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.)
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