Yesterday was my one-year anniversary of converting to Judaism. One of the best decisions I ever made.
And this morning was my first d'var Torah. I was unaccountably nervous, given that starting conversations about texts is pretty much my life's work.
I finally realized that part of the issue is that I've complained about and critiqued so many sermons in my life that I was feeling like, if I didn't knock it out of the park, it would prove that I'd been a big ol' hypocrite all these years. Once I put it to myself in those terms, I realized how unreasonable it was to expect that the very first time I did this would be so great, so I let myself off the hook.
So then I was feeling pretty good, and I actually enjoyed when -- after reading/studying the parsha and commentary every day for five days, just a bit each day -- I sat down to write on Thursday night. I went to bed Thursday feeling pretty good.
I read it out loud again on Friday afternoon, made some changes and ran off my handouts (I love that handouts are a pretty usual part of d'vrei torah at my synagogue), and was feeling pretty good.
But then last night (when I was on duty at school and couldn't do anything about it) I suddenly had a terrible realization, that maybe what I was supposed to do was point out the ways in which the Torah portion was inspiring and would lead us to lead better lives, which was NOT what I had done. I had done what I normally do when I'm writing about a text, which is to look for the interesting moment, the "problem," the unexpected moment. So I'd come up with something I found interesting, but it wasn't exactly an uplifting sermon. But it was too late to do anything about it then -- or, rather, I wasn't willing to stay up late to do anything -- so I just went with it.
I'll cut to the chase -- it went very well! People were attentive, and I was blessed to have a couple of folks in the congregation who were smilers and nodders, so I knew that some people were actually paying attention. But the true test of a d'var torah, in my synagogue at least, is how good the discussion is afterward (which is only partly in the hands of the speaker). I had a moment of anxiety when the very first comment was to disagree with what I'd said, which is fine of course but after which a silence fell. But then other folks started speaking up, and there was a really good discussion. So good, in fact, that both of the rabbis joined in, which they normally try to avoid doing unless there's total silence that needs to be rescued (which wasn't the case here). And the head rabbi disagreed with my reading, but in such a "two-Jews-three-opinions" sort of way that we were both clearly having fun. Afterward he asked me for a copy of what I'd written, which is clearly a good sign! And both rabbis and lots of folks in the congregation made a point of thanking me for the great d'var.
Not that this is all about my ego, which maybe the previous paragraph is starting to sound like. It's more that (1) I offered something to the congregation that they found useful, which makes me so happy, especially on my one-year anniversary of being a Jew; (2) I got to be a part of a stimulating conversation, which is always fun; and (3) I learned a lot in doing the study and preparation this week, and I have a new confidence that I can do this kind of Torah study.
Plus, I have a weirdly busy January, and it feels good to have one of my obligations over and done with.