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2020-10-26 01:22:15 PM

Oct26

An update  on Shabbat  at BEBY

2020-11-25 02:00:22 PM

Nov25

Dear Congregational Family,

As we all know, safety concerns and regulations were made stricter this week in Toronto and elsewhere. In regard to religious services, a maximum of ten people in total is now allowed in our immediate area for religious services. After considerable discussion with Beth Emeth clergy and volunteer leadership, we have decided to enact the following principles for the next two Shabbatot on a trial basis:

1) Services will be conducted from the Sanctuary with clergy only. (On December 5 a Bar Mitzvah boy and his father will complement the clergy).

2) The service will be conducted without the presence of a Minyan. The liturgy will comprise of Psukei Dzimra, Shacharit, Silent Amidah, Full Torah Reading, No Aliyot, Full Haftarah without blessings, Silent Musaf Amidah.

3) This practice will be observed for the next two Shabbatot and then assessed before making further decisions, taking into consideration Ontario and Toronto Public Health regulations and recommendations.

4) Some of the thinking that led to the current decision include the following: 
The requisite maximum number of ten would be limited to men, who comprise a Minyan. As a result, women would be excluded from attending. The ten attendees would have to be identified before Shabbat begins without the assurance that all would attend, such as one not feeling well in the morning. The new guidelines for the next month strongly discourage even ten people from sharing a physical space for a considerable period of time. With all of this in mind, we have decided to err on the side of safety in terms of numbers of people and time spent in the sanctuary.

5) Everyone is encouraged to participate from home via the Beth Emeth livestream.

6) For mourners and those observing Yahrzeits, please access the personal variation of the Kaddish which does not require the presence of a Minyan. This text is available in the weekly schedule on the synagogue website or here - https://images.shulcloud.com/703/uploads/kaddishwithoutaminyan.pdf 
As you can imagine, we are not the only community who is struggling with these challenges. You may find this article by Naomi Baum of interest - Corona Kaddish

I encourage us all to be safe and healthy and to participate in virtual synagogue services and programming.

Sincerely, 
Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Time for Healing

2020-11-23 09:14:25 AM

Nov23

Dear Congregational Family,

This week, new health and safety measures go into place in Toronto and elsewhere. For many of us, the new reality will remind us of the measures taken during the first few months of the pandemic. Sadly, over the course of the Corona Virus, some of us have lost dear ones directly or indirectly from this disease. Many of us are legitimately concerned about our own health and the health of family and friends. Given limited mobility outside our homes, feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and sadness may set in.

In Judaism, health concerns center around body and soul - the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental dimensions of our lives. Each day, we recite prayers regarding the physicality of our bodies, the daily renewal of our souls, a petition for the healing of ourselves and loved ones, and more.

It is no accident that the shortest prayer in the Bible, one which is easily memorized, is the prayer Moses offers when his sister Miriam takes ill: "El na rfah na lah - God, please heal her please."

On Torah reading days, we at Beth Emeth recite a Mi Sheberach healing prayer. Many names of men and women are publically listed at the request of the names mentioned or from family and friends. The circumstances which define one's personal situation are very broad, incorporating body, mind, and soul. In that prayer, we utter the words, "Refuat Ha'Nefesh U'Refuat Ha'Guf - Healing of the soul and healing of the body."

On Monday evening November 30 at 6:30pm (following Maariv at 6pm), I invite you to join me and Rabbi David Grundland on Zoom for a Beth Emeth Healing Service. This half hour together will include prayer, meditation, and song. All are invited for any reason.

The last several months have been challenging on many levels, and our concerns continue to exist. I strongly encourage everyone to abide by the new guidelines. We at Beth Emeth are here to support you in any way we can. Do not hesitate to call upon us.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Tent - Then and Now

2020-11-20 09:08:24 AM

Nov20

Dear Congregational Family,

Many of us are familiar with "Ma Tovu." When we enter a synagogue, we recite, "How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel." These words originate in the Torah when the heathen prophet Bilam blesses the people of Israel.

The origin of identifying Jacob with a tent is found in this week's portion of Toldot. Jacob is described as a whole-hearted man, a dweller of tents. It is interesting to ask why tent is in the plural? Many ideas abound.

On the one hand, we know that the tent meant the home in the books of the Torah. Abraham and Sarah welcomed passersby in front of their tent. When Bilam blesses the people of Israel, he notices how they conduct themselves in their tents.

At wedding ceremonies, bride and groom stand under a Chuppa. The bridal canopy is a reminder of the values symbolized by the Biblical tent. The Chuppa is covered on top to teach privacy and modesty. It is open on the sides to teach hospitality and to see the needs of society that exist outside the home.

In subsequent Jewish history, the tent became a term for synagogue, which explains why it is customary to recite Ma Tovu when entering it. In many ways, the home and synagogue are the same. Both are places of welcoming others. Both are called mini replicas of the Temple. Both are places where mentschlichkeit should be the norm.

On Thursday morning, I participated in a Shacharit Bar Mitzvah where the tent meant all these ideas. Because of Covid, the celebrant family had a tent set up in ther backyard with heaters. The immediate family occupied the makeshift pews, and many others joined on Zoom. The Bar Mitzvah chanted the Parsha while donned in Tallit and Tefillin. He received his first Aliyah, and delivered a Dvar Torah. The tent was truly a home, synagogue, and a place of being welcomed.

May we emulate Jacob in the positive spirit of what it means to be whole-hearted and a dweller of tents.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Different uses of candles - Jewish Lights

2020-11-18 09:15:42 AM

Nov18

Dear Congregational Family,

Much of Judaism centers around light. Each morning, we thank God for the light of a new day. Each evening, we thank God for the evening light.

We distinguish the beginning of Shabbat from weekdays by lighting at least two candles. We separate the end of Shabbat from weekdays by lighting a Havdalah candle.

During Chanukah, we celebrate the miracles of this season by lighting an additional candle each night. We do so based on a Talmudic teaching, "We ascend in holiness and do not descend."

When we mourn the loss of a loved one, we light a seven day Shiva candle. At the time of Yahrzeit and Yizkor, we light a twenty-four hour memorial candle. These practices are based on a Biblical verse, "The human soul is likened to a flame kindled unto God."

Over the past three decades, The Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs has initiated the idea of lighting a yellow candle to memorialize the Holocaust, known as the Yom Hashoa Candle.

With the notion that light dispels darkness, may we observe the many rituals involving light, which help us to celebrate, to remember, and to grieve.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev - Thinking About Chanukah

2020-11-17 09:14:57 AM

Nov17

Dear Congregational Family,

For which miracle was Chanukah established as a holiday? This is the question Rashi poses as his interpretation on the Talmudic question, "What is Chanukah?"

The Chanukah prayer "Al Hanisim - For The miracles" already suggests many miracles associated with the holiday. These include the miracle of the oil lasting eight days; the many falling into the hands of the few; the victory over Hellenistic culture; the observation of light dispelling darkness; the perpetuation of Judaism, and more.

This year's Chanukah will be unprecedented, given the pandemic which continues to surround us. Nevertheless, we should try to enumerate the miracles and great happenings for which we are grateful: our health, our families, our homes, our safety, our being able to connect through social media, our virtual synagogue programming, our abilities to practice Judaism freely, and more.

While our shul will try to have physical and on line programming, the privacy of the home is the intended arena for Chanukah observance. The Mitzvah of lighting the Chanukiah and showing it to the world is observed from the location of one's home.

This year, more than ever, let us be grateful for the miracle of our homes and our families. Whether or not public facilities are allowed to be open, it is the celebration of Jewish pride from our homes which has preserved the light of Judaism for thousands of years.

I wish everyone a safe and joyous Chanukah.

 

Chag Urim Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

V'Ayleh Toldot - And these are the generations

2020-11-16 09:33:29 AM

Nov16

Dear Congregational Family,

This week's Torah portion is called Toldot and begins with the Hebrew words, "V'Ayleh Toldot - and these are the generations." The word Toldot can be translated as generations, history, offspring, or story. The opening verse can be variously translated as "This is the history/story of Isaac son of Abraham," or "These are the generations/offspring of Isaac son of Abraham." Regardless, the opening words of the Parsha connect the generations of the past, present, and future. A few verses later, the reader is introduced to Jacob, thus uniting the first three generations of Jewish history with the patriarchal names.

This past Saturday night after Shabbat, I had the privilege of officiating at a Havdalah Bat Mitzvah. At Beth Emeth, we have many different options for a young woman to celebrate her entry into Jewish adulthood. One choice is that of a creative ceremony in which the young celebrant recites Havdalah, a selection of prayers from the Siddur, and the Prophetic selection of the coming week. Because of Covid, the service took place at the family's home instead of the synagogue. Physically present were myself, the Bat Mitzvah, her parents, all four grandparents, and her two younger siblings. The Bat Mitzvah herself was a fourth generation member of our shul. Only a few months earlier, her great Zaidee had passed away, a long time member of Beth  Emeth.

The Parsha title of Toldot came to my mind last night and was an apt portion for this multi-generational family. Like the weekly Torah portion which unites Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the vitality of the Jewish family and the Jewish community stem from such families where the torch of Judaism is literally passed down from generation to generation. While many relatives and guests participated via Zoom, I visually witnessed grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren link the generations of Jewish history and tradition together.

What a way to begin the week of Parshat Toldot!

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

If Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Rabbi Louis Jacobs could talk today

2020-11-13 09:05:34 AM

Nov13

Dear Congregational Family,

Among the many books in my rabbinic library are several from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Rabbi Louis Jacobs,  both of blessed memories, and both who served in the United Kingdom. In my early years studying in rabbinical school at JTS and throughout my rabbinate, Rabbi Louis Jacobs' writings influenced me in the same category as the writings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and others, who inspired many Conservative rabbis. They both accepted multiple models of theology while embracing traditional patterns of halakhic practice.

Regarding Rabbi Louis Jacobs, I formerly used his books, "The Book of Jewish Belief" and "The Book of Jewish Practice," when I taught teens, adults, and conversion students. He used to have a weekly column in England, in which he addressed all kinds of theological, philosophical, and halakhic topics. I am blessed to have received these articles in book form. 

His most substantial book on philosophy was called "We have reason to believe." In it, he demonstrates his openness to different theories on how the Torah came to be, while espousing traditional practice. On the verge of becoming Chief Rabbi of the U.K., he was disqualified from internal pressures because of his theological openness. Until then, he was a leading Orthodox voice and soon pioneered the Masorti Movement in the U.K.

Fast Forward - Rabbi Jonathan Sacks challenged some of the insular thinking from the religious right in his time. In his own way, he embraced intellectual openness, pioneered relationships with non-Jewish leaders and with leadership from the different segments of the Jewish community. He maintained a private relationship with Rabbi Jacobs and others in the Jewish community, while being sensitive to internal Jewish pressures. Rabbi Sacks succeeded in becoming a recognized Chief Rabbi.

From what I have read and heard, I would surmise that these two rabbinic giants from the same country shared more in common than not. They maybe could have been a modern parallel to Hillel and Shammai, respecting the authenticity of the other even in disagreement.

When Rabbi Jacobs died in 2006 at the age of eighty-six, a much younger Rabbi Sacks attended his funeral. I wonder what a conversation would have been like between the two of them in their prime and at the same time in Jewish life.

Who could know for sure?

I will continue to read, learn and grow from both of them. British Jews and the world Jewish community were blessed to call them both rabbis, teachers, and leaders.

Yhi Zichram Baruch - May their memories be a blessing 

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Chayei Sarah - A Week in Review

2020-11-12 09:16:50 AM

Nov12

Dear Congregational Family,

This week's Parsha begins and ends with the deaths of Sarah and Abraham, our people's founding couple. 

From the death of Sarah, we read the origins of eulogizing, weeping, and arranging proper burial.

From the death of Abraham, we read the reunion of Isaac and Ishmael, who bury their father. When did the two estranged siblings come together? Did the disenfranchised son, Ishmael, see his father before he died? Or did he appear the day of the burial? Commentaries vary. What are the implications for us?

This past week has been one of loss and remembrance on many levels. Last weekend, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a world renowned rabbi, passed away in England. 

In my own extended family, my sister in law's mother passed away last week. Some of you may recall my Yizkor sermon on Shemini Atzeret, when I addressed the plight of loneliness. I referred to the story of Nat and Donna Wiener's saga of loneliness, which had appeared a few weeks ago in the Boston Globe. Now, a few weeks later, may Donna's memory be a blessing to those who knew her and loved her.

This past week, we have observed the eighty-second anniversary of Kristallnacht, and we have commemorated Remembrance Day. May the memories of our six million brothers and sisters as well as all Canadians who died for the cause of freedom be remembered as blessings.

The Parsha title  this week translates actually as " The life of." May all our remembrances this past week inspire us to live meaningful lives physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembrance Day

2020-11-11 09:07:28 AM

Nov11

Dear Congregational Family,

To remember is a Mitzvah in Jewish tradition. For example, to remember Shabbat is a Mitzvah; to remember Amalek is a Mitzvah. Some observe a practice of reciting six ancient remembrances as part of daily prayer.

There are those who suggest that remembering the Shoah is a modern day Mitzvah in a contemporary sense. This week, we have remembered the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Today, November 11, we join all Canadians in commemorating Remembrance Day. We recall all Canadians who have given their lives in various forms of battle so that we may cherish and appreciate the freedoms by which we live.

While I am now a dual citizen, I came to Canada over twenty years ago as an American citizen and a Reserve chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. In the U.S., I often served as a chaplain to the local chapter of the Jewish War Veterans and participated in ceremonies for Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

Soon after moving to Toronto, I was asked to serve as a chaplain to the local Jewish War Veterans (JWV), who now meet a the Lipa Green building. When I explained that my service in the military was in America, the JWV leadership still gladly accepted my role as an ally and friend. For many years, I have participated in their annual Remembrance Day service. Sadly, because of Covid, there will be no communal service today.

Last Shabbat, in front of twenty five people in shul and many others on livestream, I donned my U.S. military uniform and wore it in shul. During services, we recited a prayer for Canada, a prayer for Remembrance Day, and sang O Canada.

I encourage us all to pause at 11AM today and to reflect on the sacrifices made by those men and women in the past for our freedoms today. May all those whom we remember today be remembered as a blessing by us, their families, friends, and by this great country of Canada.

 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Kristallnacht

2020-11-10 09:06:01 AM

Nov10

Dear Congregational Family,

Eighty-two years ago, November 9-10, 1938, was Kristallnacht. The night of broken glass was for many the start of the Shoah. On that tragic night, Jewish shops, homes, businesses, and synagogues were destroyed, shattered, and sent into flames.

In contemporary Jewish life, this season has became a second time of year to formally memorialize the Shoah, next to Yom Hashoah, which occurs in Spring a few days following Pesach. In the GTA, it is noteworthy that Holocaust Education Week surrounds the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Now, more than ever, continuing efforts must be made to further the memory of the Shoah. We today have living with us the last survivors. It is imperative that their stories be shared and documented for posterity. I would suggest that every Jew consider himself or herself as a witness by identifying with someone's particular experience.

While I did not have any biological relatives who perished or survived, my father made me learn the name and story of a particular survivor who lived in our community. From a young age, I identified with this man and even knew the number which had been etched on his skin.

The best way to honor the memory of the six million is by living a faithful Jewish life and by continuing to celebrate the sacred moments of the lifecycle and holy day cycle.

When I officiate a wedding and instruct the groom to break the glass, I often mention the night of broken glass as an example of the broken pieces in Jewish history. At the same time, I mention that the broken glass under the Chuppa is a symbol of the eternity of the Jewish people, the Jewish spirit, and the Jewish resolve to celebrate Jewish life.

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

 

Sincerely, 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Zecher Tzaddik Li'Veracha

2020-11-09 09:04:44 AM

Nov9

Dear Congregational Family,

On Shabbat afternoon, we began to read this week's Parsha of Chayei Sarah. In it, the Torah recounts the deaths of Sarah and Abraham. A generation which founded Judaism and the Jewish people comes to an end.

It was right after Shabbat when many of us learned that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks had passed away in England. For a number of decades, he inspired and influenced Jews of many backgrounds all over the world.

He wrote many books and columns. He was known to represent a centrist form of  Orthodoxy which promoted dialogue with other faiths and dialogue with non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. For years, he wrote thought provoking Divrei Torah on the weekly Parsha, many of which have been published in book form.

One of his earlier books which I have owned for a long time is entitled, "Arguments For The Sake of Heaven." Published in 1991, Rabbi Sacks wrote this book in part to promote dialogue as chasms were widening within the Jewish people. The title is based on a well known teaching found in Pirkei Avot. Arguments for the sake of Heaven have lasting value as exemplified by Hillel and Shammai.

In his introduction, Rabbi Sacks writes, "The argument between Hillel and Shammai was in fact decided in favor of Hillel. But it does imply a willingness to engage in reasoned dialogue with views with which one disagrees. . . Through intellectual conflict comes resolution and eventually, reconciliation. These are values that need restating in a fragmented Jewish world."

For many, Rabbi Sacks was a rabbinic leader for the world, not just one country. Many of his writings can be found on the internet. I encourage us to become familiar with his teachings and his religious personality.

While this week's Parsha recounts the deaths of our founders, it is called, "The life of Sarah, " whose death is mentioned at the outset.

May we remember Rabbi Sacks and his contributions in the way he lived his life, and how he brought depth of meaning to the life of Judaism and the Jewish people.

 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Are you an angel?

2020-11-06 09:13:45 AM

Nov6

Dear Congregational Family,

At the outset of Parshat Vayera, God appears to Abraham. In the following verse, Abraham sees three men at his tent. Throughout this narrative, they are regarded as three men.

In the Midrash, it is taught that they were angels. Each had a particular mission - to tell Abraham and Sarah good news, to give warning about Sodom, and to rescue Lot.

Interestingly, in the following narrative about Sodom, the Biblical text refers to the two who have missions to accomplish as angels and not as men. Commentaries offer different insights as to why they are called men with Abraham and angels regarding Sodom and Lot.

Regardless of the commentaries, we have people being called and behaving as angels. I believe that whenever a person is helping another, without expectation of reward, and especially anonymously, one is behaving as an angel, which literally means a messenger (of God).

When we introduce Shabbat at our tables, many of us sing Shalom Aleichem, a poetic song, which begins, "Peace be unto you, O ministering angels, Messengers of the Most High."

May each of us have the merit of being known as an angel by those dear to us.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering November 4, 1995

2020-11-04 09:08:56 AM

Nov4

Dear Congregational Family,

Many of us remember where we were when we heard the tragic news on November 4, 1995. I had just begun officiating Shabbat Mincha services in Long Island, New York when someone announced he was injured. By the time we started davening Maariv, a latecomer announced that he was dead.

Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated by a fellow Jew, ironically, at a peace rally after Shabbat in Tel Aviv. The Prime Minister had just finished reciting a poetic song entitled, "Shir L'Shalom - a song for peace." Living in New York at the time, I remember attending a crowded memorial service a few days later at Madison Square Garden. In addition, my congregation filled our sanctuary two nights after the tragedy, participating in our own memorial, led in part by children of our religious school.

The bitter month of Heshvan is already void of joyous holidays. The bitter month of Heshvan already has the anniversary of Kristallnacht attached to it from November 9, 1938. Now, for the last twenty-five years, the bitter month of Heshvan includes the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin.

Ironically, Parshat Vayera includes the near death of the very first Yitzchak, the son of Abraham. Ultimately, the Biblical lesson is that we never offer up our own people on the altar. Sadly, this lesson was not heeded by a member of our people two and a half decades ago.

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May the memory of Yitzchak ben Nechemia be for a blessing.


Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Two fundamental values

2020-11-03 09:26:43 AM

Nov3

Dear Congregational Family,

The beginning of this week's Torah portion, Vayera, introduces us to two fundamental Jewish values. In the Talmud, these two Mitzvot are included in a list of precepts whose fruit we eat in this world, but whose full reward awaits us in the World to Come.

Soon after Abraham's Brit Milah, God appears to him through the agency of three individuals, men or angels. In Jewish tradition, they are introducing us to the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick.

In the same narrative, we are told that the day is very hot. Abraham and Sarah hurry to welcome these guests inside their tent to offer them food, drink, renewal, and relaxation. In Jewish tradition, our founding couple introduces us to the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, hospitality, or welcoming guests.

These two Mitzvot are fundamental in the Jewish value system. Throughout the ages, we have visited our sick and cared for those in need. We have done so individually and through the establishment of organized support institutions.

During the pandemic, it has been difficult to physically visit homes and hospitals, or to invite people into our own residences. Nevertheless, with the tools of modern technology, we can do our best in fulfilling these Mitzvot. 

Hachnasat Orchim and Bikur Cholim teach us to make sure noone feels lonely, isolated, neglected, or abandoned. This lesson is especially relevant during the pandemic.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Year Later

2020-11-02 09:05:05 AM

Nov2

Dear Congregational Family,

A year ago at this time, some thirty of us embarked on a two week journey to Spain, Gibraltar, and Portugal. Our group consisted of Beth Emeth members, members of other synagogues, people from elsewhere in Canada, from the United States, and from South America.

It is hard to believe how life has changed from our journey last year to this November of 2020.

I am grateful that we went last year and not this year. 

I am grateful for familiar and new friends and acquaintances.

I am grateful to my teacher, colleague, tour guide, and friend, Betsalel Steinhart,  and Ramah-Israel.

This past Shabbat, we read how Abram intended to go to Canaan, and succeeded, where his father did not. I am grateful that we fulfilled our intention to visit, see and learn so much in a short period of time.

I will remember contemporary synagogues, progressive and traditionalist, where we met with local residents and/or joined actual services.

I will remember many ancient sites where remnants of former synagogues still stand.

I will remember sites where synagogues once stood generations ago, but which are no longer identified.

I will remember that wherever a synagogue once stood, we stopped to daven a brief service there.

I will remember and be grateful for how smooth and seamless it was to have fresh Kosher food wherever we went.

In this past weekend's Parsha, we recounted the journey of the Jewish historical experience which began 4000 years ago. We continue that journey to this day. Now many of us have a new appreciation for the Sephardic side of our people's journey.

Let us continue to be safe and healthy, as we dream of the next journey into Jewish history and culture.

 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard  Morrison

How to attract and retain members

2020-10-29 09:31:51 AM

Oct29

Dear Congregational Family,

Synagogues and other voluntary organizations rely on membership for vitality, growth, and purpose. Every shul I have been part of speaks of retaining and attracting members. 

As an undergraduate student, I majored in marketing, long before I contemplated going to rabbinical school. In marketing classes, we spoke of the four P's - Product, Price, Place, and Promotion.

When I decided to pursue rabbinic studies, I would half kiddingly apply the four P's of marketing to Judaism: Our heritage is our product; Our shuls, homes, and schools are our places of distribution; Commitment is our price; and, for me, attending rabbinical school and ongoing learning programs throughout my career  are my places for learning promotional strategy.

In this week's Parsha of Lech Lecha, Abraham and Sarah understand the four P's in an authentic spiritual way. The Torah refers to Abraham and Sarah making souls in Haran. The Midrash asks what the Biblical statement  means and suggests that the first Jewish couple welcomed non-members of their household under the canopy of the divine presence, with Abraham inspiring the men, and Sarah inspiring the women.

Abraham and Sarah knew to promote their product of monotheism to the world at large openly, volitionally, with a place of distribution and a price of commitment.

Now, some 4000 years later, synagogues continue the spiritual mission which began with our first patriarch and matriarch. We believe in the integrity of the Jewish way of life. It is for the Jewish community to decide about retaining and attracting members to the synagogue. The synagogue  is the longest lasting spiritual and communal institution which unites fellow Jews in a shared sense of belonging, believing, and behaving.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Avram Ha'Ivri - Standing on the other side

2020-10-28 09:18:09 AM

Oct28

Dear Congregational Family,

Before we were called Jews or Israelites, we were known as Hebrews. This week's portion of Lech Lecha regards our founding partriarch as Avram Ha'Ivri, Abram the Hebrew. The Midrash comments that Ivri stems from a root which means on the other side. Our tradition understands Abram standing on one side of the river, and the nations of the world standing on the other side of the river. This ancient lesson teaches that the Jewish value system was distinctive in its understanding of God, morality, and values from the inception of our people and our faith.

For 4000 years, we have celebrated Jewish distinctiveness with pride. During our history, elements  of Judaism have entered and influenced other religions in the world. Distinctive Jewish ideas helped give birth to Christianity and Islam.

However, Jewish distinctiveness has also led to anti-semitism during most of our history. Even our first patriarch had to contend with those who would not accept him because of his beliefs and values.

Two years ago this week, on October 27, a Shabbat morning shooting at the Tree of Life - Or L'Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh resulted in deaths and injuries. We recall that horrific tragedy and honor the memories of those who were slain that day.

Such an anniversary reminds us that while Judaism has brought meaning to Jews and non-Jews for thousands of years, our journey has also been associated with the unleashing of hatred on grand and small scales. 

This week, we renew our connection to Avram Ha'Ivri, who stood alone on one side and introduced the world to the oneness of God and a distinctive value system.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

My Mother, My Name, and Parshat Lech Lecha

2020-10-26 09:20:54 AM

Oct26

Dear Congregational Family,

This Wednesday, October 28th, would have been my mother's ninety-first English birthday. Helen Frances Scott Morrison was born on October 28, 1929. She passed away on September 11 (Rosh Hashanah), 1999.

It was my mother who formulated my English and Hebrew names. How does Howard Bradley Morrison coincide with Avraham Tzvi, in Hebrew? My mother named me in memory of her grandfather, Harry Abraham, whose Hebrew name was Avraham Tzvi. Bear in mind that the Hebrew Tzvi is the same as Hershel in Yiddish, or Harry, in English. My mother modified Harry to Howard. However, Howard Abraham Morrison would be initialed as "H.A.M." My mother recognized the challenge before my birth. Creatively, she realized that by dropping the "A" of Abraham, the next three letters start the name, "Bradley." Thus, Avraham Tzvi coincides with Howard Bradley Morrison.

This year, my mother's English birthday coincides with Parshat Lech Lecha, the origin of the very first Avraham-Abraham, the very first Jew. At the outset, God calls on him to go forth from his land, from his birth place, from his parent's house, to a land that God would show him, ultimately, Israel.

While embarking on a different geographical path, twenty years ago, I I left the U.S. Northeast, which I had called home my entire life and moved happily to Toronto in order to serve Beth Emeth.

While the Biblical Avraham was known to create spiritual souls, profess monotheism, and create a welcoming environment, I have tried in my own small way to do the same in my rabbinate.

This week, I honour the birthday of my mother, who gave me the Hebrew name Avraham,  as we read the Biblical origin of that name in this week's Torah portion.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Tower of Babel - Then and Now

2020-10-23 10:44:37 AM

Oct23

Dear Congregational Family,

In the aftermath of Noach and before the first mention of Abram, we read the narrative of the Tower of Babel. What was the wrongdoing? What was the nature of God's response?

At face value, the participants were trying to idolize themselves by challenging the sovereignty of God.

 The Midrash comments that the protagonists were concerned more about a brick falling, then a person falling off the tower. Thus, the narrative can be seen as a critique of humanity when it values materialism over people.

Given that God "Babels" the languages from one to many, one can see the story as validating diversity and freedom of expression, as opposed to coercion, symbolized by one language and the imposition of one set of ideas only.

A recent viewpoint suggests that the effort was to reach the sky and control the rains, an impulse of fear prompted by the flood which had devastated the earth. Nevertheless, it is not for humanity to "play God" and control acts of nature.

In all these theories, we can see the many lessons discerned by our predecessors and their implications for us today.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Before, During, and After

2020-10-21 09:14:16 AM

Oct21

Dear Congregational Family,

How we act before, during, and after sacred events in our lives tells us a lot about our emotions, values, and priorities.

Take, for example, the experience of a lifecycle moment, be it a baby naming, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or a wedding. Take, for example, a Jewish holiday, be it Rosh Hashanah,  Chanukah, or Passover. In many cases, there is an exciting build up prior to the event, the actualization during the event, and perhaps a let down, sense of relief, where do I go from here? or now what? after the event.

In this week's Torah portion - text, commentary, and legend tell us many things about Noah before, during, and after the flood. Before the flood, how righteous was he? Commentaries suggest many ideas. During the flood, was Noah faithful, optimistic, caring? Responses abound. After the flood, do we regard Noah as the new progenitor of the earth or a depressed drunkard?

Each of us can begin to assess our own traits by analyzing how we conducted ourselves before the pandemic; how we are living during the pandemic; and how we hope to prioritize our values after the pandemic has ended.

While the forty day period, the days and weeks before and during the Ten Days of Repentance, was known as "Cheshbon Nefesh," a time for conducting a spiritual self-audit, perhaps the days and weeks after the High Holy days will teach us more about who we are.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Month That Needs Joy

2020-10-19 09:04:54 AM

Oct19

Dear Congregational Family,

In Jewish tradition, the month of Heshvan, which begins today, is called Mar Heshvan, the bitter Heshvan. Coming off Tishrei, we became accustomed to solemnity, joy, and celebration. It seemed like every day of Tishrei was some form of a sacred festival day.

With the month of Heshvan, there is no yom tov and no festival. The bitter Heshvan comes after the Holy Day month of Tishrei and prior to the month of Kislev, which provides us with the eight joyous days of Chanukah.

At Beth Emeth, the aftermath of Simchat Torah included a Bar and Bat Mitzvah last week. On this past Shabbat, a thirteen year old received his first Aliyah on the date of his thirteenth Hebrew birthday. Today, on  the first day of Heshvan, another thirteen year old receives his first Aliyah. On this coming Shabbat, the same young man will read the Torah and Haftarah.

Beyond, the simchas we are celebrating in the beginning of Heshvan, we can all transform this month without holidays into a season of happiness by renewing ourselves. With the onset of a new calendar year and new Torah reading cycle, the decision is in our hands to make for ourselves a month and a lifetime of joy and fulfillment.

I wish us all Chodesh Tov, a good new month.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Similar and Different - Theories of Legal Systems

2020-10-15 09:55:31 AM

Oct15

Dear Congregational Family,

Over the last two days, I have watched snippets of the U.S. Senate hearings concerning the appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. She is being considered for the vacant Supreme Court Justice spot vacated by the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg, of blessed memory.

While politics abound from the various Democratic and Republican senators, I have been intrigued by the ideologies of the American legal system and their various methodologies in jurisprudence. Judge Barrett defines herself as an originalist amongst other legal ideologies. She notes that even in her camp of originalists, there are progressive and conservative tendencies.

While American law and other nationhood legal systems serve the people, Jewish law is predicated on serving God. Thus, theology is a major difference. Nevertheless, I am struck by the fact that both, American and Jewish law, share pluralistic ideologies. In each, the application of the same methodology can at times yield different conclusions, and the application of different methodologies can at times yield the same conclusion.

In Jewish law, one used to stereotype different approaches to interpreting Halakha between Orthodox and non-Orthodox streams. Nowadays, however, the nuance is deeper. Within the Movements which adhere to Halakha, one finds much diversity in ideology and interpretation. Neither Orthodox nor Conservative is monolithic. In my student days back in the 1980's, my teacher, Rabbi Joel Roth, a recognized Halakhist, wrote a book, "The Halakhic Process, a Systemic Approach." His methodology was debated within Conservative and Orthodox circles.

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Bereishit. We begin the Torah reading cycle anew. I encourage us to develop what Rabbi Roth once taught me, "a Halakhic consciousness." Let us try to understand and respect sincere differences in the nature of the Halakhic process, even as we try to live according to the dictates of Jewish Law.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Expressions of Gratitude

2020-10-14 09:33:25 AM

Oct14

Dear Congregational Family,

For all of us, the recent Holy Day season was one we will never forget. While some of us  experienced services in shul, many participated via livestream. 

I am grateful to all of you  the vast majority of our congregational family, for staying affiliated with our shul.

I am grateful to so many people who stepped forward behind the scenes to secure our needs in terms of safety, technology, ritual, overall administration and so much more.

I am grateful to so many of you who came to hear Shofar outdoors at a number of different venues on Rosh Hashanah.

I am grateful to so many of you who came to hear the Torah read from its ending to  its beginning either inside or outside the shul on Simchat Torah.

I am grateful to so many of you who purchased and used every single lulav and etrog set we ordered, fifty in total, during Sukkot.

I am grateful to so many synagogue volunteer leaders who have spent countless hours at meetings and working behind the scenes.

I am grateful to our office and maintenance staff who have kept our shul running during these unprecedented times.

I am grateful to all of you for your understanding, patience, cooperation, and forgiveness when inadvertent mistakes have occurred. Even in the best of times, imperfect people can only do their human best when striving for perfection.

Sadly, the pandemic has not gone away. Our shul is currently open for Shabbat morning services, while daily prayer, study, culture, and socializing take place on line. I encourage us all to find a meaningful way to stay involved. Please check our website regularly for updates. For some of our members who are not computer literate, I implore relatives and friends to share synagogue life with them.

I am proud to serve Beth Emeth. I extend a Yasher Koach to everyone for perpetuating the value, meaning, and relevance of our synagogue.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Endings and Beginnings

2020-10-13 08:22:30 AM

Oct13

 

Dear Congregational Family,

Yesterday was called "Isru Chag" on the Jewish calendar. The expression means a one day aftermath following the Festival's conclusion. While Yom Tov ended Sunday night, we carry the spiritual glow of the festival's joy one more day into the regular week.

For me, this particular one day addendum follows not only Simchat Torah, but also the joy, sanctity, and solemnity of Shmini Atzeret, Sukkot, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah. 

While the Jewish new year began just a few weeks ago, the Torah reading cycle began anew just two days ago into this week. How will our lives change from 5780 to 5781? How will our lives change from the ending of the Torah to the beginning of the Torah?

By definition, endings lead to new beginnings. As one door closes, a new door opens. As we closed the fifth and last book of the Torah, we immediately opened the first book of the Torah.

As soon as we read of the death of Moses, we began to recite the first chapter of Joshua, the creation of the world, and the origin of the first person.  There is no finality. Rather, there are transitions in the life of a person, a peoplehood, and a world.

It is noteworthy that the last letter of the Torah is a lamed and the first letter of the Torah is a bet. Together, they spell the word, lev,  meaning "heart." How will our Jewish hearts be nourished in the new year? What lessons have we learned during the Holy Day season which will inspire us moving forward?

It is interesting  to note that the first letter of the Torah is a bet, which is closed on all sides except for the direction of moving forward. What will define our progress in the new year?

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Thoughts About Yizkor

2020-10-09 09:08:23 AM

Oct9

Dear Congregational Family,

Did you know that the recitation of Yizkor is a custom, not a law? While a law can be traced to a source in sacred literature, a custom generally develops as a will of the people. The recitation of Yizkor is primarily an Ashkenazic custom.

Yizkor was unknown in the Bible and the Talmud. It originated in the twelfth century as a response to the Crusades, to remember so many who died as martyrs.

The practice of saying Yizkor for family members developed much later, as did saying it on Pesach, Shavuot, and Shemini Atzeret.

An essential component of Yizkor is pledging Tzedakah. We ask God to remember our loved ones in part by giving Tzedakah in their memories.

Some people refrain from reciting Yizkor during the first year of losing a loved one. Others begin to recite Yizkor right away. Both are customs. In his well known book, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Rabbi Maurice Lamm favors reciting Yizkor right away.

Some children, out of respect for living parents, leave the sanctuary during Yizkor. In the natural order of things, parents should be the first ones we remember. Others, whose parents are alive, choose with or without parental consent to remain in the sanctuary to recite Yizkor for the millions of martyrs in Jewish history.

I remember asking my parents' permission to lead Yizkor the first time I ever officiated at High Holy Day services so that I could help a small community remember its loved ones. My parents gave me their blessing.

As mentioned, everything about Yizkor is custom, not law. For some, particular Yizkor practices are stronger than others.

Find your meaningful place with Yizkor. Remember that the Mitzvot and laws of Judaism center around the joy and fulfillment in living a Jewish lifestyle all year long.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Celebrating Torah inside and out

2020-10-07 09:21:16 AM

Oct7

Dear Congregational Family,

As with the High Holy Days, the current Festival of Sukkot has felt very different. In part, the difference has been felt by not encircling the sanctuary during the recitation of Hoshanot. Nevertheless, I am grateful that we had a full service in the sanctuary on the first two days of Sukkot, and that many people participated via livestream.

I anticipate a strange feeling on Simchat Torah this coming Saturday night and Sunday. Normally, we dance with the Torah scrolls and encircle the sanctuary. For obvious safety concerns, there will be no group dancing this year. Nevertheless, the most important feature of Simchat Torah is the annual transition from completing the fifth and last book of the Torah to staring anew with the first book of the Torah. The cycle of endings and beginnings defines the chapters of our lives and the chapters of our people's history.

Two weeks ago on Rosh Hashanah, I was spiritually and emotionally overwhelmed when over 150 people filled the parking lot to hear the Shofar live in person after indoor services were completed. Weather permitting, after indoor services are completed this coming Sunday on Simchat Torah, we will read the entire last portion of the Torah followed by the first chapter of the Torah outside in the parking lot for those who wish to celebrate the ending and beginning of the Torah reading cycle in person in an outdoor setting.

Inside or outside, the message of the Torah is that our values come with us wherever we are. By reading the ending and the beginning indoors and outdoors, we celebrate the complete immersion of Torah in our lives.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Praying for  non-Jews - a case of pure petitionary prayer

2020-10-06 08:52:48 AM

Oct6

 

While it might seem obvious that Jews can and should pray for the health and well being of non-Jews, all questions in life find authentic answers from Jewish law and tradition. 

Back in 2007, Rabbi David Golinkin, a scholar of Halakha at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, formally addressed two questions: 1) Is it permissible to pray for a non-Jew? 2) if so, can a non-Jew be included in the standard Mee Sheberach prayer together with Jews?

After surveying all periods of Jewish history and relevant passages from Jewish legal literature, Rabbi Golinkin concludes, "it is permissible to recite a mee sheberach for non-Jews . . . May God heal Jews and non-Jews who are sick and send them all a refuah shlemah (complete recovery)."

Ever since President Donald Trump, the first lady, and others in his staff tested positive for Covid-19, his political supporters and opponents have gone viral on the issue of praying for his wellbeing.

It is understandable that the president's supporters immediately spelled his name and his mother's name in Hebrew letters for the mee sheberach prayer. Noteworthy is an online article written by the distinguished U.S. Reform Rabbi, Jeffrey Salkin, who wrote last Friday, addressing those who are strongly opposed to the president's practices and policies: "What will I pray for this Shabbat? We pray for all those afflicted with Covid-19, and we especially pray for the healing of our president and first lady. We pray for health and protection for all our leaders who have been exposed to this grievous malady, a malady that respects neither person nor position nor power."

It is common sense; it is morally right; it is halakhically correct - that we pray for people who are stricken with this or any disease. Such prayer is not about politics but the truest of petitionary prayer in Jewish tradition.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Torah - The Longest Going Jewish Print medium

2020-10-05 09:06:04 AM

Oct5

Dear Congregational Family,

I am a traditionalist in many ways, one of which is my joy in reading a Jewish newspaper from cover to cover. Over the years, I have subscribed to many Jewish newspapers, especially ones emanating from places where I have lived. Growing up in Boston, I have been a lifetime reader of The Jewish Advocate. Having lived in the New York-New Jersey area from 1982-2000, I continued through this past Summer receiving the Jewish Week. From 2000 until recently, I have read and sometimes appeared in the Canadian Jewish News.

Sadly, over the last few months, all three of these papers among others have decided to shut down their print operations. The trend toward digital newspapers, other on line sources of receiving information, and the pressures caused by Covid-19, have all been contributing factors. Nevertheless, I already miss much of my Shabbat afternoon reading material from which I learned about the Jewish diversity of my local communities and the world at large.

One form of Jewish print that will never go down is the Torah itself. During Sukkot in antiquity, the entire Jewish people formally heard its words every seven years in a ceremony called Hakhel. From the time of Ezra-Nehemia, we have formally read from the Torah every Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat. The Torah is read on Jewish holy days as well.

In early Talmudic times, each honoree recited his own Aliyah passage. Subsequently, a trained Torah reader recited the prescribed passage for most honorees. The reading from the Torah has historically been surrounded by ritual pageantry.

Beyond the formal ritual of Torah reading, we have spent our history studying it, interpreting it, and living according to it. Each morning, we recite a blessing thanking God for the obligation of immersing ourselves in daily words of Torah.

In my own life, from second grade to the present moment, I have been privileged to study Torah from amazing teachers and with ever evolving commentaries and insights.

This coming weekend, we will celebrate Simchat Torah. When we finish reading the last book of the Torah, we will not render our scrolls to the new digital world. Rather, we will start reading anew from the first book of the Torah. Our challenge from one year to the next is to continually discern new meaning and refinement from age-old words and ideas, to keep the Torah timeless and timely at the same time.

While changing circumstances are impacting Jewish newspapers which were with us for a century or more, our Torah, the first Jewish print medium, stands the test of time. The Torah waits only for us to be active readers and students of its lessons.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Sukkah in a Year of Pandemic- To Dwell or Not to Dwell? That is the Question!

2020-10-02 09:33:18 AM

Oct2

Dear Congregational Family,

Advice about sitting or dwelling in the Sukkah during the pandemic was issued this week from the Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of the Conservative Rabbinate. Entitled, "Advice for Sukkah use . . .  in the Time of Covid-19," the article represents the view of one particular Rabbi and is considered advisory and not obligatory. The full text is available on the Rabbinical Assembly website. I share some excerpts for your edification:

"Sukkah is one of the most beautiful and meaningful mitzvot in our tradition. Under normal circumstances, we are encouraged to eat and sleep in the sukkah, and in particular, invite guests. However, it is unlikely that the COVID pandemic will be behind us by Sukkot 5781. There is a general principle that we do not risk life to fulfill any positive mItzvah. As such, the obligation to use a sukkah does not apply if doing so would lead to a danger of illness.

 One who is ill is exempt from the sukkah, so anyone experiencing possible COVID symptoms or awaiting clearance following an exposure may be considered exempt from the sukkah. The most minimal observance of the mitzvah of sukkah is to eat an olive's worth of bread in it the first night of the holiday. However, under the current circumstances, if there is any concern about the availability of a safe sukkah experience, one is actually exempt from the mitzvah, and may eat one's meals indoors.

 It is not safe to have members of multiple households share a sukkah at the densities that we might experience in other years. Competent medical advice should be consulted as to whether a particular sukkah is large enough to accommodate multiple families at the same time."

It is noteworthy that this particular approach to observing the mitzvah of the Sukkah was written by a Rabbi knowledgeable of Jewish law and in consultation with a public health professional with over 30+ years of experience at the CDC in health emergency response.

I wish everyone a joyous, safe, and thoughtful celebration of Sukkot.

Moadim L'Simcha and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

The Four Species This Year - Choosing to be Grateful

2020-09-30 08:52:53 AM

Sep30

Dear Congregational Family,

During Sukkot, we are commanded to take the four species and bind them together. In doing so, we symbolically unite the limbs of our body and all the diversity within the Jewish people. These imageries are exceptionally important this year during the pandemic.

When we take the four species, we draw them outward toward the four directions as well as up and down. In doing so, we acknowledge heaven and earth as well as the directions from which the winds come.

The taking of the four species ritualize gratitude for our bounties. It is important that we always be grateful for what we have, notwithstanding the unique challenges we face this year.

With Sukkot just a couple of days away, Shabbat and Yom Tov services will emanate from the synagogue sanctuary and livestream. All Chol Ha'Moed services including Hoshana Rabba will emanate from Zoom and Facebook. Please check the website for additional details and announcements.

Most years, we tend to order too many Lulav-Etrog sets. This year, all fifty have been purchased. I see this as an example of so many people choosing to celebrate and be grateful during unprecedented times.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Thu, 26 November 2020 10 Kislev 5781