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Until further notice, all outdoor events will require participants to wear a mask, and all other events will continue to be held virtually.

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 

וַיְדַבֵּ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינַ֖י...

God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai... (Bamidbar 1:1)


Shabbat Shalom from the wilderness. While not Sinai, I’m at our family’s home in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal. It’s not a desert, to be sure – the lakes and mountains of the region are legendary. But it is a place away from the bustle of the cities and towns in which we spend most of our days; a place where, for me at least, the voice of the Divine takes on a pitch and clarity that is hard to replicate. It’s where I like to be on Shavuot, listening for the revelation of Torah, attuning myself to the calls of the Universe. 

The wilderness – in spite of the giving of the Torah that took place at Mount Sinai –is often reflected upon as a place of failure and chaos. This week’s Torah reading begins the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar/”In the Wilderness,” which chronicles the forty years of wandering our people had to endure in order for a generation of rebellious slaves to die out before we were permitted to enter the land of Israel. 

Not a lot of smiling faces in the photo album from that trip: Here we are complaining about the food. There’s Miriam and Aaron speaking badly about Moses. Here’s a group photo of the spies who discouraged everyone about Israel. That’s Korach leading a rebellion against Moses. Oh, and here’s Moses hitting the rock to get water for the people who were complaining. You get the picture. 

Linda Hogan, a novelist and poet who has written about Indiginous people’s connection to land, wrote, “The wilderness, mentioned in the [Jewish and Christian] Bibles 300 times, is almost always referred to as the place of evil, the devil’s place. It is seen as a dangerous realm, the untouched places of demons. It lives at the edge of the civilized world, and in the human mapping, it is the place inside humans that behaves according to instinct and inner drive, and cannot be controlled by will. Wilderness is what the dominating have tried to push away from themselves, both in the outside world and inside their own bodies.” Or, as Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch put it, the wilderness is the “uncontrolled might of sensuality.” 

And yet, this is precisely where the Torah was given. Not in a place of order or predictability, definition or boundaries. Its sacred dictates are meant to help us find
stability and direction, trust and integrity on life’s continually shifting landscape, one full of potential risk and fear epitomized by the wilderness. 

As Avivah Zornberg describes it, “The wilderness journey is to be an exercise in stabilizing the sense of God through vicissitudes…” It’s meant to foster a relationship to the holy One as “a rhythm that links the jagged edges of experience.” 

The events of this week have many of us feeling lost in the wilderness seeking a path to our beloved land of Israel as a place for our people to live in peace - with ourselves and with others for whom Israel is home. The intractability of the conflict, the endless cycles of violence, the terrifying intensification of anger being taken to the streets – the wilderness in all its terror is on full display. We mourn the loss of life. We grieve over the hatred. We pray for the injured. 

And yet, it’s from this wilderness that we are taught to listen for the voice of God. The voice of possibility. The constantly shifting sands of the wilderness are moved and reconfigured by the winds of life, assembling into formations that give structure and meaning, until they surrender to the winds of change once again. The lesson for us is to be open to change, to hope, and to growth. 

It’s not Sinai itself that captures the Torah’s heart, despite the sacred exchange that took place there. Rather, it’s the notion of carrying Sinai with us wherever we travel that animates the Torah’s teachings. The precise location of Mount Sinai is forever unknown. It can be anywhere we are. Even in the midst of war. Maybe even moreso. 

There are literal battles raging in Israel. There are political and cultural battles raging here. There are ideological battles raging throughout the world. And while sirens and demonstrations and rhetoric can be deafening, we cannot allow them to drown out the voice of the Divine which our tradition insists can be heard above, or perhaps within, the noise – the voice which reminds us that every human life is sacred; that the most important goal worth pursuing is that of peace; that there is room for more than one story in the Book of Life. 

These are not our lessons alone to learn, of course. But we are accountable to them no less than anyone else. May the quiet of Shabbat open our ears and hearts for the wisdom penetrating the clangor around us. And may it guide us through the wilderness and on towards peace.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah,

Sha'ar Justice Beit Midrash 2020/2021  : Wednesdays,   7:00pm-8:15pm EST  

May 19 Topic: Incarceration

In the traditional style of a Beit Midrash (House of Study), we’ll combine wrestling with sources together with guided teachings 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.

Ranked Choice Voting :  A Cosponsored  Program Series with Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

With the introduction of ranked choice voting in NYC, this year’s historic June 2021 primary election has the potential to profoundly transform NYC's government. Join a virtual conversation about why ranked choice voting and this election matter, then sign up for a session breaking down the logistics.

Click the links below for more information and registration.

Ranked Choice Voting: How It Works
Sun, May 23: 12:30pm – 1:15pm EST
Wed, May 26: 12:30pm – 1:15pm EST
Thu, May 27: 7:30pm – 8:15pm EST

 Sha'ar Justice Beit Midrash : Final Class of the Year with Special Guest Danny Siegel  :   Wednesday, May 26,   7:00pm - 8:15pm EST

The Answer to the Question is Tzedek (Justice), Tzedakah (Righteous Giving) and Gemillut Hasadim (Acts of Lovingkindness)

Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 300 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values. He is the author of 28 1/2 books on topics of Mitzvah heroes and practical and personalized Tzedakah, and has produced an anthology of 500 selections of Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well called Where Heaven and Earth Touch.

For more information click here.
Register for Justice Beit Midrash here.

The Morning Walk Minyan  :  Thursdays at 8:15am EST

The Morning Walk Minyan is a weekly outdoor devotional walk through Central Park for those who wish to expand their experience of prayer to include nature as a sanctuary for fellowship and embodied spirituality; framed by kavanot / intentions and the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Please gather at the posted time at the statue in front of the Delacorte Theater just off 80th Street and Central Park West; the walk is approximately 45 minutes long. 

 All outdoor programs require participants to wear masks.

GroundWaves : Mondays, 8:30pm EST

May 24: You Are What You Eat: Cooking and Jewish Identity 

With Special Guest Bonnie Stern

Bonnie Stern is the founder of the Bonnie Stern School of Cooking in Toronto which she opened and operated from 1973 to 2011. She has studied cooking around the world, authored 12 bestselling cookbooks, hosted three national cooking shows, and appears regularly on various television and radio shows across Canada.


Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781