It all started with Parsha Vayakhel (“And he Gathered”) when Moses (Moshe) gathered the congregation to hear the word of God. (Vayakhel/Exodus 35:1-38:20)
What did each person hear? How did each person assembled process it? How did each individual internalize the message?
The Hebrew verb vayakhel (וַיַּקְהֵל)… to “assemble” or “gather”…is related to the word kehillah, meaning “Jewish community.”
We gather as havrutot (Torah study partners) with the objective of achieving a state of higher consciousness through a d’var Torah (personal interpretation of a Torah portion) or a drasha (sermon/exegetical homily).
As a kehillah, the Torah thoughts shared during a d’var Torah or drasha open our hearts and minds to deeper levels of understanding.
Writing a drasha or d’var Torah takes considerable thought, time and effort. First we read it, then we contemplate it, then we seek out our focus. Once we hone in on our focus, we must find our direction and engage our audience. I often work on a d’var Torah for days or even weeks, until the direction and purpose I seek manifests.
The Torah is in a state of perfect incompletion. Our soul-work completes it and brings it forth into our world to speak to us.
There is a concept of receiving ‘portions of food’ from the interpretations of the Chazal (Sages). This concept extends to all that “turn it and turn it again” to interpret.
Torah study expands to include the study of Jewish philosophy, classical texts, literature, folklore and non-legal works.
Torah exegesis is a dialogue with the text, not a straightforward reading.
What is the text trying to tell me? What message jumps out at me? Why are certain words and phrases used rather than others? What does the order of the words signify? What is the hidden meaning? How do I relate to this? How does the white fire speak to me? How does it validate or conflict with my personal views and values? How does it challenge or expand my consciousness? What makes it relevant and relatable to our contemporary lives of pain and joy, struggle and triumph?
The questions, the individual interpretations and the dialogue it inspires are the heart and soul of Jewish exegesis.