Bar/Bar Mitzvah Guide:
SIX - Family Guide To Prepare a D'Var Torah

D'var TorahTorah explanation to be shared during the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service.



• I do not even know where to begin. Sigh.

• I have never really studied Torah, how can I help her/him?

• I'll engage someone else to substitute for me helping; I just can't.

• How long should it be?

• Where can I find resources to help?

• I have a broad Jewish educational t my child's speech be filled with lots of detail, profound thoughts, and be longer and more impressive than last week's speech?


Parent(s) and child(ren) to study Torah or another aspect of Jewish content (if relevant), (e.g.,SukkotHanukkah, Israel, Prophetic Haftarah Reading). Craft a focused talk to share some of the knowledge and insights attained. The "speech" may then be followed by a series of acknowledgments to thank those (parents, school teachers, religious leaders) who were directly involved in the Jewish educational process and Bat/Bar Mitzvah preparatory experiences. The acknowledgements may be expanded to include grandparents and siblings. 


1. Read the Torah portion (parasha) in English (and/or Hebrew). Jot down notes of specific details/concepts, ideas that intrigue, or confuse, but interest you. (Alternatively, read a relatively detailed synopsis of the Torah portion.) 

2. Write down notes, and question(s) that you may consider exploring. Keep paper and pen at bedside to notate creative ideas that prevent sleeping.

3. Refer to resources: materials and individuals.


a. Commentaries provided you by Cantor Dress in a folder you may borrow. Comments in the Humash: Etz Hayyim that we use here in Temple Israel. 

b. Other Humashim offering commentariesThe Torah: A Modern Commentary, U.A.H.C. Publication.

c. Rashi: Medieval commentator. Temple Israel has Rashi texts that includes explanations of Rashi's comments as reference material in our library or chapel.

d. Teaching Torah: A.R.E. Publishing House.

e. Refer to websites, including the very accessible

f. Human resources: Rabbi, Cantor, Education Director, Teacher, Relative, Friend. 

g. Other materials: Classical or modern Midrashic creative stories/legends of the Torah text that may offer additional insights, non-traditional sources that could include secular writers, philosophers, politicians.

4. Try to avoid writing a survey (detailed summary) of the Parasha (Torah portion). Try to write about a single or a few ideas/concepts that interest you. Try to link the biblical text with an issue in our contemporary society. In other words, try to connect the message of the Torah to a modern issue. Example: You could link the Noah flood story with your concern for victims of the Southeast Asia tsunami tragedy, New Orleans (Hurricane Katrina), or Hurricane Sandy. Feel free to connect Torah's message to something personal in your life, if there is a natural connection. As an example, if the text discusses the dietary laws (kashrut), you may not convincingly connect this section of Torah to being awarded a soccer trophy. However, you may wish to explain how observance of kashrut can lead to ethical living, including good sportsmanship (yet, this may be a bit of a forced stretch - get the point!). Sports may be a possible example of how one learns ethics, but be careful with forced leaps from Torah passages to personal thoughts that do not logically connect. If sports or dance needs to be mentioned because of its centrality in your child's life, then your child may consider thanking a coach or instructor in the acknowledgement section, especially if the coach taught lessons beyond the athletic physical skills required to win games and meets. The key is to try to keep the talk focused, meaningful, and relevant, not necessarily personal. Stay on a Jewish track, even if some ideas that supplement Jewish sources are found elsewhere.

5. Enjoy your time together. Stay calm. Disagree agreeably! Try it! Remember the words of Rabbi Simon in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): "When two Jews sit together and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence abides with them." Also, consider that tradition suggests that the great sage, Rabbi Akiva, did not even begin his Jewish learning until the age of 40!

• Encouraged?! So -- now you know how and where to begin! Sigh Smiling!

• Now you know how to help your child even if you lack a bit of experience!

• Now you know that you do not have to hire a helper, but you may consider consulting other professionals, non-professionals, and other resources for support. Remember: the Divine Presence just may be evident if you and your child study together. Therefore, the concept of studying together is just as important, perhaps even more important, than the eloquence of the speech! Surely, the Divine Spark will not be apparent if you avoid studying together.

• The length of the speech is not that important a consideration. Some people can prepare a thoughtful talk in a page or two. Others require more pages. Most talks, (double spaced-size 14 and, 6 pages may be a signal that you are becoming overly ambitious.

• Do not worry if you have no experience at this. This may be a fabulous opportunity to begin your study ofTorah.

• And, do not feel as if your child needs to reflect your years of formal Jewish education and attained knowledge or wisdom. After all, she/he is only 12/13 years old! Experience beauty in the idea that you are learning together and that we are not in a competitive D'var Torah contest.

6. Begin seriously thinking about the talk once most or all the Hebrew parts are learned. Typically, 4-7 weeks before the Bar or Bat Mitzvah service, Cantor Dress will encourage you (parent and child, and others if you wish) to begin the process of preparing the D'var Torah. This does not preclude you from starting earlier, but do not worry if you begin about a month before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah commemoration.  

7. Bring or email an outline or first draft to Cantor Dress to review 2-4 weeks before the Bat/Bar Mitzvah service. Cantor Dress may engage you in some thoughtful conversation and offer some editorial suggestions or ideas. Often, conclusions may differ with the Cantor's or Rabbi's thoughts, and that's okay. As long as the process is filled with meaning and there are no, (or at least minimal) factual errors, as opposed to issues of opinion, then the speech will be accepted. We: Rabbi, Cantor, Congregation are there to kvell (Yiddish for internal rejoicing) in your family's accomplishments, and wish to encourage you to learn together.

So - begin with confidence and enthusiasm, and you will produce something that will not only be meaningful and educational, but that will include a spark of the Divine! 

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