Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Divrei Torah

The way to give a good Devar Torah is to "connect" it to our lives. How does the Chumash speak to me? What lesson can we learn from this pasuk? How do God's words apply to us?

Often I've prepared a good, sound Devar Torah and have needed to consult with someone to come up with a good ending. An ending which makes people feel like this isn't some abstract scholarly discussion (which would be more than enough for me) but is a moral and edifying lesson.  Sometimes I just bullshit an ending that has only the most tenuous connection to the actual Torah. (And therefore we should all be good!) But hey, it's all about pleasing the crowd I guess...

What bothers me is people taking the text and treating it anachronistically. Which is almost inevitable  seeing as the lessons of the text are intended primarily to teach pastoral nomads how to behave when they've plundered a city and the correct way to rape captives. The text's original intent has very little to offer us.

But hey I'm a pretty post-modern guy. I can live with a Death of an Author mentality. I actually like taking a text and imbuing it with new meaning. The text becomes fluid and eternal. The words rise up from their humble beginnings and become something so much more.

So why does it bother me when other people do it?

Because other people don't understand that they're not discussing original intent. They think that the text originally intended to portray Moshe as tzitzit wearing tzadik with a black hat. There is no difference to them between the Torah as it was written and the Torah as it was interpreted. To them there is THE TORAH. And THE TORAH has some great lessons to discuss around the table over some cholent.

And that just bothers me. That people are too ignorant to tell the difference.

My ideal is someone like James Kugel who is cognizant of both the original intent of the text and also appreciates its interpretation and the new meaning it is given as something religiously meaningful..


Yossi said...

In my shul, the Rav speaks as if Reb Velvel "Brisk" gave us the Torah.  I often wonder how generations of Jews which included Rashi, Ba'alei Tosafos, Ritva, Rashba, Ramban, Rambam, the Rosh, the Tur, etc., managed to live as Jews without ever having heard of Reb Chaim Soloveitchik.

G*3 said...

The same way they managed to live as Jews without separate tablecloths for milchigs and fleishigs, without saying kabalas Shabbos, without all having their own personal lulav and esrog, etc.
The misconception goes well beyond petty divrei torah meant more to show off the cleverness of the speaker than explain the subject matter. It’s widely believed the Moshe Rabeinu would be more or less comfortable in any shteible. That he wouldn’t be able to read the seforim and the ritual and liturgy would be foreign to him is not recognized at all.

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