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Welcome to Sha’ar

"My success as a rabbi isn't going to be measured by how many people I inspire to live my Jewish life, but by how many people I can inspire to live their own authentic Jewish life."

Rabbi Adina Lewittes

Shabbat Shalom 


After a failed attempt by Moshe to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt, Parashat Vaera opens with God charging Moshe one more time with the task of liberating the Israelites. Echoing the episode of the burning bush, Moses tries to refuse:

וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר מֹשֶׁ֔ה לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר הֵ֤ן בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֹֽא־שָׁמְע֣וּ אֵלַ֔י וְאֵיךְ֙ יִשְׁמָעֵ֣נִי פַרְעֹ֔ה וַאֲנִ֖י עֲרַ֥ל שְׂפָתָֽיִם׃
“But Moshe said “the Israelites wouldn’t listen to me, how then should Pharaoh listen to me, and I am of uncircumcised lips!”

Have you ever wondered why, in his attempt to evade God’s charge, Moshe doesn’t just blame the whole thing on Pharaoh not listening, or even on the people not listening? Let them take the fall! What is the point of saying he has trouble speaking when no one is listening anyway?

The Sefat Emet explains that it’s their refusal to listen that causes his verbal blockage. The Sefat Emet hears Moshe saying: Because they won’t listen, I can’t speak!

We tend to think that speech by one person is what leads to hearing by another. But here the suggestion is exactly the opposite: when one person listens they create the possibility for speech in another.

The Sefat Emet teaches that during the exile in Egypt speech itself had ceased because no one was listening to each other. The Zohar called this גלות
 הדיבור/Galut Hadibbur/ the exile of the word. Moshe - the prophet of redemption, the speaker of freedom - his words were in exile in Mitzrayim, in the meitzarim, the narrow places of oppression and pain.

We know only too well from our own lives about this “exile of the word.” We know what happens - to personal relationships and to societies - when meaningful communication breaks down between people. Without the inclination to hear one another and to listen to one another’s words, emotions, needs and fears, the capacity for speech - the verbal exchange of thoughts and feelings - becomes impossible. We become distant and estranged from one another, we disconnect.
שִׁמְעָ֤ה עַמִּ֨י ׀ וַאֲדַבֵּ֗רָה/”Listen my people, so I may speak”, Says God in Psalm 50:7. Even divine speech is silenced when we don’t listen.

The danger is that when people stop listening to one another and then stop talking to one another, we stop evolving. Our bonds become stagnant, and worse, unfeeling; lacking empathy and understanding.

It’s interesting that the closest thing Judaism has to a creed is שמע ישראל/Shema Yisrael/Listen, Israel. The demand is not that we proclaim anything, as in the Muslim tradition where the Shahada, the verbal declaration of belief in Allah and in Mohammed his prophet is key to spiritual communion. Our creed demands not a declaration but a posture: Listen, Israel. Our creed commands us to be open to the sounds and messages of the world around us. It understands that our openness, our listening, will prompt the world, God, nature, and humanity to speak to us and that it will enable us to be in dialogue with all of creation.

Rabbi Yochanan Muffs, z”l, wrote about the risks of speaking: we reveal what’s deep in our hearts without knowing how we will be received. When we speak to one another it’s an act of bravery, a leap of faith that we’ll be heard and understood. His lesson is especially poignant in these days of shocking and dangerous disconnection between elements of American society that have essentially stopped communicating with one another. Listening to one another, whether we can identify with what’s being said or not, is an act of respect and an expression of compassion. It’s what binds us together.

Nelle Morton, the late American theologian, feminist and human rights activist, told of a woman sharing her life story in an intimate group setting. 

“She talked on and on. Her story took on fantastic coherence. When she reached a point of excruciating pain no one moved. No one interrupted. Finally she finished. After a silence she looked from one woman to another. ‘You heard me. You heard me all the way…’ She looked directly at each woman in turn and then said slowly: ‘I have a strange feeling you heard me before I started. You heard me to my own story.’”

It’s a deep, paradoxical idea: hearing even before someone has begun to speak, listening to them in a way that enables them to bring forth words. Listening to their presence. Paying attention to their being. Hearing their very capacity for speech.

While he was giving a lecture, someone once asked Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l, to speak louder. His response? "I can't speak any louder - you'll have to listen louder."

Shema Yisrael. Listen. Listen our way to freedom. Listen our way to peace.

Shabbat Shalom

GroundWaves :   With Special Guests David Peck and Kathy Peck Marks : Monday, January 25 at 8:30pm EST


David and Kathy were part of a delegation of Holocaust Survivors brought by World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder back to Poland to revisit the camp 75 years after its liberation. The couple is engaged to marry this June.


Sha'ar Justice Beit Midrash 2020/2021 :   Wednesday, January 27,   7:00-8:30PM EST  



In the traditional style of a Beit Midrash (House of Study), we’ll combine exploring ancient and modern sources together with guided teachings all focused on a range of societal issues: civic responsibility, democracy, leadership, race, immigration, healthcare, income inequality, climate, and more. Each unit will be capped by a visit with a leading activist or advocacy organization to build the bridge between learning and doing, and to catalyze the transformational impact of our study.

For more information, click here.



The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest is a 5-day (mostly) online festival to connect our Jewish values to action in order to address our current climate crisis. It seeks to re-energize Tu BiShvat, the Jewish “Earth Day” of sorts, as a relevant and timely holiday to connect Jewish values with the urgency of climate action.

Dini will be featured on a live podcast during the festival talking about green approaches to death and burial. Listen on Friday, January 29 at 2:00pm EST.

RSVP to the podcast here.
Register for other sessions here.



We are inviting Sha'ar community members to join us for a new workshop series from Dayenu: a Jewish Call to Climate Action, Confronting the Climate Crisis and Cultivating Spiritual Courage. In this 2 part workshop, led by the staff of Dayenu, we will explore how we are contending with the climate crisis on a personal and spiritual level. If you feel anxious, fearful, or sad about the climate crisis, or worried about how it might impact you, your family, or community, you are not alone. If you haven’t made space in a busy and ever-changing world to sit with the reality of a changing climate, you are not the only one.

Join the Sha'ar community and Dayenu for an engaging 2-part workshop series in which we will begin to explore some of our personal and spiritual concerns the climate crisis raises, in a supportive community, rooted in Jewish wisdom and tradition, and building on an emerging body of thought focused on meeting the climate crisis with resilience. We will provide pathways for people to confront and move through feelings of fear, anxiety, and powerlessness and offer other pathways towards meaningful and bold action. If you are ready to move from fear, overwhelm, or numbness into courageous action on climate - or even, like many of us, you are not sure you are ready --  please join us!

Participation will be limited to a group of 12. Be first to register Here. Please register by January 24.

SAVE THE DATE: Sha'ar's Shushan Royal Flush  : Sunday, February 21

Join Sha'ar for a festive Purim Party (featuring the Purim Divas!), followed by a virtual poker tournament.  

Remember and Do Not Forget: Rabbinic Testimonies of January 6, 2021: A Horrific Day in American History 


We will forever remember the events of January 6, 2021. We also understand that, just like Torah, there is power in collective memory. Compiled by Rabbis Menachem Creditor, Jesse Olitzky and Ruth Messinger, Remember and Do Not Forget: Rabbinic Testimonies of January 6, 2021: A Horrific Day in American History includes Dini's response to the events, as well as those of rabbinical experts accross the country.

Find the book on Amazon here.


Count me in! If you are a Jew of Color, please consider participating in a new survey being conducted by the Jews of Color Initiative to better understand the experiences and perspectives of Jews of Color in the service of building a more inclusive Jewish community. Find the survey here.

Fri, January 22 2021 9 Shevat 5781