn more about this person. Take Moses, for example. What would have been on his résumé? Experienced slave? No, he trained in the palace of the pharaoh. Try writing his résumé; there is a lot to discover.

     If there are characters or objects in your portion, think of one question you might ask each of them and write it to them as a short letter. Here is an example for an object:

Dear Broken Tablets:

     Moses sat in the cleft of a rock and came down with you. Was the rock originally whole, and were you created from it? How did it feel to be chosen to have the Ten Commandments engraved upon you? What was it like being dashed to the ground when Moses saw everyone worshiping a golden calf?

     I hope to find an answer from you arising in my thoughts and dreams.

     Thanks!

     —Dana

Now imagine you are this character or object, and write a letter answering the questions you’ve posed.

     To harvest lots of insights, after writing your own response, show your letter of inquiry to others whose opinions you value and who are willing to read your Torah portion. Enjoy their answers; discuss them without putting anyone down for having different reactions than you do. Torah looks very different through the lens of each person’s life. There’s no right answer, just many personal answers. Perhaps in your d’var Torah you will share some of the responses you gather from the minyan of your life.