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31/05/2021 09:56:00 AM

May31

Lo Tignov - Do not steal!?

24/01/2022 09:27:59 AM

Jan24

Everybody knows the Ten Commandments, right? Everybody translates Lo Tignov as "Do not steal," right??

The fact of the matter is that Lo Tignov does mean do not steal, but not in the way we understand. The prohibition of stealing  monetary things comes from the restatement of Lo Tignov in Parshat Kedoshim, where the plural Lo Tignovu means "You shall not steal," referring to monetary things.

In the Ten Commandments of tomorrow's Parsha, Lo Tignov really means, "you shall not steal people," meaning, you shall not kidnap; you shall not take hostages.

In his commentary, Rashi explains all this succinctly:

"B'Gonev Nefashot Ha'Katuv M'daber.  Lo Tignovu (Lev. 19:11) B'Gonev Mamon - Our text deals with kidnapping people. In Parshat Kedoshim, the same Hebrew words deal with stealing money."

Rashi continues to elaborate, based on earlier sources, that the previous commandments of Thou Shalt not murder and Thou shalt not commit adultery are considered capital cases in Jewish law. Similarly, since Lo Tignov immediately follows those two, it must also be a capital case, which means kidnapping. Stealing money, while prohibited, results in a monetary case and not a capital one.

How interesting if not ironic that we read the prohibition of kidnapping and its capital consequences this Shabbat, almost a week after four Jews were taken hostage, and the terrorist paid dearly for his actions with loss of life. While the Mitzvot in the Torah are directed to Jews only, the surrealism of last week's events and this Mitzvah are noteworthy.

During Shabbat services this past weekend, we will celebrate Shabbat in solidarity with Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, Texas and its Rabbi - Charlie Cytron-Walker. My commentaries and some extra prayers will demonstrate the principle of "Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh La'Zeh - All Jews are responsible for each other and bound to each other.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Like One Person with One Heart - Colleyville, Texas and the the world Jewish community

21/01/2022 07:17:55 AM

Jan21

 

All of Israel stood as one at Mount Sinai. The parsha tells us "Va'yichan Sham Yisrael Neged Ha'har - Israel encamped there in front of the mountain." Interestingly, the verb for "encamped" is couched in the singular, depicting all of Israel as one body.

In his commentary, Rashi quotes an ancient Midrash: "K'ish echad B'lev echad - like one person with one heart."

While Jewish history has demonstrated diversity in terms of Jewish beliefs and practices throughout the ages, the fact of the matter is, we have always been one people who share the same basic overall values.

During my youth, the famous Rav, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, wrote that while segments of the Jewish community may be divided over what constitutes Jewish destiny, all Jews are united over what constitutes Jewish fate. We know this from eighty plus years ago. We know this from a week ago.

When I learned of the horror which was going on in Colleyville, Texas when I turned on the TV after last Shabbat,  I envisioned myself as the rabbi, and I envisioned our congregants as his congregants inside Congregation Beth Israel.

Miraculously, the hostages came out physically safe. I believe, however, that all Jews are traumatized by what happened. We are now left asking many questions on many levels -  physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

As our parsha teaches us this Shabbat, the Jewish people are truly one body, like "one person with one heart."

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A mini-sabbatical - recharging my batteries and welcoming Rabbi Sean Gorman

20/01/2022 09:07:34 AM

Jan20

Dear Congregational Family,

I am grateful that periodically I am given the opportunity to recharge my academic and spiritual batteries. Notwithstanding the challenges raised by Covid, I will be studying as a full time student over a four week period from January 24 through February 24. I will have the privilege of learning from some great minds representing a variety of ideologies and perspectives on Judaism and Jewish texts.

From my alma mater, the Jewish Theological Seminary, I will be taking two classes with renowned scholars: Haftarot and Megillot as well the concept of shame in rabbinic text sources.

From Yeshivat Hadar, I will be taking Jewish holidays as portrayed in Midrashim, images of God in rabbinic texts, and the commentary of "Sfat Emet" on the weekly Parsha.

From a community Beit Midrash in Teaneck, I will be auditing presentations on Talmud, Tanach and Machshava (different perspectives on philosophical topics).

It has been a long time since I have immersed myself full time in the study of a variety of topics, texts, and methods of interpretation. I hope to stimulate myself spiritually and educationally and share the best of my studies upon my return.

Given that we are a large congregation and active both in shul and on line, Rabbi Sean Gorman, a friend and colleague of mine, will be filling in for me for the four weeks that I will be studying. In recent years, Rabbi Gorman has served at Beth Tzedec and at Pride of Israel. The congregation will be in good hands with him and Rabbi David Grundland.

This Shabbat, we will read the Ten Commandments in Parshat Yitro. According to legend, each Israelite heard the words of Torah in a personal and particular way which enabled every person to appreciate and grow on a meaningful and appropriate level. I hope and pray that will be my experience over the next few weeks.

I wish everyone health, safety, and wellbeing. Please continue to find ways to be involved in your own Jewish growth by checking the wide array of services, classes, and programs in shul and on line.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Seeing Sounds Not the Colour of One's Face - Parshat Yitro

19/01/2022 08:12:12 AM

Jan19

Dear Congregational Family, 

While many people marvel at the words of the Ten Commandments, one should not overlook the first words which follow the actual text - "All the people saw the sounds and the flashes, the blare of the shofar and the mountain smoking (Exodus 20:15)."

How can it be that the people of Israel "saw" these things? Commentaries abound, including such ideas as: They saw the hail and the stones; saw means meditated; saw means understood; only in the context of Sinai could they see; and much more.

What the people could not see was the actual face of God. Later, the Torah specifically says, "you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live (Exodus 33:20)."

What an important lesson for us! When we look upon the other, it is not the skin color which defines a person, but rather the values and attributes of the other. Thus, the Israelites saw the ideas of the Ten Commandments immediately after the words were revealed.

This past Monday, Americans celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He embodied the Torah's teachings that I share with you today. While Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in baseball, a less well known name did so in hockey.

Last night, the Boston Bruins retired the number of Willie O'ree. His name should not be confused with Bobby Orr. Willie O'ree, now eighty-six years old, began his hockey career as the first black player in 1958 for the Bruins. Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, he wore #22 and started his career at age twenty-two. In his retirement years, Willie served as an ambassador for diversity and inclusion in hockey and the "Hockey is for Everyone" program.

Last night, I watched on Youtube the entire retirement ceremony. I was moved to tears and encourage everyone to see it. 

This past week has brought much anxiety following the events of Colleyville Texas. Last night's hockey ceremony, a day following Martin Luther King Day, reminds us to see "the sounds and the flashes" and not the colour of one's face.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

On being a Rabbi...from Moses to now

18/01/2022 08:53:55 AM

Jan18

Dear Congregational Family,

Over the past couple of days, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker has been interviewed on various news programs. Remarkably, he has appeared articulate, calm, and dedicated. To his training and to his credit, he initiated the escape of himself and two others from within his congregation. Needless to say, while I do not know him personally, I admire his courage and leadership, as we all do.

In this week's Torah portion, Moses truly becomes "Moshe Rabeinu - Moses our Rabbi," when he receives the Torah at Mount Sinai. Interestingly, his training as a teacher and leader began with confronting Pharaoh and Amalek. Throughout his leadership, he had to deal with all kinds of threats to himself and the Children of Israel.

In my own U.S. military training as a chaplain some thirty plus years ago, my colleagues and I received some rudimentary training for such kinds of crises. Fortunately, I never had to lean on this education in practice. When the tragedy took place at Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh a few years ago, our local Jewish Federation met with our synagogue and many others to go over security procedures and how to manage potential terrorist threats. I might suggest that all synagogues might benefit from renewed education in this area.

On Saturday night, over Facebook, I spent much of the night, while watching the news, reading, hearing, and participating in emotional conversations with more colleagues than I had ever seen in a very long time. One lesson gleaned from Saturday night is that I and all of my colleagues love being rabbis. Neither the events of Pittsburgh nor Colleyville will ever deter us from our mission and calling as rabbis. 

While acts of terror in synagogues and the ongoing pandemic have challenged the maintenance and growth of many congregations including our own, I enthusiastically encourage all of us to wear our badge of Jewishness proudly and to remain actively involved at Beth Emeth. we dare not allow Anti-Semites, terrorists, and haters of the Jewish people to damage our pride and commitment in being Jews.

Ever since Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai almost four thousand years ago, we have continued to perpetuate our wondrous legacy, notwithstanding that in every generation there are those who rise to annihilate us (a passage in the Haggadah).

I am proud to serve as Rabbi of Beth Emeth over the last twenty-one plus years, and I hope that you will continue to join with me and the community at large in representing the joy and commitment of Beth Emeth and the entire Jewish people.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

On releasing hostages

17/01/2022 09:17:37 AM

Jan17

Dear Congregational Family,

Each morning when we arise, we recite Birchot Ha'Shachar, the morning blessings. One of the blessings thanks God for literally unloosening those who are bound, "Matir Asurim." The blessing, based on a verse in Psalms, has been understood as praising God for releasing captives or, in modern terms, hostages.

From the onset of our Mitzvah based tradition, we are commanded to do all we can to free captives - "Pidyon Shvuyim." That which we ask God to do we must do as well.

On Shabbat Shira, a day for singing the miracles of our heritage, a particular congregation in Texas was traumatized as its rabbi and three others were held hostage from mid morning into the night. Finally, thanks to trained rescue workers and others, all four hostages were saved. A synagogue, Jews around the world, and moral citizens everywhere were able to breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude. In the spirit of Shabbat Shira, we could all sing a song of miraculous deliverance.

Of course, the larger issue remains, namely, how to combat terrorists who often target Jews first and foremost.

In any event, the daily blessing "Matir Asurim," who frees the hostages, which is also echoed in the daily Amidah, takes on new relevant meaning.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Tu Bishvat is coming

14/01/2022 09:13:46 AM

Jan14

Dear Congregational Family,

This coming Monday is Tu-Bishvat, the new year of trees in Israel. Over the centuries, Tu-Bishvat has come to mean different things to different people. On the one hand, it symbolizes the gradual change in seasons in Israel from Winter to Spring. In the sixteenth century, the mystics of Tzfat developed the original Tu Bishvat Seder, called, "Pri Etz Hadar - The Fruit of Goodly Trees." The title harkens back to the Torah's description of the Etrog, associated with the Festival of Sukkot.

To this day, many Jews celebrate Tu-Bishvat with a modified Seder. Most versions contain four cups of wine transitioning from white to white-red to red-white to red only, symbolizing the transition from Winter to Spring. Most versions also consist of four different types of fruits: with an outer shell, with an inner pit, with a skin and a pit, and with no inner or outer protection at all. Mystical and rational commentaries are offered. For me, the first three edibles remind us of the need for various layers of protection needed to succeed in this world. The last edible represents our yearning for Messianic times, a stage of utopia, when there will be no need for inner or outer forms of protection in our lives.

For many, Tu-Bishvat affirms our people's connection with the Land of Israel. As a child, I would go door to door with a JNF Tzedakah box collecting donations toward tree planting in Israel. To this day, any time I lead a trip to Israel, we make sure to visit a JNF park and physically plant new saplings toward future growth and vitality in our homeland.

For many, Tu-Bishvat represents our ecological mandate to care for the earth that has bestowed unto us by God. Humanity is instructed in the second chapter of Genesis to be a respectful tenant on this earth, to preserve the land, and to nurture it. The ramifications for today are endless, as we see so much corruption, waste, and pollution of our natural resources.

I hope that all of us will find a way to make the meaning of Tu-Bishvat relevant on its day of celebration, Monday, and every day of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom and Tu-Bishvat Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Being proactive at its best - Who was the first to jump into the Red Sea?

12/01/2022 09:19:29 AM

Jan12

In this week's Torah portion of B'Shalach, the Children of Israel find themselves at a crossroads. The Egyptian army is pursuing them from one side, and the stormy sea stands in their way from the other side. In the Biblical text, Moses prays to God during which time God responds, "Why are you screaming (praying) to me? Tell the Children of Israel to move forward."

So, who was the first to take a leap of faith and a leap of action to jump into the sea? One might have expected a leader and role model to act first. This is not the case. The Midrash explains that a virtual unknown in the Biblical text named "Nachshon" leaped first. The water rose to the height of his nose. Only then did the waters miraculously split, and the rest of the nation followed.

This Torah lesson instructs us that one not need be a Moses or Miriam to take action first. Anyone, like a Nachshon, can be proactive and be the first to take that particular leap of faith and/or leap of action.

During the month of January, many of us take note of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Each is remembered for taking many first steps during his lifetime. Rabbi Heschel often spoke of praying with one's feet, not merely with one's words or intentions.

May each of us find a way to emulate the likes of Nachshon, in leading us away from hate and slavery and entering a path toward freedom and peace.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Get ready to sing

10/01/2022 09:08:35 AM

Jan10

Dear Congregational Family,

This coming Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of poetic song. In the Parsha, we will recount the song of the sea, in which Moses and Miriam respectively lead the people in a song of faith after the exodus from Egypt. In the Haftarah, we will recount the song of Deborah, judge and prophet of her time, composed shortly after a victorious battle in the land of Israel.

Both songs are considered literary masterpieces in the Bible. In particular, the song of the sea is recited daily in Psukei D'Zimra, the early portion of the Shacharit service. Many explanations are offered for its recitation daily. That Moses and the Children of Israel "sang" can also be rendered as "will sing." Thus, this song of faith covers the past, present, and future, until Messianic times. 

The song of the sea is a forerunner of Hallel, a liturgical masterpiece focusing on our praising the presence of God in our lives. Hallel is comprised of consecutive Psalms attributed to King David.  Much of Psukei D'Zimra contains references to King David and his own recitations. David yearned to establish a sacred place to feel God's presence. The end of the song of the sea, likewise, speaks to the establishment of a sacred meeting place for God and the Children of Israel.

The song of the sea portrays God in a number of ways. In one instance, God is called "A man of war," during the conquest over Pharaoh. The song also states, "Adonai Shmo - The Lord is His name," conjuring a variety of images and motifs.

In tandem with the haftarah, the song of the sea opens with Moses and closes with Miriam, as being leaders of song and faith. In the Haftarah, the poetic section mentions Deborah first, followed by her military officer, Barak - the two singing as one, with Deborah at the forefront.

I encourage all of us to reflect on the two songs in this coming week's Biblical readings and to develop a better appreciation for the daily recitation of Shirat Ha'Yam, the song of the sea.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Enduring plagues and anticipating the Exodus

06/01/2022 09:37:10 AM

Jan6

Dear Congregational Family,

Over the past two years, many of us have felt that we have been enduring plagues which have been inflicted on humanity. While the Biblical plagues of the current Torah portions were delivered by God to a wicked Pharaoh, the contemporary plague of Covid-19 and its variants has been delivered unwittingly by humanity on humanity. Nevertheless, many of us know people who have been afflicted; some of us have been afflicted ourselves, and a few of us even know someone who has died from Covid related complications.

A month ago, we were sadly introduced to a variant called Omicron. Last night and today, we have been sadly introduced to the newest variant called, IHU, discovered in France. We are just beginning to learn how this latest variant works.

Once again, in Ontario, we find ourselves under a partial lockdown, which began yesterday and which will last for at least three weeks. Many of us are frankly fatigued and exhausted by the proverbial "two steps forward and one step back." It is hard to believe that just over one month ago, I safely and confidently visited my older son in Denver, Colorado before anyone knew the term, Omicron.

In this week's Torah portion of Bo, we read an end to the Biblical ten plagues. We read of the origins to Passover, our holiday of liberation, and we will read the story of the Exodus in just over one week. Our inspirational passages remind and teach us that while we must continue to be careful and judicious, better days are coming. The promises of liberation and freedom await us as did the promises made to our ancestors in days of old.

The clergy, staff, and volunteer leadership of Beth Emeth are here to assist anyone during these challenging times. Do not hesitate to call on us to support you in a time of need.

I wish everyone good health and perseverance. 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

This shall be the month for you - Parshat Bo

04/01/2022 09:31:54 AM

Jan4

Dear Congregational Family,

In a blog I wrote last week, I shared a Mishna which enumerates four different new years on the Jewish calendar. Two of them are relevant this week. The New Year of trees in Israel takes place in the current month of Shvat. While Jews today observe it on the fifteenth of the month according to the view of Hillel; yesterday on Rosh Chodesh was the New Year of trees according to the view of Shammai.

In this week's Parsha, we read the commandment to enumerate the months of the Jewish calendar year, starting with the month of the Exodus (12:1). The Passover month, called Nisan, is also one of the four Jewish new years. The Mitzvah to enumerate and sanctify the months of the Jewish calendar year is considered the first public Mitzvah given to the entire Jewish people. It is noteworthy that such a Mitzvah takes place before assembling at Mount Sinai. It is also noteworthy that all other Mitzvot found earlier in the Torah were given to individuals but not to the nation as a whole.

The fact that establishing our own calendar is the first Mitzvah which defines Jewish peoplehood is alluded to in the very first comments by Rashi on the Torah. He asks why the Torah begins with the story of Creation and not with the Mitzvah of the Jewish calendar (see Rashi on Genesis 1:1). His comment underscores the centrality of the Jewish calendar as a key point in the development of Judaism and the Jewish people.

A few days ago, we welcomed the secular new year of 2022. It is true that most of us plan our daily activities around the Western calendar. How many of us can identify major dates in our lives by the months and days of the Hebrew calendar? Perhaps that would be a worthwhile exercise as we celebrate January, the New Year of trees, and the command to enumerate the Jewish months in this week's Torah portion, all in the same season of the year.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Holding on to the miracles of the Maccabees and Tevet

03/01/2022 09:05:44 AM

Jan3

Dear Congregational Family,

Sunday was the last day of Tevet. Before we leave Tevet and concentrate on the new month, let us recall the beginning days of Tevet during which we celebrated the last days of Chanukah. Two of the most operative words associated with Chanukah are Maccabees and Nes (miracle).

A modern day Chanukah miracle took place this past Thursday night. The Yeshiva University basketball team entered their college level division three game riding a fifty game winning streak. The letter for fifty in Hebrew is a "nun," which numerically is fifty, and which stands for the word "Nes-miracle," as depicted on the dreidl.  The team is called the Maccabees. I watched the game live on Jewish Lights Television (JLTV). Perhaps it was meant to be that the winning streak would come to an end after fifty consecutive victories. Nevertheless, I found it remarkable and kind of Bashert that modern day Maccabees celebrated their own kind of "Nes."

Now, may the next fifty game winning streak begin.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The new years in our lives

30/12/2021 09:05:16 AM

Dec30

Dear Congregational Family,

The Mishna identifies four kinds of new years in the Jewish calendar: Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Tu-Bishvat, and the first of Elul.

Rosh Hashanah is a new year for spiritual growth, reflection, self-evaluation, repentance, and forgiveness.

Passover marks the beginning of the calendar year from a Biblical point of view and celebrates the birth of our people's freedom.

Tu-Bishvat is the new year of trees in Israel.

The first of Elul was a tithing and taxation occasion in ancient times.

Living as we do in the Diaspora, we and the world at large also follow the secular Western calendar. While January 1 is not a Jewish new year, it is a time to reflect, as we do at other times on the Jewish calendar year.

Sadly, the realities of Covid remain with us. The variants called Delta and Omicron are challenging to us all. I hope and pray that we will all do our very best to stay healthy, safe, and content.

Notwithstanding, we must also remember to celebrate and recall the good things over the past year. The gifts of food, shelter, family, and friendships should never be taken for granted. I pray that we will find reason to celebrate and be optimistic as we transition from 2021 to 2022.

I wish everyone a healthy, happy,  and meaningful new year.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Abraham Joshua Heschel ז״ל

23/12/2021 08:55:04 AM

Dec23

Dear Congregational family,

Wednesday, the 18th of Tevet marked the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who passed away in 1972, just a few days after he appeared on Meet The Press. Born into a European Hasidic dynasty, Rabbi Heschel came to the United States, where he taught at the Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He influenced and inspired generations of North American rabbis and Klal Yisrael, the totality of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Heschel wrote many important classics, some of which include: God in search of man, Man's quest for God, the Prophets, the Sabbath, and much more. Locally, a Jewish day school is named in his honor and memory.

Philosophically, he aimed at making Tanakh, Halakha, Tefila, Midrash, and other disciplines meaningful and accessible to contemporary Jewry. His classic work, Heavenly Torah as refracted through the Sages (translated by Rabbi Gordon Tucker) had a profound influence on my own theology. His articulation of Torah as Midrash allowed me and many others to affirm the divinity of Torah while embracing modern forms of Torah scholarship.

Rabbi Heschel was ahead of his time in nurturing Catholic-Jewish relations in the 1950's and 1960's. Much of the Church's reappraisal of its relationship with Judaism can be attributed to the dialogue shared with Rabbi Heschel.

Many photographs taken during the civil rights movement in the U.S. include the presence of Rabbi Heschel, who walked side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For Rabbi Heschel, civil rights was a religious, spiritual, and moral imperative.

While Rabbi Heschel had passed away many years before I attended rabbinical school at JTS, I was privileged to study with scholars who had studied with him and embodied his teachings. Naturally, I have read many of his books and articles during my tenure at school and during my years in the rabbinate.

May the lessons of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel continue to influence and inspire present and future generations of rabbis, teachers, and the Jewish people at large.

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May his memory be for a blessing.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Development of a Leader

22/12/2021 08:36:57 AM

Dec22

Dear Congregational family,

Three consecutive events in Parshat Shmot illustrate the rise and development of Moses as a leader. In the first case, Moses witnesses an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew, and Moses intervenes. In the second case, Moses witnesses two Hebrews quarreling, and he intervenes. In the third case, Moses witnesses a bunch of shepherds accosting the daughters of Yitro, and again, he intervenes.

In contemporary terms, where a non-Jew and a Jew are involved; where two Jews are involved; and where both parties are non-Jewish; Moses demonstrates leadership and responsibility. Regardless of the religious, cultural background, or ethnicity of the aggressor-victim, Moses does not stand by passively. Even his measure of response matures from one situation to the other. In the first, he kills the aggressor. In the second, Moses becomes susceptible to slander and gossip. In the third, Moses saves the victims and moves on.

Truly, these three vignettes serve as role models for the kind of leaders we and our institutions can all be.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

God at this Season of the Year

21/12/2021 06:40:26 AM

Dec21

Dear Congregational Family,

For many years in the United States, I sat as part of a multi-faith clergy council which met monthly. At this time of year, my Christian colleagues lamented at the commercial nature of their holiest season of the year. They would rather have seen greater attention spent on God and attendance at services.

We Jews also suffer from a lack of attention to God in our lives and attendance at services.

In the opening chapters of Shmot-Exodus, we are reintroduced to particular names associated with the one and only God, such as Adonai-Ha'Shem (my master-the name), Elokim, El-Shaddai-Almighty God. When he encounters the burning bush, Moses asks God to identify who sent him to liberate the Israelites. God responds with another divine name, 'Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh-I am that I am."

In our tradition, we find many names for God based on mood, historical period, and circumstance. Some of these names include: Creator, Man of War, A woman weeping over her children, Shepherd, Compassionate One, Indwelling presence, and much more. Which of these terms among others speak(s) to you?

As Jews, we spend much of our time in prayer - formal services three times a day, as well as blessings to be recited before and after partaking of food, and before sacred events of all kinds. How often do we think of what God means to us when we go about the ritual expressions of our faith?

Like our Christian neighbors, we can use this time of year and any time of year for a deeper spiritual contemplation.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

As the Cases Increase

20/12/2021 10:15:48 AM

Dec20

Dear Congregational family,

As Covid cases sadly increase with the presence of the Delta and Omicron variants, I hope and pray that all of us have or are soon getting vaccinations and booster shots.Given the seriousness of the Covid19 pandemic, it is essential for all of us to protect ourselves to the extent possible. Vaccinations are important not only for our personal health, but for the health of our family and associates. How tragic it is to learn about unvaccinated or under-vaccinated people who contract Covid, who suffer, who die, who transmit the virus to their loved ones. . . all of which could have been prevented by having gotten vaccinated.

Everyone should know if the people near them are properly vaccinated. This is not merely a matter of idle curiosity, but could be a matter of life and death. A person who is asked about vaccination status should answer promptly and accurately. Truthfulness enables others to make responsible decisions.

On this past Shabbat, we transitioned from Bereishit to Shmot with the words, "Chazak Chazak V'Nitchazek - Be strong; be strong; and let us be strengthened together."

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

The most truthful form of kindness

17/12/2021 09:33:03 AM

Dec17

Dear Congregational Family,

A dying Jacob implores upon his son Joseph to take an oath saying to his son, "Treat me with truthful kindness; please do not bury me in Egypt."

This "truthful kindness," called "Chesed ve'Emet" in the Biblical text became known in Jewish tradition as a religious category called, "Chesed shel Emet," literally, "kindness of truth."

All of the Mitzvot and traditions we observe from the time of death through the finality of burial fall under a category loosely called, the highest forms of loving kindness that one can do for another. Rashi, quoting from an earlier teaching, explains that when it comes to performing kindness in memory of a loved one who has died, there is no reciprocity coming from the deceased person. This is why these particular deeds of loving kindness are uniquely special. Conversely, in life, when one performs an act of kindness for the other even altruistically, the other, in turn, has the opportunity to reciprocate.

I hope that we will all do acts of "Chesed" throughout life and especially the specific deeds of "truthful kindness" when the time calls for them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The lengths we are allowed in order to maintain Family Peace

17/12/2021 09:14:24 AM

Dec17

Dear Congregational Family, 

In Parshat Vayehi, the brothers fear that Joseph might exact retribution on them after the passing of Jacob. The brothers say to Joseph:

"Before his death, your father left this instruction: So shall you say to Joseph, 'forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly. Therefore, please forgive the offense of the servants of the God of your father.' "

The challenge raised by this text is that Jacob never said such a thing to the brothers of Joseph. Based on Rabbinic sources, Rashi comments: "Shinu Ba'Davar Mipnei Ha'Shalom - They changed the truth for the sake of peace." The Talmud (Tractate Yevamot) supplies the basis for what the brothers did in saying, "It is permissible to change (ie. the facts of the truth) for the sake of peace."

Some other classical commentators attempt to justify that while Jacob never said the afore-mentioned words, he would have endorsed the brothers' words if he had felt them necessary to unite Joseph and the family. 

Other instances in the Torah also permit deviations of the truth solely for the sake of establishing family peace. One particular example appears earlier in the Abraham - Sarah narratives.  Nevertheless, every previous story in Genesis concludes with a family in conflict and turmoil. However, the Book of Genesis, with its little white lie for the sake of Shalom Bayit - family peace, will enable the largest Biblical family of seventy people to unite as one. As a result, this family will grow into the nation of Israel when we begin to read from the second book of the Torah, Shmot-Exodus.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

What is your ethical will? - Parshat Vayechi

14/12/2021 09:09:24 AM

Dec14

Dear Congregational Family,

In the final Torah portion of Sefer Bereishit, Jacobs offers blessings to his children and grandchildren. His words are more than polite blessings. Rather, some understand his words as an ethical will to each of his descendants. Each one receives direct words which are relevant to his or her personality and demeanor. Each understands what Jacob hopes toward the ultimate purpose of his or her life. 

In the Middle Ages unto nowadays, there is a practice of composing an ethical will. The parent writes what he or she hopes for, expects, and demands in the lives of those who will follow. This tradition originates with Jacob's aspirations for his children and grandchildren. What will be your ethical will to your children? grandchildren?

While the text of the Parsha contains what Jacob has to say, a legend, based on a close reading of particular words, suggests what the children said  to their father at his death bed:

"Shma Yisrael, listen dad-Israel, Adonai Eloheynu Adonai Echad,  the Lord is (also) our God, the Lord who is one," to which Jacob replied in a whisper, "Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto L'Olam Va'ed - Blessed be the name of God's glorious sovereignty forever and ever."

May the next generation be able to offer words of faith and affirmation to the generation which has nurtured and inspired us.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Zooming back to shul (sermon delivered on Shabbat December 11)

13/12/2021 09:05:52 AM

Dec13

Dear Congregational Family

For over a year and a half, shuls around the world have relied on Zoom to gather for prayer during the pandemic. While many shuls used this medium to connect on weekdays, some used Zoom and others a livestream for Shabbat and holy days.

The electronic platforms have been a gift when otherwise we would have been shut out from the world and from each other.  In virtual prayer platforms, relatives and friends have been able to mourn together, observe a yahrzeit together, celebrate a Bar/Bat Mitzvah together, commemorate a baby naming together, and more, from across the globe.

As some shuls like ours are gradually having more services in shul, I know of some communities who are preferring the Zoom model even when returning to shul is safe. Such a notion scares me. 

My colleague, Rabbi Neil Kurshan, living in New York, recently wrote an article entitled, "After nearly two years of Zoom, I yearn to feel the tug on my sleeve." In it, he misses the Minyannaire, the frail person standing to recite Kaddish, the parent and grown child who start their day in shul and kiss each other before embarking on their separate day's activities, the banter which takes place during and after davening. 

More importantly, Rabbi Kurshan and I miss the tug on the sleeve.

Beth Emeth services will continue to be livestream accessible for anyone who cannot physically make it to shul, for reasons of health, geographic distance, or otherwise. Beyond that however, it is time to come back home, to shul - weekday, Shabbat, morning or soon to be, afternoon. 

In Parshat Vayigash, once the family of Jacob is reunified, the first thing Jacob does is to send Judah ahead of him to Goshen where they will reside. Why is Judah sent ahead? What is the purpose? Says Rashi, based on an earlier teaching found in the Midrash, to set up a physical spiritual center from where Torah will be taught. 

Those who founded Beth Emeth knew this lesson well. In the 1950's, new residents to Bathurst Manor and beyond saw the need for a physical spiritual center from where Torah would be taught, and daily communal prayer would be practiced.  We today are the beneficiaries of those who made tremendous commitments several decades ago.

We will continue to be a hybrid of in person and electronic platforms as necessitated. However, all morning services now occur in shul, and on Jan 3, all services, morning and afternoon, will emanate from Beth Emeth.

For all who can, I yearn to feel the tug on my sleeve.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Anti-Semitism in our schools?

10/12/2021 09:19:08 AM

Dec10

On Wednesday night, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) voted not to censure Alexandra Lulka, a Jewish trustee member, by a vote of 10-7. How did this even come about? 

Last Spring, she found evidence as to Anti-Semitic educational writings. When she raised the issue, she then became a target.

Fortunately, she was vindicated. However, larger concerns still remain. 

This past week, individual rabbis, including myself, wrote our concerns to the TDSB, as did the Toronto Board of Rabbis, and many Jewish organizations. All of us must  continue to be vigilant.

There is no place for Anti-Semitism, racism, prejudice, or bigotry of any kind in our school system and in society as a whole.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

How to forgive when you cannot forget - Parshat Vayigash

09/12/2021 09:08:40 AM

Dec9

Dear Congregational Family,

One of the books I added to my rabbinic collection in the 1990's is entitled, "How to forgive when you cannot forget." It was written by a colleague of mine who lived nearby from me. The book is a recapitulation of the saga between Joseph and his brothers.

Joseph would never forget how his brothers threw him into a pit, almost left him to die, and sold him to slavery in Egypt. Now, many years later, Joseph is a viceroy in Egypt, and his brothers are subservient to him during a time of famine.

Joseph could easily take vengeance against his brothers. However, after Judah offers a passionate plea, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Forgiveness and reconciliation ensue. Joseph embodied the lesson that one can forgive even when one cannot forget. Ultimately, forgiveness is not about letting the aggressor off the hook. Rather, forgiveness is about removing a burden from within ourselves so that we can live healthier lives physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The ability to forgive is one of the hardest challenges in one's life.

When the Joseph-Judah sagas began, both brothers were brought to a low point. Judah had shown terrible aspects of himself to Tamar before she inspired him to change and to grow. Joseph had been self-righteous to his family, which resulted in him going 'down' to a pit, 'down' to Egypt, and 'down' to a prison before he was gradually raised up to a position of prominence. 

In this week's Parsha, Joseph and Judah both show that it is possible to change, to grow, to unite, and to move forward in life. May their examples bring meaning to our lives today.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Mitzvah of Vaccination

07/12/2021 09:23:49 AM

Dec7

Dear Congregational Family,

In the most recent issue of Moment magazine, rabbis from different affiliations were asked to comment on the question, "How do you deal with people in your community who don't want to get vaccinated?''

For me, the most compelling commentary came from Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, the former director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the founder of CLAL, the Center for Learning and Leadership in New York. Allow me to share some excerpts from his piece:

"The central teaching of the Jewish religion is the preciousness of human life. The central command of the Torah is 'choose life.' We must act to maximize life and minimize death. . . . This, I would say to those in my community, is why I urge you to get vaccinated. The murderous pandemic prowling the world has already killed more than 5 million people. Getting vaccinated is your ticket to saving your life from this scourge. . . . I would conclude this way: I beg of you to protect your life and others' lives. Please put aside your qualms and get inoculated. I love you as myself, and I would be heartbroken if you sicken or die. . . . Please join me in fulfilling the ultimate command of the Torah: Choose life."

Yesterday, we concluded the eight days of Chanukah, a holiday of "rededication" to Jewish ideals. May we rededicate our commitment to safeguarding life, without which there is no Torah and nothing else.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The lights of Chanukah - A modern interpretation

02/12/2021 09:06:21 AM

Dec2

Dear Congregational Family,

What can the lights of Chanukah mean for us?

The Shamash is the light that serves the others. This light can refer to the essential and front line workers who have served us all during the pandemic.

The eight lights:

1. The light from within our souls that is always burning. How can we nurture that light?

2. The light of religious freedom for all peace loving religions and cultures. How can we expand that light?

3. The light of Torah and Mitzvot. What will each of us do to broaden our devotion to Torah study and the observance of Mitzvot?

4. The light of unity. What will the Jewish people do to enrich unity and minimize divisiveness?

5. The light of love. How will individuals, families, and communities spread love in our world?

6. The light of faith. What will we do to brighten our belief in God and Godly values in our lives and the life of our people?

7. The light of Israel. Each morning we pray for a new light to shine upon Zion. What are we doing to spread the light of Israel as a beacon to the world?

8. The light of optimism. How can we use the light of a positive outlook to dispel the darkness of negativity and anxiety?

What other interpretations of Chanukah light might you share this year?

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

My generations of Chanukah

30/11/2021 09:28:31 AM

Nov30

Dear Congregational Family,

My parents were married on the first light of Chanukah in 1954. Several years ago on the first night of Chanukah, I was driving to the shul for the young family Chanukah party. Heading into the shul parking lot, the license plate ahead of me read "167 Sov." The number was my childhood address  and "Sov" refers to the spinning dreidl of Chanukah.

Fast forward, last night, I kindled the Chanukiah for the second night with both my sons, Elie and Yonah in Denver, where Elie now resides. The three Morrison men, as we like to call ourselves, had not been physically together since prior to Covid.

On the first night, I remembered my past. On the second night, I honored my present.

I wish us all good memories and joyous celebration as we integrate the generations with the lights of Chanukah.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

My Generations of Chanukah

30/11/2021 08:16:52 AM

Nov30

Dear Congregational Family,

My parents were married on the first light of Chanukah in 1954. Several years ago on the first night of Chanukah, I was driving to the shul for the young family Chanukah party. Heading into the shul parking lot, the license plate ahead of me read "167 SOV." The number was my childhood address  and "sov" refers to the spinning dreidl of Chanukah.

Fast forward, last night, I kindled the Chanukiah for the second night with both my sons, Elie and Yonah in Denver, where Elie now resides. The three Morrison men, as we like to call ourselves, had not been physically together since prior to Covid.

On the first night, I remembered my past. On the second night, I honoured my present.

I wish us all good memories and joyous celebration as we integrate the generations with the lights of Chanukah.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Preparing for Chanukah - Expanding the light of services in shul

25/11/2021 09:05:13 AM

Nov25

Dear Congregational Family,

During the eight days of Chanukah, the lights of the candles expand and grow throughout the Festival. On many levels, Chanukah is about light dispelling darkness. In the ancient world, adherents of many cultures would light up the sky when the days were getting shorter. Interestingly, both Chanukah and Christmas are called Festivals of lights. Although they have nothing to do with each other thematically, they both take place when daylight hours are at their shortest.

At Beth Emeth, we have recently expanded our in person services with livestream accessibility on Friday evening, Shabbat morning, as well as Monday and Thursday mornings.

Beginning this Monday, November 29, the first day of Chanukah, all morning services will emanate from Beth Emeth with livestream accessibility. Monday through Friday services will begin at 7:30AM with coffee following. Sunday morning services will begin at 8:30AM with breakfast following. In addition, beginning on Friday December 3, afternoon and Kabbalat Shabbat services will take place at the proper sunset time.

Beginning on Monday January 3, we will continue to expand our in person services with the daily Mincha-Maariv at the proper sunset time. In addition, Shabbat afternoon services including the third Sabbath meal will take place starting the first week in January. All in person synagogue services will continue to be enjoyed from home via livestream. Until January 3, weekday Mincha-Maariv services will remain on Zoom and Facebook Live.

With the onset of Chanukah and the expansion of services in shul, I pray that the growing light will dispel the darkness in the world around us.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Shalom Bayit - Peace in the Home

24/11/2021 07:41:01 AM

Nov24

Dear Congregational Family,

Shalom bayit, peace in the home, is a central value in Judaism. From the moment a wedding couple stands under the chuppa, shalom bayit is reinforced.

In  this week's Parsha, we find an odd spelling of shalom, an incomplete or deficient spelling. When Joseph shares dreams to his brothers in which they become subservient to him, the Torah says, "they were not able to speak peacefully to Joseph." Given the broken spelling of shalom, we can deduce that the brothers' wrath was so strong, they could not even speak a partial peace to Joseph.

Sadly, the Torah is filled with stories of dysfunctional family relationships. May we learn constructive lessons even from these kinds of narratives to strive towards shalom bayit in our situations.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Miracles of Chanukah and  Everyday

23/11/2021 07:04:44 AM

Nov23

Dear Congregational Family,

In the Talmud, the Sages ask, "What is Chanukah?" on which the medieval commentator Rashi states, "For which miracle was Chanukah established?" The Talmud goes on to describe the famous miracle of the oil which should have lasted one day but which lasted eight days.

Apparently, many miracles are associated with Chanukah, but the story of the oil is the miracle that defines Chanukah as being a Festival.

Each day during Chanukah, we add a paragraph to the Amidah beginning with the words, "Al Ha'Nisim - For the miracles." Interestingly, that passage does not mention the story of the oil at all. Rather, it focuses on the many Greeks falling into the hands of the small number of Jews. The Chanukah passage is appended to the daily recitation of gratitude in which we thank God for the miracles which are with us every day.

During the eight days of Chanukah and every day of the year, we focus not on the special miracles which defy human rationale, but on the daily miracles of life. These might include life, health, well-being, love, etc. What are your daily miracles for which you are grateful?

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Thu, 27 January 2022 25 Shevat 5782