In Joshua’s Shoes: 5-Minute Drash

Delivering my D'var Torah

Not only am I spending hours upon hours in class and in the library this year, but I’m also getting practical experience. Some of the practical skills are pretty standard things I will need to do in the future; chant and translate Torah during services, lead a shachrit service and give a d’var Torah. I’ve already chanted once this year and will get to read again in the spring. I’m really excited to work on the t’fillah that I get to lead in January. On Monday November 29th, I had delivered my d’var Torah. It was a difficult process and to make it even more challenging, I was limited to 5 minutes.

My initial meeting with my madreich (advisor) went well. I had read through the portion and had a few directions I could take my discussion in; the hard part was narrowing it down and finding a few commentaries that I could pull into the discussion. The commentary is one of the most important aspects of what we are asked to do, luckily we have a large library full of them.

I had a lot of fun searching through the stacks pulling various translations and commentaries of the Torah. Everything from JPS, Artscroll, Sorno, and the Women’s Torah Commentary. After finding some interesting comments and thoughts, I tackled the various commentators, everything from Ibn Ezra, to Rashi, Rambam, and Ramban. Each of these authors had something to add, expounding in great detail on things I had never really considered. And then there was the Midrash. I had never read the reason that they gave for Joseph being so moved to tears when he was reunited with Benjamin. According to the Midrash, Benjamin tells Joseph that he has ten sons, and each son’s name is a deeper connection to his brother who has not been in his life.

Working with my advisor I had crafted a draft or two that I was happy with. Although my original idea had changed, I was still working on the same basic thought I had started with. We were working on putting in a hook at the beginning of the talk and finding a way to better connect my thoughts. I was almost ready to begin practicing my delivery.

I will add a short interlude here about how my madreich, Rabbi Shelly Donnell, wanted us to work together. In our first meeting, he said that I was going to be quarterbacking the process. Any calls I wanted to make were up to me.

Taking a page out of Brett Favre’s playbook, I decided to call an audible.

10 days before I was do deliver my d’var torah. I changed the focus and scratched what I had written so far. Luckily I had taken good enough notes during my early work that I was able to quickly put something together.

Over the course of the next week, I was able to whip through a few drafts and manage to rehearse it too. On Sunday, the day before I was to talk during services, I met with Cantor Tamar Havilio, one of the instructors in the Cantorial Program here during our Year in Israel. This was a chance to practice my delivery in the Beit K’nesset.

Working with her was incredibly helpful. In the past, I would get very nervous before a speech, especially when I needed to read from a prewritten text. I shared my concern with Cantor Havilio who corrected me, “This is not a speech. You have something to teach, so teach the community.”

I was able to shift my perspective on what I was doing. (This helped a lot!) I was suddenly more comfortable I was teaching, not speaking. After another thirty minutes or so of practicing. I was ready to go.

In services the next morning, I was back suddenly less confident. I was still making little edits to what I had written because I wasn’t completely satisfied with everything that was written out on the paper. I’m not sure why, since I decided to ad-lib in the middle of my drash. I knew there were places that I did not deliver as perfectly as I hoped. Some of my mistakes were obvious to me when I had to sit and watch myself on video (gulp!)

But at the end of the day, I was happy with my message. I ended up discussing was making sure we keep relationships intact despite distance or the many different things we all have going on in our lives. The process of researching, writing, editing and rehearsing was really helpful. I almost wish I had the chance to do it again this year. I even found the five-minute limit pretty helpful (even if I did go over it by about a minute).

On my personal blog, I have posted the video as well as a copy of what I wrote. If you’re interested, check it out here.

Shalom From Jerusalem,

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About Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson has spent the last 25 years living in or near Minneapolis. After completing a B.A. in History at the University of Minnesota, he worked for Temple Israel, Mount Zion and Bet Shalom in a variety of capacities. While working in the Reform Movement, Brian developed a passion for Reform Judaism and is currently studying at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in the Rabbinical School.

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One comment

  1. Don’t worry, once you’re a rabbi you’ll have plenty of chances to deliver a drash on this Torah portion again!

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