Five Thoughts on Giving a D’var Torah

So this weekend I was lucky enough to give a D’var Torah at Altshul, where my family are members. You can read it for yourself here.

It was a challenging and ultimately wonderful experience. Here’s five thoughts on it.

  1. Say yes. When it was suggested that I could do a D’var, I was apprehensive. I wasn’t raised Jewish, and I’m not one who lives for public speaking. This was, it is fair to say, far, far outside my comfort zone. But comfort zones are deadening, and if you’re not willing to stretch, you’re just standing still. So, despite my instincts to stay in the background, I said yes. I’m very glad I did.
  2. The joy of careful reading. Anyone who frequents this website knows I read a lot. Sometimes I read closely, but other times, I fly through the pages, gathering plot and ideas, but not really sinking into the text.But there’s something about Torah, and about preparing for a possibility humiliating public speaking engagement, that really focuses the mind. There’s a real joy in taking your time, in reading all the footnotes, in comparing translations, reading commentary. I often wonder if my obsession with hitting certain reading metrics every year results in too little close reading. Not sure where I’m coming down on that, but I certainly want more of this type of reading in my life.
  3. Beta Testing and Community. I feel very lucky to have the Jewish community I do. As I’ve written about before,I’m doing a chavruta type reading of Maimonides with a friend, and I have a monthly Parsha discussion group, and am just generally surrounded by smart people willing to engage in ideas. I feel especially fortunate that these people were willing to take time out of their lives to help me solidify what I wanted to say. From a friend who told me pretty much straight out that my first idea wasn’t good, to the group of dads who let me take over our monthly study group, to the many seasoned drash givers who gave me great tips on how to structure the talk – even if I didn’t end up following them exactly – it all made me realize I am lucky in community. I can’t take that for granted.
  4. Only what is written is real. In the two weeks leading up to this I kept telling people that yeah, I have an idea. But really, I didn’t. I don’t think anyone, really, has an idea until they put pen to paper. Once I started writing, I realized I was a mess. Back to the drawing board, rewrites, revisions, deletions, insertions. Subject wife to terrible first draft, then try again. I was never really satisfied with the talk, but it certainly got better. If I ever do this again, I hope the next one is better still.
  5. The terror of public remarks. There are those who love nothing more than getting up in front of a crowd and giving some remarks. I am not one of those people. I do a fair amount of public speaking through my job, but I also move through the presentation part as fast as possible. Get me to the questions, and I’m good. I’m much better at the back and forth than I am as an orator.Needless to say, getting up in front of a crowd, even a crowd that included my family and many good friends, was far outside how I’d usually spend a Saturday morning. But the support I received, the looks in my kids eyes when I was at the bema, and the feeling of getting over my own self consciousness all made it a wonderful morning.
Congregation Beth Elohim where Altshul meets.

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