Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Learning How To Give A D'var Torah

Last week, the Rabbi of our shul asked my son Flash to deliver a short d'var torah on the Parsha during the seudah shlishi meal. (A d'var torah is a brief explanation and analysis of a character or event in the Bible.) Flash agreed, but he was nervous about it. (Perfectly understandable, I think. It's not easy for a 15 year old boy to stand up and speak in front of his Rabbi and thirty other men.) Trying to help, I showed him Ilana-Davita's parsha post and suggested that he use the question that she raises there as a starting point for developing his own d'var torah. He liked the idea, and sat down with an open chumash to begin writing it. After just a few minutes, he began asking me for help. I realized that this child, who has spent 11 years learning in yeshiva, had no idea how to construct a two minute d'var torah on his own. I ended up walking him step by step through the process.
Then today, I see that The Rebbetzin's Husband has posted about this very topic. He observes that "...many people have difficulty with this task; their knowledge, their sense of homiletic structure, or their available time may not be up to the task". He tells us that over the years, many people have come up to him to ask for help with developing a d'var torah. I'm sure that the majority of those people were adults and not adolescent boys.
And so I have to ask: Why on earth don't the boys' yeshivahs teach their students this basic skill? There is really no excuse for a smart, well educated boy like Flash to have such difficulty composing a two minute speech about the weekly parsha on his own. I remember how nervous he felt trying to put together a d'var torah for his Bar Mitzvah two years ago. (I ended up helping him then too, of course.) At the time, I assumed that it was a normal part of the general anxiety felt by Bar Mitzvah boys everywhere. But now I see that it is simply a skill that has not been taught to him, which is really unfortunate, because it is boys like him who are or should be the future leaders of our congregations.
I think that it would be a good idea for every yeshivah to implement a program in which 7th and 8th graders are taught how to research, construct, and deliver a short d'var torah. This can be done formally or informally, as part of the preparation for their Bar Mitzvahs. This skill should be reinforced in the high schools and in our local shuls, where boys can be given occasional opportunities to deliver divrei torah on Shabbos or at special events. If we encourage our sons to snap out of "passive spectator" mode and become active contributing members of our shuls at a young age, they are more likely to stick around as they get older.

(And what about our girls, you ask? That's a topic for another day.)


G6 said...

Well put!
It surprised me to no end (for a time... now I'm used to it) to see the "top top boys" from Lakewood and other places return home from Yeshiva for a visit and when asked to give a Dvar Torah or speech for the home town shul", they prove completely incabable and/or incoherent.
They may be "top learners" but they cannot think for themselves, construct a dvar torah, nor speak publicly in a clear manner (don't get me started on their inability to use the ENGLISH language - and by that I mean construct a sentence that isn't riddled with yiddish-isms.

Leora said...

I agree - and I am even more proud of my 13 year old son for his ability to write a dvar torah with the help of my husband. We encourage him to think "out of the box," so he is not scared to come up with his own ideas. And his teachers will tell him if he's getting silly (he has a teacher on Shabbat who guides him sometimes - this is a shul activity).

My daughter, who is only 7, is not afraid to add her two cents about the parsha. I don't think she got that from school, though.

Your son will increase in confidence the more he gives divrei torah, Raizy. And there are many opportunities to do so in life.

Karen said...

Your idea is a good one, Raizy.

My husband is a middle school through high school Rebbe and I used to think it lazy of him to assign the Parsha review to a different boy each week for presentation in class. While it isn't quite a dvar torah and I still think it IS partially laziness :), I can't deny it gives the boys a valuable skill.

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Thanks for linking, Raizy.

I would like to see this become a basic part of Composition classes, as a way to integrate Judaics with secular study. But, yes, yeshivot should teach it as part of ללמוד על מנת ללמד, learning in order to be able to teach.

ProfK said...

Strange, my daughters' high school did assign the girls divrei Torah on the parsha for every week, and my son's yeshiva did not. When it came to the dvar Torah for his bar mitzvah my son was lucky to have his sister mostly author his. If nothing else you would think that boys yeshivas would teach and encourage this at least in the grades where the boys are becoming bar mitzvah and will have to give a dvar Torah, but they don't.

SuperRaizy said...

I have also noticed that the girls are taught to give dvar torahs, while the boys are not.

Lion of Zion said...

i think it has to do with the way the jewish classes are all taught with the memorize and spit back sans thinking method. only in the secular studies was there opportunity to think independenetly, critically and creatively. at least that's the way i remember it and i think it explains this phenomenon you describe. most times that i hear a boy (actually many adults as well) deliver a dvar torah it is nothing more than repeating what they had read/heard elsewhere.

as far as bar mitzva boys go, i was a bar mitzva tutor and i can't remember a single boy who actually wrote his own speech.

Orthonomics said...

Our kids are simply not getting enough composition practice. A small properly written dvar Torah related to the parsha should be a regular assignment. It could also be graded by the general studies staff for better integration (and for practical reasons too!).

Yael Aldrich said...

We homeschool our children (8yo boy, almost 6you boy, and 3 yo girl) and while we "school" Mon-Thurs, Friday's assignment for the boys is to craft a d'var torah for our Shabbos table (we have a lot of not-yet-religious guests).

The 5 yo reads "My Little Parsha" out loud for everyone (usually half Fri night and half at lunch), and the 8yo reads over the parsha synopisis www.torahtots.com and writes a page or two detailing a part of the parsha and a take home message for our guests. We are proud that they both get to be a part of the Shabbos table and they get public speaking practice.

As they get older, we will have them make a DT from the parsha and its meforshim (commentaries) without the crutch of a pre-made DT.

SuperRaizy said...

I agree.
What a terrific program you've put into place for your children! Kol Hakavod.

N said...

coming up with a dvar torah is hard... i spend hours a week gleaning sforim for the odd special one, and the good ones are always complicated. check my blog out, i post weekly divrei torah.

Pesky Settler said...

I'm going to go with the lack of a simple creative writing class being a big culprit.