Many voices. One house.
At Netivot Shalom we pride ourselves on valuing a multitude of voices. Many members of our congregation take advantage of the opportunity to share their thoughts about the weekly Torah portion by giving drashot.
INTRO TO PREPARING, WRITING AND DELIVERING A DRASHA
RABBI CHAI LEVY
GET STARTED: Read the Torah portion and some commentaries.
PRO TIP: What verse grabs you or what idea jumps out at you? What feels alive and calls to you to dig further? What in the Torah is speaking to you? This will help you zoom in on what you want to speak about.
FIND YOUR MAIN IDEA: Read some commentaries on the area that interests you. Find one idea, question about the text, interesting word or phrase, general theme, etc. that speaks to you. Ask yourself: what is the Torah trying to teach us in this portion? Why is this portion part of our sacred text? What message does it hold for our lives? (My personal opinion is that it is preferable to focus on the third of the parasha that we are reading in the current year of the triennial cycle.)
BEFORE you start to write your drash, know your ONE central point that you want to make. Even if you don’t have an absolute answer to a question that you ask (it’s ok and very Jewish to ask questions without knowing the answer), make sure you have ONE central concept or point that people can walk away with (your “take away”). There is a temptation when giving a drash to mention every thought you ever had, but that makes for a jumbled, hard to grasp drash; the best drashot have ONE main idea.
PRO TIP: don’t walk us through your thought process of writing the drash (for example: when I first read the parasha, I wasn’t sure about…, but then I realized…), just give us your end thoughts.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD DRASHA:
Ground your thoughts in the text – it can be a verse, a commentary, or an overall theme from the parasha, but make sure your ideas flow out of the text itself.
Ground your thoughts in the commentaries – your interpretation is part of a long interpretive tradition – How have our ancient, medieval, or modern commentators answered your question? Is your interpretation similar or different to theirs?
Have a beginning, middle, and end. Have a clear “take away” message.
Respect the Torah and the congregation, even if you offer a challenge.
Brief and concise is better than long and rambling. Aim for 10 minutes, 1000 words, or 4-6 typed, double-spaced pages.
PRO TIP: don’t staple your pages, and do include page numbers for your ease. Use a big font for your bimah version. I write my drashot in phrases rather than paragraphs so I can glance at it and not read it and connect more with my listeners.
Practice delivering your drash. Try not to READ it, but speak/teach it to the congregation. It’s ok to speak extemporaneously from an outline IF you are practiced in doing so.
Make an outline before you start to write. Here is a suggested outline, but feel free to be creative and begin with a story, a question or something to grab the attention of your listeners. Also, begin and end with “Shabbat Shalom” and make sure to mention the name of your parasha (portion) in the beginning of your drash.
- Introduction to the portion – give a BRIEF overview of what’s in the parasha. DON’T mention every single thing in the parasha, only what’s particularly relevant to your teaching.
- Raise your particular topic by quoting a verse, citing a commentary, asking a question raised by the text, pointing out a problem in text, etc.
- Develop your topic through: an answer to your question, an explanation of your idea, a resolution to the problem from another textual source, a story or an example.
- Make your teaching relevant to yourself, to the congregation, or to our current world.
- Conclude by reinforcing your main idea – what is the one central thought we are supposed to take away?