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I face a few difficulties with saying divrei torah at a Shabbos table and advice on how best to approach would be much appreciated.

  1. People often seem uninterested, especially after they have just gluttonously stuffed themselves with food. How do you engage these people?
  2. How do you find significant and profound ideas that can be eloquently presented within the attention span of the smartphone generation?
  3. When everyone has to stop what they are doing in the meal and briefly be quiet for a dvar torah, it gives the impression that torah is apart from normal living. How do you avoid the presentation of the dvar torah as something separate to real life?
  4. In a slightly different vein, how do you approach attempting to interweave divrei torah into normal conversation, in an attempt to mitigate the previous issue?

In summary, what measures can one take to deliver meaningful words of Torah at a Shabbos table, contending with the various distractions and other challenges that naturally come with that environment?

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    This seems very broad. – mevaqesh Apr 16 '17 at 20:02
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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/15285 – msh210 Apr 17 '17 at 19:01
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    @MosheSteinberg please ask the bold part separately; you added that to the question after several people posted answers and they didn't necessarily address it. So while you didn't mean any harm, you kind of changed the question out from under them, which we try to avoid. Besides, the question was already a little broad, and this broadens it more. You're allowed to ask more than one question. :-) Thanks. – Monica Cellio Apr 19 '17 at 20:35
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    MosheSteinberg, I think that all four of your original sub-questions hang together very nicely under one overall issue of delivering Torah at a Shabbos table, as you indicated in your introduction. I rewrote your conclusion to tie the question up accordingly. If this doesn't match your intent, please keep editing. As @MonicaCellio said, if you want to ask separately about how to find ideas each week, please do, but take a look at the related question I linked above first, and ask about some aspect that's not covered by that question. – Isaac Moses Apr 20 '17 at 0:21
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  1. By talking about something really interesting that applies to your crowd. Know your audience is rule #1. NOTE Some people will tune out easily when hearing a regular scholarly vort on the Parshah or Halachah. You should not use such ideas on that crowd. You should instead focus on heartwarming stories and aggadata.

  2. By opening up with a statement that is outrageous or catchy in the first 3 seconds. There are many styles to achieve this.

  3. Actually it gives respect for the thing about to be said. Even people attending secular awards dinners, stop eating, to hear the next speaker because its the important focus of the evening. But, you can make sure to speak on a topic that touches on "real life".

  4. Don't sound like you are trying too hard. It becomes condescending. Secondly, maybe the crowd you have that night is not ready for a vort but is ready for a story or topic that happened to you in the week which teaches how a Jew should act/make a Kiddush Hashem etc. (maybe even with humor and a twist?)

In general, you are not the thought police. If you are giving a vort to make sure people "speak Torah" by the meal, it may be resented and the opposite effect will happen; namely, people won't want to learn Torah. Be humble and only speak about something the crowd wants to speak about and then build in a Torah vort they can handle and appreciate.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said constantly: "Words that leave from the heart, enter the heart." If you are saying the vort because you actually care about the peoplel listening, then they will know. They will listen in return. If you are just doing it to be "yotzei the chiyuv" of "diverei Torah" at the meal, then people will know it and they will most likely tune out.

So, you may wish to start by simply asking your guests/friends about their week/life and comment about yours too, show sympathy, and be interesting in general. Then go for the vort when you have an opening. OR... Simply ask one of them to share a vort or Torah themed story! Turn the tables. People get excited when they are the speaker. :)

Also, avoid monotone voice. Raise and lower your pitch slightly when speaking as well as slow down and speed up every so often. It stops people from dozing off. Oh yes, and keep it short LOL (2-3 minutes maximum). Also, use humor! Torah should be joyful. Its also contagious to laugh. :)

Examples:

Do not: "Gut Shabbos everyone... this week's Parshah" (You already lost them!)

Do not: "Rabbi Choshuv Huffenpuff wrote a peirush on blah blah...he asks a great question..." (again, you let them fall asleep here!)

Do Say: "OK folks, I have absolute proof that Ivanka is Jewish!" (insert joke) OK OK, So why does everyone in the media care if she is or isn't? We.. go on about the uniqueness of the Jewish people etc.

Do Say: "Mrs. Mosko-noodlewitz...(The hostess) I can't believe you did this to me!! GASP!!....(wait 2 seconds for crowd's nervous tension and shock) The chocolate pie is killing my diet Its not possible to resist this sin!" :) "By the way, thank you for making the whole meal and all the Sabbath prep that you did for everyone, just for me." Why not for the other guests? Well the Gemara says a good guest says...they did everything just for me..how does that work? ...Vort

Dovid Kaplan has a nice (6 books?) series called Impact and Major Impact. Hundreds of great Torah short stories. You should read it. https://mostlymusic.com/collections/vendors?q=Dovid%20Kaplan

That should work. :)

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    Try to dejargonify. E.g. aggadata, Kiddush Hashem, yotzei the chiyuv. – mevaqesh Apr 16 '17 at 21:59
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    see judaism.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1607/759 for more about use of jargon on Mi Yodeya – Double AA Apr 20 '17 at 11:58
  • @DoubleAA Thanks for the helpful article. I am not sure if you intend to say that my answer violated the guidelines. From what I have read there and in its links, my answer and use of wording is well within the guidelines. The whole MY site is filled with other users here using comparable words without attracting comment or downvote. (and that should be the case, since the guidelines say that). judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/81981/… (for instance, no one cares about this post using "heiche kedusha, shul. chazaras hashatz as terms.) – David Kenner Apr 20 '17 at 22:40
  • @DoubleAA if the community or mods feel like a revamp of posts is needed from now on, then the rules should be made hard and fast as well as mandatory. Until then, since "dejargonify" rules are loose and not to be "enforced" (as per guidelines) then nit-picking one person's posts is not constructive. I think we would all enjoy the site more without such harassment. – David Kenner Apr 20 '17 at 22:49
  • @DoubleAA BTW, I chose my "jargon" words because I feel they are appropriate for the post and the most helpful as written. After reading the guidelines and links, I feel they do fit the site's guidelines. If I didn't, I would change them. I think community guidelines should be followed and we should try to be more aware of them. :) – David Kenner Apr 20 '17 at 22:56
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When everyone has to stop what they are doing in the meal and briefly be quiet for a dvar torah, it gives the impression that torah is apart from normal living. How do you avoid the presentation of the dvar torah as something separate to real life?… In a slightly different vein, how do you approach attempting to interweave divrei torah into normal conversation, in an attempt to mitigate the previous issue?

One possibility is to prepare what several sources say about an issue or a bunch of related issues and to raise the questions at the table. For example, to point out an interesting oddity in the parasha, see what people think, briefly present what some sources answer in a way that invites questions on it (or ask them yourself), and seek replies. It's a very interactive process, requires people to engage rather than to shut up and listen, and it can take up a good amount of time over the course of a meal. But make sure the topic is interesting!

  • Makes sense -- no reason the approach we take for the Pesach seder can't work year-round! – Monica Cellio Apr 19 '17 at 1:32
  • Good advice. Unfortunately it wouldn't work for big meals where it is extremely difficult to keep everyone in one conversation, any suggestions for that? Additionally, it is very nice to talk about an oddity in the parsha but how do you go about finding these points with multiple approaches to understand? – Moshe Steinberg Apr 19 '17 at 17:34
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Here's an approach that I've found to be generally successful, when I've deployed it at my own table.

Topic of interest

As both previous answers indicated, and as multiple answers to this related question did too, pick a topic that you are personally interested in discussing. Your interest is absolutely necessary for anyone else to be interested. In addition, it will allow you to sustain conversation and field unexpected responses. These benefits are especially strong if your interest causes you to study the topic, commentary, etc. more generally.

Pick one key difficulty (including if it's one you don't have a solution to!) or insight. This will be your jumping-off point and may indeed be all you relate.

Timing

Time your interjection well. Three times in the meal that I've found to be particularly well-suited for a little Torah are:

  • While everyone is eating plated appetizers or soup. There's nothing to pass, and everyone is eating and may be relatively quiet.

  • Right after all of the main course foods have gone around once, and any kids have been provided for. At this point, the hubbub of filling plates should die down, and people should be focusing on their food.

  • Right after any kids at the table have run off to play. Fewer kids equals fewer distractions. (Of course, then the kids don't get to benefit from your brilliant discourse, but you have to pick your battles sometimes.)

Getting attention

There are two ways to go here:

  • Get everyone's attention right away by asking a (co-)host's permission to share some Torah, by announcing that's what you're doing, or by lifting a holy book and starting to speak louder than the conversation level. Benefits of this approach are that you reach everyone, and that you are less likely to have to repeat yourself. Pitfalls include that it may take some time to get everyone to stop talking, and that some people might prefer to continue their conversation and resent the intrusion.

  • Alternatively, just start talking to one or two people next to you, maybe a little louder than other conversations, maybe not. If people find what you're saying or what your little group is discussing interesting, they'll notice eventually and either listen or join in. You may have to repeat points, and you may have to compete with other conversations, but the people who are involved are likely to be more engaged.

Starting

To begin, especially if you're doing it the organic-conversation way, I recommend conveying your personal interest and the point right off the bat, with an opening phrase such as:

  • Here's what I've been working on:

  • Here's something that i really don't get:

  • So, this comment really blew my mind this week:

  • I loved this exchange that came up on Mi Yodeya:

Then, go right into the central difficulty or insight identified above. Either you can present what you've got straightforwardly and quickly and be done, or people will react, and you'll get a good conversation going. Either way, you stand a good chance of fitting within people's attention spans and avoiding getting derailed by disruptions.

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    "I loved this exchange that came up on Mi Yodeya" only works for people who are on Mi Yodeya. Not everyone reading this wi— oh, wait. – msh210 Apr 19 '17 at 18:19

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