To Give or Not to Give – a Dvar Torah.

It’s the non-frum family Chanukah party and everybody’s enjoying the latkes and fun and you’re faced with a big dilemma – do you share a Dvar Torah with everybody. On one hand, you know the importance of Torah at a gathering, while on the other hand you want to avoid the eyes-glazed-over look.

Do you share a Dvar Torah at non-frum family gatherings?

Does it depend on your oratory skills?

Can you pass up the opportunity?

21 comments on “To Give or Not to Give – a Dvar Torah.

  1. “Organic Conversation” is a great way to introduce a dvar Torah. I’ve seen way too many times where the “official” dvar Torah was announced [both in frum & not-yet-frum crowds] and watched how people tuned out or in some cases, rolled their eyes.

    Instead, by skillfully leading a conversation to Torah thoughts and themes especially when on topics of personal & practical relevance can be very well received and leave people with not only latkes and sufganiot – but real food for thought.

  2. Yaakov, it’s great to have “an interesting and organic conversation at a table or at a party”, but you must admit there are frequent breaks in the action.

  3. Frankly, I think the above-cited rules of thumb: keep it short, light, brief -and only offer a Divrei torah when solicited to do so, would hold-up well at all fully frum events too.

    There’s little more tedious than having an interesting and organic conversation at a table or at a party interrupted by some guy wanting to show off how bright and insightful he (almost invariably mistakenly) thinks heis for the next ten minutes. Didacticism may have its place, but frum Jews totally overdo it, and personally, I think that place should be kept, if at all, to a scheduled point in an event (and still kept short) -meaning before or after a meal or party -not randomly in the middle, breaking up everyone else’s groove only to bore them to death. (I feel similarly about interjecting bouts of singing in the middle of ongoing conversations. The imposition and interruption is, to my mind, rude -and yet in a totally perverse flip those who wish to continue talking rather than singing or being stultified are the ones glared at and thought rude -even though they were the ones who were interrupted!) I agree with Abe -your family and friends ought to be related to as people, not as talmidim -objects to be pontificated at.

  4. If you are the host I believe you do have some sort of obligation to say a d’var Torah, yes. Not at someone else’s house, unless asked, except perhaps in private conversation. You’d be surprised just how quickly you can watch a circle gather around you in such situations… if you’re the only BT or, more likely, the only orthodox Jew in the room, a lot of people actually really would like to hear what you want to say.

    If you do speak, I think the suggestions here as to tone and accessibility are well taken. I think in particular if the family or the crowd knows you have (perhaps recently) spent some time in yeshiva or seminary, you should demonstrate to them that you “know something about Judaism,” and are able to get it across to people who don’t — ideally in a light way and yet giving them something new to think about.

    That’s what expected of a “rabbi,” after all. (And guess what YOU are to them?)

    On the other hand, if the only drosha you can think of on Chanuka is how it is the time we celebrate the bloody victory of militant halachic Judaism against assimilation… well, you’d be better know your crowd.

  5. I think that discretion is the better part of valor in this situation and that one should give a Dvar Torah that is appropriate if one is asked to. Volunteering to give a Dvar Torah in a purely social context with family members who are you trying to maintain some sense of relationship without being seen as imposing your values may backfire on you. I have found that this works the best and accomplishes one’s goal of expressing one’s POV without being seen as attempting to dominate the conversation.

  6. Regarding Chanukah presents – I prefer giving Gelt to giving gifts to the kids. I used to buy those large colored plastic hollow dreidels filled with candy, take out the candy and pack them with dimes or quarters, depending on the child (this required a run to the bank for rolls of coins). As the children got older, the dreidel was filled up with folded bills rather than coins. I still get a roll of pennies for the dreidel game. Now I have to give gelt to the grandkids too.

    IMHO, I would suggest maybe giving one really nice gift for birthday plus Chanukah to each child, something like a bike or electronic game system, rather than a lot of stuff that the kid is going to break or toss aside bored. If that’s still too many bucks then maybe a generous grandparent can spring for the one really wow gift, and the parent can give something much less expensive (for example, if the grandparent gives a whole game system, the parent can buy a single game for the system). Again, I can sympathize if after paying the Yeshivos and the rent/mortgage and your car insurance, you’re lucky if you have two nickels to rub together.

  7. I’m not Chabad-Lubavitch, but you might enjoy sharing some short nuggets from their website as a “sort-of” Dvar Torah at your Chanukah party.

    1. The Lubavitcher Rebbe ztzl used to encourage public Chanukah menorah lighting events with music and latkes. The Rebbe said that here in the U.S.A. non-Jewish people connect with the story of Chanukah because it is so similar to the story of the founding of the United States: a small band of fighters who won their freedom despite long odds against the armies of an empire.

    2. Binyamin Netanyahu spoke before Yom Kippur to the United Nations, forcefully refuting the Holocaust deniers and explaining the actions of Israel in response to more than five thousand missiles fired at its civilians. He said later to a packed crowd at the 92nd Street Y that the Rebbe had told him back in 1984 to “light a candle” for truth in the middle of great darkness. Netanyahu repeated this in a very recent interview, adding, “Light candles this Chanukah for truth and for the Jewish people.”

  8. I have the “big dilemma” every week w/ regard to my own family at the Shabbos table. Many times it’s better to relate to one’s wife and kids as people rather than as talmidim. The kids especially — after all, they’re in school all week!

    As to Chanukah, if it’s appropriate, perhaps you could open up the conversation with “Does anybody know where in the Torah it talks about Chanukah?”

  9. To Give or Not to Give – a Dvar Torah.

    This question is also relevant within the context of an Orthodox Shabbat table.

    You must be careful when reciting a Devar Torah even to Orthodox Jews.

    Never say anything that reminds people of death of Gehinom. Never say anything that might imply criticism of the people you are speaking to. Other Devar Torah topics that can offend people and should be avoided include: Brit Milah and laws of kohen marriages.

  10. I say yes. A good, very clear, short idea. But absolutely yes.

    Personally, I don’t go for the story idea; but I think it depends entirely on the taste of the teller and listener.

  11. I have found that the people at the family/non-frum Chanukah parties we’ve gone to are not interested in nor do they wish to be bored by divrei Torah.

    I have also found that when asked to speak at a family “simcha” I have been successful when keeping it light and funny…and quick!

    If you can do that, then you will be a kiddush Hashem. If not, and instead you will come off as preachy and self-righteous then it will be a chillul H” Chas v’shalom.

    Now, if you play the guitar, you can make up your own Chanukah song like Adam Sandler, but make it funny in a different way.

    This is all if you are attending a function at someone else’s house. If you will be having the Chanukah party at your house I think there is more room to inject some Yiddishkeit. But still, I suggest keeping it light, funny, and definately entertaining.

    As an aside, maybe you want to check out my post from a few years ago when I had to speak in front of a crowd of non observant/irreligious Jews at my brother’s wedding. The link is below.

  12. Instead of a Devar Torah, recite a quick story that teaches a lesson, like this one:

    On one occasion, when Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel was leading the congregation in prayer, he kept stumbling on the pronunciation of the words.

    Those present were amazed, since he [Rabbi Finkel] always pronounced each word precisely.

    The congregants soon understood the reason for his uncharacteristic difficulty.

    There was a mourner in the synagogue who had difficulty reading Hebrew, and when he read from the prayer book, people laughed or smiled.

    In order to lessen the embarrassment of the mourner, Rabbi Finkel acted as if he could not read any better.

    SOURCE: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, 1977, 476 pages. Published by Yeshiva Aish HaTorah, Old City, Jerusalem.

    BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel, 1849 to 1927, Orthodox, was the leader of the famous Slobodka Yeshivah in Lithuania and a leader of the Mussar movement.

  13. If it’s a family Chanukah party, it’s pretty easy to slip into a conversation something about the importance of fighting for religious freedom or the “miracle of the oil” (thus publicizing the mizvah).

    Of course, you can also mention that the menorah represented the “oral traditions of the Torah”. If someone asked what those are you can say that the oral traditions describe things like a mezzuzah (most people know what that is).

  14. You can draw some moral lesson from the nature of the event without bringing in words or concepts they don’t understand. That’s assuming they give you an opening to deliver remarks.

  15. Just did that at thanksgiving, with some help from people on this blog (my daughter also spoke about the fun you can have with the word “hodu”)

    Most important thing is keep it fun, simple, somewhat brief, and if possible, invite questions (hopefully not wise-guy ones, but you can make a positive out of those too)

    Happy birthday Mark.

  16. I think it’s interesting that from a Torah point of view, the right move might be not to share any Torah.

Comments are closed.