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31/05/2021 09:56:00 AM

May31

Chag Sameach - From Yom Kippur to next Rosh Hashanah

20/09/2021 09:51:30 AM

Sep20

Dear Congregational Family,

When I was a young boy, right after we broke the Fast at home, my father, the chairman of the shul's house committee, brought me and my brother back to shul to help build the synagogue's Sukkah with a few other volunteers. At a young age, I was introduced to the notion that as we complete Yom Kippur on a clean slate, we must begin observing Mitzvot right away.

Sukkot provides several Mitzvot by which one can begin the new year on the right foot. These include the taking of the four species, the dwelling in the Sukkah, and the command to rejoice during the Festival itself.

On Friday, the day following Yom Kippur, I read a number of entries from friends on Facebook who all made reference to the notion that ideal Jewish practice and behavior take place not from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, a mere ten days, but rather from Yom Kippur to Rosh Hashanah, a virtual year in its entirety. 

I hope and pray that the preceding Ten Days of Repentance were not an exercise for only a week and a half, but rather, an inspiration for how we should conduct ourselves the entire year. Getting ready for Sukkot is a great step in that direction.

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

From "inscribed" to "sealed"

14/09/2021 09:28:58 AM

Sep14

Dear Congregational Family,

On Rosh Hashanah, many of our prayers have us ask God to be inscribed in the book of life for the coming year. By the time we get to the end of Yom Kippur, these prayers have us ask God to be sealed in the book of life for the coming year.

As a child, I carried the images of a #2 pencil and duco cement. What may be inscribed can be erased. What may be cemented stays in place.

In the Talmud, it is recorded that the righteous are judged favorably right away, and the wicked are judged unfavorably right away. The "Bainonim - ordinary ones" are given until Yom Kippur before God judges them for the coming year.

I hope and pray that all of us are judged favorably, and that we are cemented in the book of life for a good, healthy, and peaceful new year.

Gmar Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

9/11

10/09/2021 08:49:13 AM

Sep10

Dear Congregational Family,

Tomorrow marks the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 horrors. I was teaching the Tuesday sisterhood class when I heard the news. We quickly got a bimah-sized American flag to show our solidarity which stood on our bimah for a couple of months. On the Monday night following, our shul hosted an ecumenical memorial service arranged by the Toronto Board of Rabbis.

Like many memories, the events feel like yesterday and a long time ago. Our world is certainly not the same as it was then.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of return-repentance. Each of us is challenged to return to a spiritual place of refinement and growth. I pray that this be a lesson for individuals, the Jewish people, and the world.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

A Day of Remembrance

02/09/2021 09:04:31 AM

Sep2

Dear Congregational Family,

One of the surnames of Rosh Hashanah is Yom Hazikaron, a day of remembrance. We pray that God remember us for good. On this day, God remembered the plights of Sarah, Hannah, and Rachel. In the Amidah, we add verses of remembrance during the Ten Days of Repentance. On Rosh Hashanah, we add a section called Zichronot, ten Biblical verses of remembrance in different contexts.

For me, the theme of remembrance takes on a personal dimension. My mother, Helen Frances Scott Morrison, died at 3:50am on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in 1999, twenty-one years ago. I remember like yesterday walking to shul a few hours later with a heavy heart. I remember informing the shul president confidentially at the beginning of services and informing the congregation  at the end of services. I remember the outpouring of love and comfort from my Long Island community. I remember frantically getting on a flight to Boston after yom tov when the original airline was mobbed and overbooked. I remember the surprise visit of my shul president at the funeral and of a teenager from my shul who drive to Boston to pay a shiva call and who drove me back to New York for the end of shiva during a terrible storm.

Of course, I remember my mom. She was a feminist who took pride in being a stay at home mother, though she rarely stayed at home. She drove the carpool, cooked a fresh meal every night, prepared the daily lunch, took us to our appointments and activities, taught piano lessons,  and did much more.

Mom's love for dad and four kids was expressed through actions. She also loved our pet cat and in later years a dog as well.

Mom loved her shul, a lifetime sisterhood president. She loved being Jewish. She loved to entertain. She was a baalabuste.

Mom, I remember you every day and will light a candle of remembrance prior to Yom Hazikaron, Monday evening.

Your memory will always be a blessing.

Love,

Your son, Howie

Cycles and Transitions

01/09/2021 09:07:35 AM

Sep1

Dear Congregational Family,

At this time of year, we are witnessing cycles and transitions. As Summer wanes, a new school year will begin for many, and returning to work from vacation will resume for many.

In our weekly Torah reading cycle, we are nearing the end of the Five Books of the Torah. In this week's portion of Nitzavim, Moses has the entire people stand together as one during his final exhortation to them. In a number days, whether in person or via livestream, we the Jewish people will all stand as one to welcome the High Holy Days.

While Rosh Hashanah commemorates the beginning of the world and humanity, it is noteworthy that the traditional Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah does not emanate from the opening chapters of Genesis, but rather the saga of the first Jewish family, that of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. In one particular commentary, it is taught that how we treat the individual and how we raise a child are manifestations of how we interact with the world around us. By focusing on family and people around us, we relate in a practical way to the idea that God has created every person, male and female, in the Divine image.

As a reminder, copies of the Birnbaum Machzor are available for the taking outside the parking lot entrance of the shul during office hours. Also, please check the High Holy Day section of the website for all kinds of information, including, various sites for outdoor Shofar sounding and the page numbers of central prayers found in the High Holy Day Prayer books that we use at Beth Emeth.

I wish everyone Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova U'Metuka.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Selihot is here

27/08/2021 09:15:46 AM

Aug27

Dear Congregational Family,

Tomorrow night after Shabbat, we will join with Adath Israel in ushering the Selihot season. Because we will be sharing the service from the Adath Israel sanctuary on livestream, we will be unable to display the prayer texts during service. As noted on the promotional flier and the registration link on our website (see the High Holy Day section), one must download the prayers. Just a reminder that the link for accessing the service is: www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/selihot.digital

Last year, the entire service was shared between our two shuls on Zoom, and the prayer selections were screen shared. This year, we look forward to davening together in Adath Israel's beautiful sanctuary with a simulcast on livestream.

One may choose to attend the lecture at 9:30pm via Zoom or in person. Either way, one must register in advance. For those attending in person for the lecture and/or the service at 10:45pm, your name must be registered with Adath Israel, so that they know you are attending.

Selihot season is upon us. Now is the time to reflect on the past year and to use lessons learned so that the new year will be a better one.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

S(h)ofar S(h)o Good

25/08/2021 09:10:02 AM

Aug25

Dear Congregational Family,

During this month of Elul, I have had the privilege of sounding the Shofar at the conclusion of daily morning services. The custom of sounding the Shofar for a month is meant to stir our souls toward repentance before the High Holy Days.

Over forty years ago, I went shopping for my very first Shofar. I went to a Judaica store on the Lower East Side of New York. I tried sounding one Shofar after another until I succeeded with the very last one in the store. I bought that Shofar. What a memory to this day.

Years later when my parents were too ill to attend shul, when Yom Kippur ended, I would go into my shul office, call them on the phone and sound my Shofar for them. In the 1990's, they lived in Boston, and I lived in New York. What a memory to this day.

Of course, the Mitzvah is hearing the Shofar and apprehending its piercing sounds as a means to refining our lives.

I hope and pray that we will hold on to past Shofar memories and create new ones.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

High Holy Days - Early, Late, or On Time

24/08/2021 09:08:07 AM

Aug24

Dear Congregational Family,

It all depends on your frame of reference to decide if the High Holy Days are early, late, or on time. If you look at the world around you from the lens of the Jewish calendar, then the holy days are always on time. Rosh Hashanah falls out every year on the first of Tishrei. If, however, you look at the world around you from the lens of the secular calendar, then it all depends. Last year, Rosh Hashanah began in late September, and this year it begins on Monday night, September 6, the end of Labor Day.

While many of us are fully vaccinated, and while Ontario entered stage 3 during the Summer, sadly, Covid related concerns are still with us. As a result, like last year, one must pre-register to attend all services inside the shul. We will continue to make all of our services accessible on social media.

Last year, we combined with Adath Israel for Selichot. We will continue that tradition this year on Saturday night, August 28. Details can be found on the website. 

Last year, we welcomed Cantor Lipa Glantz as our Chazzan for the High Holy Days. He was well received a year ago and will join us once again. Because he will be here for Shabbat Shuva, September 11, and the Shabbat following Yom Kippur, September 18, we will join with Adath Israel for both of those Shabbatot and be spiritually uplifted by Cantors Lipa Glantz and Alex Stein, the Cantor at Adath Israel. On one of those Shabbatot, both congregations will daven together at Beth Emeth. On the other, both congregations will daven together at Adath Israel. Details will follow.

Like last year, in order not to overly extend our time together indoors, the High Holy Day services will be abbreviated. The morning services will begin with Shacharit (Ha'Melech). Pesukei D'Zimra should be recited personally ahead of time, which by the way, is a custom in many synagogues in Israel and around the world.

This year, High Holy Day morning services will begin in the main sanctuary at 9:00am. This is a change from last year which had begun a half hour later. Moving forward into the new year, our Shabbat and Festival services will begin at 9:00AM with the hope of having more and more people joining us in shul for a full traditional service.

Please check the shul website, our High Holy Day page, and my blogs for updates as we move forward to the High Holy Day season. I wish everyone good health and wellbeing as we transition from 5781 to 5782.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Ki Tetze - Parapets and the Safety of Others

23/08/2021 09:10:43 AM

Aug23

Wearing a mask, maintaining physical distancing, receiving two vaccinations, taking a covid-19 test - Where do all these precautions come from? Why are they binding? What about my personal freedom? You cannot force me!

I believe that the background for today's contemporary norms as well as the response to personal freedom when it comes to the safety of those around us emanates from one single law in today's Parsha. "When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet (fence) for your roof, so that you do not bring blood-guilt on your house if anyone should fall from it (Deut. 22:8)." In Talmudic law, one who refused to observe this commandment was subject to excommunication. The Torah takes as a basic necessity of life the idea that we all have a responsibility to each other, and that responsibility starts with the actions we take in terms of safety to those around us. 

As we continue to struggle with the Corona virus, we are responsible for one another's safety. Judaism does not define freedom as "Me, me, me," but rather as "We, we ,we." We pray largely in the plural because we are part of a larger group than one person. When God freed us from bondage in Egypt, we became free not merely "from bondage," but "free for a higher purpose" - to serve God and to be part of a spiritual community. I might not like wearing a mask; I might not want to get vaccinated; I might not wish to sit apart from friends in shul; I might not desire to take a covid-19 test. I do all these things,  however, because I care about those around me, not just myself.  

Upon my return from the United States this past week, I had to show that I was vaccinated when I got to the Canadian border. I had to show that I took a Covd-19 test and scored a negative result within 72 hours of my entry to Canada. As these laws are normative for entering our country, it only makes sense that they are now normative for entering our synagogue. If one earnestly believes that his or her individual freedoms are being compromised, there is a safe place for such a person in the context of others feeing safe as well - One can always participate individually in our services via our livestream, and I say this seriously. If one truly does not want to wear a mask, be vaccinated, or show a negative Covid test, that is fine, as long as others are not adversely affected. This in part explains why accessibility to livestream must continue to be made available.

Our Parsha today instructs us that freedom begins by being responsible not only for one's own personal safety but also for the safety of others, by building a parapet, or fence, around the roof of one's house. In the ancient world, a lot of individual, family, and community interaction took place on rooftops. The Mitzvah we read today about the safeguarding of a roof is directly parallel to safeguarding the inside of a synagogue. What an important lesson in advance of the High Holy Day season.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Ki Tetze and Afghanistan

19/08/2021 09:11:57 AM

Aug19

Our parsha this week is impeccable given the events of the last few days. According to Rashi, the beginning of the portion refers to when the Israelites go out to fight a war on foreign soil. Sound familiar? But what comes next is more fitting. The Torah focuses not on the war itself, but what happens the day after, once the war ends. In antiquity, when Israel fought on foreign soil, they had to treat captives with care and compassion. Captives were given time to mourn their losses and change of circumstances. The Torah acknowledges the humanity of the captives, and that they should be treated with dignity.

As a U.S. military retired chaplain myself, I am moved terribly by the events of the last several days. Prior to my retirement in 2006, I knew people from my assigned military base in New Jersey who had been sent to serve in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East post 9/11. I pray for their mental and emotional state right now. I pray for those who now feel "captive" in a foreign land and who are concerned how they will be treated moving forward.

Our Parsha today contains 74 specific Mitzvot, more than in any single Torah portion. Many of these Mitzvot deal with ethical and moral situations from warfare ethics, to dealing with divorce, to sparing the mother bird of a nest, to restoring lost property, to safeguarding the roof of one's home, to the first year of one's marriage, to not charging interest on a personal loan, to who is allowed to be part of the community and who is not, to providing for those in need, to ethics in business dealings, to remember the cruelty of Amalek, and so much more.

How ironic and timely that our Parsha this week begins and ends with the issues of evil and concern in times of war and uncertainty. 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Calls of Elul

09/08/2021 07:40:31 AM

Aug9

Dear Congregational Family,

The month of Elul has arrived. Rosh Hashanah is a month from now and always falls out on time, the first of Tishrei. However, last year, the first of Tishrei coincided with the end of September. This year, Rosh Hashanah coincides with the beginning of September. For many of us, especially rabbis, the upcoming High Holy Day season is already upon us.

In Scripture, there are many expressions whose acronyms spell Elul. Perhaps the most famous one is found in Song of Songs, "Ani L'Dodi v'Dodi Li - I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." While we often hear these words at weddings, the origin speaks to the love relationship between God and the Jewish people. We try to rekindle the love during the month of Elul, as we transition from one year to the next.

Another well known acronym is found in the book of Esther, "Ish L'Re'ehu U'Matanot L'Evyonim - A person toward his neighbor and gifts to the poor." This Purim related verse speaks to the responsibility we have towards people and society. In both acronyms, the first letters of each word combine to spell Elul. The two acronyms placed together speak to the new month as a time for refining our relationship with God and with the world around us.

To help us in these efforts, during Elul, we listen to the Shofar at the end of daily morning services. We recite Psalm 27, which describes the nature of faith as being one that at times is certain and at other times is fragile and hopeful. Many of us visit the graves of loved ones in order to connect our past to our present and future. 

May we use the insights of Elul to prepare for a meaningful and purposeful new year.

Chodesh Tov,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Memory and Celebration in the Olympics

26/07/2021 09:02:29 AM

Jul26

Dear Congregational Family, 

This past weekend, the Olympics began in Tokyo. It is noteworthy that from a Jewish perspective, the weekend began with memory and ended with celebration. Many of us were deeply offended when the 2012 Summer Olympics ignored the fortieth anniversary of the slain Israeli athletes, who were murdered during the Munich Olympics. Now, during the forty-ninth anniversary of Munich, our Israeli brethren were properly remembered during the opening ceremonies. By the end of the weekend, Israel had earned its first medal, as Avishag Semberg won the bronze in taekwondo. 

How ironic that the weekend of memory and celebration took place during the commemoration of Shabbat Nachamu - the Sabbath of Comfort. Coming the first Shabbat following Tisha B'Av, this past Shabbat connects the memory of historic loss to the renewal of Rosh Hashanah after enumerating seven weeks of comfort. 

With two weeks of Olympic games to go, may Israel win many more medals, as we remember and celebrate.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Safeguard and Remember the Sabbath in one utterance

22/07/2021 09:23:39 AM

Jul22

Dear Congregational Family,

In the Friday night hymn, L'cha Dodi, the first stanza begins with the words, "Shamor V'Zachor B'Dibur Echad - Safeguard and Remember (the Sabbath) were uttered (by God) in one utterance."

The poet of the hymn, Shlomo Ha'Levi Alkebitz, lived in the Kabbalistic city of Tzfat and authored the poem in the 16th century. He reminds us that the Ten Commandments appear twice in the Torah, in the book of Exodus and in the book of Deuteronomy. Since every word of Torah is infused with divine inspiration or revelation, both sets of the Ten Commandments reflect the will of God. Yet, the two texts are not identical. the most glaring distinction appears in the description of Shabbat. In the Exodus narrative, "Remember the Sabbath" is reinforced by the Creation story, wherein God rests on Shabbat. The Genesis theme is universal in nature.  In the Deuteronomy narrative (in this week's Parsha of Va'etchanan), "Safeguard the Sabbath" is reinforced by our people's slavery in Egypt, a particularistic theme unique to the historical experience of the Jewish people.

While Moses himself frames the entire book of Deuteronomy from his perspective, the verse in L'Cha Dodi teaches us a profound lesson. Shabbat must be "remembered" by such acts as lighting candles and reciting Kiddush. Shabbat must be "safeguarded" by refraining from prescribed prohibited activities.

In the Shabbat evening Kiddush, we reflect on Shabbat being a gift to the whole world when we recite, "Zecher L'Ma'aseh V'Reishit - A remembrance of the act of Creation." We also reflect on Shabbat being a particular gift to the Jewish people when we recite, "Zecher L'Yetziat Mitzrayim - A remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt."

As we look forward to Shabbat each and every week, may we ponder the meanings of "Safeguard and Remember" as well as their particular and universal meanings.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Stand with Israel means take a stand

21/07/2021 09:10:21 AM

Jul21

Dear Congregational Family,

This week, Ben and Jerry's, under the parent company Unilever, became the latest to join the BDS movement. For years, many of us have enjoyed the variety of ice cream flavors that have been offered. However, if we truly believe that "stand with Israel" is more than a slogan, then we have to take a stand to show our support of Israel. We dare not fall into the false narratives that supporters of BDS portray about Israel, including the false narrative called "occupied Palestinian territories."

If you choose to correctly stand with Israel, I can recommend many other delicious ice cream flavors and companies.

Sincerely, 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

20/07/2021 09:13:40 AM

Jul20

From saddest to happiest in one week

19/07/2021 09:10:50 AM

Jul19

Dear Congregational Family,

Yesterday, on Tisha B'Av, we observed the saddest day of the Jewish calendar year. As already noted in previous articles, Tisha B'Av commemorates calamities from Biblical antiquity, to the Temple periods, to the Middle Ages, to modern and contemporary times.  The month, which we call Menachem Av, the comforting Av, takes us on a spiritual roller coaster ride from the grief of Tisha B'Av to seven weeks of comfort, leading right up to the High Holy Days.

What is often neglected, however, is one of the two happiest days of the Jewish calendar year. Tu-B'Av, the fifteenth of Av, just six days after the saddest day of the year, is considered one the two most joyous days of the year along with Yom Kippur afternoon. In ancient times, these two days were matchmaking festivals where young men and women were introduced to each other for the purpose of marriage. With its uplifting celebration of romance, enhanced friendships, and the forging of new relationships, Tu-B'Av, which falls out this coming Shabbat, counters the despair felt on Tisha B'Av and the three weeks which precede it. 

The comforting month of Av is found in the ability to move from strife and baseless hatred to rebuilding a metaphorical Temple, through tolerance, respect, and love.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Do you say Eicha (How?) or Ayeka (Where are you?)

16/07/2021 09:03:12 AM

Jul16

Dear Congregational Family, 

From services on Shabbat morning, Erev Tisha B'Av, through the Tisha B'Av evening service, we will recite a phrase beginning with the word "Eicha" three times. In each instance, the phrase is offered by a Prophet in the opening chapter of his respective book.

On this Shabbat, we begin to read the book of Devarim-Deuteronomy. This fifth and final book of the Torah is a recapitulation of earlier events and lessons from the distinct perspective of Moses. In chapter 1:12, Moses exclaims, "Eicha - How can I myself bear your cumbrance, your burden, and your strife?"

In the Haftarah recited on Shabbat morning, the Prophet Isaiah exclaims, "Eicha - How the faithful city (Jerusalem) has become a harlot (Isaiah 1:21)."

In the book of Lamentations recited on Tisha B'Av eve, the prophet Jeremiah exclaims, "Eicha - How desolate lies Jerusalem that was once full of people ((Lamentations 1:1)."

At face value, each of these three verses originates from a particular time, place, and context, as voiced by the particular Prophet. However, from a literary point of view, these three verses can be read as one leading into the next. When cumbrance, burden, and strife are not confronted immediately, they can lead to the licentiousness of harlotry. When the licentiousness of harlotry is not confronted immediately, it can lead to a spiritual and physical destruction of what was once a sacred community.

 The Hebrew letters of Eicha, meaning "How?"  can also be read as Ayeka, meaning  "where are you?" The Sages find the precedent for this lesson when God asks Adam after the sin of the forbidden fruit, "Where were you?"

While we may not have the ability as individuals or as communities to completely transform the world around us from acts of immorality to acts of righteousness, we must try our best. "Where are you?" asks our tradition when we observe the perils that Moses and Isaiah observed. Will we arrive in time so that the desolation described by Jeremiah does not repeat itself again?

So, when you see the Hebrew letters - Alef, Yud, Chaf, Hay - will you say Eicha (How?) or Ayeka (Where are you?)

Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Fast,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Mourning loss and celebrating life

15/07/2021 09:36:30 AM

Jul15

Dear Congregational Family,

Years ago, two grown children whose father had passed away a couple of years earlier came to shul for morning services. I presumed incorrectly that they came to commemorate their father's Yahrzeit. I was wrong. They informed me that the day would have been their father's birthday. They came to shul, not to recite Kaddish, but to celebrate his life. On that occasion, I became a humble student.

At funerals, yahrzeits and yizkor, we may talk about celebrating a loved one's life. However all too often, those times become associated with one's passing. The idea of celebrating a loved one's life on the birthday struck a chord with me.

Today on the secular calendar is July 15. My dad, Ruben Morrison, of blessed memory, was born on this date in 1927. Today, I celebrate his life, which took him from a foster family upbringing in New York to rearing my family in the Boston area. Dad lived a fulfilling life before his death in 1999. He loved his wife, children, occupation, hobbies, and heritage. 

On this day, I do not grieve your loss but rather celebrate your life. Yom Huledet Sameach - Happy Birthday.

Love,

Your son, Howie

Israel defending the world

14/07/2021 09:23:30 AM

Jul14

Dear Congregational Family,

This past weekend, the delegation from the IDF which was sent to help in Surfside, Florida finished its mission and departed back for Israel. Many of us saw the video in which these brave Israelis were given a standing ovation for their efforts, notwithstanding the enormity of the tragedy.

In today's Parsha, Moses recounts the episode of the first military delegation, the envoy of twelve tribal leaders, who were sent to investigate the Promised Land. Now, forty years, later, Moses summarizes lessons learned from that failed venture to a new generation which is poised to enter the Promised Land.

Some 3500 years later, the Israel Defense Forces not only defends our people in Israel, but goes across the globe to help anyone in distress, Jew or non-Jew. Their most recent efforts in Florida were the latest in a history of missions to help save human life in our world.

How ironic that as Anti-Zionism/Anti-Semitism continue to plague the world, our moral mandate guides us to help, search, rescue, and save at all costs.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Reflections on Tisha B'Av

13/07/2021 09:21:25 AM

Jul13

Dear Congregational Family,

On Saturday night July 17, we usher in the Fast of Tisha B'Av. While we at Beth Emeth will gather on line, I encourage one to observe traditional practices. On this saddest day of the year, we become a nation of mourners. In this spirit, one does not wear leather shoes on Tisha B'Av. Similarly, one sits on a low chair during the recitation of the book of Lamentations and Kinot, the poetic dirges and elegies.

On the day of Tisha B'Av, one feels that the joy of our covenant with God is in peril. In this spirit, specific references to the covenant in the liturgy are omitted. The wearing of Tallit and Tefillin is deferred from the morning service to the afternoon service.

Two particular Hebrew months are prefaced with adjectives. Mar Heshvan denotes that Heshvan is the only month without sacred occasions. "Mar" means bitter, a meaningful description of Heshvan which immediately follows Tishrei, the month filled with the High Holy Days, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

The current month of Av is called Menachem Av. "Menachem" means comfort.

Immediately following the sadness of Tisha B'Av, we look to the rest of the month and the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah as weeks of comfort. The Shabbat immediately following Tisha B'Av is called, Shabbat Nachamu - The Sabbath of comfort.

Two months are known for polarities in relation to joy. When Adar enters, one's joy is increased, exemplified by Purim, the happiest occasion on the Jewish calendar.

When the current month of Av enters, one's joy is decreased, exemplified by Tisha B'Av, the saddest day of the year.

Two occasions in the year are known for being major Fasts, starting at sunset on the eve of the special occasion and concluding after sundown the following night. Yom Kippur - an introspective spiritual day and Tisha B'Av - a day when we are mindful of historical national tragedies which have befallen our people.

I wish us all an easy yet meaningful Fast this Tisha B'Av. We pray and yearn for the day when our Fasts will be transformed into Feasts.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The nine days of Av - Transform baseless hate into baseless love

12/07/2021 09:38:22 AM

Jul12

Dear Congregational Family, 

This past Shabbat, we ushered in Rosh Chodesh Av. We are now observing a period of time known as the "nine days," which will culminate with the Fast of Tisha B'Av this coming Saturday night and Sunday. 

Our tradition describes many tragedies associated with Tisha B'Av as well as many theories and explanations. Perhaps the most well known calamity connected to Tisha B'Av is the destruction of both the First and Second Temples of Judaism. The most prevalent explanation for the cause of the Second Temple's destruction is "Sinat Chinam - baseless hatred between Jews." 

If we were to take a time machine back to that historical period, there were a number of factions among the Jewish people which included Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Dead Sea sect, Zealots, and more. While the Romans may have physically destroyed the Temple and much of Jerusalem, the foundations of Jewish life were already crumbling because of Sinat Chinam. While one need not agree with the other based on principles of belief or practice, one must not ever hate a fellow Jew.

In our day, not only is the world at large polarized, but the Jewish people are polarized as well. We are divided on attitudes regarding:

  •  Denominations -  Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox;
  •   Ideologies - The authoritative nature of Torah, Halakha, a commanding God; 
  •  Ethnic background - Ashkenazic, Sefardic, Ethiopian, Jews from Arab lands;
  •   Sexual orientation - The LGBTQ communities;
  • Political affiliations - Democrat vs Republican in the U.S., Liberal vs Conservative in Canada, Labor vs Likud in Israel, etc.

While one may choose to "agree to disagree" intellectually on how to best manage the challenges of contemporary Jewish life, one must always be respectful and welcoming.  Are not all Jews, let alone all people, created in the image and likeness of God?

I always prefer to adopt the teaching of Rabbi Abraham Isaach Kuk, the first Chief Rabbi of pre-State Israel in the early twentieth century. He often remarked that we need to replace "Sinat Chinam - baseless hate" with "Ahavat Chinam - baseless love."

May the acceptance of baseless love be the motto for all Jews regarding their relationships with their fellow Jews as we count the days toward Tisha B'Av.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Looking back on the journeys in our lives - Parshat Masei

09/07/2021 09:25:04 AM

Jul9

Dear Congregational Family,

This Shabbat, we conclude the fourth book of the Torah with the portion of Masei. As the Israelites stand at the threshold of the Promised Land, they are commanded to reflect on the forty-two encampments they have come to during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

In his commentary, Rashi explains that the list of encampments emphasizes God's compassion. Notwithstanding the decree that they wander in the desert for forty years, the people enjoyed extended periods of rest. The first fourteen encampments took place before the mission of the spies. The last eight encampments were in the fortieth year. Thus, during the thirty-eight intervening years, there were only twenty journeys.

It is worth reflecting on the journeys of our lives from multiple perspectives: geographical, educational, professional, familial, ideological, etc. Hopefully for all of us, the majority of our journeys have been positive and productive, with a minimum of hardships along the way.

This week, I officiated at the funeral of a Holocaust survivor. In many such instances, I marvel at how survivors, who experienced horrors beyond our imaginations, were able to pick themselves up, start a new life in a different part of the world, learn a new language and career, and succeed in finding love, building a family, and experience success and purpose in their lives. 

As we continue to journey in our lives, may we continue to be enriched by new experiences and opportunities for growth on a variety of levels.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Toronto Board of Rabbis' statement 

08/07/2021 09:19:03 AM

Jul8

The following statement is from the multi-denomination Toronto Board of Rabbis, of which I am a member:

 

An independence to remember

07/07/2021 09:18:28 AM

Jul7

Dear Congregational Family,

In the past week, Canada and America celebrated their Independence Days respectively on July 1 and July 4.

While Israel Independence Day usually occurs in April, a special anniversary coincided with July 4.

On July 4, 1976, the miracle of Entebbe took place. Those who are old enough remember the despot Idi Amin holding Jews from an airline hostage. The liberation and independence of many Jews took place because Israel reaches out to Jews wherever they are. Sadly, IDF soldier Yoni Netanyahu was killed during the rescue, and one hostage, Dora Block, who had been taken to an infirmary, was never found. 

This past July 4 marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the historic rescue.  I was sixteen at the time. I remember the saga vividly as well as the Israeli and American movies which were made soon after. 

The week containing Canada Day and U.S. Independence Day will always provide for me a great memory of why supporting and safeguarding Israel are imperatives for every Jew.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Feeling vengeful in response to acts of Anti-Semitism?

06/07/2021 09:16:31 AM

Jul6

Dear Congregational Family,

As a Bostonian by birth, I was emotionally charged this past weekend by the latest act of Anti-Semitism in the world at large. On Friday, Boston area Chabad Rabbi, Shlomo Nogrinski, was stabbed several times by Khaled Awad. Fortunately, the rabbi is going to be alright, and local police apprehended the culprit quickly. It was discovered over the weekend that the oppressor is indeed Anti-Semitic and had previously expressed hateful comments regarding Jews. We must remember that an attack on any Jew is an attack on all Jews.

It is easy to understand our feeling vengeful in response to acts of Anti-Semitism. In fact, in this week's Torah portion of Mattot, we read what seems to be an act of vengeance against the Midianites. "Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites . . . let them (chosen Israelite men) fall upon Midian to wreak the Lord's  vengeance upon Midian (Numbers 31:2-3)."

As indicated in the commentary of the Etz Hayim Chumash, the modern reader is likely to be bothered by this section of Torah. What one can say is that this particular undertaking is the "Lord's vengeance (31:3)" and can be directed only by the word of God. We know from earlier in the Torah that we, the Jewish people, are prohibited from taking vengeance against others. We have the right to defend ourselves and prevent haters of Israel from having the resources to afflict us, but not to take revenge. In Parshat Kedoshim, known as the Holiness Code of Judaism, we read, "Lo Tikom V'Lo Titor - You shall not take vengeance, and you shall not bear a grudge (Leviticus 19:18)." The Art Scroll Torah commentary adds: "Revenge consists of retaliating against someone who has displeased you by attempting to do him some harm, or by refusing to do him a favor that you would normally have done."

We may feel vengeful when acts of hatred are perpetrated against our people. But we may not act in this regard. It is for God only to exact vengeance in ways we do not understand. Such an example is found in Parshat Mattot. Another example is found in the Shabbat prayer, Av Ha'Rachamim, which was composed shortly after the Medieval Crusades. In that passage, we read, "For God will avenge the blood of His servants and bring retribution upon His foes." In the same spirit, have you ever noticed the abbreviation on the back of tombstones which contain the names of martyrs who perished in the Shoah? "Hashem Yikom Damam - God will avenge their blood."

Many of us may feel strong vengeful sentiment these days. Feelings are one thing. We Jews must exact justice, but leave any potential acts of vengeance in the hands of God only.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Pinchas - July 3, 2021 "Buried Alive and Surviving"

05/07/2021 09:15:04 AM

Jul5

It boggles the mind how relevant and insightful every Torah portion is to the current world in which we live. Over the past nine days, we have been glued to the tragic events which have unfolded in Surfside, Florida. For days, some 150 people missing, the plight of family members, the heroism of rescuers including a search and rescue team from the IDF, and much more. 

In a different context, today's Parsha refers to a world opening up with mass casualties and a minority of survivors:

"The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with Korach . . . The sons of Korach, however, did not die." (26:10-11)

We all know the Biblical story from a few weeks ago. We know that the deaths of innocent people last week from a building opening up is not to be compared to God opening up the earth to punish Korach and his cohorts. But there is something to be gleaned from the these two scenarios.

A major lesson is the hope that many people have held onto this past week.

 In our Parsha, how is it that the children of Korach survived? Commentaries vary.

Rashi writes that they were the first to get involved in the conspiracy, but during the dispute, they had thoughts of repentance in their hearts. Therefore, a secure, elevated area was set apart for them in the underground, and they settled there.

Some other commentators suggest that when their repentance became complete, the children of Korach emerged completely from their designated area in the underground of the earth.

Regardless, the children of Korach, who presumably witnessed their father, relatives, and many friends perish, maintained a steadfast faith and a hope for the future. They were spiritual, and they contributed to the life of the Jewish people. They became the progenitors of many Psalms and Levitical songs in the Temple. 

Take for example the beginning of Psalm 42 - " by the sons of Korach - Like a gazelle yearning, thirsting for water, so too, my soul longs to you, my God."

Take for example the beginning of Psalm 45 - "A Psalm of the sons of Korach - A song of love.

Psalms 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87, and 88 are all attributed to the sons of Korach. In them, you can see that they yearned for God, peace, and beauty. 

Psalm 49, by the sons of Korach, is recited at the end of services in a Shiva house, a passage which is meant to provide comfort to the bereaved. 

Psalm 47, by the sons of Korach, is recited on Rosh Hashanah prior to the sounding of the Shofar, a passage about singing praises to God on coronation day.

Psalm 48, by the sons of Korach, is recited every Monday morning. It harkens back to the Temple period. 

I think of Surfside's community being comparable to the children of Korach - the families, the search and rescue teams, the friends, neighbors, and strangers, the dignitaries, the ones who found their way out of a pit literally like the sons of Korach did.

We have read and seen of Jewish children of loved ones in the rubble reciting Tehilim, Psalms, and other liturgical texts, leaning on to their faith and heritage when there has been little else to hold on to.

What nation is there in the world like Israel, which sends its own IDF search and rescue team into harm's way to try and save life? After all, Pikuach Nefesh, saving life, supercedes all else.

So many people in so many ways have reminded me this week of the children of Korach, whose miraculous survival and influence on our history are indicated in this week's Parsha.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Happy Canada Day - With Freedom Comes Responsibility

01/07/2021 09:32:42 AM

Jul1

Dear Congregational Family,

I wish everyone a healthy and happy Canada Day. Celebrating independence should not be taken lightly or for granted. Throughout our history, Jews have lived in lands where freedom to practice our heritage was denied and punishable. Today, around the world, many faith groups are not allowed to practice their religion.

With freedom comes responsibility. In Judaism, freedom is called "Cherut" in Hebrew. Interestingly, a Hebrew word for being responsible to the tenets of our tradition is "Charut." This word specifically refers to the engraving of the Ten Commandments. In Pirkei Avot, we are taught to read Cherut as Charut, meaning freedom entails responsibility.

Our great country of Canada is now undergoing its own Cheshbon Nefesh, an accounting of its soul. The recent discoveries of graves at residential schools have prompted all of Canada to ask serious fundamental questions about freedom and individual rights.

This Canada Day should be more than a vacation. May we reflect on the gift of independence and the responsibilities associated with it.

Sincerely, 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Rabbi Reuven Bulka ז״ל , Zichrono Li'Veracha, of blessed memory

28/06/2021 09:17:04 AM

Jun28

Dear Congregational Family,

As I had already noted in a previous article,  the seventeenth of Tammuz, Sunday June 27, 2021, commemorates five specific calamities in antiquity, as enumerated in the Mishna. On that date, the Babylonians broke down the walls of Jerusalem, en route to destroying the Holy Temple three weeks later on Tisha B'Av. The three week period which begins on the seventeenth day of Tammuz is known as the three weeks of sadness/distress/ in the narrow straits. The date is also a day on which many Jews fast from sunrise to sundown.

The seventeenth of Tammuz takes on a larger note of sadness this year. Early Sunday morning, Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Ottawa passed away after a several month fight with cancer. He was a "Rabbi's Rabbi." While he identified himself as being Modern Orthodox, he was beloved by rabbis and members of all the streams of Judaism. He wrote many books and articles. He was progressive in multi-faith dialogue and served many Klal Yisrael organizations.

I first met Rabbi Bulka in the 1990's on a mission to Israel for the State of Israel Bonds, of which he was a leader. Soon after that trip, he came to my former community in the U.S. to present awards of recognition to a number of local rabbis. Throughout my career, I have had a picture of him making a presentation to me in my rabbinic office. 

During my tenure at Beth Emeth, I co-officiated a wedding with him at our shul. He was happy to share the Chuppa with me in every single way. Rabbi Bulka was a shining beacon of unity, modesty, and distinguished learning. 

This week, in Rabbi Bulka's memory, I will share excerpts from his two volumes on the weekly Parsha called, Torah Therapy and More Torah Therapy, as well as from his psychological commentary on Pirkei Avot

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May the memory of Rabbi Reuven Bulka be for a blessing.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A prayer for Surfside, Florida

25/06/2021 01:33:30 PM

Jun25

Ha'Rachaman - Compassionate One

We pray about the rescue operation happening at the twelve story building that collapsed in Surfside, Florida. We are thankful for the people who have already been rescued and pray that they will receive the necessary medical treatment as efficiently as possible.

We pray that any more people who are trapped will be found as quickly as possible.

Guide the rescuers. Sharpen their hearing. Show them where to look.

We pray also for those who grieve the loss of life that has been discovered and the loss of homes. Comfort and provide for them.

May friends, neighbours, and even strangers help the hurting quickly and enthusiastically.

We pray that the truth of this situation will be uncovered. Guide investigators as they explore how this tragedy happened.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Tue, 21 September 2021 15 Tishrei 5782