Sign In Forgot Password

19/10/2023 10:57:58 AM


An upside-down world - continued

27/02/2024 08:56:00 AM


In my Shabbat sermon, posted yesterday, I spoke about Purim. This past weekend was Purim Katan, a term for Adar #1 in a leap year, which reminds us that we celebrate Purim in one month's time in mid Adar#2

The Purim story is about a world upside down and inside out - "Nahafoch Hoo." This notion is exemplified by Haman, almost destined for leadership and Mordecai, almost destined to be hanged for his pious beliefs.

When it comes to Israel, anti-Semitism, and  society at large, our world is upside down and inside out. Examples continue to baffle the mind. 

Take last Thursday - A Jewish couple had courtside tickets for a Raptors game. Refusing to remove their sweatshirts which displayed a Magen David and a statement, "bring the hostages home," they were forced to leave the game.

When did a continued plea to rescue innocent hostages from a recognized terror group, Hamas, become political and against team policy? Is a concern for "Jewish (and non-Jewish) lives matter" any less ethical and humanistic than "black lives matter," which was embraced by the sports world a few years ago?

Is Dara Horn right in her most recent book entitled, "The world loves dead Jews?"

Nahafoch Hoo- The world is upside down and inside out.


Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Tetzaveh - Shushan Purim Katan

26/02/2024 08:32:36 AM


Seven times in every nineteen-year cycle, we have a leap year in Judaism. This means an additional month is added to the Jewish calendar. The necessity is based on the fact that Passover must always take place in the Spring season. If there was no adjustment of the calendar, Passover would recede eleven days every year since the Jewish lunar calendar has 354 days per year, and the solar calendar has 365 days per year. While Jewish days, weeks, and months are lunar based, Passover and by extension the other Pilgrimage holidays are solar based. Without the intercalation of the Jewish calendar. Passover would drift into other seasons. By contrast, in Islam, there is no adjustment of their calendar. As a result, Ramadan drifts from one season of the year into the next, since their calendar is completely lunar based.


Aside from my introductory class on the various calendars, this is a leap year in the Jewish calendar. As a result, we have two months entitled Adar #1 and Adar #2. In a non-leap year, there is one standard Adar. In a regular year, this weekend would have been Purim. However, Purim will take place a month from this weekend in the middle of Adar #2. Nevertheless, the Jewish calendar marks yesterday and today as Purim Katan and Shushan Purim Katan. Thus, the story and ritual of the holiday are in our minds today, even though the actual observance takes place a month from now. You have a month to get your costumes and noise makers ready.


As many of you know, All if not virtually every sermon I have given since October 7th has resonated with the horrors of that day and its aftermath on many levels. I cannot help but think of the Purim story in light of our current reality. A repetitive theme in the Book of Esther is the expression, "Nahafoch Hoo," meaning, "Upside down." There are many instances in the story where the world surrounding Purim is so completely upside down. There are many examples to support the thesis. The most obvious one is that until the end of the book, it is the wicked Haman who seems destined to achieve recognized leadership, while the righteous Mordecai seems to be destined to be hanged. Only toward the end of the narrative is justice achieved. Haman is recognized for his wickedness, and Mordecai is honored for his righteousness.


Now over four months after the horrors of October 7th, the world continues to be upside down. While often using political rhetoric, much of the word is pro-Hamas and anti-Israel, which means anti-Jews. Two weeks ago, even the president of the free world commented that Israel was "over the top" in its response to Hamas' murdering of some 1200 people, the taking of some 140 hostages, the brutal treatment of many of those hostages, the continued hurling of missiles into indiscriminate civilian centers of Israeli life. Why is popular critique levied against Israel, the victim of October 7th? While it is true that many Gazans have had to relocate because of Hamas representing them, why is there no outcry that over a hundred thousand Israelis have had to evacuate from their homes in the North and in the South? 


Why is there no outcry levied against Hamas to surrender? Why is there no outcry that not once has there been a humanitarian visit to determine the status of the hostages? Why is world pressure not put against the source of the evil, Hamas?


Even here in Toronto, the world around us seems upside down. For example, just a week and a half ago, Pro-Hamas agitators blocked entrances to Mt. Sinai hospital, holding signs bearing the word "Intifada." In front of a hospital? Where young and old are treated? Where people of all walks of life are treated and cared for? Because the name of the hospital is Mt. Sinai? "Nahafoch Hoo - an upside-down world."


Nahafoch Hoo - Just as in most of the Purim story, our world is, simply put, upside down. 


Toward the end of Megilat Esther, we are told, "Kiymu V'Kiblu," that the Israelites freely accepted the obligations to live a Jewish lifestyle in complete unity with each other. A small silver lining of October 7th is the unity that most if not all Jews feel in a virtual unprecedented way. When the word hopefully becomes upright; when the world accurately distinguishes right from wrong and good from evil, may the unity expressed at the end of Megilat Esther and the unity expressed nowadays continue to be so.


Shabbat Shalom and Purim Katan Sameach,


Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Tetzaveh - Clothing does not make the person

23/02/2024 08:47:05 AM


Much of this week's Parsha details the ornate vestments worn by the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. At face value, someone filling this role could become haughty by his external appearance. In fact, this may have occurred at different times of Temple history. Consider the hypocrisy of the priesthood in post Maccabean times and later when Second Temple priests were at odds with the early rabbis.

Actually, the ornate clothing was intended to remind the High Priest of his spiritual and moral obligations. For example, the breast plate contained twelve stones symbolizing the twelve tribes. Thus, the Kohen Gadol wore his responsibility to care for the entirety of the Israelites.

Aaron, the first Kohen Gadol, stood true to the ideals represented by his vestments. In Pirkei Avot, we learn, "Be among the disciples of Aaron - loving peace, pursuing peace, loving people, and drawing them close to Torah."

Many of us wear different kinds of Jewish clothing and symbols, including Kippah, Tzitzit, Magen David/Chai necklaces, etc. May the symbols we wear enhance our spiritual and moral obligations.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

New books on Israel

20/02/2024 09:15:59 AM


During my recent sabbatical, I purchased and read some new books on contemporary Israel.

My friend and colleague Rabbi David Seth Kirshner authored a diary over the first fifty days since October 7, entitled, "Streams of shattered consciousness - A chronicle of the first 50 days of the Israel Hamas war." The book has been selling very fast since it came out just a few weeks ago.

A great book to brush up on real facts for yourself and your friends is the 2021 "Israel - A simple guide to the most misunderstood country on earth," by Noa Tishby. 

Just prior to the horrors of October 7, Dan Senor and Saul Singer's book, "The genius of Israel -The surprising resilience of a divided nation in a turbulent world" was released.

Lastly for now, soon after October 7, Alan Dershowitz came out with his newest book, "War against the Jews - How to end Hamas barbarism."

I now possess these books and am glad to loan them upon request. I recommend each on its own merits.

As a people of the book, we need to continually be refined on our understanding of Israel, especially during these challenging times.


Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Terumah - God dwells within people

16/02/2024 09:00:51 AM


An age old question pertaining to the Mishkan is that the Torah states, "Let them make for Me a Tabernacle that I (God) may dwell in THEM." Why not "IT," meaning in the Tabernacle?

Classical commentators understand that God resides in people not physical structures. It is we the people who need physical structures to assemble as a community with shared beliefs, values, and practices before God.

A miracle of this past week demonstrates the indwelling presence of God within people. Several days ago, the IDF liberated two male hostages in Gaza. The liberating officers extended true acts of Godly kindness: covering the redeemed hostages so that they would not be killed in potential battle, and offering their own clothing and shoes as well.

The IDF personnel showed empathy, heart, and soul in the redemption of these two captives. For me, this is what the Torah means when it says, "Let them make for Me a Tabernacle that I may dwell in them."

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Rabbi Jules Harlow ז״ל 

13/02/2024 09:39:39 AM


Over a month ago, two of my teachers from rabbinical school passed away, Rabbis Israel Francus and Avraham Holtz, zichronam l'veracha.

This week, Rabbi Jules Harlow, z"l, has passed away. I met him first before entering rabbinical school at Camp Tel-Noar, a retreat center in New England, where he taught during a Shabbaton for the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs. His academic field was liturgy. Rabbi Harlow had an ability and expertise of updating the Siddur while retaining its traditional core. He was involved in the 1961 Rabbinical Assembly Weekday Prayerbook before becoming more noteworthy for the 1970's Rabbinical Assembly Machzor and the first rendition of Siddur Sim Shalom in the mid 1980's.

Unlike the style of most Siddurim today, Rabbi Harlow did not believe in appending a commentary to the text of the Siddur. I heard him speak to this point. He distinguished between praying a text and studying a text. Thus, the first Siddur Sim Shalom had almost no commentary. He was proud that it was the first Siddur Shalem, complete prayerbook, published by the Conservative Movement for weekdays, Sabbaths, and Festivals. My previous congregation in Long Island used that Siddur.

In the 1990's when the Conservative Movement first grappled with adding the matriarchal names to the Amidah, he spoke and wrote in opposition because of his genuine fidelity to the liturgy, notwithstanding that he had supported other modifications.

In my current congregation, we use other Siddurim. However, we use his Al Ha'Nisim on Yom Ha'Atzmaut. We have also used his version of Nachem on Tisha B'Av. We also use his prayer for peace from Siddur Sim Shalom every Shabbat.

Rabbi Harlow was a mentch and a scholar.

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May his memory be a blessing.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Adar - When the world was upside down

12/02/2024 09:09:37 AM


This past Friday and Shabbat began Rosh Chodesh Adar #1. This being a leap year, we celebrate two Adar months surrounding the holiday of Purim.

Tradition informs us to increase our joy when Adar begins. This year, however, our joy is tempered by October 7th and its aftermath.

In the story of Esther, we read that the world is upside down (Nahafoch hoo). Many examples are cited. The most obvious is the wicked Haman planning to achieve leadership and intending to hang Mordecai. Only by the end of the narrative are the roles reversed.

Elie Wiesel taught us that the opposite of good is silence. Therefore, I feel compelled to speak out. When a leader of the free world criticizes Israel's response to the evils perpetrated by Hammas as being "over the top," the world is indeed upside down. The evil of Hammas is "over the top." The acts of indiscriminate murder of Jews and non-Jews on October 7th were "over the top."The taking and holding of hostages to this very day are "over the top." The hurling of missiles over civilian centers is "over the top."

Like the beginning of the Purim story, the world is upside down. Hopefully soon, the righteous of the world will straighten out their perceptions of right from wrong and see Mordecai as a true paradigm of the Jewish people and Haman as the paradigm of Hammas and similar terror groups.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Beth Emeth Israel Solidary Mission May 14-22, 2024

01/02/2024 09:12:12 AM


Dear Congregational Family,

After an enthusiastic meeting several weeks ago, we are putting together a Beth Emeth Israel solidarity mission this Spring. The itinerary and registration materials are on our website. The mission is open to the entire community. Please share with relatives and friends. We are hoping to have at least twenty participants on the mission, if not more.

To keep costs low, travel arrangements and meals are up to us individually. We are scheduled to meet in the morning on Tuesday May 14 at Ben Gurion airport in Israel. That day is Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. We are purposely starting on the definitive day which marks the birth of the State of Israel and the Jewish people's commitment toward ensuring a safe and secure Jewish homeland. To commemorate the holiday, we will visit Mount Hertzl, where one of the most famous military cemeteries is located.

The majority of the mission will be centered around helping Israel with daily service projects, hearing from leading dignitaries, and visiting families and sites which have been most severely impacted by the horrors of October 7th.

We will stay each night at the same hotel in Jerusalem and celebrate Shabbat in the holy city.

By allotting a couple of months to organize our mission, I hope to encourage lots of people to attend. The trip will last an entire week. Each day will have a particular theme which will underscore the activities of that day.

I am away on Sabbatical now. I will be back the Shabbat of February 23-4. In the meantime, Jennifer in the office can assist you.

We will have an in-person meeting on Tuesday evening February 27 at 7PM to plan further.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Bshallach - To be strict and to be merciful

29/01/2024 09:13:00 AM


Two particular narratives in today's Parsha speak volumes to our situation today. At the very end of the Parsha, we read how Amalek initiated an evil unprovoked attack on the innocent people of Israel who stood at the end of the Exodus line. The evil was so great that the Torah commanded the wiping out of Amalek. In subsequent Biblical history, King Saul lost his kingdom when he spared the King and others of Amalek. Our next major holiday, Purim, centers around Haman, a descendant of Amalek. The Torah's command was ultimately applied to him as well.

I am very concerned when people apply Amalek to other despotic nations. The actual people of Amalek are long gone, but the evil represented by Amalek is still strong. Consider Hitler and the Nazis of two generations ago; or Hamas, Hezbollah, and others right now. The Passover Haggadah teaches us that in every generation there are those who rise up to exterminate the Jewish people. We have the right to defend ourselves and remove the threat of an enemy which predicates its existence on wiping out the Jewish people.

While the physical nation of Amalek is no more, one can associate what Amalek did to our people soon after the Exodus to what Hamas did to our people on October 7. Both were evil unprovoked attacks levied against the innocent civilians of our people.

Another narrative also deserves our attention at this time of year. When the Israelites safely crossed the Reed Sea, they sang a song of faith and deliverance which is recited to this day every morning seven days a week. While the Song of the Sea affirms our faith in God who sanctifies freedom, the ancient Midrash raises a concern: "The Egyptians were drowning in the sea. At the same time, the angels wanted to sing before God. The Lord, God, said to them, 'My creations are drowning, and you are singing before me?'"

In a commentary on this teaching, it is understandable that the people of Israel sang and praised God for their deliverance, but angels were held to a different standard for us to internalize. Alternatively, it is correct for us to celebrate our freedom, but as taught in the book of Proverbs, "Do not rejoice at the downfall of your enemy." From this, we are saddened at the deaths of others even when they are necessary for our own survival and liberation. Thus, at the Passover Seder, we diminish our cup of joy during the recitation of the Ten plagues. Similarly, after the first two Yom Tov days of Pesach, we recite a partial Hallel and not a complete Hallel for the duration of the Festival. 

With these Torah lessons in mind, it is understandable if not obligatory for Israel to eliminate the threat of Hamas. It is not the fault or responsibility of Israel when Hamas hides itself within the civilian population. Yet, we are saddened and should be when non-Hamas civilians lose their lives - comparable to Egyptian soldiers drowning in the sea. Sadly, this is the cost of war.

Today is called Shabbat Shira - the Sabbath of Song. Let us sing appropriately and remember appropriately at the same time. There is a time to be strict and a time to be merciful.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat B'Shalach - To what extent are we united?

26/01/2024 09:05:56 AM


Here is the scene - The Israelites have approached the banks of the Sea of Reeds. A stormy sea awaits them, and the Egyptians are pursing them. There is no sign of a miracle at this point.

An ancient Midrashic interpretation based on Biblical verses suggests that the Israelites were divided into four camps: Let us throw ourselves into the sea; Let us return to Egypt; Let us fight them; Let us cry out against them."

In the Torah text, God instructs Moses, "Speak to the Israelites that they should move forward." The text is then silent on the matter.

In the Midrash, an unknown Israelite at the time, Nachshon ben Aminadav, jumped into the sea. He was in the process of drowning as the water reached his nose. Then, the sea was miraculously split. All of the Israelites followed and walked through the sea on dry land.

Not a leader, but an unknown Israelite who believed in God, took the plunge. He demonstrated not only a leap of faith but also a leap of action. His behavior united what had been a divided and diverse people.

Another Midrash raises the question - How could all of these many thousands of people have emerged together on the same spot of dry land? Each tribe was united in the midst of the sea in a transparent vault. Thus, each tribe saw where it was in relation to the other tribes so that they could emerge as one. This is another instance where a diversity of tribes truly became one nation.

The famous song of deliverance, recited in daily morning prayer, has Moses and the children of Israel singing as "one," given that the verb for "sang" is in the third person singular.

Men and women are also united as one, given that Moses initiated the song with the children, perhaps, the men of Israel. At the end of the song, Miriam unites all of the women in song and dance with instruments.

From the text and commentaries, we witness a fragmented people uniting in common purpose. With all the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people these days, may the unity of our contemporary common purpose be our lesson, one learned from this week's Torah portion.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Tu- Bishvat has arrived - the new year of the trees

25/01/2024 09:03:01 AM


Today is Tu-Bishvat, the new year of the trees. Already the early signs of Spring emerge in Israel. As a child growing up in the Diaspora, I remember celebrating Tu-Bishvat by raising money for the purpose of having the Jewish National Fund (JNF) plant trees in Israel. Years later, whenever I would lead a tour of Israel, we would make sure to plant saplings in JNF parks to continue transforming Israel into an oasis.

In my adulthood, the Tu-Bishvat Seder has become a popular way to celebrate Tu-Bishvat. Rooted in the sixteenth century mystical tradition, the Kabbalists authorized a Seder text called, "Pri Etz Hadar - Fruit of goodly trees," as a manual to observe the new year of trees. Over the last several decades, all kinds of Tu-Bishvat Seder variations have been introduced focusing on such themes as Israel, ecology, conservation, and more. All share in common the transition from Winter to Spring with wine or grape juice starting with white and ending with red. In addition, all share different kinds of fruits: those with a shell, an outer skin and a pit, an inner pit alone, and free from any outer or inner protection.

Each year at Beth Emeth, we conduct a Tu-Bishvat Seder at the Seudah Shlishit, Third Sabbath Meal, closest to the date of Tu-Bishvat. I invite you and your family to join us this coming Shabbat afternoon.

During a year of sadness, horror, and anxiety since October 7, we could all benefit from celebrating a holiday centered around the beauty of the land of Israel.

"Tu- Bishvat higiah Chag Ha'Ilanot - Tu-Bishvat has arrived, the new year of the trees.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Bo - The significance of Tefillin

19/01/2024 09:22:14 AM


Before there was sensitivity to left-handed people, the world had a right-handed bias. Some of us remember when school desks and scissors were always made for right-handed people, and everyone was forced into that reality. Similarly, instructions in old Siddurim advised one to don Tefillin on the left arm. However, these myths and assumptions would be correctly challenged.

All of my life, I have written left-handed but done almost everything else right-handed. When I was near Bar Mitzvah age, my mother asked Rav Joseph Soloveitchik about Tefillin for me. The Rav explained that the hand you write with is the hand you bind with. This ritual practice is based on the juxtaposition between "you shall bind" and "you shall inscribe" in the first paragraph of the Shma. At least twice daily, we recite two paragraphs of the Shma (from Devarim and B'Midbar) which contain two Biblical references to Tefillin.

The first two references (there are four in total) appear at the end of Parshat Bo (Exodus 13:9 and 13:16). The Tefillin remind us that God liberated us from Egypt with a "Strong hand." 

On weekdays, observant Jews don Tefillin every morning whether praying in private or public. The boxes on the arm and head are called "Batim," houses, for they house four hand written parchments containing the four references to Tefillin in the Torah.  The house for the hand is angled to the heart to show that we serve God whole-heartedly. The seven wrappings around the arm signify the seven days of creation, including Shabbat. Since both, Shabbat and Tefillin, are called "Oht-Sign," it is unnecessary to don Tefillin on Shabbat and Festivals. While there are many customs on the actual donning of Tefillin, all end up wearing the letters Shin, Dalet, and Yud. These letters spell "Shadai," a Biblical reference to a name of God. In addition, one makes three rings around the middle finger, the origin of wedding bands, and recites Biblical words of betrothal between God and the Jewish people. 

With the Tefillin on the hand, head, and angled to the heart, we serve God with intellect, faith, action, and passion, symbolized by the three H's of hand, head, and heart. While the daily Mitzvah of Tefillin is incumbent on men and exempt for women, I do know a number of women who choose to accept the daily obligation of donning Tefillin. The two sets of leather straps are akin to jumper cables, warming us up spiritually on an ordinary weekday.

The four parchments in the hand box are all housed in one chamber, teaching us to be unified as a people in terms of ritual practice. The four parchments in the head box are each housed in a different chamber, teaching us to study and comprehend Torah in diverse and meaningful ways. The two shins on the head box remind us of the 613 Mitzvot. Each shin is numerically 300, four branches on one shin, three branches on one shin, and the two shins combined spell "shesh," meaning six.

It is appropriate that during the Superbowl season which often falls out around Parshat Bo, the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC) designates Superbowl Sunday as a time to appreciate the Mitzvah of Tefillin. This year, Parshat Bo occurs during the weekend of the divisional playoffs. Let us make Tefillin a super Mitzvah in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Bo - 100 days later

18/01/2024 09:13:06 AM


In Parshat Bo, we continue to read about the Ten Plagues. A constant refrain is Moses declaring to Pharaoh, "Let my people go that they may serve God." In modern life, these words were made famous by Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Both are remembered this week, as they walked together during the civil rights movement in the 1960's.

Notice that the words "let my people go" are followed by the expreession "that they may serve God." Freedom is not only from oppression but for the purpose of a higher goal, serving God. In the Jewish calendar, "freedom from" is celebrated during Passover, and "freedom for" is celebrated during Shavuot.

This week marks over 100 days since the horrors of October 7 and the taking of hostages. The status of some 136 hostages is unknown as of this blog. The words and the prayer of "Let may people go that they may serve God" take on contemporary meaning over the past three plus months.

With the reading of Parshat Bo and the celebration of the ancient Exodus, may all of our persecuted brothers and sisters know of freedom very soon.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Vaera - Evil's hardened heart

15/01/2024 09:33:03 AM


When people talk about great philosophical challenges in the Torah, they often cite some verses toward the end of the ten plagues. For example, after the Egyptians suffer from boils, the Torah says, "And God hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not hear them (the suffering Egyptians)."There are challenges to free will here. If God hardened Pharaoh's heart, how could God continue to punish him and the Egyptians?

In actuality, we read five times before the plague of boils that Pharoah hardened his own heart. Thus, in Midrashic literature, Rabbi Simon ben Lakish taught, "Since God sent the opportunity for repentance and doing the right thing five times to Pharaoh and he sent no notice, God then said, 'you have stiffened your neck and hardened your heart on your own. . . . So it was that the heart of Pharaoh did not receive the words of God." In other words, Pharaoh sealed his own fate, for himself and his relationship with God. Pharaoh refused to change. He became recalcitrant and arrogant. Pharaoh was unable to be self-critical and introspective. Thus, he led his army and his nation to disaster.

There have always been, and there will always be, Jew-hating Pharaohs and those who serve them. We are witnessing this phenomenon most recently since October 7. While a small few may be able to self-assess and change, the many do not and cannot change. They have put themselves in a place where their hearts are completely hardened and stiff. 

So, how do we overcome them? We are in the process of doing so by our unity, our caring for each other, our commitment to the ideals and principles that have guided our people for millennia. A modern miracle - the State of Israel - the Jewish people have returned to our homeland, established Jewish sovereignty, and are in the midst of building the third Jewish civilization and commonwealth. 

Sadly, and tragically, we are witnessing the hardened heart right here in the GTA. If any particular group wants to have its own demonstration or rally, there are appropriate ways to do so. The Pro-Israel rallies in Toronto and Ottawa have been done in peaceful ways and which have not disturbed the lives of innocent people. The Pro-Hammas rallies have been the opposite. These hardened and stiff-heartened people have recently held their so-called protests in the heart of the Jewish community. On recent Shabbatot, these have occurred at the Avenue road bridge hovering over the highway 401 and where a good part of the location is residential and largely Jewish.

Even more disturbing is the participation of a small but significant number of police officers distributing coffee to these supporters of Hammas. Rightly so, the Jewish community has responded. These hateful rallies in Jewish neighborhoods, without sufficient police protection, and with inadvertent support by giving coffee, only serve to validate these modern supporters of Pharaoh and which can only exacerbate further attacks on Jewish owned businesses, establishments, and other Jewish institutions. Due to the proper outcry of the Jewish community this past week, local police leadership endorsed some changes to better support the needs of our people. We will watch and see if progress is made.

We are forever grateful for the police support on a daily basis around our shul and the local Jewish community and do not fault the entire police for the acts of a few. However, all need to know the difference between an appropriate versus an inappropriate form of protest.

We have overcome the hardened heart in the past, and we will do so again and again.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

​​​​​​​Parshat Vaera - A shift in sibling relationships

12/01/2024 08:58:00 AM


The book of Bereishit was fraught with sibling strife and tension, with the younger being favored over the elder. The transformation from family to nation is made significant by the change in sibling relationships. Would Moses the younger be greater than Aaron the older? Would the law giver be superior to the priestly Temple officiant?

In chapter 6, we find a genealogy mentioning Moses and Aaron so that the people would accept their leadership. In verse 26, the brothers are listed as Aaron and Moses. In verse 27, they are listed as Moses and Aaron. Together, they form a partnership. For their mission to be successful, that is a necessity.

So it is in our sibling, family, business and other relationships - Each person, each participant, each contributor is a necessity.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Howard Morrison

RTI - Rabbinic Training Institute

11/01/2024 09:41:47 AM


This past week, I attended the annual Rabbinic Training Institute at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Maryland. An opportunity for professional development, I had attended almost annually until the pandemic. This was my first retreat in four years. 

Arranged by the Jewish Theological Seminary, my alma mater from 1982-1987, fifty Conservative rabbis became students for a four-day period. There was a colleague from Israel and from Germany, but most were North American. I am now one of the older students who attends. I met many returning colleagues, saw some colleagues whom I had not seen in many years, and discovered new acquaintances.  We picked our classes from a number of options. Mine were as follows:

Early morning - "Should we still care about obligation?" A Talmud/Rabbinics class on the notion of obligation regarding prayer and Mitzvah observance.

Mid-morning - A roadmap for preventing burnout and building resilience

Mid-afternoon - "Who was Moses?" This was a Biblical text on Moses. What were his origins? Was he a magician/warrior? a passive vessel of God? and more.

Evening - The cornerstone of healing

As you can see, a couple of classes were academic, and a couple were focused on physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

Regardless of our professional and personal station in life, I encourage us all to deepen an appreciation of our heritage and our self-fulfillment on a regular basis.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

 Parshat Shmot - How did we get here? From Pharaoh to now

08/01/2024 09:08:00 AM


Welcome to 2024. While a new civic year has dawned, not much has changed yet for Israel and the Jewish people since early October. It is noteworthy that the first national plan to attack and exterminate the Jewish people originates with Pharaoh in Parshat Shmot. After over 200 years of oppression, the Children of Israel will finally vanquish Pharaoh and his followers and make an annual holiday to celebrate from slavery to freedom. One can only hope it will not take that much time to vanquish Hamas and its followers, and that soon we can celebrate a new found freedom.

In the Torah text, the official change towards the people of Israel begins when "A new king arose over Egypt." In the Talmud, and quoted by Rashi, Rav and Shmuel differ in their interpretation. One said that he was really new, while the other said that his decrees were made new. He who said that he was really new did so because it is written, 'new,' and he who said that his decrees were made new did so because it is not stated that the former king died. . . He was like one who did not know Joseph at all."

The same Talmudic page comes to explain how the majority of Egyptians followed along with the new edicts. God had already sworn that He will not bring a flood upon the world. Thus, they thought to exploit this opportunity, thinking they were safe from God's wrath.

Did the Egyptians once respect the Israelites and change only after Joseph had died? Or was their anti-Semitism always there, but suppressed a little bit because of Joseph's leadership?

Fast forward to now, have many in the Middle East and around the world have always shown hatred against the Jewish people? Has the hatred been suppressed at times perhaps because of Jewish scientific, economic, technological, and medical contributions to the world? Is the current hatred of a more recent vintage? The same questions we may have of the ancient Egyptians could be our questions today.

Historian Barbara Tuchman identifies three principles regarding anti-Jewish sentiment:

  1. It is vain to expect logic, that is to say, a reasoned appreciation of enlightened self interest when it comes to anti-Semitism.
  2. Appeasement is futile. The rule of human behavior here is that yielding to an enemy's demands does not satisfy them, but by exhibiting a position of weakness, augments them. It does not terminate hostility but excites it.
  3. Anti-Semitism is independent of its object. What Jews do or fail to do is not the determinant. The impetus comes out of the needs of the persecutors and a particular political climate.

With these three points in mind, Pharaoh and his followers were destined to treat our people as they did. Hamas and its followers are destined to treat our people as they are. Of course, the fundamental difference is that in the Bible, divine miracles ultimately occurred. Since Biblical times, we cannot and do not wait for miracles from above. We have to be our own agents for the miracles needed now. As 2024 is now upon us with little change since October 2023, I express the following:

We dare not be seduced by the anti-Israel/Jewish propaganda.

Without Hamas' acts of evil, Gaza would have continued going its own way.

It is for Hamas, Gaza, and its Arab neighbors to pave a better way for Gazans. Israel is doing more than any attacked nation has ever done in a time of war.

Where is the outcry these days from the world about the evil atrocities committed on October 7? 

About the whereabouts and condition of our hostages? 

About the deaths of young IDF soldiers sent to defend against future atrocities? 

About the lack of even one humanitarian visit by the Red Cross to the hostages? 

About the lack of coverage on the daily missiles hurled from Gaza into Israel indiscriminately?

We stand proud with Israel.

We stand proud with the IDF and Israeli security forces.

We stand proud with our brothers and sisters living in Israel.

We mourn the loss of hostages and IDF/security personnel who have fallen. 

Today, we have begun to read Shmot, the sad saga of a new despot called Pharaoh. Shmot also means names. I hope that we will come to recognize the names of those fallen and those still held hostage.

Some of us are soon going on solidarity trips arranged by Naase, JNF, and others. I invite the rest of you to join us, God willing, this Spring so that we can bring our physical support to names and faces living in Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Shmot - What is in a name?

05/01/2024 09:16:25 AM


The Hebrew term for the second book of the Torah is Shmot, "names." In the Parsha, names abound: Jacob and his twelve sons, Pharaoh,  Shifra and Puah, Amram and Yocheved, the daughter of Pharaoh, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, Yitro, Tziporah, Gershom and Eliezer, and other significant people. 

Even God declares the divine name to be "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh," on which the commentary in the Etz Hayim Chumash states, "The phrase defies simple translation. It has been taken to mean ' I am whatever I choose to be,' 'I am pure being.' 'I am more than you can comprehend.' . . . The name is gender free . . . as befits a God who embraces polarities of male and female, young and old, transcendent and near at hand (Etz Hayim Chumash p. 330)."

Being created in the image of God, our names contain levels of meaning that define our character in part. On a personal level, I am named in English and Hebrew for my maternal great grandfather, of blessed memory. I was given his Hebrew names, "Avraham Tzvi." The first is a patriarchal name, hinting to my being a father of two sons and a patriarchal figure in my professional capacity. The second, Tzvi (gazelle), finds a rabbinic source in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Sages, "Run like a gazelle (in terms of performing Mitzvot)." Little did I appreciate as a young boy that my late great grandfather was an ordained rabbi, although he never used his training to assume a congregational position.

Shmot, names, are indeed meaningful. Elsewhere in Pirkei Avot, we learn that the crown of a good name (the reputation we earn in life) exceeds all else.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

A new year and a new book of Torah

04/01/2024 09:15:27 AM


Welcome to the secular year of 2024. I wish everyone good health and fulfillment this new year. In addition, we all pray for peace and tranquility for Israel and for Jews everywhere.

Ironically, with the new year of 2024, we begin to read the second book of the Torah, Shmot-Exodus. The English name harkens back to a time of slavery and oppression, which would ultimately lead to freedom from tyranny. In a four-thousand-year period, we can connect the evil of Pharaoh and his supporters to that of Hamas, Hezbollah, Jihad, and their supporters.

The Hebrew name of the second book of the Torah, "Shmot," means "Names." in the opening chapters, we are reminded of the names of Jacob and his twelve sons. We are introduced to the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh's edicts, Shifra and Puah. We welcome the names of Aaron, Miriam, and Moses. as well as their parents, Amram and Yocheved. We come to meet Yitro, Moses' father-in-law, and his daughter Tzipporah, Moses' wife. They will have two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

"Shmot-Names" teaches us to not only know the names of Biblical ancestors but to also know our heritage through our Jewish names and those of our parents. How many of us know for whom we might have been named? Or, why our parents picked our particular Jewish names?

if "Exodus" underscores how the Jewish people have been deemed by those outside our heritage, "Shmot" underscores our heritage from within, starting with the names we have been given from birth.

Welcome to 2024 and to the second book of the Torah, Shmot-Exodus.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Vayechi - Completing a book about brothers

02/01/2024 10:37:10 AM


On this Shabbat morning, we completed reading Sefer Bereishit, the Book of Genesis. If one were to try and summarize the entire book, one might call it a book about brothers. At the outset, Cain kills Abel, a brother kills a brother. At the very end, however, brothers once divided, live together in harmony, that of Joseph and his brothers.

What about the intervening stories about brothers? We have the saga of Isaac and Ishmael. At an early stage in their lives, they have to be separated from each other. Ishmael is a bad influence on Isaac. They cannot remain together. However, that estrangement does not have to be permanent. We read that when their father Abraham dies, Isaac and Ishmael buried their father together. At some point, these two brothers united. 

While Isaac would be a progenitor of the Jewish people, Ishmael would be the progenitor of the Arab/Muslim world. There was a time in the Golden Age of Spain when Jews and Muslims got along, worked alongside each other, and shared from each other's insights. However, the Jewish - Arab/Muslim world has been bitter as well. Before October 7, Israel had made economic agreements with the United Arab Emirates and was close to striking a deal with Saudi Arabia. Do we know how these Arabs feel about the Jewish people right now? Sadly and tragically, Hamas seems to have purposely done what it intended to do in order to destroy any kind of bond between the Jewish and Arab/Muslim world.

Jacob and Esau are twin brothers. Conflict defines the early years of their relationship, causing Jacob to leave the nuclear family. However, some two decades later, these two brothers embrace each other and unite before going their separate ways again. 

While Jacob's name would be altered to Israel and become a progenitor of the Jewish people like Isaac, Esau's national personna would evolve over the generations. Esau became identified with the nation of Edom in Biblical times. Esau became identified with Rome in ancient rabbinic writings. Esau subsequently became identified with ancient Christianity. When one considers Jewish - Christian relations - hostility, persecution, and hatred came to define antiquity and most of the Middle Ages. Most of Christianity adopted replacement theology. The Church was now Israel. The Jew was replaced by the Christian. The New Testament superseded what Christians called the Old Testament.

While tensions still exist between certain Christian denominations and Judaism, some branches of Christianity, like some evangelical groups and Catholics, no longer believe in replacement theology. God has two legitimate covenants, one for Christians and one for Jews. There has become a new dawn in the relationship between Judaism and some denominations of Christianity.

Today, we finish Bereishit, Genesis - a book about brothers and their spinoffs throughout history. Now is a time to assess Judaism's brotherly relationships today. The events of October 7th and beyond seem to have set many of the relationships backward, at least for the time being. With Ha'Tikvah as our mantra, we must "hope" that situations can change and improve, as has been the case up and down throughout Jewish history. Let us keep in mind that a book which began with one brother killing another ends up with brothers uniting as a family.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Vayechi - The greatness of the grandchildren

29/12/2023 09:04:27 AM


At the Shabbat table, it is customary to bless our children. For daughters, we invoke the names of the founding matriarchs as role models. For sons, however, we do not invoke the names of the founding patriarchs as role models. Rather, we invoke the names of Ephraim and Menashe, who are Joseph's sons, and Jacob's grandsons. Why ? The answer is rooted in the last Parsha of Sefer Bereishit, the book of Genesis.

Upon his deathbed, Jacob remarks that his two grandsons are deemed to be as if they are actual sons to him. In subsequent history, Ephraim and Menashe would be among the twelve tribes of Israel with their own flags and land allotments.

Jacob's two grandsons are the only ones who spent their entire lives outside of Israel. The founding patriarchs as well as Joseph and his brothers spent all or part of their lives in the promised land. Tradition has it that if Ephraim and Menashe could remain pious to their heritage given their secular surroundings, then any Jew can do the same. It is said that the sign of a healthy fish is if it can swim upstream against the tide. This can be said of Ephraim and Menashe who lived their entire lives in Egypt.

Except for one case, every sibling situation in Genesis is fraught with rivalry, jealousy, and tension. The exception is the relationship of Ephraim and Menashe. Given the brevity of text regarding them, tradition has it that they got along with each other. While Jacob still feels after all the years the need to bless the younger child before the older child, there is no mention of resentment from Menashe to Ephraim. They remain united in relationship and in purpose.

Lastly, it has been suggested that the strength of a multigenerational family's commitment to its values rests not only on the generation of the children, but that the values are successfully transmitted and received by the generation of the grandchildren.

Thus, we find some powerful lessons in blessing our sons in the meritorious names of Ephraim and Menashe.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

 Brothers - In Torah and film

28/12/2023 09:12:59 AM


This Shabbat, we conclude the book of Bereishit-Genesis. The entire book takes us on a journey of brothers' relationships. 

Cain murders Abel.

Isaac is separated from Ishmael, but they reunite to bury their father.

Jacob flees from his brother Esau, but they reunite and embrace later on.

Joseph has an estranged relationship with his brothers, but they reunite and make peace with each other.

Ephraim and Menashe are born in Egypt. While they are grandsons to Jacob, they are seen as sons by him as well.

The individuality of each narrative as well as a collective analysis show us the complexity of these stories of brothers.

This past week, I saw the movie, "The Iron Claw." Some of you know that I enjoy watching and attending professional wrestling, now referred to in many circles as sports entertainment. Sure, the results and the moves in a match are scripted. However, there is true athleticism, fine acting, special effects, and more.

When I was a child in the 1970's and a young man in the early 1980's, pro-wrestling did not show the kind of glitz it does now. The action was largely in the ring. Often, there was real hurt and pain in order to glorify the illusion of it being a competitive match. At times, injuries and hospitalizations took place.

In the 1980's and before, North American wrestling was divided into many territories. One of them, a branch of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) was called World Class Championship Wrestling, based in Dallas Texas. The most famous and popular wrestlers at the time were the Von Erich brothers: Kevin, Kerry, Mike, David, and Chris (not shown in the movie). They were loving brothers who excelled in their craft. Tragically, in real life and depicted in the movie, each brother except for Kevin dies horrific deaths in the prime of life. Also, the oldest brother, Jack, died as a young child before any of the other brothers entered the scene. Kevin is currently married with children and grandchildren.

As in the Torah's tales, the relationships between siblings are influenced by many things: the impact of parents, personal mental and emotional issues, sociology, and more. The same can be said about the Von Erich brothers and most other familial situations.

The Iron Claw is more than a wrestling movie. It is a timely modern Midrash on the stories found in the book of Bereishit-Genesis.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Returning to the Lerman Chapel during Shabbat

27/12/2023 09:07:35 AM


During the end of the pandemic and beyond, we started holding all Shabbat services in the sanctuary even though in years past, Friday night and Shabbat afternoon services were held in the smaller and cozier Lerman chapel. If you recall, livestream in the chapel came much later than livestream in the sanctuary. Also, for strictly Sabbath observant Jews, we did not want to create a situation where one had to switch livestreams between chapel and sanctuary during Shabbat. In addition, towards the end of the pandemic, we had more members participating on livestream than those who were coming physically to shul.

Now, we are seeing more and more members coming to shul. Very small numbers are using the livestream on Friday night or Shabbat afternoon. The majority of livestream users are utilizing livestream on Shabbat morning. With the goal of recreating as much of the past as possible; starting this Shabbat, Friday night and Shabbat afternoon services will return to the Lerman Chapel.

For strictly Sabbath observant Jews, if you are joining via livestream only on Shabbat morning or Friday evening/Shabbat afternoon, you can pre-set the livestream of your choice, sanctuary or chapel, prior to Shabbat. If you are using livestream for all Shabbat services, many people today have more than one laptop at home. Each can be pre-set before Shabbat to a different prayer room in Beth Emeth.

We will continue to be inclusive and offer livestream at all of our services, even as we reestablish some of our pre-pandemic norms.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison 

19/12/2023 09:06:22 AM


Dear Rabbis,

Please find below a statement from the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus on Canada’s vote at the UN General Assembly last week.

Should you have any question, feel free to reach out to us. 

The Canadian Rabbinic Caucus is uniquely placed to represent the diversity of the Canadian Jewish community. We are rabbis representing the many colours of Canadian Jews’ religious practices and social backgrounds. We come together united today, appalled by the Canadian government’s unprincipled stance in the UN General Assembly to support a ceasefire which demands no concession by, or condition upon, Hamas - an organisation that in its infamous action of October 7th has revealed itself to be as barbarous as the most malign and dark forces in world history. The Canadian government, in taking this action, with no reference to hostages or in fact any act of agency on the part of Hamas, is party to constructing a world in which the most heinous deeds are rewarded.

Members of the CRC hold a range of views on Israel, but we are united that no nation, least of all Israel, should have the security of its citizens be decided by the waxing and waning of fair-weather friends far away. Israel, though flawed like all democracies, deserves support as it establishes security for its embattled citizens. This is not a blank cheque - Israel is answerable to the dictates of humanity and international norms as all nations are. Yet as long as the scourge of Hamas’ terrorist regime retains power, its threat remains unabated.

Canadian Jews and its many friends do not support Israel solely from the ties of family friendship that bind Canadian Jews and Israel together. Through their collective historical experience, Canadian Jews are keenly aware that small peoples are too often and too easily sacrificed abroad and domestically for the sake of appeasing domestic opinion. We call on the Canadian government to take a stand of principle that will aid the collective security of all embattled states in this time of geopolitical peril. A principled position in favour of hostage return, Hamas’ surrender, and Israeli ceasefire would be aligned with Canada’s previously stated positions.

Co-chairs,Canadian Rabbinic Caucus:

Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl
Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto, ON

Rabbi Jonathan Infeld 
Beth Israel Vancouver, Vancouver, BC  

Rabbi Debra Landsberg 
Temple Emanu-El, Toronto, ON 

Rabbi Reuben Poupko 
Beth Israel Beth Aaron, Côte Saint-Luc, QC  

The Fast of Asarah B'Tevet this Friday - lessons for us

19/12/2023 09:05:19 AM


This Friday is the Fast of the tenth of Tevet. It is considered a minor Fast in that it begins at sunrise and not the night before. The significance of this day, however, is especially relevant right now.

The tenth of Tevet is part of a unit of Fasts which have to do with the events leading up to and including the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. On this date in antiquity, the Babylonians besieged the city of Jerusalem. A few months later, the walls were breached on the seventeenth of Tammuz. On the ninth of Av, the First Temple was destroyed, as was the Second Temple by the Romans many generations later. Additionally, the Fast of Gedalia, the day after Rosh Hashanah, harkens back to the First Temple period when a Jew assassinated a fellow Jew in office.

The sequence of siege, followed by breaching of the walls, followed by actual destruction can be understood in our time as well. The evil Hamas monsters planned and knew what they were doing. They besieged areas of Southern Israel, broke down and entered through borders and barriers, and they ultimately brought havoc and destruction to so many lives, families, and an entire Jewish people. Now, two and a half months later, our people are continuing to wage war in Gaza, and Jews around the world are fighting against the surge of anti-Semitism.

This Friday, therefore, is an appropriate time to reflect as we fast. As the celebration of Shabbat will enter our lives right after the Fast, so too, may victory, celebration, freedom, and peace come soon to Israel and to Jews wherever they live.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Chanukah story - Hannah and her seven sons/ The Jewish people today

14/12/2023 09:06:02 AM


The Second book of Maccabees relates a story about a woman and her seven sons. This Biblical tale has been amplified with variations in different depictions found within Jewish literature.

Soon after Antiochus Epiphanes IV assumed leadership of the Syrian-Greek Hellenists, he outlawed Jewish practice and belief in God. In one particular scene, he summoned Hannah and her seven sons to worship idolatry, forsake belief in the one God, and abandon all forms of Jewish practice. When the family refused, Antiochus took the oldest son and dismembered the boy before killing him. Antiochus went on to kill all of the remaining sons, even the youngest, one after the other, with a mother having to witness the deaths of all her children.   Depending on the version of the account, Hannah then either threw herself over the corpses of her sons, threw herself into a fire, or threw herself off a rooftop, dying after witnessing the barbaric murders of her children.

This haunting Chanukah tale comes to mind especially this year, when Hamas tortured and brutally murdered over 1200 Jews in one day, including the rape and murder of many women, as well as the dismembering and killing of many children. The brutality of Antiochus can indeed be compared to the evil Hamas monsters.

Hannah and her seven sons have their story recorded for posterity in our tradition. A mother and her children are considered martyrs having died a Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God's name because they were Jews. Likewise, may the stories of all who have died at the hands of Hamas, civilian or soldier, have their stories recorded for posterity and be remembered as martyrs who sanctified the name of God in their deaths. May their memories be recorded as blessings for all time.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Miketz - Joseph and us

13/12/2023 09:05:18 AM


How could something so good become something so bad? After two years in prison, Joseph is summoned to Pharaoh, interprets his dreams, and becomes second in command in all of Egypt. Things could not have been better for this Hebrew in Egypt at this time in Joseph's life. 

Fast forward, a generation later, Joseph appears to be forgotten. A new Pharaoh arose over Egypt who did not know of Joseph. Rashi quotes two interpretations - This is the same Pharaoh as before but with a change or heart. Or, this is a new Pharaoh who chose not to regard all that Joseph had done for Egypt years earlier.

Many Jews living in the U.S., Canada, and other parts of the world are still dismayed at how things have changed so quickly for Jews in major Diaspora countries over the last two months. While some analysts are now studying the seeds of local forms of anti-Semitism, what seemed so good for Jews has become something so bad in such a short time. Post World War II, certainly in the last few decades, Jews have excelled in academic achievement and professional advancement in North America and elsewhere, even amidst moderate levels of anti-Semitism. But since October 7, it is as if a new Pharaoh or one with a change of heart has risen. Take the change of attitudes of some democratic leaders toward Israel. Take the rhetoric coming from presidents and others of leading universities. And the list goes on and on.

At the end of his story, Joseph comes to recognize that even amidst his success, the Egyptians view him and his family as Hebrews, as a form of outsiders, even when Joseph's family is seemingly treated honorably.

We too must come to understand that be it the Jews of Eastern Europe eighty years ago; be it the Jews who lived in many countries throughout the Middle Ages - we have always been recognized as Jew first whether we were religious or assimilated. So, why should we be so shocked and surprised now???

I offer no answer except to affirm with pride and courage our Jewish identities, something which Joseph ultimately learned after almost negating his cultural heritage for so long in Egypt.

We must do our utmost to stand up for our rights in our respective Diaspora communities by uniting together and working with society's leaders who best understand our plight. Ultimately, being a Jew will always define us first, and the name of the country in which we live will define us second.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Solidarity mission in Israel

12/12/2023 09:07:34 AM


Although our originally planned trip to Israel had to be postponed due to the war, lately, many Jewish institutions are planning up to one week solidarity missions in Israel during which time we help performs deeds of lovingkindness with and for our brothers and sisters in Israel.

Already, I have contacted Ramah Israel Institute, our original tour operator. They would be glad to organize a solidarity trip for us this coming Spring. Please note that this kind of mission is very different from a two-week tour. We would stay in nice but more economical accommodations. We would be working every day in appropriate service projects. We would try to get a first-hand glimpse at some of the events which have transpired. We would aim to spend a Shabbat in Jerusalem.

Toward this goal, I need to know if there is sufficient interest from you, our Beth Emeth family. I have scheduled a meeting for Sunday morning December 24 at 9:30AM to discuss with you.

May the lights of Chanukah dispel the darkness of the world.

Chag Urim Sameach,
Rabbi Howard

Vayeshev/Chanukah - Being dedicated brothers during times of distress

11/12/2023 09:06:37 AM


In this week's Parsha, Joseph experiences two dreams in which he sees himself being superior to his brothers and parents. As a result, his brothers are unable to speak peacefully to him. The Torah says, "V'Lo Yachlu Dabro L'Shalom." A close reading shows us that the word "Shalom" is spelled incomplete with three letters, not four. Rashi and other commentators explain that so great was the hatred of the brothers to Joseph that they could not even discuss basic matters with him.

Since October 7 (10/7), we, the brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, have shared a complete Shalom with each other, more than in years past. Last Monday, thousands upon thousands of Jews united in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, which included over forty-five members of our own shul who rode together on a Federation arranged bus. Some traveled with other affiliated groups or on their own. We saw no counter rallies. Rather, everyone was united in that all Jews have the right to express their Jewish identity in serious and meaningful ways. All streams of Jewish day schools, synagogues, and other Jewish institutions stood as one in the cold and snow for two hours.

As we celebrate Shabbat Chanukah, we are reminded of a time when conflict came from two sources. There were Hellenistic Jews who mocked Jewish tradition and who challenged serious pious Jews who wanted to express their Jewish identities. There were also the Syrian-Greek Hellenists who prohibited all forms of Jewish expression and who desecrated the Holy Temple.

Today, internal Jewish relationships are strong. I pray that will continue to be. However, the likes of Antiochus are paralleled today by Hamas and its supporters. While we have to be honest regarding our personal concerns for safety, I pray that we Jews do not dilute our expressions of Jewish identity. The Halakha teaches us ideally to place the Chanukiah where it can be seen in public in order to publicize the miracles of Chanukah. That same Halakha allows us to place the Chanukiah on a table away from public view if we feel our safety is at stake. I encourage us to make the decisions that are personally appropriate. Either way, let us light the Chanukiah each night.

Our tradition has us add an additional light each night so that we ascend in holiness and do not descend. May the continued lights of Chanukah bring more light to the darkness of the world and eventually drive out the darkness altogether.

In the Talmud, our Sages ask, for which miracle was Chanukah made into a holiday, suggesting there is more than one miracle - the miracle of the vial of oil which lasted not one day but a whole week. Many of us, especially children, hold on to that miracle.

There is also the miracle described in the Al Hanisim prayer - the few over the many; the righteous over the wicked, etc. We dare not neglect our principles when we are in the vast minority. Throughout history, we have often been the minority in terms of beliefs and moral principles. In each era, it has been the dedication to our ideals which has preserved our people and our way of life.

While we celebrate miracles during Chanukah, we are not allowed to rely on miracles from above. We have to do our part. The Maccabees understood this. They were the ones who originated that we are commanded to violate the laws of Shabbat and defend ourselves, lest there be no Sabbaths in the future. Today, we all have to be modern day Maccabees, with each of us using our own personal talents to express our Jewish identities seriously and to actively advocate for Israel and condemn the surge of Jew-hatred in all its forms.

The story of Joseph and his brothers, coupled with the celebration of Chanukah, could not have come at a more appropriate time. May all Jews truly see ourselves as brothers and sisters and glean lessons from Chanukah to help us navigate these challenging times.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Vayeshev/Chanukah/Israel

08/12/2023 09:04:24 AM


In this week's Parsha of Vayeshev, Joseph appears to go down and down. At first, he is cast into a pit by his brothers. How could siblings, even if estranged from Joseph, do such a thing to him? The Torah informs us that the pit was without water. The good news is that Joseph will not drown. The bad news is that Joseph may die of thirst.

Soon after, Joseph is sold. The Torah informs us that literally, Joseph was taken down to Egypt, another level of descent. After an awkward scene in the home of Potiphar and his wife, Joseph is sent to prison, another downward spiral in his young life.

As we read about Joseph enduring and surviving in a pit and in an Egyptian prison, I think about the hostages who were and still are, God willing, enduring and surviving in secret tunnels and downward places under the reign of Hamas. Survivors have already reported their horrific treatment while in captivity. One can only hope and pray for the wellbeing and future return of the hostages still in captivity.

Among other things, Chanukah celebrates the ascent from lowliness and despair. We follow the view of Hillel who explains that we should light the Chanukiah in ascending sequence from night to night. The Talmud explains Hillel's view, "Maalin B'Kodesh V'Ain Moridin - We ascend in holiness and do not descend." 

May the remaining hostages soon ascend from that low place of physical and moral depravity. When that happens, we will truly say, "Nes Gadol Haya Sham - A great miracle happened there."

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Tue, 27 February 2024 18 Adar I 5784