By Aaron Sataloff, MAJNM/Rabbinic Ordination ‘17
While the activity of giving a d’var Torah, “a word of Torah,” occurs regularly in Jewish organizations in America, there is no standard of practice or widely accepted rubric of what components should be included in them. By writing divrei Torah, implicit values that frequently function as the basis for the work of Jewish nonprofits are verbalized and explored through the eyes of nonprofit professionals and lay leaders. This capstone takes a deeper look at this practice in an attempt to discern what is currently being written and delivered in the field and in order to create helpful guidelines. Therefore, I collected 30 divrei Torah from staff and lay leaders at several Jewish organizations and analyzed how they engaged Jewish texts, incorporated the values of Judaism, and spoke about their organization.
My research has shown that while each d’var Torah is unique, there are several common elements, including personal narratives or stories, explanation or a reference to the current Torah portion, employment of traditional Jewish texts, relevant ethical value(s), an organizational connection, and a general message or call to action. I found that most divrei Torah were delivered before board meetings, board retreats, committee meetings, and staff meetings. Almost all mentioned organizational mission statements, goals, or previous accomplishments. When these elements are combined and utilized in eloquent, meaningful ways, a d’var Torah can be an effective leadership tool to convey and reintroduce organizational values, providing an enormous impact on both personal and institutional levels.