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2020-09-16 09:28:54 AM

Sep16

Rosh Hashanah Reflections

2020-09-22 09:10:02 AM

Sep22

Dear Congregational Family,

While Ma Nishtana is recited on Pesach, the sentiment applies to Rosh Hashanah. How different was this new year at shul and at home. Several silver linings point to some amazing phenomena. While in house sanctuary services were limited to small numbers, 765 households participated via livestream on the first day. 630 households participated via livestream on the second day. In addition, many young family households participated via livestream to participate in Rabbi Grundland's creative service and program. I extend Yasher Koach to all of you who participated and to those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the livestream possible.

Another Rosh Hashanah silver lining was the tremendous turnout for outdoor Shofar soundings. A half hour after the sanctuary service finished on Sunday, I was emotionally overwhelmed to see some 200 people safely distanced in the shul parking lot to hear the Shofar. I was virtually speechless as the spirituality of the moment overtook me. Old and young, singles, couples, and families were present. Some 70 people attended a young families Shofar sounding. About 100 people attended  shofar sounding at Tashlich. Another 50 gathered outside the shul before Mincha to hear the Shofar.

I learned some valuable lessons. People are thirsting for community and spirituality. I am proud of our congregation's involvement over Rosh Hashanah.

Ma Nishtana - The Rosh Hashanah experience was truly different and truly memorable.

I wish everyone Gmar Chatima Tova - May we be completely sealed for a healthy, safe, and good new year.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The  Fast of Gedaliah

2020-09-21 08:21:05 AM

Sep21

Dear Congregational Family,

Today is Tzom (Fast of) Gedaliah. Around the time of the destruction of the first Temple, Gedaliah son of Achikam had been selected by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, to serve as governor of Judah. Gedaliah was subsequently murdered  by a fellow Jew, Yishmael son of Netaniah.This Biblical tragedy marks the first time that a Jew in political office was assassinated by a fellow Jew.

As a child, I did not appreciate the gravity of this story. Since the Fast begins at sunrise and not the night before, I saw it as a practice fast before Yom Kippur, and nothing more.

Once I was a little older, I came to understand that this was one of four fasts associated with the end of the first Temple period, the others being the tenth of Tevet, the seventeenth of Tammuz, and Tisha B'Av.

It was only as a thirty-five year old rabbi that I saw a modern day parallel. On Saturday night after Shabbat had ended in Israel on November 4, 1995, Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated by a fellow Jew at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. In terms of Jewish history, the Rabin assasination was considered the most historic since the assassination of Gedaliah in Biblical times.

The Fast of Gedaliah takes place the day following Rosh Hashanah. While the Ten Days of Repentance focuses on personal behavior and the need for refinement, the historical fast reminds us of the far reaching implications when the actions of one person can change the course of history, be it 2500 years ago or 25 years ago.

May we take the meaning of today's Fast and the week of the High Holy Days seriously and comprehend the impact of a single person's choice of behavior.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Hakarat Ha'Tov - Recognizing The Good

2020-09-17 09:14:12 AM

Sep17

Dear Congregational Family,

My last message for 5780 is Hakarat Ha'Tov - Recognizing the good. Many good people have done many good things for our shul this past year, especially during the pandemic. Their efforts are worthy of gratitude. The following groups are acknowledged in no specific order or preference.

First - all of you who have chosen to remain committed to your shul despite economic and/or emotional hardships over the last several months. You understand the importance of a synagogue like Beth Emeth needing to be strong and available 365 days a year.

Second - our lay leadership. You did not choose to lead knowing a pandemic was coming our way. You have led our community with optimism, strength, and dedication, putting in countless hours for the wellbeing of our shul.

Third - the special task forces which were assembled during this exigent circumstance. Many of you shared your expertise in terms of preparing our synagogue to function during extraordinary times.

Fourth - our office and maintenance staff. You have come into the synagogue every day during difficult times and have kept our members connected to Beth Emeth life in a variety of ways.

Fifth - our Chesed committee, which has done yeomans work in reaching out to the most vulnerable members of our congregational family.

Sixth - the group of people who have kept classes, activities and programs going on thru social media platforms.

Seventh - our regular core of daveners who have maintained daily prayer life and preserved the truest meaning of spiritual community.

I could go on and on. I apologize if I have omitted any important category of involvement over the past year. To all of you, I express Hakarat Ha'Tov. Because of you, we are able to enter the High Holy Day season favorably.

 

Shana Tova U'Metuka and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Here I Am

2020-09-16 07:51:20 AM

Sep16

Dear Congregational Family,

One of the well known poetic passages on the High Holy Days is "Hineni - Here I Am," recited by the Cantor before Musaf. Authored in the 16th century in Eastern Europe, the writer expresses his humility standing as a Shaliach Tzibbur, messenger for the congregation, on the most sacred days of the year. The passage is relevant to all of us, as we are all factored into the prayer leader's concerns.

Already, the idea of "Hinayni - Here I am" harkens back to our founding father, Abraham. In the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Abraham responds to God, to his son Isaac, and to the angel of God with the expression "Hinayni - Here I am." 

The commentary found in Mahzor Lev Shalem states: "The term indicates readiness, attentiveness, receptivity, and responsiveness to instructions."

"Hineni/Hinayni - Here I am" is not for Cantors only or for Abraham only. We are all included in the Cantor's prayer, and we are all children of Abraham. Are we ready to say "Here I am" on these High Holy Days and throughout the year? Are we prepared to say "Hinayni" before God and community?

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Shofar and Pandemic

2020-09-15 09:32:09 AM

Sep15

Dear Congregational Family,

I wish to share brief thoughts regarding the Shofar. For many Jews, it is one of the most important symbols in Judaism.

The tradition of the Shofar harkens back to the beginning of Jewish history in the famous Abraham-Isaac narrative.

The use of the Shofar harkens back to the events at Mount Sinai when our people formally accepted God's Commandments.

The symbolism of the Shofar also points to the ultimate future of the Messianic era and the end of days.

Maimonides writes that the Shofar is akin to an alarm clock awakening us from our slumber.

This year, the Shofar will be sounded only on Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah. It is not sounded when Rosh Hashanah coincides with Shabbat.

The Shofar itself must be bent, symbolizing one who is contrite, humble, and modest.

If one owns a Shofar, that person can sound it for his family and neighborhood.

Traditionally, the Shofar must be heard in person. Because of the exigent circumstances caused by the pandemic, a number of leading authorities are permitting one to fulfill the Mitzvah of hearing the Shofar via such electronic means as livestream.

Many shuls will provide outdoor opportunities to hear the Shofar while adhering to safety measures. At Beth Emeth, there will be an outdoor Shofar sounding following the young families service, a half hour following the sanctuary service, at the beginning and end of Tashlich, and prior to Mincha outside the synagogue.

I hope that we avail ourselves to hear the sounds of the Shofar and to internalize its lessons.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The command to listen

2020-09-14 09:02:06 AM

Sep14

Dear Congregational Family,

On Saturday night following Shabbat, some 200 people shared an on line Selichot experience with Beth Emeth and Adath Israel together. The four participating rabbis shared different perspectives on the prayer, "Shma Kolenu - Hear our voices."

I focused on active listening versus passive listening. Does one really hear the other? Can one and does one restate what he/she has heard from the other before responding? Does one and can one accurately restate the other's content, tone, and attitude? This is no simple task. If we pray that God hear us completely, can we do no less in hearing another person, who is created in the image of God?

On Rosh Hashanah, we are commanded to hear the sound of the Shofar, not to blow the sound of the Shofar. Even the Baal Tekiah who blows the sounds must hear them.

The word Shma, hear/listen, is a watch word of our faith. We  have this last week of Elul to prepare ourselves to be better listeners to God's voice and the voices of people in the new year.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Today is 9/11

2020-09-11 09:05:01 AM

Sep11

Dear Congregational Family,

Today is September 11. 

On this date in 1999, my mother passed away. That year, the date coincided with Rosh Hashanah, which is the day I cherish her memory.

Two years later, the date became known as 9/11. Nineteen years ago on a Tuesday morning, I was beginning to teach the weekly sisterhood study group when we heard the tragic news.

In one week, we will ask the fundamental question of our mortality - "Who shall live and who shall die?" and  by what means?

Nowadays, we can add, " Who by terror and who by pandemic?"

As we confront the fragility of our lives, now is the time to ponder what kind of life do we want to live?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard 

Our children - Their Safety and Our Future

2020-09-10 09:10:35 AM

Sep10

Dear Congregational Family,

When this week's Torah reading describes the segments of the Jewish people standing together, the children are certainly included.

When we assemble on Rosh Hashanah, the Scripture readings revolve around children: the birth and development of Isaac, the plight of Ishmael, the birth of Samuel, and the children of Israel being wept for by their proverbial mother.

During Shabbat services we quote a Prophetic passage: "All of your children shall be taught of the Lord and great shall be the peace of your children". In a play of words, the sages teach: "Do not read the second mention 'banayich - your children', but rather 'bohnayich - your builders'.

This week, our children are returning to school - some online, some in residence, and some doing both, depending on age, school, location, and program.

As we transition from one year to the next, our hearts go out to and for our children. We pray for their safety. They are our future.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Gearing Up for the High Holy Days

2020-09-08 08:24:16 AM

Sep8

Dear Congregational Family,

In less than two weeks, Rosh Hashanah will be upon us. Thanks to many kind volunteers, our shul is gearing up for the High Holy Days. Our building is ready for you in accord with strict compliance of health and safety protocols.

Last Friday evening, close to eighty people listened to our visiting High Holy Day Chazzan, Lipa Glantz, lead portions of Kabbalat Shabbat. We can meet him more formally this Thursday night on line at 8pm.

This coming Saturday night, we will join Adath Israel on line for Selichot. After Havdalah at 9pm, Rabbis Grundland, Cutler, Seed, and I will teach different sides of the prayer, "Shma Kolenu - Hear our voices." At 10:15pm, Cantors Glantz and Stein will lead an inspirational service to inaugurate the High Holy Day season.

As we lead up to Rosh Hashanah services, our shul is open again for Shabbat morning services. Some twenty-five people have attended each of the last three weeks.

On Sunday, we hosted our first in house Bat Mitzvah in a long time. On Monday, we hosted our first in house wedding in a long time.

In preparation for the Yom Tov season, all sanctuary services are already being broadcasted on livestream. We are offering weekday online classes surveying the Machzor. High Holy Day prayer books are free for the taking for members and their immediate families at the shul.

The Torah portion this week, Nitzavim, begins with a grand assembly on the last day of Moses' life: "You, all of you, stand on this day before the Lord, your God." The Torah then details every segment of the Jewish community.

For us, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur signal the days when our entire community gathers in large numbers. With the combination of in house attendance and livestream, I pray this will continue to be the case.

I encourage everyone to make the necessary preparations as we gear up to welcome the new year of 5781.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Liturgies - Old and New

2020-09-04 08:49:21 AM

Sep4

Dear Congregational Family,

In this week's Torah portion of Ki Tavo, we read one of the earliest formal liturgies in Jewish history. Upon bringing the first fruits of the Spring harvest to the Kohain, one would recite a formal liturgy. The prescribed recitation summarized the history of the Jewish people, beginning with the words, "Arami Oved Avi," translated either as, "My father was a wandering Aramean," or "An Aramean sought to destroy my father." The passage traces Jewish history from the founding Patriarchs to entry into the Promised Land. The content of the prayer includes the values of gratitude, rejoicing, and providing for the needy in the community.

Many of us are familiar with this Biblical prayer. Once we were no longer an agricultural people, the same text became an essential passage in the Passover Haggadah, surrounded by ancient commentaries on each verse. Thus, for over 3500 years a particular liturgical masterpiece has been an essential part of Jewish history.

How appropriate that in the context of appreciating liturgy and prayer, we welcome our visiting guest Chazzan, Cantor Lipa Glantz. While he arrived in Toronto this week and is observing a mandatory quarantine, we will get to know him right away.

This evening, Cantor Glantz will lead our on line pre-Kabbalat Shabbat service at 6pm. Next Thursday, September 10, we will have an official on line welcome of our visiting Chazzan. On Saturday night, September 12, we will join Adath Israel on line for a shared Selichot program and service at 9pm, starting with learning from the rabbis of these two congregations, followed by the actual service led by Cantors Lipa Glantz and Alex Stein.

I wish everyone Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

 

The Influence We Have On Others – Years After The Fact

2020-09-03 09:10:15 AM

Sep3

Dear Congregational Family,

I share with you excerpts from a true email letter which I received yesterday from a student Cantor with whom I worked for three years in Wantagh, Long Island in the mid 1980’s.  Little do we know the influence that we may have on others, even many years later.  I have purposely deleted personal names and confidential material:

Hi Howard. It has once again been a while. Once Elul begins and I begin to more seriously prepare towards the High Holy Days, as I review certain sections of the liturgy, I am always flooded by memories associated with various settings whether they are the one I am preparing or not, and where I was when I did them. You and the Wantagh Jewish Center are always with me at this time and I always think to write. Then there are those final B'nei Mitzvah crammed in before Rosh Hashanah, then we are into the High Holy Day season, and then somehow it's Chanukah and I have missed my chance again. I decided not to let that happen again this year.

While I learned many things from a number of people, there were really two people that most prepared me to actually function as a pulpit Hazzan...  The other was most definitely you. While we were only together for those three years in Wantagh, there are so many things that I learned from you about how to serve a congregation that I believe have allowed me to achieve some measure of success beyond just on the Bimah ever since.

One of these was not to just go to one place at a Kiddush or similar, but to work the room first, and sit and eat later. I think this is something that helped me to really get to know people early on.  Also, the way that you taught me to not show the public when I was or am tired or sick has been something that has come to be somewhat of a calling card in terms of reliability that has been appreciated in both places I've been since Wantagh. I get sick rarely, thank G-d, but there was one time for example some years ago when we had an important Bar Mitzvah over Shabbat and I had a wedding and a concert that same weekend. I had Bronchitis, but I remembered the time you had mononucleosis and somehow managed to get through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with very few people in the Kahal being the wiser. I don't know how you did that, but you did, and it has been a source of inspiration on multiple occasions since. Lastly, I think sometimes about your devotion to the congregation in Wantagh. Someone there once told me about how you not only were always able to answer their questions regarding religious matters, but that you were the sort of Rabbi whom one could call at 3 a.m. in crisis, and you would not only answer the phone, but be ready to do whatever was needed.

To the extent that I can as a Hazzan, I have tried to follow your example. I hope that all goes well for you over what will most likely be one of the strangest High Holy Day seasons of any of our lives to date. May the old year with its curses die so the new one with its blessings can begin. Shanah Tova and all the best for a year of health and happiness for you, your family and those you serve.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Are You Ready?

2020-09-01 09:03:03 AM

Sep1

Dear Congregational Family,

Beginning Today (Tuesday) and continuing on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will be teaching an online class entitled, "Navigating The Machzor During The Pandemic." The class will meet on Zoom and Facebook from 12-1pm. In preparation for the class and for the actual High Holy Days, we continue to make available to you the Birnbaum edition of the Machzor, High Holy Day Prayerbook. Copies are available for members to pick up for their immediate families at the Wilmington entrance.

Because of the pandemic,  many synagogues, like our own, will be abbreviating the services considerably so that health standards are maintained. At Beth Emeth, the morning services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will begin at 9:30am, later than usual. We will omit the familiar introductory Psukei D'Zimra and begin with Ha'Melech, which starts the Shacharit service. I encourage you to daven Psukei D'Zimra on your own privately before the 9:30am start, whether you are participating in shul or via livestream. By the way, in many Israeli synagogues, Psukei D'Zimra is recited privately.

In addition, for this year in particular, we will omit many of the Piyutim, poetic insertions which embellish High Holy Day themes and ideas. In the Middle Ages, the addition of Piyutim to the core prayers was hotly debated. Do the additional poems enrich or intrude upon the statutory liturgy? The debate resulted in diverse practices over the ages.

In our class, we will analyze some of the core passages, including: the Penitential Psalm, Avinu Malkenu, the Shofar service, U'N'Taneh Tokef, Kol Nidrei, the Vidui, and more.

I encourage you to pick up a Machzor for the class and for services. I invite you to use the weeks of Elul to spiritually prepare for the High Holy Days.

Are you ready?

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Rabbinical Memory

2020-08-31 09:22:11 AM

Aug31

Dear Congregational Family,

Thirty-four years ago this week, I celebrated a special occasion in my rabbinical life. My alma mater, The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), had a particular practice for last year rabbinical students. Each one had to deliver a sermon on a Shabbat morning before faculty, fellow students, and family. Called the "senior sermon," this was an initiation right of passage leading to eventual ordination as a Rabbi.

During the preceding Spring and Summer weeks, the school administration placed the names of the weekly Torah portions in one basket and the names of the senior class students in another basket. A lottery decided the parsha assignment for each student.

While Parshat Ki-Tavo appears toward the end of the Torah, it was the first Shabbat portion of the 1986-87 academic year. My name was selected with this Parsha.

Ironically, Ki-Tavo begins with a ritual containing baskets. Upon entry to the Promised Land, the Israelites would express gratitude for the Spring harvest by bringing bikurim, first fruits, in a basket to the Tabernacle.

Now, thirty-four years after delivering my senior sermon, I continue to be grateful for all the baskets of gifts in my life, which include my health, my family, my friends, my acquaintances, and for the last twenty years, my Beth Emeth community.

Literally, Ki-Tavo means, "When you enter." In less than three weeks, we will enter a new year. I encourage all our members to renew your memberships now and make arrangements to join our High Holy Day services either in person and/or via livestream.

Let us express our gratitude for being part of our sacred congregation by doing our part in ensuring our community's future.

 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Happy  to be Back  in our  sanctuary - Join us in person or  on livestream

2020-08-24 08:22:42 AM

Aug24

Dear Congregational Family,

This past Shabbat, a total of twenty-seven people attended services emanating from our synagogue sanctuary. This service was the first one held at our shul in many months. Among the attendees, we had singles, couples, and entire families -  a true microcosm of our congregational family. I extend a Yasher Koach to all attendees who have paved the way for more people to come in the weeks ahead. I commend many volunteers who have spent countless hours behind the scenes to ensure that our shul is safe and adheres to provincial guidelines. I thank many people who have served as ushers and coaches at our renewed daily and Shabbat synagogue services.

The Parsha this past Shabbat reviewed a scenario first described at the end of the book of B'Midbar. Once the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they had to establish three cities of refuge for the accidental manslayer to find a place of safety and protection. These were the original and authentic "sanctuary cities." Some commentators find parallels between the cities of refuge and the actual wilderness sanctuary. Both were commanded by God so that people could find physical and spiritual safety and uplift.

During the contemporary pandemic, the members of our synagogue have made it possible for Beth Emeth to emulate these biblical predecessors. Our shul is prepared to be a place of physical and spiritual comfort; a place for community to come together; a place where moments of joy and sadness can be commemorated together.

What we need is YOU - to pre-register and be approved so that you can help form and augment our daily and Shabbat morning services. For those who are unable to attend, you are encouraged to join us through our new sanctuary livestream and other social media options. Please check the website daily to know which platforms are being used for services and programs.

With Rosh Hashanah less than a month away, I look forward to greeting more of you in person in the weeks to come and to connect with you via social media outlets. I wish everyone good health and safety as we countdown to a new year.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Acronyms of Elul

2020-08-21 09:15:45 AM

Aug21

Dear Congregational Family,

It is noteworthy that the four Hebrew letters which comprise Elul - Alef, lamed, vav, lamed - serve as an acronym for several verses in Scripture.

Perhaps the most well known is from Song of Songs, "Ani L'dodi V'Dodi Li - I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." This verse is often incorporated into a wedding ceremony or is found as a decorative phrase on a Ketuba or wedding invitation. 

In the context of Elul, the two beloved companions are God and the Jewish people. This season of the year prompts us to draw closer to what God demands of us in our daily behavior. The notion of God and the Jewish people as beloved partners has strong roots in Judaism. Consider the three fold betrothal  verse from Hosea when making three rings when donning Tefillin. Consider the Festival of Shavuot with its imagery of Mount Sinai as the Chuppa, and the tablets of the Ten Commandments as the Ketuba. Consider the Friday night hymn, L'cha Dodi, welcoming the Shabbat bride.

Perhaps the second most famous Elul acronym comes from the Book of Esther, "Ish L'rayayhu U'matanot L'evyonim - the sending of food portions to one's fellow and gifts to the poor." While the verse and its ritual interpretation originate with Purim, Elul reminds us to always treat others with respect, assistance, care, and support.

While there are other Elul acronyms worthy of study, I wish us all Chodesh Tov, a good new month, and Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Elul is here

2020-08-20 09:54:29 AM

Aug20

Dear Congregational Family,

Today and tomorrow, we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul. As we now count a month until Rosh Hashanah, we prepare to sound the shofar and add Psalm 27 to the liturgy.

How wonderful that at Beth Emeth, tomorrow, a young man and young woman will celebrate their Bnai Mitzvah respectively. On Sunday, a wedding will take place in the parking lot of our shul.

What wonderful ways to usher in Elul and begin this month with joy. While the High Holy Day period reflects serious themes, the spirit of joy, optimism, and a positive outlook form the foundation of all else.

We live during challenging times. I pray that the joyous beginning to Elul will set the stage not only for the next number of weeks but set an upbeat tone for the days of our lives.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

2020-08-20 09:53:59 AM

Aug20

Update this content.

Hearing Shofar during the pandemic

2020-08-19 09:38:55 AM

Aug19

Dear Congregational Family,

On the first of Elul this Friday, the tradition of hearing the shofar begins on a daily basis at the conclusion of the Shacharit service. Given that the ritual of the Shofar is a custom and not a law during Elul, no blessing is recited.

When the practice of the Shofar is obligatory on Rosh Hashanah, the blessing preceding the act is instructive. The blessing concludes with the words "Lishmo'a Kol Shofar" -  We are commanded to hear the sound of the Shofar. Interestingly, the Mitzvah is not on sounding the Shofar, but on hearing it. Thousands of years ago, the nature of the Shofar obligation was debated. The Halakha, Jewish Law, is clear. One must hear the sounds of the Shofar.

Most years, one is able to see the Baal Tekiah, the one who sounds the Shofar and the ram's horn he is using. This year will be quite different, as with many situations, because of the pandemic. The province of Ontario is prohibiting the sounding of wind instruments, including the Shofar, indoors. The health concern of particles in the air in a shared physical space even with social distancing is too great a risk.

During the preparatory month of Elul, we will have our Baal Tekiah stand slightly outside the sanctuary behind a side door which connects the front of the sanctuary to the playground next door. As long as attendees, in the sanctuary or on livestream, can hear the Shofar, the ritual observance will have been performed adequately.

Truly, this year, the practice to hear the sounds of the Shofar will take on new meaning. May the hearing of the Shofar's sounds inspire us to hear each other and to hear what God demands of us.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

High Holy Days at a "Glantz"

2020-08-18 09:37:18 AM

Aug18

Dear Congregational Family,

With gratitude, I join in welcoming our visiting High Holy Day Chazzan, Cantor Lipa Glantz, from Israel. I am grateful to our friends at Adath Israel and, in particular, to Cantor Alex Stein, who initiated the shiduch. For many years, Cantor Glantz led the parallel service during the High Holy Days at Adath Israel.

We look forward to sharing Selichot with Adath Israel in a few weeks. This past June, our two synagogues shared an on line rabbinic dialogue with me and Rabbi Adam Cutler. Now, we look forward to two renowned Cantors inspiring us with Selichot and the upcoming High Holy Day season. I personally rejoice when multiple synagogues can celebrate Jewish life together.

Cantor Stein and I have been friends for many years. He and Cantor Glantz too have known each other for a long time. We at Beth Emeth are blessed to know that we will have superb Cantorial service over the upcoming High Holy Day season.

In Jewish tradition, one finds different terms for the one who leads a prayer service. Baal Tefila, a master of prayer, signifies one who has mastered the Hebrew and Nusach, musical mode, of the service.

Shaliach Tzibbur, emissary of the community, signifies that the prayer leader represents us and advocates for us before God. This person brings us together as a sacred congregation.

Chazzan, which defines a professionally trained Cantor,  has had many meanings over the ages. In the Talmud  a Chazzan, was one who oversaw many tasks in the synagogue, likened to the role of a Shamash in many shuls today.  In the Bible, Chazzan meant a visionary. Just a few weeks ago, on the Shabbat preceding Tisha B'Av, we read the Prophetic words, "Chazon Yeshiahu - The vision of Isaiah." For me, the Chazzan - Cantor is a visionary who emulates spiritual ideals.

The classic criteria for a Chazzan include piety, morality, being acceptable to the community, a pleasing voice, praying from the heart and soul, and more.

Thus, I am pleased to share with you the upcoming sacred season at a "Glantz - Glance." We extend Baruch Ha'Ba, a cordial welcome, to Cantor Lipa Glantz for the duration of the High Holy Days.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Courage and Wisdom to Make Peace

2020-08-17 09:36:38 AM

Aug17

Dear Congregational Family,

This week's Parsha of Shoftim contains a blueprint of wartime ethics, should the potential of war ever occur. The very first line of this moral code states, " When you draw near to a city to wage war against it,  you shall call out to it for peace (Deut. 20:10)."

The Etz Hayim Torah commentary says, "Peace is always the preferred option. War may be necessary, unavoidable, and morally justified, but it can never be 'good.' In war, innocent people always die and lands are devastated."

In 1919, a young Rabbi Benzion Uziel spoke to a conference of rabbis in Jerusalem. He stated, "Israel, the nation of peace, does not want and never will want to be built on the ruins of others.  . . Let all the nations hear our blessing of peace, and let them return to us a hand for true peace, so that they may be blessed with the blessing of peace."

In 1939, as Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel,

Rabbi Uziel, appealed to the Arab community, "We reach our hands out to you in peace, pure, and trustworthy.  . . Make peace with us and we will make peace with you. Together all of us will benefit from the blessing of God on His land. With quiet and peace, with love and fellowship,  with goodwill and pure heart, we will find the way of peace."

Around the time the State of Israel was being recognized by the United Nations, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rabbis Benzion Uziel and Yitzchag Herzog wrote "A call to the leaders of Islam for peace and brotherhood."

The various outreaches for peace still reflect the wishes of Israel and the Jewish people today. Everyone wants genuine secure peace without the specter of war and terrorism.

Just before Shabbat, it was announced that Israel has established full diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates. It takes courage and wisdom to establish and maintain peace and respect. May others follow.

How appropriate that this week's Torah portion points to the ideal now being achieved with part of the Arab world.

(Inspired from an essay by Rabbi Mark D. Angel, Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals)

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Ha'Yom - Each and Every Day

2020-08-14 09:52:28 AM

Aug14

Dear Congregational Family,

The end part of Parshat Re'eh chronicles the Three Pilgrimage Festivals - Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Ironically, this digest of Holy Days does not include any reference to the High Holy Day period. While the Ten Days of Repentance are distinct from the Pilgrimage Festivals, other Torah portions include them all together. I wonder how one can read this Parsha at this season of the year without thinking of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Ironically, when Parshat Re'eh is read this Shabbat, we will recite the blessing of the coming month, Elul, which prompts us to begin contemplating about the High Holy Days. The coming month of Elul encourages us to begin a process of Cheshbon Nefesh, a personal spiritual accounting of one's being.

A slight allusion to the High Holy Days in the parsha appears in the beginning, where the word, "Ha'Yom - On this day," appears a number of times. In the original context, "The Day" refers to a particular day toward the end of the fortieth year of the journey. In a deeper manner, the commandment to take note of the choices we make is "Ha'Yom," meaning each and every day of our lives.

In Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur, in particular, is called "The Day." In the Machzor, certain prayers start with the word, "Ha'Yom - The Day." For many of us, the first day of the New Year is certainly "The Day." So, in a certain way, we find a High Holy Day allusion in this week's Parsha.

As we prepare to usher in the introspective month of Elul, I encourage us to start examining our behavior each and every day of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

All in a Week

2020-08-13 08:06:06 AM

Aug13

Dear Congregational Family,

 

Today, I will be less likely to answer messages quickly. In the morning, I will be officiating a Shacharit Bat Mitzvah service in a family's backyard. In the afternoon, I will officiate at two graveside funerals at the same cemetery, followed by an unveiling at a nearby cemetery. If one considers the outdoor baby naming and outdoor wedding I officiated this past Sunday, I will have experienced the full range of the lifecycle and its emotions in the span of a few days.

A congregation is a community. We do not stand alone. Each ceremony will have had immediate family, extended relatives, and dear friends. At the wedding, dances and toasts take place. At the funerals, touching words are shared by relatives and/or friends. One of the reasons we affiliate with a synagogue is so that we can be supported in times of joy and sadness by our spiritual community.

Last week, we began to hold weekday evening services in shul. In days to come, we will begin to hold weekday morning and Shabbat services. While all services will be broadcast electronically for those who cannot physically attend shul, the main purpose of reopening our sanctuary is to have a traditional minyan. For months, we have been unable to recite the prayers which require a minyan, which is a symbol and microcosm of community. We have omitted such prayers as Borchu and Kedusha, Torah reading, the familiar Kaddish, and more. In the majority of synagogue services held so far, we have not attained a minyan. I wish to encourage those who can to pre-register and help form and augment a minyan on a regular basis.

This week, I will have seen the importance of community for the happy and sad moments of the lifecycle. May we see the same dedication towards re-establishing communal daily prayer emanating from our beloved synagogue.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A book that unites

2020-08-12 09:09:06 AM

Aug12

Dear Congregational Family,

In the 1950's, one of the earliest brands of North American prayerbooks was the edition of Rabbi Philip Birnbaum. He arranged prayerbooks for Daily, Shabbat, and Holy day use. His editions were among the earliest North American English-Hebrew texts. Other familiar liturgical publications include the well known De Sola Pool, Silverman, and Phillips prayerbooks.

For North American families many decades ago, an English-Hebrew prayerbook was exceptional. Growing up in the Boston area, the Birnbaum edition was the exclusive English-Hebrew Siddur and Machzor carried by my childhood shul.

Sitting next to my father during the High Holy Days in the 1960's, I would turn to the last pages of the Birnbaum Machzor. A one page calendar listed the dates of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur through the year 2000. Later printings would revise the list up to 2011. As a child, I would remark to my dad that those years will never come - the thinking of a young child.

The Birnbaum Machzor was the High Holy Day prayerbook of my childhood. For two years as a rabbinical student, it was the Machzor I officiated with at a small shul in Webster, Mass. How comforted I was to see it again when I came to Beth Emeth in 2000. It was like a dear friend.

The calendar dates in the last page have expired. In recent years, new Machzorim with sharper print, modern translation, and lucid commentary have entered the scene. It was time to introduce a new Machzor last year. Nevertheless, the Birnbaum Machzor is like an old familiar friend.

Because of the pandemic, many of us will choose to pray at home this year, even though we hope the shul will be open to a finite number of people. Our synagogue's shelves contain many many Birnbaum Machzorim. I invite you to visit the shul and pick up as many as you want. You can use them privately, during my on line classes in September, and during actual services. They are yours to keep.

For me, the Birnbaum Machzor unites the generations of the Jewish people, the generations of my immediate family, and the generations of my rabbinic experience.

A Jewish prayerbook unites us all.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Will you be ready?

2020-08-11 11:10:27 AM

Aug11

Dear Congregational Family,

Will you be ready for the High Holy Days of 5781? Because of the pandemic, the coming new year will be unlike any previous one. While many synagogues will provide limited sitting for those who pre-register to attend actual Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, many will end up choosing to participate from home via livestream.

Once our shul begins to broadcast Shabbat and Yom Tov services via livestream, I suggest that each home designate a particular room to be designated as your private shul. In it, your video screen can be kept on from before the sacred day through its conclusion, connected to the synagogue livestream. In that room, keep the volume loud enough for that particular space but inaudible in the rest of your home. Have your Siddur and Machzor handy. Dress up in that room as you would if coming to the actual synagogue.

This year, we will use the Birnbaum Machzor. You can drop by the shul and pick up as many copies as you need and keep them. Next year, we hope to return to the familiar normal and use our new Machzor, which we introduced last year.

In preparation, the current Pirkei Avot class will take a hiatus after August. On Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning September 1 from 12-1pm, you are invited to a new class entitled, "Navigating through the High Holy Day Machzor during the Pandemic." The class will  be offered on Zoom and Facebook. Please pick up your Birnbaum Machzor in advance of the class.

This coming Shabbat, we will recite the blessing for the new month, which will introduce the month of Elul. Not only is this month the last month of 5780, it serves as an introduction to the High Holy Day season with daily Shofar sounding, an additional Psalm, and Selichot. The letters of Elul stand for the Biblical phrase, "Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li - I am my beloved's, and my my beloved is mine," in reference to our relationship with God.

Will you be ready?

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Gadol Ha'Dor Passes Away

2020-08-10 08:53:04 AM

Aug10

 

Dear Congregational Family,

On Friday, we learned that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz passed away in Israel. He was a true Gadol Ha'Dor, one of the great Sages of our generation. Decades ago, he initiated a new layout of the Talmud, consisting of a Hebrew translation of the original Aramaic and a synopsis of some of the writings of early commentators and legal codifiers. In recent years, many of his volumes have been translated into English.

For many Jews around the world, it was Rabbi Steinsaltz who introduced them to the world of Talmud study. Now, other Jewish text companies have followed his lead.

A devout traditional Jew, he loved all Jews. Back in the 1980's, while living in New York, I watched him teach before a large audience in a liberal progressive synagogue. Rabbi Steinsaltz interacted with all Jews. He built bridges and tore down walls. He was a living example of a true Torah scholar in the way he conducted himself in all ways.

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May his memory be a blessing.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

A Well Deserved Tribute

2020-08-07 08:44:40 AM

Aug7

Dear Congregational Family,

During the early part of this week, we marked the tenth yahrzeit ot our beloved Chazzan, Louis Danto, Zichrono L'Veracha, of blessed memory. On Thursday, the Toronto Council of Chazzanim presented a live tribute concert in his memory. Almost 300 people attended on Zoom from 2:00-3:45pm. Several cantors from our area spoke and performed beautifully in Cantor Danto's memory. A thirty minute video of his career was interspersed with words of Torah and music.

I was given the privilege of sharing a Dvar Torah. Among the classical criteria for serving as an emissary of the community are being humble, being acceptable to the community, being versed in Jewish texts, and being knowledgeable of nusach. Cantor Danto excelled in all. In addition, I was always impressed by his sincerity of heart, love for the Jewish people, and his pleasant voice, also essential qualifications for a chazzan.

For the first ten years of my Beth Emeth rabbinate, I was gifted to know Cantor Danto as a teacher, colleague, and friend. Until his passing, I lived a stone's throw away - my family on Blue Forest Drive, with him and Rouhama on Maxwell Drive. Often, Cantor Danto and I would walk home together after Shabbat services on Friday evening and Shabbat afternoon.

During Chanukah, we thank God with the words, "Danta et dinam - You, God, adjudicated our case." At Beth Emeth, we pronounced those words, "DANTO et dinam, you, Chazzan Danto, represented us before God to adjudicate our case."

The Haftarah for this Shabbat concludes with God comforting the Jewish people after the period of the first Temple, restoring joy, gladness, gratitude and the voice of melody.

We will remember over four decades served by Chazzan Louis Danto bringing us the spirituality of joy, gladness gratitude, and the voice of melody.

May his memory always be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Kol Hatchalot Kashot     All Beginnings are Difficult

2020-08-06 08:20:14 AM

Aug6

Dear Congregational Family,

A brief three word expression says so much. "Kol hatchalot kashot - All beginnings are difficult."

Imagine the beginning of Jewish history, when God commanded Abraham to go forth and begin 4000 years of the Jewish historical experience. All beginnings are difficult.

Imagine the aftermath following the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem. How did Judaism survive and grow? Amazing visionaries reimagined Judaism while drawing on the past. If one cannot bring sacrifices daily, then offer formal verbal prayer daily. If the ritual of the altar can no longer grant atonement, then acts of kindness will grant atonement. All beginnings are difficult.

Five months ago, synagogues went on lockdown because of the pandemic. How would organized Jewish life go on? Contemporary visionaries adapted modern technology and created virtual congregations. Ongoing prayer, study, socializing, and connecting with others took on a new shape and form. All beginnings are difficult.

This week, we at Beth Emeth slowly began to have weeknight services emanate from our synagogue. Wonderful volunteers spent countless hours assuring that all protocols are followed. We are now encouraging men and women to pre-register and bring services in our sanctuary back to life, while we continue to broadcast electronically to private homes. We gradually plan to expand into morning, Shabbat, and Holy Day services. All beginnings are difficult.

There will be many more phases of new beginnings. From our nation's inception 4000 years ago to today, we continue to be a resilient Jewish peoplehood.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

 

Gratitude 

2020-08-05 08:07:57 AM

Aug5

Being grateful for food and our local kosher establishments

 

Dear Congregational Family,

The weekly portion of Ekev contains the basis for Birkat Ha'Mazon, reciting blessings after meals. The Torah states, "You shall eat, be satisfied, and praise God for the good land which He has given you."

From this verse, three Toraitic blessings were formulated followed subsequently by a fourth rabbinic blessing:

1. Praising God for sustaining all.

2. Praising God for the land of Israel.

3. Praising God for the establishment of Jerusalem.

4. Praising God who is good and beneficent.

It is noteworthy that blessings surrounding food appear in this week's parsha. A few weeks ago, some local kosher restaurants began offering outdoor patio seating. This past week, some local kosher restaurants began offering indoor seating with safe social distancing practices. I know. I have enjoyed indoor and outdoor dining recently.

In addition, throughout the pandemic and at all times, we should be grateful for the depth and quantity of finding all kinds of kosher facilities in the GTA. I encourage us all to support our kosher establishments.

I have recently read sad news where some kosher places in the U.S. have had to close down during the pandemic. In at least one community, it was the only exclusive kosher site serving an entire Jewish area.

Let us be proactive in being grateful, observing, and supporting kashrut always.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

 

 

2020-08-04 08:41:33 AM

Aug4

SIMCHA DAY

Dear Congregational Family,

When I first moved to Toronto twenty years ago this Summer, I misheard the name of this long weekend. I heard it as Simcha instead of Simcoe.

As we know, Simcha means joy. Maybe there was a lesson in what I thought I heard. This past Shabbat, we moved past Tisha B'Av, the saddest day of the year, to Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of comfort.

Interestingly, six days after Tisha B'Av is one of the two happiest days of the year, each emphasizing the fullness of Simcha-joy. In antiquity, Tu B'Av, the fifteenth day of Av and the afternoon of Yom Kippur were matchmaking festivals. Eligible young men and women would meet by a vineyard and be paired up. The women would reach out to the men by reciting excerpts of the well known passage called, Eshet Chayil - The woman of valour. These were considered the happiest days of the year.

Ironically, this past Sunday morning, I made mention of Tu B'Av at a home-based Simchat Bat, a naming ceremony for a newborn daughter. The parents mentioned that their union was the result of a shiduch, being matched together.

In contemporary times, this is also a joyous week for Beth Emeth. Taking one step at a time, we will reopen for services with the daily Mincha - Maariv at 6:30pm (note the time), beginning on Tuesday evening. Attendees must pre-register and be approved. Internet on line participation will continue as well.

As we begin to enumerate weeks of comfort surrounded by joy, I hope and pray that we will find new optimism moving forward during these last weeks of Summer.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

 

 

Shabbat Nachamu

2020-07-31 09:15:15 AM

Jul31

Dear Congregational Family,

The Sabbath following Tisha B'Av is called Shabbat Nachamu - The Sabbath of Comfort. For the next seven weeks, all the Haftarot will come from the Prophet Isaiah. In each selection, the Hebrew word for comfort will appear. The first Haftarah of comfort begins right away with a double imperative, as God commands Isaiah, "Comfort, comfort my people."

On Tisha B'Av, a slight liturgical modification was made to the familiar prayer called, U'Va L'Tzion. The following verse was consciously omitted, "This is My covenant with them: My spirit shall remain with you and with your descendants. My words shall be upon your lips and the lips of your children and your children's children, now and forever." The omission of this phrase implies that the covenant between God and the eternity of the Jewish people has been shattered, at least for a day.

The Shabbat Torah portion of Vaetchanan appears as the perfect response. Two of the most familiar passages in Judaism appear in this Parsha, the Ten Commandments and what is now called, the First paragraph of the Shma. The former begins with, "I am the Lord, your God." The latter begins with, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might." Both fundamental passages establish and restore the eternal bond between God and the Jewish people. In fact, there was a time during the second Temple period and afterwards that these two texts were recited hand in hand every day. Only when certain groups falsely limited Judaism to only the Ten Commandments and nothing more was the daily liturgical text amended to include the Shma only.

With the High Holy Days now seven weeks away, I encourage us to find our own personal sources of comfort and renew our spiritual place in the context of our eternal Jewish heritage.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Wed, 23 September 2020 5 Tishrei 5781