A d’var Torah [word of Torah] is a short talk or written piece about some passage of Torah, often taken from the weekly parashah [portion.] Here are some basic steps to writing a d’var Torah:
1. Read the Torah portion. To find it, look at a Jewish calendar. Remember that Shabbat is Day 7 of the week – the last day for that Torah portion. So for Sunday through Friday, look to the Torah portion for the upcoming Shabbat.
2. As you read, make a list of the major events in the entire portion.
3. Take your list of events and turn it into a very short summary of the portion. Just hit the high points! This is just a quick summary, nothing more. That is Part One of your d’var Torah.
3. Now reread the portion. This time, watch for things that make you curious or that catch your eye. Make a list of those things, noting the verses in which they fall.
4, Read a commentary on the portion. You might read an ancient commentary, like Rashi, or a modern one, like the Women’s Torah Commentary, Etz Chaim, or Plaut. If you are ambitious, read a scholarly commentary like the JPS Torah Commentary. Again, make a list of a few things that you find particularly interesting.
5. Out of your list of “interesting things” from the portion and the commentary, choose ONE item that you find interesting. This will be your “take away” item. What ONE THING would you like people to remember from this portion?
6. Write a very short piece about your topic. You might mention:
- WHAT IT IS – Name it.
- CONTEXT – how it fits into the portion
- MEANING – Explain what it means. Translate if necessary.
- SO WHAT? – What does this have to do with us? OR- why did you find it interesting?
- SOURCES – if you quote anyone, or repeat their ideas, be sure to give credit. This is an important Jewish value, “speaking b’shemro.”
7. Remember, you are not here to teach Biblical Literature or World History. This is a “Word-of-Torah.” Focus on ONE THING, and it will be good.
8. Write the closing. Divrei Torah should always end on an “up” note. One strategy is to repeat your main point, with a wish that our lives be enriched by the insights of this portion.
9. Put the paper away for at least 12 hours, then look at it again. Does it follow the format (summary/topic/closing)? Is it the right length? What single thing will your listeners or readers carry away?
10. Read or publish the d’var Torah.
If you get stuck at any point, this is a time when it is good to have a rabbi or Jewish teacher to help you. If you contact them with enough lead time, they can be an excellent source of ideas and advice.
B’chatzlecha! – good luck with your first d’var Torah!