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FROM THE DESK OF RABBI MORRISON

01/04/20 04:25:09 PM

Apr1

28/05/20 09:37:48 AM

May28

Dear Congregational Family,

Traditionally, at the conclusion of sacred seasons, we pause to remember loved ones of blessed memories who have paved our way in life. Four times a year, Yizkor is recited: On concluding the Ten Days of Repentance, on concluding Sukkot-Shmini Atzeret, on concluding Pesach, on concluding Shavuot which also culminates the seven week counting period.

While it is preferable to recite Yizkor with community, one is permitted to recite Yizkor privately, with the exception of Kaddish. During the pandemic, synagogues are currently closed. This morning, we offered a community Yizkor on Zoom so that we could remember our loved ones as a congregational family. Nevertheless, one may recite Yizkor privately on Shabbat, the second day of Shavuot. So that each holiday provides its own flavor, I have included a contemporary Yizkor reflection for Shavuot from Siddur Lev Shalem.

I wish everyone fond memories of your loved ones and Chag Sameach.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Bikurim - Our First Fruits

27/05/20 01:24:35 PM

May27

Dear Congregational Family,

While Jewish tradition regards Shavuot as "Zman Matan Torateinu - the season of the giving of our Torah," Scripture itself calls Shavuot "Chag Ha'Bikurim - the Festival of the first fruits."

During the formative years of our people's experience, we were farmers living in an agricultural setting. In the book of Devarim, when the first fruits of the Spring harvest would ripen in the land of Israel, those fruits would be placed in a basket and brought to the Sanctuary as an expression of gratitude to God. An excerpt of Jewish history would be recited, beginning with the words "My father was a wandering Aramean . . . " In a later chapter of Jewish history, those words were transferred to the Passover Haggadah.

In Biblical times, the seven weeks of counting between Pesach and Shavuot covered the time from the planting of the Spring harvest to the ripening of the first fruits.

Nowadays, in an urban setting, how do we appreciate the notion of Bikurim - first fruits? Our little ones, our young children are our first fruits. In years past during Shavuot, our littlest ones would march down the aisle at the end of services holding a basket of fruits.

Our older children, who would be graduating from recognized Jewish educational programs, would be honored on the first day of Shavuot. I am saddened that the honor and recognition due to our children will not take place in shul this Friday, the first day of Shavuot. But know that you are being recognized and honored. When the pandemic ends, we will hope to acknowledge your achievements publically.

In a similar spirit, in recent years on Shavuot, we have honored children excelling in sports achievements from the Joseph Smith scholarship award. We have also honored students embarking in advanced religious studies from the Robert Karol family Limudei Kodesh scholarship award. We hope to be able to present these prizes in the not too distant future.

Our shul's Aleph Beit Chadash school continued to function even during Covid-19. I extend our synagogue's appreciation to our young students, our teachers, our principal, our school board, and the parents. Our growing Hebrew school finished the academic year with imagination and creativity during a challenging time.

While our Shinshinim returned to Israel during the pandemic, we thank them for a wonderful year, both, in person at our shul, and with internet programs most recently delivered from Israel. We wish you well in the next chapter of your lives.

Our young families held amazing monthly Shabbat services and programs before the pandemic broke out. Under the leadership of Rabbi David, our young families continued to meet regularly on Friday afternoons on Zoom to celebrate a pre-Shabbat with music, prayer, and story telling.

We at Beth Emeth are proud of all our Bikurim. While we are unable to honor you publically this Shavuot, please accept this Dvar Torah as our heartfelt appreciation for a year well done.

I wish everyone good health.

 

Chag Sameach in advance,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

"A Jewish Calendar oddity"

26/05/20 09:15:31 AM

May26

Dear Congregational Family,

It happens periodically. While all Jews around the world are one people with one calendar, we occasionally witness a difference between Israel and the Diaspora.

As we know, Festivals which are observed one day in Israel are kept two days in the Diaspora. This reality harkens back to ancient times to ensure that the holy day was being properly maintained outside of Israel. While nowadays there is no doubt outside of Israel, the second day of yom tov has acquired its own customs, especially in regard to the selection of Torah and Haftarah passages.

This week, Shavuot will be observed on Friday in Israel and on Friday - Saturday in the Diaspora. What are some of the practical differences? On Friday night and Saturday in Israel, regular Shabbat prayers and Scripture passages will be recited. Outside Israel, on Friday night and Saturday, Festival prayers and Scripture passages will be recited.

Thus, Parshat Naso, the longest Parsha, will be recited in full this Shabbat in Israel the day after Shavuot. Meanwhile, in the Diaspora, Parshat Naso will be recited in its entirety a week from this Saturday, since this Shabbat will coincide with the second day of Shavuot.

Up until Shavuot, the beginning of Naso will have been read everywhere. Come Shabbat afternoon and the following Monday and Thursday, Jews in Israel will read the beginning of B'haalotcha, and Jews outside of Israel will continue reading the beginning of Naso.

Eventually, a double Parsha in the Diaspora will be read over two Shabbatot in Israel, and the Torah reading cycle will be the same inside and outside of Israel. Until then, let us appreciate the subtle and salient differences. We can thereby ponder the relationship, challenges and strengths of the Diaspora with Israel.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

"Sivan, Shavuot, and my Father"

25/05/20 09:21:07 AM

May25

Dear Congregational Family,

Yesterday, we ushered in the month of Sivan. Sadly, this month gets lost with the warm weather. Yet, the most important holiday takes place on the sixth of Sivan, this Thursday night. Shavuot commemorates the giving of Torah. Without this Festival, there is no Torah, no Mitzvot, no Judaism.

In preparation, we and many other establishments are preparing all kinds of learning materials, on video and in print. I encourage us to take advantage. I also hope that we will daven and study the appropriate Siddur and Scripture passages on our own during the two day Festival.

Whenever Sivan begins, I start to shed a tear. My father Ruben Morrison, of blessed memory, died on 23 Sivan in 1999. While I have many memories, one is appropriate for the week leading into Shavuot.

Growing up, my dad was a one man house committee for our shul. The Ark of the main sanctuary, like Beth Emeth's, had two tiers of Torah scrolls. On a particular Shabbat, when the Ark was opened, one of the scrolls began to fall out of its place. Fortunately, it was caught in time.

During the week which followed, my dad brought me to the shul late one night to assist him. We were alone in the building. Standing on the Bimah with the Ark open, my dad reached for his tool box. He took out many golden link chains and fastened them to all the rods which were meant to keep the Torahs in place. No one knew what he had done.

On the next Shabbat morning, when the Ark was opened, a glow of gold emanating from the new chains glittered around the entire shul. My dad would always sit in the back row. Suddenly, the entire congregation stood and faced my father, figuring out that he was responsible.

As a boy, I did not understand the magnitude of my dad's contribution. Years later, I comprehended what he did. My father did not only physically secure the Torah scrolls. He accomplished something deeply spiritual and emotional. Everybody felt the golden glow of our tradition, which made the people beam with pride.

I will think of my dad's Yahrzeit which occurs later this month when we celebrate the gift of Torah this week.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

22/05/20 09:17:45 AM

May22

Dear Congregational Family,

This Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The new month brings with it new hopes and aspirations. We pray that with the onset of Sivan, we will continue to be healthy and see some signs of of normalcy returning.

An indirect reference to Rosh Chodesh Sivan is found in the Torah: "On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus 19:1)." The Oral Tradition identifies "that very day" as Rosh Chodesh Sivan.

As we know, the sixth of Sivan is Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. We will have counted seven full weeks from the second night of Pesach. The fiftieth day, sixth of Sivan, commemorates the giving of Torah.

It is interesting to note that when the Israelites encamped at Mount Sinai, the language of the Torah shifts to the singular, as if Israel were being personified as a single person with one heart. What an amazing statement of unity having hundreds of thousands as one.

These days due to the pandemic, we are affirming our Jewishness as individuals. With synagogues having to be closed, our virtual synagogues offer on line services and classes. Still, we require nowadays more individual self motivation to assert our Jewish commitments.

In Biblical times while encamped at Sinai, hundreds of thousands were like one person. Today, each person, while observing physical distancing, is bound to an eternal people with an eternal legacy.

While our synagogue doors will be closed on Shavuot, there are many Torah learning opportunities on line in preparation for Shavuot. Check our website for sessions emanating from the Schechter Institute, Mercaz-Masorti Canada, and our own Beth Emeth team.

In advance of this Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, I wish us all Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

"A season of counting"

21/05/20 09:41:37 AM

May21

Dear Congregational Family,

This Shabbat, we begin to read a new book of the Torah, B'Midbar, literally, "in the wilderness." The entire book comprises most of the Israelites' experiences from having received the Torah to arriving at the threshold of the promised land, thirty-eight years in total.

The English name for the fourth book of the Torah is called "Numbers." The one theme that pervades the whole book from beginning, middle to end is a series of countings. These include but are not limited to a census of the tribes, a separate census of the levites, countings after collective punishments, a counting of the places visited along the way, and more.

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, asks why does God keep counting the Jewish people? The answer - "Mitoch chibatan menaam, out of love, God keeps counting."

We count that which is precious to us: our family members, coins, stamps, books, etc.

My father collected certain antique tools over the years. He was always counting them.

Each day, we count the days toward Shabbat. For seven weeks, we count the days from Pesach to Shavuot. We love Shabbat and Torah. Thus, we count the days surrounding them.

We count you as meaningful members of our shul, and we count on you to be active participants in virtual synagogue life.

May that which we count dearly be for good.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

20/05/20 09:05:42 AM

May20

Dear Congregational Family,

This Friday, we will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, which commemorates the miracle of the six day war fifty-three years ago in 1967. Many of us remember this time in modern Jewish history like it was yesterday. As a seven year old, I do not remember much except for the following. I remember my father being glued to the large radio which rested on our kitchen refrigerator. I remember him explaining to me the events as they transpired. That memory for me made a strong impact when six years later in 1973, I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel, something which could not have taken place prior to the six day war.

From the time of King David, Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for over three thousand years. In Jewish tradition, one is supposed to face Jerusalem during prayer. If one prays from outside of Israel, face Israel. If one prays from within Israel, face Jerusalem. If one prays from within Jerusalem, face the old city. If one prays from within the old city, face the site of the Temple. If one prays from within the Temple, face the holy of holies.

Living in North America, we face Mizrach, East, when we pray, so that we physically and spiritually face Jerusalem. Some people buy as a gift a Mizrach wallhanging to be affixed on an Eastern wall in one's home.

While we are temporarily unable to pray as a community facing East from within our beautiful sanctuary or chapel, we can still pray as often as we can on line with our Beth Emeth family or privately.

Face East. Face Jerusalem. Remember past visits. Plan future visits. For thousands of years, our ancestors could only dream of being in Israel, in general, or Jersalem, specifically. As we face East, we metaphysically bring ourselves to Jerusalem and Jerusalem to us.

Please join us Friday for a celebratory Yom Yerushalayim service in the morning and a concert in the afternoon.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

JOY AMIDST THE SADNESS

19/05/20 09:25:29 AM

May19

Dear Congregational Family,

As we emerge from the long holiday weekend, I hope that everyone is doing well. While health precautions continue to be vital, the joy of Jewish life continues onward.

This past Sunday, I was privileged to officiate at a wedding in the celebrants' backyard. While the wedding was originally scheduled to take place in our shul, the family was not deterred. The bride is a third generation member of our shul.

This coming Sunday, I will attend the home of twin twelve year old sisters, who will celebrate their Bnot Mitzvah. While the venue has shifted from shul to private home, the service will be exactly the same as originally planned. The Bnot Mitzvah are fourth generation members of Beth Emeth.

In our synagogue custom, the restrictive grieving practices associated with the Omer ended last Tuesday on Lag Ba'Omer. How wonderful it is that our synagogue family is celebrating a wedding and Bat Mitzvahs in advance of Shavuot.

Also joyous this week is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, this Friday. This celebration commemorates the miracle of the six day war in 1967. Join us for an embellished Shacharit service in the morning and a concert in the late afternoon to celebrate.

With milestones this week for the Jewish people and for particular Beth Emeth families, we continue to celebrate the joys of Jewish life amidst the sadness of the pandemic.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

15/05/20 09:10:02 AM

May15

Dear Congregational Family,

Parshat Bhar begins with the significance of the number seven. We all value this number. We celebrate Shabbat, sanctifying the seventh day of the week. We are now enumerating the seven weeks which connect Pesach to Shavuot.

In the weekly Parsha, the land of Israel lies fallow and rests every seventh year. In addition, seven cycles of seven years are counted. The fiftieth year becomes a "Yovel-Jubilee," during which time all land reverts to original ownership.

While Yovel has been inoperative for many centuries, the observance of Shemita, the land resting every seventh year, was revitalized soon after Israel became a modern State. Depending on one's religious view, the Mitzvah of Shemita is seen as being of Torahitic status, rabbinic status, or a measure of piety.

From these lessons and others in Bhar, we ultimately learn the lesson that we are tenants on this earth. The land does not belong to us. It belongs to God. One of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's most acclaimed books is entitled, "The Earth is the Lord's."

During this time of the pandemic, we are humbly reminded that the land is not ours. The land breathes its own way. We as tenants and caretakers contribute to the health and vitality of the land as well as to the illness and vulnerability of the land.

The Torah's instruction to be responsible tenants of the earth is perhaps more relevant now than ever before.

 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

14/05/20 09:25:30 AM

May14

Dear Congregational Family,

As many of you know, Parshat Bhar was the portion of my Bar Mitzvah in 1973. Being a leap year, the second of this week's double Parsha, Bchukotai, was read a week later.

The two portions are unified in the following way. Bhar begins "God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai as follows." Bchukotai concludes, "These are the commandments that God gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai."

The repetition of "Har Sinai - Mount Sinai" unites the double Parsha and teaches us that Torah is much more than nice or interesting literature. While Jewish theologians throughout history have debated the nature of how Torah came to be, they agree that Torah was divinely revealed or inspired. Thus, every word is infused with the presence of the divine. As Jews, our challenge is to grapple with the Torah's ideas and to find the presence of God in its words and in our lives.

Perhaps it is no accident that the third book of the Torah concludes with the words "Mount Sinai." In two weeks, we will celebrate the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of Torah. We can perceive the expression "On Mount Sinai" as being more than a geographical place. It refers to the Torah's origins as being from the divine.

Given today's health realities, our shul continues to be closed to the public. Shavuot officially begins on Thursday night, May 28, for two days. For the Beth Emeth community, we will commemorate Yizkor on Zoom Erev Shavuot, Thursday May 28, at 9:30AM.

On Wednesday May 27, the entire clergy team will provide pre - recorded topics on the Beth Emeth Facebook page, in lieu of the night time vigil called, Tikun Leil Shavuot. The topics for your private study will center around the giving of Torah, the book of Ruth, the special Shavuot poem called Akdamut, Hallel, and the Torah reading.

The words "Mount Sinai" already appear this Shabbat. Let's get ready.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

13/05/20 09:27:05 AM

May13

Dear Congregational Family,

In Judaism, we have blessings which affirm our belief in God for all occasions. When we hear the ultimate bad news, we recite, "Baruch Dayan Emet - Praised be the true Judge." When we hear especially good news which impacts on us and others around us, we recite, "Baruch Tov U'Maitiv - Praised be God who is good and beneficent."

At face value, these blessings make logical sense. The foundation for the blessing of goodness and beneficence, however, is intriguing. In the aftermath of Lag Ba'Omer, we know that according to legend, 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died during the Sefira season. That legend tells only part of a disturbing story. Rabbi Akiva and his followers supported the famed Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans. The revolt failed terribly. The final defeat at the hand of the Romans took place at the fortress of Beitar in 135CE.

Despite the tragedy, a miracle happened in that all the deceased were buried properly and with dignity. Thus, while grieving over the losses, our ancestors composed the blessing of "Tov U'Maitiv," thanking God that our slain were buried in accordance with Jewish values.

An extension of this short blessing expanded into an additional fourth blessing in Birkat Ha'Mazon, the blessings after meals, in which we express gratitude to God for the past, present, and future.

As we today grieve and learn to live amidst covid-19, I pray that we can find silver linings of God's goodness and beneficence, even as our ancestors were able to do so almost two thousand years ago.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

LAG BA'OMER SAMEACH

12/05/20 09:16:23 AM

May12

Dear Congregational Family,

If ever we needed a day of joy at this particular time, today, Lag Ba'Omer is the day. Many of us are physically and emotionally exhausted after the lifestyle changes of the last two months.

There was a time when the seven weeks connecting Passover and Shavuot were a time of pure joy. The celebration of physical freedom led to a celebration of spiritual purpose. The planting of the Spring harvest led to the ripening of the first fruits.

During the Second Temple period, however, the situation changed. A story from the Talmud tells us, "Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students. All of them died at the same time because they did not treat one another with respect. . . . All of them died between Pesach and Shavuot."

Legend has it that the plague which killed them stopped on the thirty-third day, thereby explaining why that day - Lag (33) Ba'Omer - is not a day of mourning. In some traditions, mourning is stopped for that day and then resumes. In others, that is the end of the mourning period.

Many scholars suggest that the reason for the tragedy as described in the Talmud is a euphemism. The historical reality was the genocide perpetrated by the Roman Empire at this season of the year.

Perhaps the two reasons can co-exist. When one Jew treats a fellow Jew with disrespect; when one shows disdain for one another in a shared community, then the opportunity is ripe for an external enemy to take advantage.

With this in mind, we can understand the mourning restrictions during the Sefira season. Today, however is a day of joy. The ancient genocide came to an end. The study and practice of Torah in hiding also came to an end. The celebration of Jewish life could become public again.

As a child attending Jewish day school, we always looked forward to Lag Ba'Omer. Regular classes were cancelled. Sports competitions took place instead. The day was treated with fun and festivity for children so that we could appreciate this day of joy, which commemorated an end to the sadness.

We too look forward to having the sadness caused by Covid-19 come to an end, so that soon we can look forward to every day becoming like Lag Ba'Omer.

I encourage all of us to find some time on Lag Ba'Omer to celebrate the joys of Judaism and life amidst the sadness.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

11/05/20 09:11:29 AM

May11

Dear Congregational Family,

Since May of 1973, I have been fond of saying that I did not celebrate a Bar Mitzvah. Rather, I celebrated a "Bhar Mitzvah," because the Parsha of my Bar Mitzvah celebration was called "Bhar."

I celebrated my age of maturity in Israel at the Kotel on that particular Shabbat morning of "Parshat Bhar." For my parents, it would be the first and only time that they visited Israel.

In 1960, I was born just a couple of hours after Mother's Day had ended. Now, sixty years later, my Hebrew birthday fell out on Friday, my English birthday on Shabbat, and Mother's Day on Sunday.

Celebrating my Bar Mitzvah in Israel surrounded by the love of my parents and siblings, the beginning of the Parsha could not have been more appropriate. The Torah legislates that every seventh year, the land of Israel must lay fallow. The land must rest every seventh year, just as we celebrate a day of spiritual and physical rest every seventh day.

Right now, the land, in a universal sense, is not at rest. It is fighting a plague which tragically has impacted on so many lives.

Forty-seven years ago, a young healthy Morrison family celebrated a beautiful Bar Mitzvah in a young healthy land of Israel. Our prayer this year is that the land of our planet and all humanity rediscover youthfulness and good health.

I wish everybody safety and wellbeing.

 

Shavua Tov,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

08/05/20 09:31:29 AM

May8

Dear Congregational Family,

This Sunday marks Mother's Day on the Western calendar.

When I was a young child, my mother would instruct me that while an annual day is designated to honor one's mother, the fact of the matter is that every day is Mother's Day (and Father's Day too).

My mom would explain to me that while we have a period on the Jewish calendar called The Ten Days of Repentace, one should repent and refine one's character every day. Annual spiritual themes, like a Day of Atonement, serve to emphasize values to be practiced every day of our lives.

In Judaism, our parents are our primary teachers. The Hebrew word for parents "Horim," means educators. In the Shma, it is the parents who are commanded to teach their children.

It is interesting to note that in the Ten Commandments, the Mitzvah to honor one's parents is the fifth out of ten. It appears last on the first of two tablets of stone. The first tablet lists relationships with God. The second tablet lists relationships with people. Notice that the command to honor one's parents serves as the bridge from relating with God to relating with humanity.

At the Shabbat evening table, it is customary for husbands to honor their wives by reciting "Eishet Chayil - The Woman of Valor." For many years, I have honored all women of Jewish history, as well as my mother, of blessed memory, when I recite these beautiful Biblical words from the book of Proverbs.

For me, this coming Sunday is more than a mother's day. I call it "Eishet Chayil Day," a day to reinforce that every day we ought to honor the women of our lives and of our tradition.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

"A Seemingly Irrelevant Torah Law Is Now Relevant"

07/05/20 09:42:18 AM

May7

Dear Congregational Family,

 

Whereas last week's Torah portion of Kedoshim detailed laws of holiness for the entire people of Israel, the beginning of this week's Parsha of Emor details laws of holiness directed specifically to Kohanim.

At the very outset, a Kohain is forbidden from defiling himself by being in close proximity to a corpse. Since the Kohain had to maintain a strict level of ritual purity in order to fulfill his priestly duties, he was not allowed to become ritually impure which would happen with being in close proximity to the deceased.

As Jewish Law developed, a Kohain could attend a funeral for only his immediate relatives. He could not simply attend another's funeral or visit graves at a cemetery. In order to attend another's funeral, visit a grave, or attend an unveiling, a Kohain has to stand at least eight feet away from any grave.

For this reason, at many cemeteries, the row for deceased Kohanim and their families is right off the roadside so that Kohanim can maintain the requisite distance from all graves. Similarly, funeral homes provide a separate Kohain room under a completely separate roof from the rest of the establishment so that Kohanim may attend funerals while not being in the same physical presence as the deceased.

In contemporary Jewish life, the priestly rules of purity and impurity for Kohanim are inoperative. Nevertheless, many Kohanim honor their status by observing the classical restrictions.

Nevertheless, for most Jews, these priestly rules have seemed irrelevant, at least until nowadays. With the health concerns presented by covid-19, funeral homes are closed. Cemeteries are open only for small graveside funerals. We are prohibited from holding unveilings or visiting the graves of loved ones. The concern of contagious disease prompts us to stay pure versus impure, in modern terms.

For the time being, all Jews can now relate to the laws pertaining to Kohanim. While the Torah metaphorically refers to the entire Jewish people as being a Kingdom of Kohanim, today's reality was not envisioned.

Certainly, Parshat Emor is more than an instruction manual for Kohanim. Also, the middle section contains a digest of all the Holy Days. The source for counting the Omer, as we do now, is found in this week's Parsha. I encourage us to devote some time before Shabbat and during Shabbat to explore the relevance of Torah in our lives.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

06/05/20 09:14:24 AM

May6

Dear Congregational Family,

This Thursday night and Friday on the Jewish calendar is called Pesach Sheni, a second Passover. In ancient times, if one was ritually impure or far away and could not bring the Passover offering to the Temple, that person could do so exactly one month later.

Once the Temple was destroyed, the ritual of Pesach Sheni became inoperative. The practice of the Seder came into existence, a tradition that we look forward to every year, going back almost two thousand years.

The ongoing lesson of Pesach Sheni is the idea of second chances. Just as the impure person or the person far away was given a second chance in antiquity, so too we should give people a second chance to refine their behavior.

A month ago, I suggested the idea that maybe we could use the date of Pesach Sheni to hold the large kind of family Seder that we had to miss last month. Sadly, social distancing is as essential today as it was a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless, we should not miss out on the joy of extending second chances and opportunities. The sad prayer Tachanun is omitted on Pesach Sheni because of the joy associated with a second Passover.

Thus, I wish everyone this coming Thursday night and Friday, "Chag Pesach Sheni Sameach."

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

05/05/20 09:15:50 AM

May5

Dear Congregational Family,

There is a custom to recite 100 blessings every day. The formula of a Beracha (blessing) is not found in the Torah itself. The development of the Beracha is found in Talmudic literature. There are different kinds of Berachot (blessings). Some are very formal, such as the ones found in the Siddur. Examples include the blessings upon arising in the morning, the blessings surrounding the Shma, and the blessings which comprise the Amidah. There are Berachot which express praise, petition, or gratitude in our relationship with God.

Based on a Scriptural verse, one recites three particular blessings after a meal. Individual blessings are recited for all kinds of reasons, most of which sanctify something that might be seen as ordinary. Some blessings thank God for a benefit or pleasure which should not be taken for granted. These Berachot include but are not limited to before eating food, affixing a Mezuzah, lighting candles, experiencing wonders of nature, appreciating the talents of distinguished people, and so much more.

Over the generations, Berachot have evolved to commemorate new ideas. As an example, the fourth blessing in the Grace after meals was added on by Sages around 130 CE to show gratitude to God for divine beneficence after an historical tragedy.

In sum, Berachot sensitize us to important spiritual values. There is no greater value than safeguarding one's life. Nowadays, the donning of a mask may be seen as a religious value and should be seen as such. The Torah specifically commands us to protect our bodies. Using similar language, a colleague of mine has composed a Beracha to be recited prior to donning the mask. The Beracha sensitizes us to understand health and safety standards as being in harmony with our Jewish value system. I encourage us to utilize the following contemporary Beracha during this unprecedented time in history.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

04/05/20 09:08:57 AM

May4

Dear Congregational Family,
Although our beloved synagogue building is temporarily closed, I will have had the pleasure of hearing the haftarot for this past Shabbat and next Shabbat. 


Yesterday, I officiated at a Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony was originally scheduled for the shul but instead took place at the family's home. Social distancing was observed. All four grandparents, the parents, the younger sister, and the Bat Mitzvah were present. Some fifty others joined on Zoom. While the venue had changed, the values of Jewish commitment, continuity, and pride were shared by all.

This coming Thursday morning, I will officiate at the Bar Mitzvah of a young man from a Beth Emeth multi-generational family. He will chant the portions he had learned for next Shabbat. This too will take place at the home of the celebrant family.

In both cases, I feel so proud that neither family has felt hindered by the corona virus. They have creatively and authentically found ways to celebrate the Jewish spiritual entry into the next chapter of their child's life.

During these challenging times, Beth Emeth is truly a congregation without walls. We meet the needs of people where they are and find meaningful ways to celebrate and affirm Jewish identity with them.

Shavua Tov,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

"A Rabbi's happy and sad moments during Covid-19"

01/05/20 09:19:12 AM

May1

Dear Congregational Family,

During these past several weeks, the structure of my rabbinic service has changed dramatically. For thirty-three years, I have served as a congregational rabbi in three synagogues. While the culture has varied from one shul to the next, similarities pervade them all.

In general, my routine would be to attend daily morning Minyan, join the breakfast which follows, return any messages left from the night before, prepare sermons and lesson plans, teach classes to young and old, meet with upcoming lifecycle celebrants, counsel the distressed, visit shivas, hospitals, and shut ins, officiate at joys and sorrows, attend evening services, participate in administrative meetings, meet with local clergy and dignitaries, and much more depending on the day and unplanned scenarios. Most of these activities share one thing in common, they are face to face.

In the last several weeks, I am working just as hard if not harder, but very differently. I attend or lead daily morning and evening services on line. I write a daily dvar torah or blog for our website. I teach an hour long class three days a week at noon on line. I prepare short pre-made videos on days I do not teach. I attend shul meetings, clergy meetings and other meetings on line. I officiate simchas either on line or go to the home of a celebrant family, often with a Torah scroll, while guests attend on line. With a decrease of physical face to face experiences - emails, texts, and voicemails have increased tremendously. Funeral services are limited to ten attendees at the grave. Shivas are private. My pastoral care is done via telephone or social media. While I still put in the same hours or more, I am still adjusting to a very new form of rabbinate.

One of the positives, which I hope to continue in the long term, is teaching on line. With the combination of Zoom and Facebook, I have interaction with participants at a shared time, and many others can watch the sessions later on our shul Facebook page. What began as a preparations for Pesach class has evolved into a continuing series on Pirkei Avot - The Wisdom of the Sages.

For the first time since the new normal set in, I have to cancel today's noon class because of a member funeral. Obviously, honoring the memory of the deceased and comforting mourners take priority over all else. Still, I will truly miss not continuing our learning series. One can choose to attend all the classes or join one at a time. Each session is complete in covering at least one independent passage from the sacred literature of Pirkei Avot.

Now, deferred to Monday, we are up to a new early history in the development of the Sages. At a formative time, each generation was noted by "Zugot," a pair of contemporary scholars who shared overlapping teachings. Our next topic raises the ideal definition of a Jewish home. One Sage says, "Make your home a regular meeting place for scholars." A colleague suggests, "Let your house be open wide; let the poor be as members of your household."

Are these statements contradictory or complementary? Come join our next class.

I am saddened to have to cancel today's session, and I am more saddened that a loved one has passed away. Moreover, barely a Minyan is allowed to attend in today's new normal.

One thing that will not change is the proper time to begin and end Shabbat. I wish everyone Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Howard Morrison

30/04/20 09:12:24 AM

Apr30

Dear Congregational Family,

This Shabbat, we reach the midpoint of the entire Torah with the double potion of Acharei Mot - Kedoshim. These two portion titles with the title, Emor, of the following week, actually translate as "After the death, one speaks of their sanctity."

In contemporary Jewish life, these words take on new meaning after the commemorations of Yom Hashoah and Yom Ha'Zikaron. All who died in the Shoah and for the State of Israel died as martyrs , sanctifying God's name, called "Kiddush Ha'Shem" in Hebrew.

Parshat Kedoshim provides an insight into all the Torah's fundamental values. Our Sages teach us that the majority of the Torah's essential principles are found in this single Parsha.

While a few select verses apply specifically to the land of Israel, the Haftarah for this Shabbat, taken from the Prophet Amos, sounds like it could have been written in recent times:

"I will restore my people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them upon their soil, never more to be uprooted from the soil I have given them, said the Lord your God."

What a beautiful and meaningful prayer and aspiration composed thousands of years ago and which rings true to this very day.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Hallel or not?

29/04/20 09:04:25 AM

Apr29

Dear Congregational Family,

Today, on Yom Ha'Atzmaut, will you have recited Hallel or not? This question was unfathomable prior to 1948.

Traditionally, we recite Hallel on the Pilgrimage Festivals: Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret. At a later period, a partial Hallel became associated with the latter days of Pesach and Rosh Chodesh. When it comes to reciting the full Hallel, the Pilgrimage Festivals share one thing in common - Israel, harkening back to the annual harvest cycle in ancient times.

When it came to affixing liturgy to Chanukah and Purim, Hallel was instituted for Chanukah, since the narrative took place in Israel. Hallel was not instituted for Purim, being a Diaspora holiday. Some suggest that the reading of the Megillah in the morning service is in lieu of Hallel.

For religious Zionists, the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha'Atzmaut makes a lot of sense. For those of us who see the establishment of the State of Israel as being miraculous, the recitation of Hallel puts this day along side Chanukah. While neither is a Biblical Yom Tov officially, Hallel is recited on Chanukah in full with the blessings that precede and follow the actual paragraphs from the book of Psalms. Should Yom Ha'Atzmaut in our era be any less than Chanukah in its liturgical evolution over 2000 years ago?

This year, we celebrate the seventy second year of Israel's independence. It was pointed out to me that even the English date this year is in celebration of Yom Ha'Atzmaut, as 4/28/2020 (the night when Yom Ha'Atzmaut began) added up equals 72. Now isn't that worthy of a full Hallel?

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Yom Ha'Zikaron

28/04/20 09:17:50 AM

Apr28

Dear Congregational Family,

Today is Yom Ha'Zikaron. Today, we remember all those who have died for the sake of the State of Israel. We remember them all: old and young, born in Israel or in the Diaspora. We consider them all martyrs.

Over the years, I become more and more anxious when Jews who live outside of Israel feel carefree when they criticize the democratically elected government of Israel. Diaspora Jews should be more careful until they are willing to don the IDF uniform and be prepared to die for Israel.

We at Beth Emeth are proud that many of our children have served and continue to serve as lone soldiers in Israel. Some of our lone soldiers have decided to live permanently in Israel, while others have returned. Fortunately, they are all well.

Being the father of a former lone soldier, on Yom Ha'Zikaron, I remember among others young Michael Levin, of blessed memory. Born in Philadelphia, he served as a lone soldier from 2002-2006. He had shortened a vacation with his family to return to his unit during wartime. Tragically, he was killed in battle at the age of 22.

I was introduced to his story on a Beth Emeth trip to Israel. While visiting graves at the miltary cemetery on Mt. Hertzl, we came upon a grave surrounded by sports caps from the various Philadelphia teams. This was the grave of Michael Levin, of blessed memory. His death serves as a symbol for me on Yom Ha'Zikaron - the pride in seeing young people stand for Israel, and the immense pain when our young die for the preservation of Israel. Nowadays, there is a lone soldier centre named in his memory.

I encourage us all to find some time to properly reflect on this Yom Ha'Zikaron. May the memories of all our fallen be for a blessing.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A PERSONAL MEMOIR FOR YOM HA'ZIKARON - YOM HA'ATZMAUT​​​​​​​

27/04/20 09:44:08 AM

Apr27

Dear Congregational Family,

On Monday night and Tuesday, we will observe Yom Ha'Zikaron, Israel's remembrance day. On Tuesday night and Wednesday, we will celebrate Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's independence day. Over the years, I have been impressed by the wisdom of our people in that we remember those who have fallen for Israel the day before we celebrate Israel.

The juxtaposition is akin to the Fast of Esther preceding Purim by a day, or the Fast of the firstborn preceding Pesach by a day. In all the scenarios, serious reflection and commemoration precede joy and festivity.

In my personal life, my introduction to Canada and Israel came together. My family's first ever trip to Israel was scheduled for my Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel in May of 1973. Back in those days, there was no direct flight from Boston to Israel. We either transfer in New York or Montreal. Our Delta flight took us to Montreal, where we connected to our El Al flight to Israel. We were scheduled to arrive in Israel for the grand celebration of Israel's twenty-fifth year of independence. However, a delay in Montreal meant that we actually arrived in Israel a day after the celebration.

My family celebrated two Shabbatot in Israel. The first was spent at a kibbutz where we met a synagogue group from Montreal. A few days later, that same group checked into the same hotel as us in Jerusalem. Subsequently, they all joined my family for the Shabbat Bar Mitzvah service at the Kotel.

Fast forward - In May of 1984, while studying in Israel for the year as part of my rabbinical school education, my classmates and I davened on the anniversary date of my Bar Mitzvah Parsha in the exact same spot where I had stood eleven years earlier.

Fast forward again - On May 1, 1998, the fifth of Iyar, my younger son Yonah was born on Yom Ha'Atzmaut. While not intended, the root of his name has a yud for Yom Ha'Atzmaut, a nun for the fiftieth year of Israel's statehood, and a hey, for the fifth of Iyar

Over the years, I have enjoyed visiting Israel many times for different purposes, among them being several memorable Beth Emeth trips to Israel.

I hope everyone will take some time this week to remember, reflect, and to celebrate the miracle of Israel in our lifetime.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

 

24/04/20 09:21:10 AM

Apr24

Dear Congregational Family,

Today and tomorrow, we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Iyar. A time of transition, we witness the gradual rebirth of the moon. For the first half of the month, we observe the moon expand. In the second half of the month, we observe the moon contract.

During this challenging pandemic season, we have observed so much of society contract - the closing of businesses, schools, houses of worship, and more. We are witnessing a contraction of our economy. Hopefully, all of these trends and new realities will change soon.

At the same time, we have observed the expansion of other things - People's kindness, generosity, goodness, care, compassion, empathy, and more. I pray that these traits and attributes continue to expand even when life hopefully goes back to normal soon.

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, we will commemorate Yom Ha'Zikaron, Israel's Rememrance Day, and Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. Some of us will remember the events leading up to Statehood seventy-two years ago. Many of us will remember some or all of the wars and battles to maintain Israel's independence up to this very day.

It is no accident that the sadness of Yom Hazikaron precedes the joy of Yom Ha'Atzmaut. So too, may this pandemic end soon and transition into a new era of health, happiness, and celebration.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parsha and Covid-19

23/04/20 09:19:31 AM

Apr23

Dear Congregational Family,

The double parsha of Tazria-Metzora deals with a form of illness called Tzaraat, which could affect one's skin, clothing, house, and was considered contagious.

The Torah addresses all this on hygienic and spiritual levels. The afflicted person lived outside the camp for one week at a time to prevent the spread and to help him heal. In addition, the Kohen served as both physical doctor and spiritual healer. There was no judgement, only compassion, care, and empathy.

While Covid-19 is an unprecedented illness, we can derive lessons from the Torah portion: the importance of physical distancing, proper hygienic measures, and spiritual care from friends and community.

I wish everyone good health. Stay well.

Better days are coming.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Rabbi Peretz Joseph Weizman  ז״ל

22/04/20 09:23:07 AM

Apr22

Dear Congregational Family,

Tuesday, April 21, coincided with the 27th of Nisan, the date of Yom Hashoa. By mid afternoon, I had already participated in and observed a number of Holocaust remembrance ceremonies and programs. Little did I know the day was not done.

In the middle of the afternoon, the funeral home called to inform me that Rabbi Peretz Weizman had passed away at the age of 99 and a half. Many of us remember him as the interim rabbi in 1999-2000 just before I came to Beth Emeth. Others will remember his visits over the years to visit family members living in the area.

A Holocaust survivor, Rabbi Weizman lost his whole family in the Shoah. Raised in Lodz, he sought to become a rabbi so that he could make a difference if he survived.

A career rabbi in Winnipeg, he touched the lives of Jews across Canada and beyond.

He leaves behind children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. He has established a name and legacy for generations to come. In part, he moved to Toronto because the love of his life, Reva, was ill and resided at Baycrest until her passing several years ago.

Rabbi Weizman knew much of our sacred literature by heart. He had a contagious smile, a keen wit, and a sense of humor.

How sad and ironic that he passed away on Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Rabbi Weizman will truly be remembered on the most profound remembrance day on the Jewish calendar.

May his memory be a blessing.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

21/04/20 09:16:47 AM

Apr21

Dear Congregational Family,

Last night, our shul continued its tradition, spearheaded by brotherhood, of conducting a Yom Hashoa memorial service. I wish to thank all of you who participated and attended. Unique to this service was a visual collage filled with all kinds of memories from you, our congregational family. The collage also contained photographs from Beth Emeth's trip to Poland a few years ago.

I wish to express my gratitude to Stan Greenspan and Rabbi David Grundland for making this one of a kind memorial video into a reality. I also wish to express my gratitude to Cantor David Guber who sang the words of Av Ha'Rachamim, a liturgical dirge in memory of martyrs, taken from the Shabbat morning service, as part of the video. He also sang with inspirational piety Ani Maamin - I believe, El Maleh - the traditional memorial prayer, and Hatikva.

In addition, I wish to thank Rabbi Leslie Lipson for his meaningful Dvar Torah; Malcolm Weinstein for his presidential welcome; and Stan Greenspan for his brotherhood - FJMC remarks.

While the community at large and other institutions hold meaningful Yom Hashoa commemorations, it is vital that a shul like ours conducts a service that is relevant to its members,

Once the pandemic ends, and hopefully soon, we will hold our candlelight ceremony, as has been our recent custom.

May the memories of our six million brothers and sisters be for a blessing.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

20/04/20 09:38:34 AM

Apr20

Dear Congregational Family,

Over these past few weeks, we have tried to keep our shul connected through the means of davening, learning, singing, and the chanting of Torah.

Last night for the first time since physical distancing began, we had a social evening, which was entitled, "Ma Shlomchem - How are you?" Appromimately fifty individuals participated in this on line Zoom experience.

Classically, the synagogue serves the purposes of being a place of assembly, study, and prayer. An important aspect of "assembly" is having the opportunity to schmooze and enjoy each other's company. This aspect is an essential component of synagogue life, equal in importance to prayer and study.

I remind us all that following evening services tonight, we will offer a Beth Emeth Yom Hashoah service on line. Details are found on the daily activity log for Monday. May the memories of our beloved six million be a blessing, and may their souls be bound in the bond of eternal life.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

CELEBRATION MIXED WITH SORROW

17/04/20 02:05:46 PM

Apr17

Dear Congregational Family,

As we begin to look back at Pesach this year, the metaphor of Maror mixed with Charoset is one of celebration mixed with sorrow. As the guarantors of a 4000 year tradition, it was our responsibility to celebrate Pesach in its fullness as the season of our freedom. At the same time, our cup of wine was diminished this year for reasons other than tradition with the sorrow of illness and death surrounding us during this pandemic.

Our Torah portion this Shabbat, Shemini, is also celebration mixed with sorrow. The Parsha begins with the eighth and last day of a festive inauguration ceremony, culminating with the public affirmation of religious worship in the Tabernacle supervised by the Kohanim. Soon after reading the fervor of the celebration, we read the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron's four sons, who brought a strange offering which God had not commanded them. While commentaries abound on what actually transpired, the Torah text focuses on the grieving parent and the community's response.

This Monday, April 20, will also be a mix of celebration and sorrow. At nightfall, we begin to observe Yom Hashoah, the 27th of Nisan, the date designated by the Jewish people to ritualize the memory of the Holocaust. I encourage us to participate in our shul memorial on Zoom following evening services. I also encourage us to light a yahrzeit-yizkor candle at home. This year, we commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

For me personally, the morning of April 20 will be filled with joy. A Bar Mitzvah, originally scheduled for this Shabbat at Beth Emeth, has been rescheduled to a Monday morning service with a few attendees at home and others participating on Zoom.

The combination of a Bar Mitzvah taking place on the same English date as Yom Hashoah is instructive. One lesson following the worst chapter in modern Jewish history is to continue celebrating joyous lifecycle moments like a Bar Mitzvah. Neither the memory of the Shoah nor the contemporary pandemic will halt the affirmation, joy, and celebration of Jewish life.

On this Erev Shabbat following Pesach, I wish everyone a healthy and meaningful Sabbath.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Yizkor Memories and More

14/04/20 09:08:10 AM

Apr14

Dear Congregational Family,

Like many of you, I am saddened not being able to pray, study, and socialize with you in person. I miss the small interactive adult study classes. I miss the daily Minyan groups. I miss the low hundreds on a Shabbat or Festival morning. I already miss the several hundred who would normally gather together for Yizkor on the last day of Pesach.

Most of us understand that from a traditional point of view, the concept of Minyan necessitates the requisite number of ten being in physical and visual presence of each other in a shared space. Once that is maintained, individuals may join in remotely if necessary. Admittedly, more liberal congregations than our own are not relying on Halakha, or they are relying on contemporary response from caring rabbis who are stretching or breaking the limits of Halakha because we are living nowadays "b'sh'at d'chak - in exigent circumstances."

We are all living in unchartered territory. The fact that rabbis and local communities draw their religious boundaries in different places is no surprise. Religious diversity and pluralism have always existed between different denominations and even within the same denomination. For example, before Pesach, leading Orthodox rabbis were divided on the use of social media at all in terms of having virtual guests at the Seder table on yom tov, even if the technology was activated before yom tov and not touched until sacred time was completely over.

I have noticed that in North American synagogues, some like ours consider a Zoom service without ten in the same physical room as a collective private service. Others, as noted above, stretch, break, or do not consider the Halakha so that theirs is a Zoom minyan during these exigent times. Some congregations, which allow a Zoom Minyan on weekdays, will not livestream services on Sabbaths and Festivals, while others will.

Are these differences any greater than other religious and ritual distinctions that exist on a regular basis in the best of times? Without judgement, each community must make sensitive decisions based on its customs, principles, and collective conscience.

We at Beth Emeth continue to offer you as expansive a menu as possible on prayer, study, creative entertainment, and socialization. We continue to reach out liturgically and musically before Shabbat and after Shabbat. With visual and written information, we try to equip, enrich, and inspire you as much as possible.

As a child, I was always sent out of the service prior to Yizkor out of respect for my living parents at the time. Years later, I learned of the practice allowing children to remain in the service with their parent's consent to memorialize the martyrs of our history. In a weird way, I have come to appreciate being involved and officiating at Yizkor for hundreds and hundreds of people. I have missed all of our time not spent physically together in small or large numbers the last few weeks. I will especially miss not being physically together with you this Thursday for Yizkor and the last day of Pesach.

I wish us all fond memories of our dear ones who have departed from this earth. May their memories be a blessing. I wish us a healthy and meaningful conclusion to Passover. Let us stay connected.

Better days are coming.

 

Moadim L'Simcha - Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Sat, 30 May 2020 7 Sivan 5780