Sign In Forgot Password

31/05/2021 09:56:00 AM



A weekend to anticipate

23/03/2023 09:03:40 AM


This coming weekend is truly one to anticipate.

First, we will be meeting a candidate for our newly created position of spiritual engagement director. Micah Friedman will lead Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday evening, beginning at 6pm.

At a Shabbat dinner by reservation, he will share a dvar torah. On Shabbat morning, he will deliver the sermon and lead Musaf. In the early evening, he will teach a class. On Sunday morning, he will conduct a program for young families. I encourage us all to attend as much as possible and share your feedback.

This coming Shabbat afternoon at 4pm, the women's Minyan returns after a hiatus of nearly a decade. Women of all ages will share in conducting portions of the Shabbat Mincha service, which include opportunities for leading prayer, reading Torah, reciting Aliyah blessings, opening the Ark, and lifting/tying the Torah. All women are invited to attend. Refreshments will follow the service.

On Sunday morning at 9:30am, all men and women as well as post Bar Mitzvah boys and Bat Mitzvah girls are invited to a one session seminar to learn or review the symbols and sounds of Haftarah cantillation. The hope is that more people will want to chant Haftarot in the future.

What a Shabbat and weekend to anticipate!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Completing the book of Shmot and celebrating Shabbat Ha'Chodesh

16/03/2023 09:12:52 AM


This coming Shabbat, we will read from two Torah scrolls. From the first, we will complete the book of Shmot-Exodus by reading the portions of Vayakhel-Pekudei. From the second, we will read the very first Mitzvah given to the people of Israel, the commandment to enumerate and sanctify the months of the Jewish calendar year. Thus, this coming Shabbat is entitled Shabbat Ha'Chodesh, literally, the Sabbath of the new month. In the days following this Shabbat, we will usher in the new month of Nissan and prepare for Pesach, only two plus weeks away.

It is noteworthy that we conclude the second book of the Torah on Shabbat Ha'Chodesh. As we review the highlights found in the book of Exodus, three major motifs emerge - the Exodus from Egypt, the revelation of the Ten Commandments, and the establishment of the Mishkan, a portable sanctuary. The first motif celebrates physcial freedom from slavery, which is celebrated each year during Pesach. The second motif celebrates spiritual freedom, which is celebrated each year during Shavuot. Very soon, we will begin to enumerate the forty-nine days which connect these two sacred holy day seasons. The third motif celebrates that the experiences of freedom are not limited to annual observances but are portable and accompany us every day of our lives.

The contemporary counterpart to the Mishkan is the synagogue. With the post-pandemic hybrid of in person participation coupled by livestream accessibility, as found in many synagogues, involvement in communal Jewish life is truly portable and can be with us at any moment in our lives.

Let us appreciate the lessons learned as we conclude the second book of the Torah and its introduction to the Pesach-Shavuot season.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Ki Tissa Dvar Torah 

10/03/2023 09:14:12 AM


When Moses descends the mountain a second time with a new set of Ten Commandments, the Torah states that Moses was not aware that his face had become "Karan Ohr - radiant (literally, a ray of light)." The Hebrew for "Karan" in other contexts means a "horn." Famously, Michelangelo depicted Moses in this Biblical scene as having horns emanating from his head. While his was a mistranslation of the Torah text, it led to a wave of anti-Semitism where Jews were accused of having horns in their heads.

I experienced this phenomenon while attending U.S. Air Force chaplain school. In the Summer of 1984, being the only Jewish seminary student among a class of 59 students with 29 being Catholic and 29 being Protestant, a classmate honestly believed that I wore a Kippah in order to cover up the horns. I treated him with respect, had him feel around my head, explained to him the source of the stereotype and encouraged him to denounce this myth in his ministry.

While none of us will reach the radiance in which Moses experienced God's revelation, we can aspire to our own attainable level of radiance. How? Ultimately, the second set of Ten Commandments, a symbol of the entire Torah, comes to defeat and eradicate the idolatry of the golden calf. Our commitment to a Torah lifestyle is our means of attaining radiance with God. Secondly, we can imitate the modesty of Moses. We read that when Moses faced the people, he covered his radiance with a veil. Many commentaries explain the veil as a sign of Moses' modesty in that he did not boast of the direct experience he had with God. Similarly, at a wedding, the bride wears a veil, a symbol of her own modesty before the groom and others present. 

Our radiance, therefore, comes through learning and living according to Torah precepts and conducting ourselves with a humble lifestyle.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Renew our days as of old

09/03/2023 09:09:32 AM


Three years ago on Monday March 9, 2020, hundreds of people, young and old, attended Purim evening services at Beth Emeth. One week later, on March 17, 2020, all synagogues and many other institutions were shut down for a long while to come. Over the last two years, Purim as well as much of our lives were not the same. This past Monday, however, March 6, 2023, things looked the way we knew and loved them. Over 200 people attended a youth carnival. Over 400 people attended Megillah reading. Once again, a volunteer-led Purim shpiel followed the evening services. A week ago, on Friday March 3, over 150 people attended our Shabbat Across North America dinner. While we continue to be concerned about post-pandemic health issues, it was great to see our shul lively over the past week. I hope that this is a sign to come. What was especially meaningful was seeing old and young, multi-generational families, participating in communal Jewish activities.

Every time we place the Torah scroll back in the Ark, we recite the words, "renew our days as of old." For many, this expression has us yearn for a nostalgic time when all was good in our lives. I pray that large robust happy gatherings in our shul will be more than a reminder of a nostalgic past. Let us build on the events of the past week. I look forward to seeing more and more of us in shul.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering why we are Jewish - the joyous, the tragic and the sad

02/03/2023 08:35:56 AM


This Shabbat, the Sabbath preceding Purim, is called "Shabbat Zachor - the Sabbath of Remembrance." We are commanded to remember Amalek, the paradigmatic enemy of the Jewish people, who attacked the Children of Israel from the rear upon the Exodus from Egypt. Haman, the enemy of the Purim story, was a descendant of the Amalekites.

In Judaism, we are commanded to remember many things. The most famous commandment to remember is "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Perhaps it is no accident that this coming Shabbat, our shul will join many others in North America hosting a Shabbat dinner or luncheon, celebrating "Shabbat across North America," enriching the joyous remembrance of Shabbat through candle lighting, Kiddush, Motzi, singing, and more.

In our personal lives, "Zachor-Remember" also connotes remembering loved ones of blessed memories, remembering the Shoah and countless other acts of hatred perpetrated against the Jewish people over the ages.

In my estimation, Judaism is a joyous meaningful way of life. This is the centerpiece of Judaism. Nevertheless, we must also remember the sad and the tragic which have accompanied our four thousand years of remembrance and heritage.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Terumah - "Let them make for Me a Sanctuary"/ 21st  century synagogue realities and challenges

27/02/2023 09:34:28 AM


A week and a half ago, on two consecutive days, the same person attacked two different Jews coming out of two different synagogues in Los Angeles. These acts of hatred were among the latest examples of Jew-hatred in the so-called civilized world. I am sure that the attacker did not care what brand of synagogue it was. He was simply and cruelly attacking Jews coming out from their shul. As I wrote in a blog a couple of weeks ago, the anti-Semites do a better job than Jews do in understanding that we are all part of one people. Internally, however, we Jews tend to tear each other apart over ideological, halakhic, denominational, and other concerns. 

Our shul, Beth Emeth, is a traditional shul. While we have evolved several practices over the years, we are true to the vision that created our synagogue in the 1950's. Several weeks ago, I was asked by our own shul leadership to formulate a working hypothesis on defining what a traditional shul is, and how it is not Orthodox, liberal, or egalitarian. I posted my interpretation on our website a number of weeks ago.

While Beth Emeth may have its own working definition of what kind of shul we are, the most important criterion is that we are Jewish and that we are welcoming to anyone, Jew or non-Jew, religious, cultural, or secular, who chooses to enter our synagogue space. We are not smug, self-righteous, or triumphant to think that our model of Judaism is the only one that works. I have tremendous respect for my colleagues and non-rabbinic friends who are involved in Chabad, Aish, Orthodox, Conservative-egalitarian, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues. Personally, I tend to have more respect for a Jew who attends his/her liberal or more Orthodox synagogue every week than the one who begrudgingly attends his/her other synagogue once a year with only words of criticism and condemnation.

Does any single kind of shul have all the answers? NO! And with minor exception, all kinds of synagogues are struggling to find successful ways of attracting the next generations of Jews.

When I first came to Toronto in 2000, I honestly thought that COR stood for Conservative, Orthodox, Reform-Reconstructionist working on Kashrut standards together. How wrong I was, but it is still an idealistic image for me.

When my older son began his working career in Alpena, Michigan, the only synagogue for a hundred miles was a 20-family small Reform congregation near where he lived. The group would meet one Friday night a month and one Shabbat morning a month. My son asked me whether he should participate or not. The services were truncated; the kitchen was dairy but not Kosher; the attendees were largely intermarried or secular. I encouraged him to attend. This congregation was founded in the mid 1800's and was still meeting in the same house as it was since the 1890's. The current members were perpetuating a Jewish presence in a small town and could have chosen to give up. Before too long, my son was helping to lead the services and training future prayer leaders for when his career would take him elsewhere. He now lives in Denver and still manages their website. I was a guest rabbi for them three times in person and have run Zoom programs with them twice.

When the Pandemic began, we and some other well-known Conservative synagogues in the area started talking about sharing our resources while maintaining our individual distinctiveness. With diminishing affiliations in many congregations, I and some others had a dream of creating a sort of Syna plex or 21st century model of a U.S. Hillel house. A traditional shul like ours and a local Conservative-egalitarian shul could maintain their religious individuality and yet become a unified harmonious institution, where the participating members could pay one fee and choose when, how and where to celebrate a preferred style of Shabbat prayer, Holy Day prayer, the nature of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and more. As a university student, the Boston University Hillel I attended had under one affiliation the choice for Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox prayer every Shabbat and holy day, with everyone joining for the same Kiddush afterwards. Am I dreaming crazy that multiple congregations could create a unified model which preserves their particular identities? Can we not find a way to have our cake and eat it too, finding a meaningful niche for everyone???

I believe that today's Parsha supports everything I am saying. Parshat Terumah is the instructional manual for creating the 21st century post-pandemic syna plex model. First, everyone participated freely and creatively by contributing what ever they could toward a shared enterprise. "Take for Me a Terumah, a free will offering, from everyone whose heart stirs him or her - gold, silver, copper, and so much more to choose from. The ultimate purpose - "Let them make a Mikdash, a sanctuary, for Me that I may dwell among them." The purpose of a synagogue is not to close God's presence within man-made walls, but to spiritually enrich God's presence within the hearts, minds, and souls of every single person. No one Jew and no one synagogue could ever do it all alone. Last week's theme of every Israelite contributing a half shekel tax reminds us that alone we are incomplete. A Jew alone, even a synagogue alone in a large city like Toronto, is incomplete. All Jews, all brands of congregations, should be finding ways to complete each other's needs as best as possible. 

How ironic that an evil anti-Semite has no problem identifying a Jew or a synagogue. How ironic that all too often we Jews ourselves become smug and self-righteous in how we look with disdain at how other Jews and synagogues are professing their approaches to Judaism.

Can a variety of segments in the Jewish community come together and create an exciting new vision based on today's Torah's words, "V'Asu Li Mikdash V'Shachanti B'Tocham -Let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."???????

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Do we face each other?

23/02/2023 09:06:33 AM


In Parshat Terumah, we find a description of two Cherubim hovering over the front of the Ark. In rabbinic literature, we find varied interpretations of who or what these Cherubim were. Were they the faces of infants, little children, winged animals, or other kinds of creatures? While Cherubim were specific to the Ark in the Tabernacle, I remember images of winged lions hovering over the synagogue Ark in a number of shuls I have attended and on the Simchat Torah flags that were given to children.

Regardless of their facial images, we find two different descriptions of the Cherubim's body language. In this week's Torah portion, the Cherubim face each other. However, in the book of Chronicles, concerning the First Temple of Jerusalem, the two Cherubim face away from each other. So which is it?

The Talmud harmonizes the contradiction by suggesting, "The Cherubim will face each other when the Jewish people are doing the will of God, and they will face away from each other when the Jewish people are not doing the will of God."

In my estimation, part of doing God's will is the desire to want to see each other, respect each other, learn from each other, and be part of each other's lives. This applies to family, synagogue, and community at large. When people turn away from each other, which I have seen in families, shuls, and other facets of the community, they turn away from Torah by not wanting to embrace and refine relationships with each other. I have seen the good and the bad of both sets of behaviors in my rabbinate and in my personal life.

As we read about the Cherubim this Shabbat, I hope and pray that we will do our best to face each other and in so doing performing God's will.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Mishpatim - Welcoming Hazzan Adam Frei

16/02/2023 09:12:23 AM


This week's Torah portion Mishpatim contains the first extensive law code in the Torah. The laws are prefaced by the opening words ' "These are the laws that you (Moses) will place before them." Rashi shares an ancient commentary on the language of "place before them." One should not merely memorize or recite the laws until one knows them fluently. Rather, one should understand the taste/reason for the laws, like a banquet table.

In his commentary, Rashi uses the word "Ta'am," which can be translated as taste or reason. Throughout the ages, we have a large literature called "Ta'amei Ha'Mitzvot - reasons for the commandments." The various reasons become a menu of different tastes. Jewish law and practice should be savored like one dining at a  banquet table. The Hebrew for banquet table, "Shulkhan Arukh," later becomes a term for a famous Code of Jewish Law in the sixteenth century.

Just as Jewish law and practice should be savored with fine taste, our davening experience should be savored as well and not treated robotically. This Shabbat, we welcome Cantor Adam Frei to our shul. He is a dear friend of mine. Hazzan Frei began his Cantorial career working with me in Long Island in the 1990's. Subsequently, he served at the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens, NY. Nowadays, he is the Cantor at Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, NY. Hazzan Frei will be our guest Cantor in residence this coming Shabbat, and he will join us for a Shabbat in late April and in late June.

I invite us all to physically attend shul this Shabbat, if possible, to experience a savory davening from a fine Cantor, whom I have known from the inception of his career.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Yitro - How many commandments? 10 or 613?

09/02/2023 09:08:45 AM


This week's Parsha outlines the Ten Commandments, a foundational gift from God to the Jewish people and which has inspired other faiths as well.

The Torah text, however, does not enumerate the numbers 1 through 10. In addition, the Torah refers to them as "Aseret Ha'Devarim - the Ten Utterances." Subsequent rabbinic Judaism ultimately inserts specific numbers for what we call the Ten Commandments. Interestingly enough, while Christianity accepts the Ten Commandments, their denominations enumerate them differently and understand their meaning differently.

There was a time when the Ten Commandments appeared as a normative part of the daily morning service prior to reciting the Shema. The Talmud records, however, "They were abolished because of the murmuring of the heretics." Apparently, certain groups claimed that only the Ten Commandments were given to Moses at Sinai, to the detriment of everything else in Judaism.

So how do we understand the Ten Commandments? Elsewhere, ancient Sages suggest that each of the Ten Commandments serves as a rubric for many of the other Commandments. In total, therefore, the Ten Commandments represent all 613 Commandments deduced from the Torah. Judaism cannot be reduced to a simple list of ten undefined axioms. Rather, the totality of Judaism deserves constant study and thoughtfulness. The number 613 is also a symbolic number but which testifies to Judaism as being a complete way of life and which offers insight to every moment of our lives.

Very little in our tradition has us refer to the Ten Commandments. Much in our tradition has us refer to the Torah as a whole, the 613 Commandments. Daily prayer garb such as the Tallit and the Tefillin both contain codes and hints reminding us of the 613 Commandments.

So, when someone tells you that 10 means 613, there is truth to the matter!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Godliness in all humanity - Israel reaches out after earthquake

07/02/2023 09:12:54 AM


In Parshat Yitro, this week's Torah lesson, we read the Ten Commandments. Almost every Commandment in Judaism, be it the initial Ten Commandments or its elucidations into the 613 commandments, contains the imperative "To Do" or "Not To Do." However, the first Commandment does neither. Many commentators have written on the complexity of the Torah's statement, "Anochi - I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt." There is no imperative. Rather, the words are an acknowledgement, an affirmation, a belief in the oneness of God.  These opening words provide a preamble to every other Commandment in Judaism. Without the preamble which emphasizes the oneness of God, nothing else makes any sense.

It is no wonder that when tragedy strikes the world, Israel immediately sends support to disparate locations around the globe.

It is no wonder that Israel has now sent search and rescue teams to Turkey and even by request to Syria, a sworn enemy of Israel.

It is no wonder that Israel will join efforts in looking for survivors and bodies amidst a human tragedy.

It is no wonder because a basic premise of Judaism is to recognize "Anochi," the presence of God within every single person. "Anochi" reminds us of the very creation of humanity in Genesis - that every man and woman is created in the image and likeness of God.

Our prayer is that survivors will be found. Pikuach Nefesh, saving life, is a supreme Jewish value because of the Godliness found in each and everyone of us.

Rabbi Howard Morrison 

Who heals the healer - Parshat B'Shallach

03/02/2023 09:16:57 AM


Most readers of this week's Parsha focus on the Exodus from Egypt and the song of the sea. Just as significant is the aftermath when the nation of of Amalek attacks the Children from Israel from behind.

In that narrative, we learn that Moses cannot do it all by himself. Moses is not a superhero. As Joshua leads the people in battle, Moses ascends the mountaintop and prays with faith to God. When his hands are raised, the Israelites seem to win the battle. When his hands are lowered, the Israelites seem to lose the battle. 

Why would Moses' hands get weak and become lowered? because he is human after all like everyone else. While Moses the healer spent most of his time healing others, in this instance, who was going to heal the healer? or, put another way, at what point was Moses the healer going to be concerned about his own healing? Moses was not afraid to lean on others physically or spiritually. On the mountaintop, Aaron and Hur stood by Moses' side and kept his tired hands held high until victory was assured. Aaron and Hur symbolized that the healer needs healers as well.

As most of you know, I had surgery a week ago. The surgery itself was successful. Since then, my body (with a mind of its own) has been recuperating slowly but surely. I am grateful to all of you who have written texts, emails, facebook entries, and who have called. Your individual and collective refuah shlemah wishes are all examples of each and everyone of us rising to the occasion to be a healer when called upon. 

I cannot thank you enough. I wish us all Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Beth Emeth - The Traditional Synagogue in the GTA

02/02/2023 09:08:24 AM


Recently, I was asked to define the nature of Beth Emeth and explain how our shul is distinguished from other synagogues on the religious landscape. Here are some of my thoughts:Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda is a unique traditional synagogue serving the GTA Jewish community.

Many congregations in our area are affiliated with or define themselves as Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative-Egalitarian, or Orthodox. What exactly does "Traditional" mean for Beth Emeth? Ideologically, "Traditional" is situated somewhere between Conservative-Egalitarian and Orthodox.

Ten points of interest about Beth Emeth - The Traditional Synagogue in the GTA

1.Our traditional synagogue adheres to the classical sources, texts, and methods for understanding, abiding by, and interpreting                    Halakha (Jewish Law). Any modifications of religious practice must conform to the normative processes used in Jewish legal                      interpretation.

2. Our traditional synagogue abides by the age-old criteria for counting men in the Minyan and distributing Aliyot to men during a Torah service.

3. Our traditional synagogue accepts some of the halakhic interpretations offered in classical Conservative Judaism which allows for mixed and family seating as well as the use of a PA system during services.

4.Our traditional synagogue adheres to a full liturgy and Torah reading, utilizing Siddurim (prayerbooks) published by classical Conservative Judaism and contemporary Orthodoxy.

5.Our traditional synagogue accepts diverse modes of Torah study and explanation. Thus, we provide the Hertz Chumash, the Etz Hayim Chumash, and the ArtScroll Chumash, whose choices of commentaries may be considered independent, from the Conservative Movement, and from contemporary Orthodoxy.

6.Our traditional synagogue encourages women's participation in many ways which conform to traditional halakhic interpetation. These include leading non-statutory prayers and readings in Hebrew and English, the chanting of the Haftarah, leading Kabbalat Shabbat, and more in congregational services. Women may lead statutory prayers and Torah readings for fellow women in a Simchat Torah women's setting and in the context of a women's Minyan. 

7.Our traditional synagogue, recognizing religious diversity in the Jewish world, permits private services which allow for Mechitza/separate seating as well as private services which allow for female participation in Torah reading and Torah honors.

8.Our traditional synagogue is welcoming, respectful, and non-judgemental. We embrace a diversity of religious practices and beliefs among our attendees and members.

9. Our traditional synagogue is a learning place for all. We offer classes regularly in Hebrew reading, contemporary responsa, rabbinic literature, the weekly Torah portion and more. Our approach to learning takes an age-old tradition and makes it relevant to our times. These and other topics are taught by our clergy, educated members, and guest speakers.

10. Our traditional synagogue fulfills the Torah's axiom, "With our young and with our old we go forward." we strive to find meaningful points of Jewish entry and involvement for all ages within our congregational family.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

We stand with Israel

30/01/2023 09:12:56 AM


On International Holocaust Remembrance Day and during Shabbat, a 21-year-old Palestinian terrorist murdered seven Israelis on Friday night. On Shabbat day, a 13 year old critically injured two Israelis. Both tragedies took place in Jerusalem.

Regardless of one's political views regarding Israel's elected government, we Diaspora Jews dare not stand aside silently when Israel and its citizens are under attack. Each of us needs to be prepared to be an articulate spokesperson for Israel. 

The Talmud teaches us "Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Ba'Zeh - All of Israel (the world-wide Jewish community) is responsible for each other. Interestingly, the Hebrew word "Arevim-responsible for" literally means that all Jews are "mixed together." Alternatively, "Arevim" also literally means "to be a surety, one for the other."

Whether a Jew self identifies as a hawk or dove; as religious, cultural or secular, etc., we are ultimately one group, one mixture, one peoplehood. How ironic that the outside anti-Semitic world knows how to define us, and we Jews divide ourselves into competing almost non-recognizable factions. 

During these tragic times, I encourage us to recite the prayer for the State of Israel daily (found on our website and in many Siddurim in Hebrew and English):

"Our Father in heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. Shield her beneath the wings of Your kindness, and spread over her Your canopy of peace. Send Your light and truth to her leaders, officers, and counselors. Strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land. Grant them salvation. Crown them with victory. Establish peace in the land and everlasting joy for its inhabitants. Amen!"

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A speedy recovery for the rabbi and anyone else

26/01/2023 09:01:50 AM


The joke is told about the chairman of the synagogue board visiting the rabbi who is recuperating in the hospital after a procedure. The Shul representative informs the rabbi of some really good news. The board voted and passed a resolution with fifteen in favor and fourteen opposed to wish their rabbi a Refuah Shlemah, a complete and speedy recovery.

This Friday, January 27, I will be undergoing a minor surgical procedure. I will be using two weeks of my allotted vacation time as a medical leave to heal and renew my energy. I will be returning to rabbinic service on Shabbat February 11. 

In the early Torah portions of Sefer Shmot, the Book of Exodus, we are introduced to the Torah's three main figures - Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Toward the end of their legacy, we read how Moses prayed for his sister after she was stricken with an illness. In the Torah's shortest prayer text, Moses says, "El Na Refa Na La - God, please heal her, please." In both Hebrew and English, the first prayer for health contains just five words. Over time, these words would inspire the blessing for healing in the weekday Amidah as well as the familiar Mi She'berach prayer for healing.

May all of us have people who pray for our wellbeing when we are ill or injured. I wish everyone good health, a caring family, and a supportive community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Pharaoh

19/01/2023 09:01:03 AM


In Parshat Vaera, Pharaoh hardens his heart during the first five plagues, and God hardens Pharaoh's heart during the last five plagues. How is Pharaoh to blame if God was determining his course of behavior? It is suggested by a number of the classical commentaries that Pharaoh had free will throughout. That is why at first, he hardened his own heart. Once his heart was as rigid as stone, he could not change. God was confirming the Pharaoh's own nature.

Perhaps one could say the same of Hitler, Yimach Shmo. He hardened his own heart. Even at the end of the war when he knew the Allied Forces would win the day, his heart continued to be as rigid as stone.

Friday January 27 marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date was established by the United Nations to commemorate the memory and the end of the Shoah, symbolized by the liberation of Auschwitz on this date.  Within the Jewish community, we have our own dates, Yom Ha'Shoah in the Spring and the anniversary of Kristallnacht in the Fall.

It is noteworthy that the civilized world has set a universal date as well. While the Jews were targeted for annihilation, millions of others perished as well. While the term Holocaust should apply only to the horrors of 1933-1945, its consequences and moral implications apply to all peoples and at all times.

I encourage everyone to commemorate this date appropriately.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Fiftieth Yahrzeit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel   ז״ל  

12/01/2023 09:03:54 AM


Rabbi Abraham Joshuh Heschel died on December 23, 1972 - the eighteenth of Tevet. The Hebrew date of his Yahrzeit coincides with January 11th this week.

In  Toronto and New York, a Jewish day school is named after him. Heschel's legacy has touched all streams of Judaism, civil rights, racial equality, Jewish-Christian dialogue, and much more.

Born into a European Hasidic dynasty, Heschel found his way to the U.S. and became a scholar at the Hebrew Union College (Reform) and the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative). At rabbinical conventions, he would emphasize the importance of Halakha (Jewish Law) to the Reform rabbis and the importance of Aggadah (the non-legal ethical impulses of Judaism) to the Conservative rabbis.

His written words are manifold including but not limited to philosophical greats such as:

God in search of Man, Man's quest for God, Torah Min Ha'Shamayim (Heavenly Torah), the Prophets, the Sabbath, etc. In my first year of rabbinical school, I took a required course taught by his student, the late rabbi Fritz Rothschild ז״ל, who had edited a book on Heschel's vast writings called, "Between God and Man."

Heschel marched with the late Martin Luther King for the cause of civil rights and became famous for the expression, "praying with one's feet." 

Heschel developed strong ties with the Roman Catholic Church, which helped lead to Nostra Aetate, the Church's revised and positive attitude toward Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations.

Nowadays, we continue to need the leadership and inspiration of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on matters of civility, mutual-cooperation, an understanding of Jewish Law which is spiritually and ethically based, multi-faith and multi-cultural understanding, and more.

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May the memory of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel this week of his fiftieth Yahrzeit be for a blessing.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The delicate sanctity of life -  Parshat Vayechi

04/01/2023 09:02:11 AM


This Shabbat, we read the last portion in Sefer Bereishit - the Book of Genesis. It is called "Vayechi Yaakov - Jacob lived." Euphemistically, however, the narrative describes the final events in Jacob's life leading up to his death. In his final chapter, Jacob has his son Joseph vow that his father will not be buried in Egypt. Jacob blesses his grandchildren and children, offering each of them personalized lessons and aspirations. Living to a ripe old age, Jacob is able to prepare for his eventual passing and hand down life lessons to future generations.

As I write this message, I, like many sports fans and moral citizens, continue to be shaken by the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety, twenty-four-year-old Damar Hamlin. An avid football fan, I was watching the Bills-Bengals game when the world witnessed the collapse of this young football player. At the moment of this writing, Hamlin continues to fight for his life and is listed in critical condition at a hospital in Cincinnati.

At the end of the day, football is just a game, and life is delicate and sacred. It was correct and ethical that the NFL postponed the game and focused on a young man fighting for his life.

I hope and pray that soon we can say "Damar Hamlin lives." Our thoughts and prayers go to him, his family and to his entire community. The horror witnessed this past Monday night on a football field reminds us how fragile and sacred life is. May we use the new calendar year of 2023 to truly "Love our fellow as ourself" and to do our best to forgive others and be forgiven by others for spats that should not last long. 

Our tradition teaches us to "repent the day before we die," precisely because one never knows when the last day will come. In secular language we say, "live each day to the fullest" because it could be one's last day.

When we finish reading the first book of the Torah this Shabbat, we add the familiar postscript words, "Chazak Chazak V'Nitchazek - Be of strength, be of strength, and let us strengthen each other." I offer these prayer-felt words to a football player, his family and community, and to each and everyone of us.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

This Shabbat - A liturgical variety of flavours

23/12/2022 09:06:59 AM


This Shabbat is a liturgical variety of flavours. I encourage you to attend shul to witness a service like nothing you have ever seen before.

Three Torahs will be utilized - The weekly Torah portion (Miketz), the last Aliyah for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, and the Maftir Aliyah for Shabbat Chanukah (Day #6).

Special insertions in the Shacharit Amidah - Ya'aleh V'Yavo for Rosh Chodesh. Al Ha'Nisim for Chanukah (Also in Musaf).

A special Haftarah - For Shabbat Chanukah (Some append the opening and closing verses from the Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Haftarah at the end).

Three special Psalms - for Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and Chanukah.

A completely different Musaf Amidah text - for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh.

A full Hallel - for Chanukah (and including Rosh Chodesh)

I invite you to experience, learn, and enjoy the various liturgical flavours for this coming Shabbat/Rosh Chodesh/Chanukah.

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov, and Chag Urim Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Chanukah and personal meanings

22/12/2022 09:08:56 AM


The first day of Chanukah has personal meaning for me. Even though I was obviously not present, my parents, Ruben and Helen Morrison, were married on December 19, 1954, which coincided with the first light of Chanukah. This year, the secular and Jewish dates coincide again.

Chanukah, along with Passover, are the two most family-centric holidays on the Jewish calendar. I remember as a child that our family Chanukiah had a wind up key and played the melody of Maoz Tzur, as we kindled the Chanukiah as a family.

I remember as a child that the four Morrison kids would receive fun gifts on the first couple of nights of Chanukah. On the remaining nights, we received necessities such as articles of clothing and school supplies. While not being overly commercial, my parents did give us something each night of the festival.

Perhaps the most outstanding Chanukah/wedding anniversary of my parents took place when my siblings and I surprised mom and dad for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We took them out to a surprise dinner at a downtown Boston hotel and presented them with two original poems and an engraved platter inscribed with a recognition of their silver anniversary. 

While mom and dad passed away three months apart from each other in 1999, I remember them every day and even more significantly on the first day of Chanukah and December 19. How meaningful it is that both dates converge this year. 

As I lit the candles for the first night, I thought of my parents being like the Shamash candle, and their children being like the candle for the first day of Chanukah. As the Shamash illuminates the candles of the holiday; so too, Ruben and Helen Morrison brought light, love, and dedication of Judaism to all four of their children.

May their memories be a blessing. 

Wherever you are in the gates of Paradise, I wish you a Freyleche Chanukah, mom and dad.

To you, my Beth Emeth family - As we enter the final days of Chanukah, ask and share: What are your family Chanukah memories? What new memories do you want to establish for your children and/or grandchildren? How will you involve the next generation in the ritual lighting of the Chanukiah and other family oriented Jewish traditions?

I wish us all a continued healthy and joyous Chanukah.

Chag Urim Sameach, Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The first day of Chanukah - Personal meaning

19/12/2022 09:19:16 AM


The first day of Chanukah has personal meaning for me. Even though I was obviously not present, my parents, Ruben and Helen Morrison, were married on December 19, 1954, which coincided with the first light of Chanukah. This year, the secular and Jewish dates coincide again.

Chanukah, along with Passover, are the two most family-centric holidays on the Jewish calendar. I remember as a child that our family Chanukiah had a wind up key and played the melody of Maoz Tzur, as we kindled the Chanukiah as a family.

I remember as a child that the four Morrison kids would receive fun gifts on the first couple of nights of Chanukah. On the remaining nights, we received necessities such as articles of clothing and school supplies. While not being overly commercial, my parents did give us something each night of the festival.

Perhaps the most outstanding Chanukah/wedding anniversary of my parents took place when my siblings and I surprised mom and dad for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We took them out to a surprise dinner at a downtown Boston hotel and presented them with two original poems and an engraved platter inscribed with a recognition of their silver anniversary. 

While mom and dad passed away three months apart from each other in 1999, I remember them every day and even more significantly on the first day of Chanukah and December 19. How meaningful it is that both dates converge this year. 

As I lit the candles for the first night, I thought of my parents being like the Shamash candle, and their children being like the candle for the first day of Chanukah. As the Shamash illuminates the candles of the holiday; so too, Ruben and Helen Morrison brought light, love, and dedication of Judaism to all four of their children.

May their memories be a blessing. 

Wherever you are in the gates of Paradise, I wish you a Freyleche Chanukah, mom and dad.

Your son - Howie

Baruch Dayan Emet - Blessed is the true Judge

16/12/2022 09:50:34 AM


When one learns of the passing of a loved one or a dear friend, the immediate response is to say the words, Baruch Dayan Emet - Blessed is the true Judge.

Yesterday (Wednesday), we learned that Danny Allman passed away in Israel. Many of us remember that he served our synagogue community in a variety of capacities - as ritual director, building manager, and I.T. consultant. After leaving our shul voluntarily, Danny spent the rest of his life living in Israel. He lived nearby children and grandchildren.

Danny was a true Mensch. He greeted everyone with warmth and a smile. At daily services, he inspired attendees to become more conversant with the liturgy and customs. Over the years, he taught men and women how to lain the Torah and Haftarah, as well as teaching Nusach and davening skills. In the other areas of his work, he seemed to always be at the synagogue, never taking a day off or even a break for lunch or dinner. He was completely devoted to Beth Emeth spiritually and administratively. We will miss Danny.

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

Rabbi Howard Morrison
Senior Rabbi

Steve Werger
Synagogue President

Just a few days to Chanukah

15/12/2022 09:02:36 AM


This coming Sunday evening, we will usher in the first light of Chanukah. We will do so in grand fashion at Beth Emeth beginning at 5pm. I encourage as many of us as possible to attend. A fun time will be had by all. A year ago, I missed our shul party because I had committed to visiting my son in Denver for American Thanksgiving, which took place just a couple of days before the onset of Chanukah. As a result, I have not celebrated Chanukah with our shul since prior to the pandemic.

I am very excited that on Sunday night, I will lead us in reciting the blessings surrounding the Chanukiah and lead us in singing some festive Chanukah songs. On the first night only, we recite three blessings, the third one being Shehecheyanu which is recited on the first night only. While the first blessing is a recitation on the actual candle-lighting, the second blessing thanks God for miracles associated with this season of the year. Does one think only of the miracles attached to the origin of Chanukah, such as the oil lasting for eight days and the few defeating the many? Or does one also consider miracles of Jewish history and in our personal lives to this very day? The answer depends on a variant regarding the text of the second blessing. Most Jews recite the words "In those days at this season." Some Jews, based on an ancient manuscript discovery, recite the words "In those days AND at this season. The little Hebrew letter "Vav - And" changes the whole meaning of the blessing. 

Either way, I wish us all a healthy and happy Chanukah. I look forward to seeing you Sunday evening.

Chag Urim Sameach - A joyous Festival of lights

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The youth are coming

08/12/2022 09:03:54 AM


During the current Hebrew month of Kislev, we are encouraging youth and young families to take over synagogue life. 

Tomorrow night, after Kabbalat Shabbat services, our synagogue Shabbat dinner is focused on the primacy of young families.

On Thursday December 15, we will hold our second monthly Bnai Mitzvah dinner program. Young men and women who will celebrate their milestones beginning March 2023 through February 2024 are invited with their families to attend. Our theme this month will be "Ask the Rabbi."

On Shabbat morning December 17, we will hold our first young families Shabbat morning service followed by lunch, beginning at 10:30AM. Guy Mannheim, who oversaw our young family High Holy Day services, will  be spearheading these services on a monthly basis.

On Sunday afternoon December 18, all are invited to usher in the first light of Chanukah at 5PM, during which time we will sing, rejoice, and begin to light the Chanukiah for the first of the eight nights of the Festival.

This month culminating with Chanukah is truly a time to celebrate the continuous miracle of the Jewish family. Mattathias and his five children, known as the Maccabees, ensured the continuity of Jewish life over 2000 years ago.

Our current Torah readings from Bereishit-Genesis center around the very first Jewish families in our history: Abraham-Sarah, Isaac-Rebecca, Jacob-Rachel/Leah, etc. These family narratives connect the contemporary Jewish family to 4000 years of our heritage.

I now invite our young families to actively participate in this month's menu of special events.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Here and There

01/12/2022 08:59:28 AM


Later during the current month of Kislev, we will celebrate Chanukah. One of the differences between the celebrations in Israel and the Diaspora pertains to the letters on the dreidl. In the Diaspora, the letter "Shin" appears as the fourth letter. In Israel, the letter "Pay" appears as the fourth letter. The former stands for "Sham -there," and the latter stands for "Poh - here." In the Diaspora, we celebrate that a great miracle happened THERE. In Israel, we celebrate that a great miracle happened "HERE."

As a Zionistic congregation, we try as best we can to feel that Israel is here with us spiritually, even though it is geographically there, in another part of the world. 

Next Fall, for two weeks, we intend to bridge the gap and feel the "here" presence of Israel physically and spiritually. 

This past Sunday, over 30 people attended a briefing to discuss and review our planned itinerary. You can find it on our shul website. For those who are ready to make a preliminary commitment, you will be able to make a $200 U.S. deposit in the coming days.

With Chanukah coming soon, I encourage us all to consider joining Beth Emeth in Israel next Fall.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Toldot - "But the children struggled in her womb (Genesis 25:22)."

24/11/2022 09:10:20 AM


At the outset of Parshat Toldot, we read that after a period of infertility, Rebecca became pregnant, and the children to-be struggled in her womb. The Torah text goes on to suggest that these two children represented nations to come and which would be in conflict with each other. Soon enough, Jacob entered the world. He would epitomize the Jewish people. Two portions later, Jacob is also known as Israel, the ultimate name for our people, our heritage, and our land. Esau emerged into the world first. He would epitomize nations in history that would be in conflict with Israel, such as Greece. Rome, and other nations which quarreled with Israel. 

A beautiful commentary suggests that the conflict between brothers or nations need not be the case. In one particular Midrash, our ancient Sages suggest that the descendants of Jacob and Esau were Rabbi Judah the Prince, a leader of the Jewish people, and Antoninus, a Roman emperor. Although their respective nations were in conflict, Rabbi Judah and Antoninus had a deep and abiding friendship. Notwithstanding their obvious differences, they demonstrated connection, friendship, understanding, and peace. While Jacob and Esau were known for accentuating their differences, Rabbi Judah and Antoninus accentuated their common humanity.

When one considers the Torah's statement, "But the children struggled in her womb," one could think of contemporary challenges in our own time. Gender identity issues are now publicly discussed as emanating soon after birth. In recent months, I have personally given much thought toward my own sensitivity and toward greater inclusion in our shul. It would be easy to create division and debate, as exemplified by the personae of Jacob and Esau. I prefer to promote peace, understanding, and connectedness, as exemplified by Rabbi Judah the Prince and Antoninus.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

When did Yishmael return? - Parshat Chayei Sarah

17/11/2022 09:07:29 AM


In this week's Parsha, We read about the deaths of Sarah and Abraham. Of note, we learn that Isaac and Ishmael buried their father, Abraham. When did Ishmael return? Long ago, he and his mother, Hagar, had been excluded from the covenantal household. Some commentators suggest that Ishmael returned for the funeral. This would suggest that he never said goodbye to his father. Others suggest that he arrived before the funeral and effected a form of repentance with his father and with Isaac. The text itself is unclear.

We can glean lessons from this narrative. All too often, estranged members of a family appear at the funeral of a relative and waited too long or did not care to try to fix a broken relationship. At other times, sincere forms of reconciliation take place before a death so that the living can move on without any feelings of guilt or wasted opportunities.

I prefer to hope that Ishmael arrived in time to reconcile with this part of his family. Assuming so, we have a paradigm for our situations today.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembrances- Parshat Vayera

10/11/2022 09:01:14 AM


In this week's Parsha, we read that the Lord remembered Sarah. That verse and narrative are also read on Rosh Hashanah, known as Yom Hazikaron, the day of Remembrance. According to tradition,  God took note of Sarah's infertility on Rosh Hashanah and promised her a child, who would be Isaac.

This week is truly one of remembrances. Thursday, November 10, marks the eighty-fourth anniversary of Kristallnacht, which also culminates Holocaust education week in our community. We shall remember and never forget is a dogma for all Jews after the Shoah.

Friday, November 11, is Remembrance Day. We remember all Canadians who gave their lives on the battlefields for the sake of the freedoms we cherish. They made the ultimate sacrifice.

This Coming Shabbat also commemorates the fourth anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting which took place on 18 Heshvan (October 27) 2018. The terrorist murdered eleven people including several Holocaust survivors on this date. It was the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in the United States. We remember that such an act of hatred could have taken place at any synagogue or any Jewish gathering. 

Please take time this week and focus on these themes of remembrance and their lessons for us today. 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

From Abraham to Israeli elections 

04/11/2022 09:02:01 AM


It is ironic that this week's Israeli elections coincide with Parshat Lech Lecha. In the Torah portion, God selects the first Hebrew (the term "Jew" was not yet known) in Abraham. As part of the covenant, God assures him and his descendants,  "I will assign this land to your offspring (Genesis 12:7)."

Fast forward four thousand years later, now a modern democratic State of Israel, elections were held this week. Once again, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu won the election and is now tasked to form a majority coalition government.

As Diaspora Zionists, we support Israel's democratic governmental process. We do not side with any particular political party but with the citizens of Israel's collective decision to form its internal leadership.

Every Shabbat, we recite a prayer for Israel, which is relevant even more so this week:

"Our Father in Heaven, Rock and Redeemer of the people Israel: Bless the State of Israel, the dawn of our redemption. Shield it with your love; spread over it the shelter of Your peace. Guide its leaders and advisors with Your light and Your truth. Help them with Your good counsel.  . . . Bless the land with peace and its inhabitants with lasting joy."

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Our Personal and National Jewish journeys - Parshat Lech Lecha

03/11/2022 09:13:40 AM


In this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha,  Abraham and Sarah begin a personal and national Jewish journey. On a micro level, they begin to establish a new belief system in which they will attract others under their canopy of faith, and they begin to raise their own family. On a macro level, their journey is the start of four thousand years of Jewish history and heritage. Their journey will be anything but simple. They face one test after another along the way.

Now, four thousand years later, we Jews today continue their journey as our own on personal and national levels. Ona micro level, every Jewish person and family face the challenge of preserving one's identity amidst a growing anti-Semitism. In addition, we face the challenge of ensuring our children's and grandchildren's commitment to Judaism amidst the forces of assimilation.

On a macro level, the Jewish historical journey has been anything but simple. Wherever Jewish communities have resided, they have faced oppression from local government and citizenry. Even in Israel, we were dispersed from our land for almost two thousand years until the middle of the twentieth century. Even while being sovereign in our homeland, our people have faced one challenge after another.

As we enter the new months of Cheshvan and November, the tests of our national journey have been made even more intense by the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, z"l, on November 5 and the anniversary of Kristallnacht on November 9-10. In one, a fellow Jew murdered his Israeli Prime-Minister at a rally on a Saturday night in Tel Aviv. In the other, Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues were smashed and destroyed, opening the path to the destruction of six million Jewish lives in under a decade.

There is much to be grateful for as we read the origins of our ancestral journey in this week's Parsha, and there is much to be concerned about as well.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Thu, 23 March 2023 1 Nisan 5783