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31/05/2021 09:56:00 AM

May31

                     

The youth are coming

08/12/2022 09:03:54 AM

Dec8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Here and There

01/12/2022 08:59:28 AM

Dec1

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

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

24/11/2022 09:10:20 AM

Nov24

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

When did Yishmael return? - Parshat Chayei Sarah

17/11/2022 09:07:29 AM

Nov17

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembrances- Parshat Vayera

10/11/2022 09:01:14 AM

Nov10

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

From Abraham to Israeli elections 

04/11/2022 09:02:01 AM

Nov4

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Our Personal and National Jewish journeys - Parshat Lech Lecha

03/11/2022 09:13:40 AM

Nov3

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Tower of Babel - What went wrong?

27/10/2022 09:21:18 AM

Oct27

Parshat Noach, in addition to the famous flood story, also contains the story of the Tower of Babel. In the narrative, the builders and leaders of the tower sought to ascend to the heavens by constructing the highest tower known to humanity at the time. So, what went wrong? 

There are many commentaries. In one particular interpretation, it came to be that the builders of the tower cared more about the bricks than they did about people. Thus, if a brick fell off the tower, there was bereavement over the loss of the brick. However, if a person fell off the tower and died, there was no sadness. Because of the insensitivity to the plight of humanity, God "babbled" the speech of the builders. Thus, the project came to a halt.

Today, we are witnessing a contemporary insensitivity to the plight of people. There is a growing trend of polarization in North America and throughout the world. People who disagree on all kinds of matters, be it religion, personal ethics, politics, and more are no longer engaging in conversation or recognition with the other. There was a time when intellectual diversity and respectful debate were welcome. Nowadays, the "right" condemn the "left," and the "left" condemn the "right." Whatever happened to civilized discussion and disagreement?

The lessons of the Tower of Babel continue to have significance for us today.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

New beginnings

20/10/2022 09:17:15 AM

Oct20

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Bereishit, as we begin to read the Torah anew from the beginning. It is with this Shabbat that the Holy Day season has concluded, and the Torah reading cycle starts again.

Whatever pledges we might have made to ourselves during the High Holy Days should now begin as our own personal "new beginnings." If not now, when?

Many years ago, a teacher explained that the years of our lives are not cyclical but are spiral. Cyclical would mean that we go through the very same experiences year in and year out. Spiral means that every year we are raised to a new level of consciousness and appreciation. 

While the Hebrew words of the Torah reading cycle are the same from year to year, we are not. Let us integrate the values of Torah with the values of our own lives and feel personally enriched this coming year.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Entering a New Year with Young and Old

13/10/2022 08:49:30 AM

Oct13

One of my favorite verses in the entire Torah is Moses exclaiming to Pharaoh that we will go forth only when we have our young and our old together. Thousands of years ago, Moses knew that a vibrant community needs the energy of the young and the wisdom of the old.

During these High Holy Days, we have seen several hundred in shul over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as hundreds joining on livestream. Our sanctuary, alternative service, and young families service were all very well attended. Young and old were served well over the High Holy Days. At the end of Neilah, individuals, couples, and families ascended the Bimah and observed a private moment in front of the Ark, an opportune way to conclude the High Holy Days.

This coming Monday and Tuesday, we will conclude the Fall holy day season with Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. There is lots to choose from to culminate the Festivals. In particular, on Simchat Torah eve, we have a special program for young children in which I will be walking through the book of Bereishit/Genesis, showing all the narratives through the medium of an open Torah scroll. Later that evening, we have Hakafot, Torah circuits and dancing, the way it was done for years prior to the pandemic.

This year, we are already witnessing the vitality of young and old back in shul. I look forward to greeting you in person (and via livestream) for the close of the holy day season.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison


 

Coping  with Natural Disaster - A Jewish response

03/10/2022 03:41:00 AM

Oct3

While God brought on the flood as recorded in the story of Noah, most modern people of faith understand that hurricanes and other natural disasters are products of weather systems and are not brought on by God as some kind of moral lesson. With the devastations caused recently by hurricanes Fiona and Ian, as well as previous hurricanes, what can we learn from these terrible disasters? How can our tradition help us in coping with the challenges raised from these and other natural disasters? As I pose these questions,  we pray for all who have been impacted. We pray also for Jewish communities who are forced to approach the High Holy Day season very differently this year.

Like the hurricanes, this season of the year reminds us that life is fragile, and our existence on this earth is temporal. The prayer, U'Netaneh Tokef, recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, takes on new meaning after the recent events: "Who shall die by fire, and who by water?" We feel for the families who have lost loved ones, and we feel for the millions of people unable to leave their homes to purchase food and water, and for those living without electrical power.

Are natural disasters simply part of a system we cannot control? Or is humanity's refusal to be good stewards of God's planet now having an effect? How we answer these questions may have severe consequences in the future life of humanity on this earth.

On Simchat Torah, we will finish and begin the Torah. The Sages of the Talmud teach us that the Torah begins and ends with divine acts of kindness. In Bereishit (Genesis), God clothes Adam and Eve. In Devarim (Deuteronomy), God buries Moses. So too, we are commanded to imitate God's attributes by performing deeds of kindness.

Lessons imparted to us by hurricanes and other natural disasters can only reinforce our religious mandate to practice deeds of kindness.

Gmar Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

From Channah to Channah

28/09/2022 08:44:00 AM

Sep28

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we read a Haftarah centering around the Biblical Channah. In the narrative, she prays desperately to have a child. Ultimately, Samuel is born to her. He will become a great Prophet among the nation of Israel. Channah, however, is a role model for all of us. In rabbinic literature, she becomes the exemplar for how a Jew prays. She enunciated her words; she prayed loudly enough only for her to hear her words of prayer; she prayed with utmost devotion, and more.

Many years ago when a number of Jews were considering adding the names of Biblical women to the Amidah, one scholar suggested that instead of mirroring the names of the Patriarchs with the names of the Matriarchs, one ought to consider adding or thinking of Channah, a true exemplar of Jewish prayer.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, I think of another Channah as well. My mother, Helen Morrison, passed away at 4AM on Rosh Hashanah in 1999. Her first Hebrew name was Channah. My mom did not grow up in a religiously observant home. However, after she met and married my dad, she chose to become much more observant. While my father was the classical provider, my mother took us to day school; my mother looked after the Kashrut of the home; my mother always bentched  licht; my mother was the unofficial lifetime Sisterhood president of my childhood shul; my mother continued to study modern Hebrew into her mature years, and more. 

I am writing this blog just a couple of hours before the onset of Rosh Hashanah. I will be remembering two Channahs - one from Scripture and one whose memory is always in my mind, heart, and soul. 

Yhi Zichra Baruch - May my mother's memory be a blessing.

Love,

her son, Howie

Lifecycle and the High Holy Days

19/09/2022 09:22:16 AM

Sep19

It is said, though unproven, that a significant number of deaths takes place around the time of Holy Days on the Jewish calendar. Recently, our Beth Emeth family has been saddened by the passings of a number of long time members of our shul.

On the happier side, our shul has recently witnessed an abundance of Bar Mitzvahs, Aufrufs, and weddings as well. While many people understandably choose to participate via livestream, these lifecycle celebrations along with recent Shabbat attendance have shown a surge in more and more people attending shul. There simply is no replacement for physically sharing each other's presence in the context of community, public prayer, and socializing at a Kiddush.

In a matter of days, we will usher in the year of 5783. For those who are comfortable, I hope that you will consider joining us within the warm environment of Beth Emeth. This year, we are offering three diverse venues for spiritual fulfillment. Please check our High Holy Day section on our website for the details. In addition, we will gather together outdoors for Tashlich on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

I look forward to celebrating my twenty-third Rosh Hashanah with my congregational family next week. I wish us all a year of good health, peace, sweetness, and prosperity.

Shana Tova U'Metuka,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

12/09/2022 11:24:16 AM

Sep12

Beth Emeth Open House - A Rabbi's Review

12/09/2022 09:48:35 AM

Sep12

Yesterday was a remarkable day at Beth Emeth. With the vision of Candace Vogel, our executive director, our volunteer leadership and professional staff planned and executed a wonderful open house. The weather participated perfectly. Outside and inside the shul, Jews of all ages came together for a great time to welcome each other after two long years of isolation for many of us. Singles, couples, young families, lots of children, teens, and young professionals all came together for food, fellowship, and fun. I had the pleasure of simply walking around the parking lot and the inside of the shul greeting many people, some of whom were new to me and others whom I had not seen since before the pandemic. 

Inside the Fischtein Hall, Cantor Yakov Zingboim and I called a Jewish Bingo game. Jewish thematic concepts replaced the familiar "B-I-N-G-O." In an informal way, I had lots of fun sharing some deeper meanings of the concepts we used in the game.

Steve Werger, the president of our shul, was at his best as in years past working the hot dog and hamburger grills. There are so many people to thank, including our custodial team and many volunteers.

I hope and pray that the enthusiasm generated at the open house will spill over into the new year and well beyond.

What a wonderful way to introduce the coming of a new year, which I hope will be filled with good health, peace, and prosperity for all.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

09/09/2022 09:12:57 AM

Sep9

Remembering the particular and the universal

08/09/2022 09:34:38 AM

Sep8

In Judaism, we safeguard the particularism which defines us as Jews, as well as the universal, which defines us as part of a world community. Our rituals, beliefs, and customs uniquely shape our Jewish way of life. Such expressions as Tikun Olam (repair the world) and Ohr La'Goyim (a light unto the nations) shape our commitment to the larger world around us.

This week, we take note of two tragic anniversary dates. Earlier this week on Monday-Tuesday, September 5-6, we commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the brutal slaughter of Israeli athletes which took place during the Munich Olympics. I still remember vividly being a twelve year old grade seven student when the principal of my Jewish day school called the school community together for a memorial vigil and explained to us the horrors which had taken place.

This coming Sunday, September eleventh, we will commemorate the twenty-first anniversary of what is now called 9/11. We recall the horrors which took place in New York, in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon.  We take note that this evil could have taken place anywhere.

The Munich massacre has a distinctive Jewish/Israeli tone to it. The evil of 9/11 has a universal tone to it. Each should be remembered appropriately in contemporary Jewish life.

Years after both tragedies, may the memories of those lost be for a blessing, and may the families of the victims be comforted in the remembrance of their loved ones.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Elul is here 

01/09/2022 08:57:00 AM

Sep1

This past weekend, we ushered in the month of Elul. Already, we have begun the customs of sounding the Shofar, reciting Psalm 27, and visiting the graves of loved ones.

The acronym of Elul represents many Biblical expressions, one being "Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li - I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." At this time of year, we reinforce our relationship with God and with all whom we share beloved relationships.

While Sefardim recite Selichot, prayers of penitence, during the whole month of Elul, Ashkenzim begin the Saturday night four to eight days before Rosh Hashanah. I invite you to our Selichot program and service on Saturday night September 17 at 9pm.

As a welcome to our new Cantor, Yakov Zingboim, I will teach some of the laws on being a prayer leader with a focus on "Hinneni," the Cantor's contemplative prayer during the High Holy Days.

In advance, I wish us all a healthy, peaceful, and meaningful new year.

Shana Tova U'Metuka,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The journeys of life

28/07/2022 09:04:31 AM

Jul28

Parshat Masei, the final Torah portion in the book of Bemidbar, recounts all of the stopping points made by the Israelites during their journey in the wilderness. The Midrash likens the text to a loving parent recounting all of the significant experiences in the life of a child entering adulthood. So too, God has Moses review in love the highlights of the people of Israel during their experiences leading up to the Promised Land.

During my Summer vacation, I have had the privilege and pleasure of reliving childhood and adult memories from my life before entering the promised land of Toronto. I have stayed by the homes of siblings and other relatives. I have visited the graves of parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. I have spent time with members of my two former congregations as well as with friends from different chapters of my life. I have davened Shabbat services at the Yeshiva day school of my childhood. I have attended baseball games in Boston and New York, cities which occupied much of my life. I have driven by my childhood home, and more. Before Shabbat Hazon next week, I hope to be back in my home city of Toronto and with my congregational family of Beth Emeth.

It is often said that life is not a destination but a journey. No one knows how and where a final destination will take place. Our journey of life takes us from place to place, with each stop along the way potentially providing lessons of inspiration and growth.

I am forever grateful for the journey I am on and hope that everyone finds meaning and appreciation in their particular journeys.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A lesson in Ahavat Yisrael - A love for all Jews

22/07/2022 09:16:40 AM

Jul22

Ever since I moved to Toronto twenty-two years ago, I have looked forward to Summer vacations when I can visit family and friends in the U.S. In particular, I enjoy spending a day with members of the two synagogues I served during my earlier years in the rabbinate. From 1987-1991, I served as a newly ordained rabbi in Union, NJ. From 1991-2000, I served as rabbi in Wantagh, Long Island, NY.

Because of Covid, I had not experienced my usual Summer travels in three years. This past Monday, however, I spent a nice afternoon with members from my Wantagh days. On Thursday, my brother joined me in meeting up with a married couple from my congregation in Union, NJ. At the end of a nice time had by all, the couple from Union reminded me that several years ago, the congregation sadly had to close its doors but sold its facilities to a Yeshiva for university age young men. On our way back to my brother's house in Passaic, NJ, we detoured to take a look.

My brother and I were dressed in casual Summer attire as we approached the entrance to the Yeshiva. There we were welcomed into the building by some of the students. I explained to them the history of the building in which they were learning, and that I had served as the congregational rabbi some thirty-five years ago. They introduced my brother and me to one of the rabbinic leaders of the Yeshiva, and we shared a nice conversation. Years ago, I lived in a synagogue owned home two doors from the shul. It is now a dormitory for the students. The rabbi's study I once sat in was now the administrative office. The former sanctuary and chapel were now filled with portable chairs and long tables for traditional Yeshiva learning. 

One of the students then showed me a digital board near the entrance of the building. The students had taken all the memorial plaques from the years in which the building was a functioning synagogue and digitalized all the names. The memorial board is kept on 24/7 with the names appropriate to the current week and month rotating over and over again. I was overwhelmed to see how this Yeshiva, only several years in its current location, honored the memories of congregational members who spanned the 1950's ​to the mid 2000's. What was once known as Congregation Beth Shalom and later on as Congregation Bnai Ahavat Shalom after a merger is now called Yeshiva Gedolah Zichron Leyma. My brother and I wearing modern knit Kippot and dressed in Summer clothing were warmly received by young men and a couple of their rabbis attired in more formal clothing. Despite the visual differences, we were all Jews sharing in the past and the present of the site which served as my first full time position after ordination.

During the current three weeks of sadness on the Jewish calendar, we lament "Sinat Chinam -  the baseless hatred among Jews" in ancient times. For a few moments on this day, I basked in the "Ahavat Chinam - the baseless love among Jews." May Ahavat Yisrael, the love of all Jews for one another, become more than a temporary experience of a few minutes.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Entering the Three Weeks - Taking Responsibility

18/07/2022 09:25:54 AM

Jul18

By now, almost everyone knows what took place in the old city of Jerusalem on Thursday, June 30, Rosh Chodesh Tammuz. At Robinsons' Arch, the Southern part of the Kotel is a section established by the Israeli government for all forms of Jewish denominational prayer. Some call that section the egalitarian Kotel. Others call it an area for all forms of mix gendered non-Orthodox services. Sifrei Torah and Siddurim of the different movements are stored for groups who arrange in advance to daven there.

In August of 2008, we at Beth Emeth convened a Thursday morning Shacharit. Men and women stood together. 13 year old boys read from the Torah. A 12 year old girl read a Haftarah which was augmented into our service. Everything went well from a Beth Emeth perspective.

In recent years, I have twice been in Israel on Tisha B'Av. Once, I joined a Masorti group at the Haas Promenade overlooking the glow of the old city. Another time, I joined students from the Conservative Yeshiva who met at Robinson's Arch on Tisha B'Av eve, where men and women participated in the evening service and the reading of Lamentations. All went well.

But under a month, ago, everything went into spiritual ruins, matching the historical ruins of stone left as it was from Jerusalem's destruction almost 2000 years ago. Safely emerging from the caves of the pandemic,  families from the U.S. Conservative Movement had arranged to hold a service for Bar and Bat Mitzvah. Children, parents, grandparents, relatives and friends had traveled to

Israel, many coming to Israel for the first time since prior to the pandemic. All were anticipating a time of celebration and joy at the heart of Jewish history, the area of the Kotel. Years ago, the allowance for non-Orthodox service at Robinson's Arch also enabled the more well known area of the Kotel to be preserved with the Mechitza, the partition which separates men from women.

On Thursday, June 30, Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, young Charedi Jews mobbed the service at Robinson's Arch, screaming terrible words and ripping pages out of the siddurim. For these Charedim, they were taking action against heretics and destroying their books of heresy, even while the dedicated space of Robinson's Arch was supposed to be a protected space for the diversity of Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative practices.

What is as alarming as the event itself is the aftermath. Except for members of non-Orthodox denominations including myself, there has been no protest from anyone regarding this incident. Where is the sense of collective accountability and responsibility? The Israeli government? The Israeli police? More moderate forms of Orthodoxy which have positive relationships with their non-Orthodox brothers and sisters? 

Noone is looking for one representation of Judaism to authenticate another representation of Judaism. I myself have philosophical and halakhic issues with some of what takes places in all of the various expressions of Judaism to the right and left of where I stand. But I do not attack their designated places of prayer and practice, and I do my best to engage in positive relationship building.

One of the failures in the aftermath of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz is that no-one has taken responsibility. The tragedy has been put under the rug.  It is an anomaly. It is a one off. Yet we know this is not true. In theory, fundamentalist Jews who cannot accept even the co-existence of other ideas will keep invading and attacking until others take responsibility. What is at stake is not a Rosh Chodesh service at Robinson's Arch, but rather, what kind of Judaism and what kind of Israel will we have in the 21st century.

According to the Talmud, it was Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred among Jews, which prompted the destruction of the Second Temple. Now, in almost the same geographic location almost 2000 years later, Sinat Chinam continues to destroy our people. The lesson will only be learned when all Jews take responsibility for our people's behaviors and actions.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Chukat - Death and Grief (Remembering Miriam and Shifra - then and now)

11/07/2022 09:17:26 AM

Jul11

Shabbat Sermon - July 9

Last week on Friday, two Beth Emeth funerals took place within an hour of each other - the funeral for long time member and former sisterhood president, Miriam Crystal; and the funeral for Shifra Knoble, mother of Pearl Grundland, Larry Noble, and Mary Noble.

Ironically, today's Parsha of Chukat describes the deaths and bereavements which took place regarding the passings of both Miriam and Aaron. Given the past week in our Beth Emeth community, I wish to focus on the narrative of Miriam's passing. It is worthy of note that in the book of Exodus, the two midwives who disobey Pharoah's edict to murder male Israelite infants after birth are named Shifra and Puah, whom the Midrash identifies as Yocheved and Miriam. So, there is a literary connection to the names of Miriam and Shifra, both of whom are of blessed memories in our community.

In our Parsha today, Miriam's death is recorded in all of five Hebrew words, "Va'Tamat Sham Miriam Va'Tikaver Sham - Miriam died there and was buried there (six words in English)."

That's it!? When Aaron dies, as recounted in the same Parsha today, the community mourns for thirty days, and his role as Kohain Godel is passed down to his son, Elazar. When Miriam dies, we read of no bereavement time and no successor to her legacy. 

What we do read after her death, however, has great meaning. "The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron." The juxtaposition of Miriam's death and the lack of water prompt our Sages to teach us that when Miriam was alive, a miraculous well of water accompanied the Israelites in the desert. When she died, the well ceased. Miriam becomes associated with water in our tradition. Consider that Miriam as a young sister followed her baby brother Moses in a reed basket as he flowed down the Nile river. Consider that young Miriam, after the daughter of Pharaoh retrieved Moses, went to her without fear and brought a nurse-maid to wean the baby, being Moses' biological mother, Yocheved. Consider that Miriam led the women of Israel with song, dance, musical instruments, and prayer after crossing the Reed Sea. Consider that in the account of the sea, Miriam is called a Prophetess. 

While the lack of any mention concerning grief or bereavement after Miriam's death is glaring, what the Torah text does provide gives us a reading into the leadership, piety, and contribution of Miriam. She was an essential partner to the triad of three famous siblings - Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. In Pirkei Avot, there is a teaching that the world stands on three pillars - Torah, Temple worship, and good deeds. Torah is ascribed to Moses. Temple worship is ascribed to Aaron, and good deeds are ascribed to Miriam. She is the exemplar of performing Gemilut Chasadim, deeds of loving kindness.

Almost immediately after her death, Moses is summoned by God to speak to a Rock in order to secure water for the people. Reacting to the people's complaints and murmurings, Moses hits the rock instead of speaking to it. For this infraction, we learn that he will die before entering the Promised Land. In a sense, all three siblings have their deaths recorded in today's Parsha. How could a leader like Moses have behaved so impatiently? Was he burned out after forty years of leadership? Was he frustrated at the repeated episodes of his people complaining at him, as we have read in the last few weeks of Torah portions? One commentary suggests that his change in demeanor came about because he never took the time to grieve over the passing of his sister, Miriam. The loss of his sibling brought the reality of his own mortality to the forefront. He was still grief-stricken. How could he lead? 

Just maybe the question is not why the people mourned for Aaron for thirty days and not at all for Miriam? Perhaps the ritual institution of a mourning period was simply not yet a practice and developed in time for Aaron's passing because of the consequences of not properly mourning after the death of Miriam. 

While Moses was succeeded by Joshua based on merit; while Aaron was succeeded by his son Elazar based on lineage - the fact is they have no direct successors some 3400 years later. However, every time we perform an act of lovingkindness, each and everyone of us becomes a direct successor to Miriam. Alternatively, Moses as Moshe Rabeinu could be succeeded only by distinguished Torah scholars. Aaron could be succeeded only by fellow Kohanim. However, Miriam can be succeeded by any Jew who chooses to perform a good deed. 

A week ago yesterday, a Miriam and a Shifra were laid to rest at almost the same time. Our tradition identifies the Biblical Miriam and her mother with the names of Puah and Shifra. May the memories of the ones we lost be a blessing, and may we all learn to act righteously from the legacy of Miriam as derived from our Torah and our Tradition.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The sadness of Summer on the Jewish calendar - Then and Now

08/07/2022 08:56:50 AM

Jul8

The Hebrew months of Tammuz and Av, from the seventeenth of Tammuz through the ninth of Av, are known as the three weeks of sadness, rebuke, and punishment. It was during this time frame that both Holy Temples of Jerusalem were defiled and destroyed, in 586BCE by the Babylonians and in 70CE by the Romans.

Since the whole idea of a Holy Temple originated with God, our ancestors identified internal strife and dispute as rationales for why both tragic situations occurred. While the Talmud mentions many internal reasons, the most well known is called "Sinat Chinam-baseless hatred among Jews," as the reason for the Second Temple's destruction. Our Sages explain that among the reasons for the First Temple's destruction were murder, licentiousness, and idolatry within the Jewish community.

Sadly, baseless hatred continues to exist in the Jewish community. As we prepare to enter this somber season of the year, we recently learned that Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies at the Robinsons' Arch section of the Western Wall on June 30th were interrupted by Charedi Jews vilifying the non-Orthodox practices taking place. One should know that many years ago, the Robinson's Arch section was designated as a section for mix gendered participation and where men and women could pray together without a partition. Unfortunately, protections have never taken place over recent times.

Ironically, at Beth Emeth, we celebrated an Aufruf yesterday in shul with one of our member families who had celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of the groom's younger brother during a Beth Emeth trip to Israel in the late Summer of 2008. This entire family, consisting of three children and their parents, were part of a thirty person tour of Israel. On a Thursday morning, like June 30 a couple of weeks ago, fourteen years ago,  we held a mix gendered Shacharit-Bar/Bat Mitzvah service at Robinson's Arch. Just imagine if our group had been interfered with by those not participating with us. 

Just over a week ago, the celebrants at Robinsons' Arch were called awful names, and some had the pages of their Siddurim torn apart and treated with disrespect. All of this took place on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz as three families from the Conservative Movement had come to Israel to celebrate. 

Yesterday, Thursday July 7, rabbinic leaders of both the Conservative and Reform Movements composed a joint letter to Prime Minister Yair Lapid in response to the tragic events.

Here in the Diaspora, I call upon all Jews to respect each other regardless of ideology, denomination, and ritual practice. In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Sages, we are taught, "Derech Eretz Kadma La'Torah - basic civility precedes all else in the Torah." There is too much Anti-Semitism confronting us from the outside world. We dare not accept it from within the Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Siblings and Summer

07/07/2022 09:57:58 AM

Jul7

The weekly Torah portion of Hukkat is the final Torah portion which includes the three siblings of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. The triad contributed to the growth and development of the Jewish people in ancient times. Moses, of course, is the divinely appointed leader. He is a teacher, prophet, judge, comforter, rebuker, and more. Aaron is designated as the first Kohain Gadol, High Priest. He officiates the Tabernacle ritual. He is regarded in rabbinic tradition as a lover and seeker of peace. Miriam is a prophet in her own right. She is associated with the gift of water, having overseen her baby brother Moses float down the Nile in a reed basket, find a nursemaid for Moses after the daughter of Pharaoh picks him out of the water, and she leads the women in song and dance after crossing the Red Sea. Miriam is associated with the miracle of a well of water which accompanied the Israelites during their years of wandering in the wilderness. 

In Pirkei Avot, we read that the world stands on three pillars - Torah, Temple service, and deeds of lovingkindness. One can discern that Moses symbolizes Torah. Aaron symbolizes Temple service, and Miriam symbolizes deeds of lovingkindness. In Parshat Hukkat, we sadly read the deaths of Miriam and Aaron. We also learn that Moses will die before the Children of Israel enter the promised land. In short, this week's Torah lesson can be surnamed a portion about siblings.

This coming Monday, I will begin a long-awaited Summer vacation. For me, there is nothing more important than family. Being the one sibling who moved far away from the others, I look forward to rekindling my energies by spending time with my two sisters and my brother. My older sister Reva lives in New York. My younger brother Mitchell lives in New Jersey, and my youngest sibling, Andrea, lives outside of Boston near where we all were raised. Growing up in a tight knit family, I look forward to catching up with all three of my siblings. Later in the Summer, after Tisha B'Av, I will then fly to Denver, Colorado with my younger son Yonah to visit and spend time with my older son, Elie.

I wish us all  a safe and happy Summer. May the time we spend relaxing, traveling, spending time with family and friends be rejuvenating, especially after the last two years of shut downs and quarantines. I encourage us all to do our best in continuing to be careful regarding Covid-19 so that we can enjoy the best of what life has to offer.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Shabbat sermon July 2: To Disagree agreeably or not - Korah, Hillel/Shammai, contemporary controversies

04/07/2022 09:56:06 AM

Jul4

It is said among the classical commentators that Parshat Korach can be discussed at any time because there is always controversy, division, and dispute. Korach and his cohorts, led by Datan and Aviram, followed by 250 others, challenge the authority of Moses and Aaron. Even when Moses tries to reach out and go to them, they refuse to talk. Ultimately, since Korach and the others refused to talk with their mouths, the earth opened up its mouth and swallowed all the rebels.

In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Sages, we find an important teaching based on today's Torah lesson. There are two kinds of dispute, one for the sake of heaven and one not for the sake of heaven. An example of a dispute for the sake of heaven is exemplified by the rabbinic disputes between Hillel and Shammai. A dispute not for the sake of heaven is exemplified by Korach and his cohorts.

The disputes of Hillel and Shammai, relatively few in number, were based on discernment of God's will. These two schools of rabbinic thought never allowed their differences to prevent their followers from marrying among each other and from eating off each other's plates. The Talmud explains that most of the time, we follow the views of Hillel because in their disputes, the school of Hillel always explained the views of the school of Shammai before offering their own. Nevertheless, the Talmud also shows respect for both views by saying that where we follow Hillel in this world, we will follow Shammai in the world to come. Ultimately, Hillel and Shammai show how to disagree agreeably and with respect for the other.

In that Pirkei Avot statement, the dispute not for the sake of heaven is exemplified by Korach and his cohorts. Interestingly, the text does not say between Korach and Moses. The blatant disrespect and disregard for the other came long before the challenges to Moses and Aaron. Korach and his cohorts were already divided among themselves based on ego and a search for personal fame.

We could list many examples of dispute, be they in our families, in our community, in our country, in the world. As I wrote in a blog this past week, the decision in our shul to make the wearing of a mask recommended and not required has been the subject of discussion and debate for a while. As I wrote: "Some will experience this decision as liberating, and others as terrifying.  On the one hand, seeing and being seen are at the forefront of the human experience. There is also an imperative to understand those for whom unmasking is an impossibility, and to ensure that they too are fully respected and understood."

Perhaps the most recent example of debate and how it is being handled took place just over a week ago just South of the border, as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade decision on abortion and has handed the decision making process to the local states. 

Here is an excerpt from the response pf the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations: "The Orthodox union is unable to either mourn or celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's overturing of Roe v Wade. We cannot support absolute bans on abortion- at any time in a pregnancy- that would not allow access to abortion in lifesaving situations. . . . The mandate to preserve life requires us to be concerned for the life of the mother. Jewish law prioritizes the life of the pregnant mother over the life of the fetus such that where the pregnancy critically endangers the physical health or mental health of the mother, an abortion may be authorized, if not mandated, by Halakha."

Here is an excerpt from the response of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative rabbis: "The Rabbinical Assembly has repeatedly affirmed the right of a pregnant person to choose an abortion in cases where continuation of a pregnancy might cause severe physical or psychological harm, or where the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective."

While Rabbis have authored many responsa over the ages, the short Jewish position goes as follows: In the Torah, in a case where two fighting men cause a woman to lose her fetus, the punishment is monetary. In a case where two fighting men cause a woman to lose her life, the punishment is capital. In Judaism life begins at birth, not conception. Until birth, the fetus is considered potential life. In the Middle Ages, Rashi says about a feus, "Lav Nefesh Hi - It is not a life." Maimonides calls a fetus which endangers the life of the mother a "Rodef - pursuing the life of the mother, and therefore must be removed for the life of the mother.

Jewish views are nuanced. In principle, Judaism opposes an unrestricted abortion on demand. The body of a person is on loan and belongs to God. At the same time, Judaism opposes a Pro-Life view which defines the beginning of life at conception. As a result, in any state or in any place in the world, there must be legally approved and safe places for abortion to take place within the canons of Jewish law for Jewish women. The recent decision theoretically makes the application of Halakha difficult if not impossible when a mother's life is endangered by her pregnancy. Further, the decision violates the presupposed separation of religion and state, a fundamental principle in the U.S.

As the debates have only just begun, my prayer is that the disputes around the recent decision and future policy making should resemble what our tradition says about Hillel and Shammai and not about Korach and his cohorts.

In whatever situation disaccord appears, let us stay away from the Korach model and embrace the Hillel-Shammai model.

Shabbat Shalom!

Remembering a Gadol Ha'Dor - Rabbi David Weiss Halivni   ז״ל

30/06/2022 09:04:33 AM

Jun30

In 1982, I was accepted to the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary. As a Yeshiva day school graduate, I had the option to place out of first year Talmud by taking an oral exam of a chapter by my choice. There I sat in the office of an unfamiliar Talmud professor with my volume of Talmud in my backpack. I came prepared to read and explain some thirty pages. When the teacher asked what I had prepared, he started firing questions at me without either of us having an open book. Nervous as could be, I asked if I could use my book. I had not memorized the chapter. I would learn that he knew the whole Talmud by heart.

This was my introduction to Rabbi David Weiss Halivni who died this week. I would soon learn that he was a Gadol Ha'Dor, one of the great sages of our generation. A survivor of the Shoah, he knew and learned with Elie Wiesel. Rabbi Halivni served on the faculty of JTS for many years before moving on to teach at Columbia University and  ultimately settling in Israel. There, he was awarded a prize in Talmud several years ago.

His academic excellence included his several volume collection called "Mekorot U'Mesorot," in which he analyzed manuscripts of the Talmud searching for the original and authentic rendition of the text.

Rabbi Halivni was one of the most humble people I ever knew. On Friday evenings, he delivered a brief beautiful gem of Torah during services. At the Seminary synagogue, he prayed in a simple but dignified manner which inspired me and others.

He was a sage, scholar, and a rabbi's rabbi.

Yhi zichro baruch - May his memory be a blessing. 

Sincerely,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Masks - from required to recommended

27/06/2022 09:52:03 AM

Jun27

Last week, Beth Emeth transitioned from requiring the wearing of a mask in the synagogue to recommending the wearing of a mask in the synagogue. Some will experience this decision as liberating, and others as terrifying. 

We can turn to Moses in the Torah as a model for how to live in this in-between space of masking and unmasking that we face now in synagogue and in society. In the book of Exodus, chapter 34, Moses' close encounter with God after receiving the Ten Commandments leaves his face radiant with the light of encounter. However, the light is too bright for the Israelites to see him in all of his radiance. Thus, they shrink back at the sight of him. For the rest of his life, Moses chooses to mask with the people to cover the light of his face and to unmask when before God. When Moses spoke with God, he would remove his mask. After he finished speaking with God and was with the people, he would continue unmasked while transmitting prophecy, and then, once finished, he would put on the mask for his everyday interactions with the Israelites. 

The lesson of Moses teaches that seeing and being seen are at the forefront of the human experience. At the same time, Moses' lesson teaches us that there is also an imperative to understand those for whom unmasking is an impossibility and to ensure that they too are fully respected and understood. 

In this transitional moment, may we be like Moses, able to deftly move between worlds, knowing when it is safe to unmask and when it is necessary to raise back up the mask in order to allow all people to draw together without fear.  (inspired and excerpted from "The Torah of Masks: on seeing and being seen," by Rabbi Avi Strausberg, Yeshivat Hadar).

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Of spies and Tzitzit - Parshat Shlach-Lecha

22/06/2022 09:02:39 AM

Jun22

The weekly Torah portion begins and ends with virtual bookends and mirror images. At the outset, twelve designated tribal leaders are sent as a delegation to investigate the land of Israel and bring back a report. They are sent to "tour (LATUR)" and share what they SAW. Ten of the leaders report back that they SAW giants. As a result of the propagandized report, the people want to return to EGYPT.

At the end of the Parsha, the Mitzvah of Tzitzit contains much of the same language. One should not be led astray (V'LO TATURU), which stems from the same root as "LATUR" in the context of the spies. In addition, when one dons Tzitzit, one is commanded to SEE the fringe and remember God's commandments. For this reason, many Jews choose to wear their Tzitzit externally. The Tzizit also remind us that God liberated our people from the land of EGYPT. 

Notice the common words and expressions in the beginning and end of this week's portion. It is as if the Mitzvah of Tzitzit serves as a corrective to the episode of the spies. The donning, reading, and appreciation of Tzitzit encourage us not to become spies or tourists with our tradition.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering my father, Ruben Morrison - Reuven ben Moshe, Zichrono L'Veracha

20/06/2022 09:30:15 AM

Jun20

This Wednesday is the 23rd of Sivan and the 23rd Yahrzeit of my father, Ruben Morrison, of blessed memory. Ironically, the date comes a few days after "Father's Day." Also ironically, my dad's Hebrew name, Reuven, appears at the outset of Parshat Shlach, this week's Torah portion.

My dad grew up in an impoverished foster home. Yet he was one of the most humble and remarkable people I ever knew. With a university degree, he also had a doctorate in street smarts.

As a teenager holding my first part time job, I would meet my dad after work. His office was nearby. Once I arrived early and waited in the lobby. I overheard two men screaming at my dad's receptionist. A few moments later, dad emerged and calmed them down in mere seconds. That was my father.

I will always remember the Yom Kippur war from the following story. At age 13, I accompanied my dad to shul on Yom Kippur. Dad was serving as the usher next to the sanctuary door when an unfamiliar Israeli entered and demanded from my dad that he see the rabbi right away. When the man explained the situation, my father immediately escorted him to the rabbi. Without asking how the man knew what was transpiring in Israel, the rabbi correctly paused the service and started leading the congregation in special prayers and psalms for Israel.

My dad created with my mom a loving family, dedicated to Judaism and the world at large. This year his 23rd Yahrzeit falls out on 23 Sivan. 

May his Neshama have an Aliyah  and his memory be a blessing.

Love,

His son - Howie

Preparing for Shabbat

17/06/2022 09:07:44 AM

Jun17

This week's Parsha introduces the seven branched Menorah. It symbolizes the seven days of creation and of the week. However, the large middle branch represents Shabbat. The three to the left are Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday leading up to Shabbat. The three to the right are Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday following Shabbat.

Already as of Wednesday, one may begin to greet Shabbat Shalom since Wednesday is closer to the coming Shabbat than to the preceding one. It is noteworthy that the Psalm for Wednesday morning ends where the first line of Kabbalat Shabbat begins on Friday evening,

One may recite Havdalah into Tuesday morning if one forgot to do so earlier since Tuesday is closer to the preceding Shabbat than to the coming one.

Every morning, the daily Psalm is prefaced by this is such and such a day toward Shabbat.

While Shabbat is the last day of the week, it is the centerpiece of our mindset.

As has been said by the Zionist, Ahad Ha'Am, and others -  More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Thu, 8 December 2022 14 Kislev 5783