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28/08/2023 11:04:13 AM


Rosh Hashanah sermon 5784  - Day 2

18/09/2023 11:00:12 AM



If, as I mentioned yesterday, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the birth of humanity, why do our Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah not come from the opening pages of Genesis? Rather, our Biblical passages originate from the early experiences of the very first Jewish family, Abraham and Sarah. While Genesis chapter 1 is universal and predates Jewish history, the stories of Abraham and Sarah inaugurate the Jewishness of the Torah. Perhaps the specificity of the Jewish people explains the ancient choice for the Rosh Hashanah Torah readings.

Abraham and Sarah are the originators of the Jewish way of life. Together, they recognize the Oneness of God. Together, they provide an open tent to all who want to be divinely inspired. Together, they welcome passersby and those in need into their tent. Yet, they are not perfect. By definition, all people, even those who call themselves religious, are imperfect human beings. Abraham and Sarah do not come off so well in their treatment of Hagar and Ishmael, who are banished from the family. At face value, Abraham does not come off so well in taking his son Isaac up to the mountain for a near slaughter. The age-old question of why Abraham can challenge God about wiping out Sodom and Gomorrah but not challenge God about what might happen to Isaac continues to be an age-old question of generations on the subject.

With all the imperfection, Abraham and Sarah are the progenitors of Judaism. Their open tent becomes the model for the Jewish home and for the synagogue. Four thousand years later, the Jewish home and the synagogue are still here and continue to provide the best guarantees of Jewish meaning, purpose, and vitality. Yet, the Jewish home, the synagogue, and affiliation with Jewish life are in peril, and not because of the pandemic. Traditional Jewish practice in the home has waned in the 20th-21st century. Affiliation and volunteer involvement in synagogue have waned in recent years. The word religion or religious has become a negative word for many people.

When I was ordained in 1987, one of my classmates was David Wolpe, the son on a congregational rabbi himself. David was our class valedictorian at our ordination ceremony. He has gone on to write many books and has recently retired after many years as senior rabbi of the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. This past Summer, his public retirement article, entitled, "As a Rabbi, I've had a privileged view of the human condition," has gone viral.

Here are some excerpts from his meaningful essay:

For over a quarter of a century now, I have listened to people's stories, sat by their bedsides as life slipped away, buried their parents, spouses, sometimes their children. Marriages have ended in my office, as have engagements. I have watched families as they say cruel, cutting things to one another, or just as devastating, refuse to say anything at all. I have seen the iron claw of grief scrape out the insides of mourners, grip their windpipes, blind their eyes so that they cannot accept the mercy of people or of God. . . . I have come to several realizations. All of us are wounded and broken in one way or another. Those who do not recognize it in themselves or in others are more likely to cause damage than those who realize and try to rise through the brokenness. This is what binds together a faith community. No religious tradition, certainly not my own, looks at an individual and says: "There, You are perfect." it is humility and sadness and striving that raises us, doing good that proves the tractability of the world and its openness to improvement, and faith that allows us to continue through the shared valleys.

I have had a privileged view of the human condition, and the essential place of religion on that hard road. Sometimes it seems, for those outside of faith communities, that religion is simply about a set of beliefs to which one assents. But I know that from the inside it is about relationships and shared vision. Where else do people sing together week after week? Where else does the past come alive to remind us how much has been learned before the sliver of time we are granted in this world?

I know the percentage of those who not only call themselves religious but also find themselves in religious communities declines each year. . . . Keeping a congregation together has never been easy. . . . Two practices have enabled us to stay together. Over the years, I have encouraged people to learn about each other's lives. . . . The second is listening. We, who do not know ourselves, believe we understand others. We must always be reminded that each person is a world.

I still believe the synagogue is a refuge for the bereaved and provides a road map for the seeker. I have been moved by how powerful that teachings of tradition prove to be in people's lives, helping them sort out grievances from grief, focusing on what matters, giving poignancy to celebrations. The stories of the Torah, read year after year, wear grooves in our souls, so that patterns of life that might escape us become clear. Sibling rivalries and their costs are clear in the story of Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. The consequences of kindness emanate from the book of Ruth. We share unanswerable questions with Job and passion with Song of Songs. The Torah acts as a spur and a salve.

Religion may be on the decline . . . but if you wish to se the full panoply of a human life, moments of ecstatic joy and deepest sorrow, the summit of hopes and the connections of community, they exist concentrated in one place: Your local house of worship.

I only wish I could speak and write as beautifully and as meaningfully as my classmate and colleague, Rabbi David Wolpe. I look out at you. I look into the livestream camera knowing who you are. I know that in my twenty-three years at Beth Emeth and in my thirty-six years in the rabbinate that I have seen and experienced everything that Rabbi Wolpe has seen and experienced. With many of you, I have come to learn, understand, and respect your lives, as you have done with me. When we are commanded to HEAR the Shofar and not BLOW the Shofar, we are taught the importance of listening to each other completely and not blowing empty words at each other. It is appropriate that the origin of the Shofar is found in the Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah. We do not sacrifice our children or others on the proverbial altar. The ram's horn teaches us to listen, to love, and to care with and for each other.

It is time to reclaim the words religion and religious. They are not limited to external garments or a fixed set of beliefs and practices. They are about cultivating homes, synagogues, and lives that are predicated on striving to be the best we can be even while being imperfect beings; on finding moments of meaning in celebration and in sorrow; and in being there for each other.

I wish us all Shanah Tovah U'Metuka.
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Rosh Hashanah sermon 5784 - Day 1

18/09/2023 09:45:32 AM



Rosh Hashanah is commonly referred to as the birthday of the world or the day on which the world was conceived. More specifically, our Sages understand that on Rosh Hashanah, humanity was created, with today commemorating the sixth day of creation, the birth of humanity. In Bereishit, Genesis 1, a strange verse describes the creation of humanity in the following words: "And God created man in God's image; in the image of God, God created man; male and female God created them." What is this verse saying? Was the first person a man? Was the first person a singular entity of man and woman? Was the first entity already two separate human beings, one male and one female? The text is strikingly ambiguous.

In the Midrash, ancient rabbinic interpretation, as in the commentary found in the Etz Hayim Chumash, "The first human being was actually a pair of twins attached to each other, one male and one female. God divided them and commanded them to reunite, to find the other person who will make them complete again, in order to reproduce and attain wholeness."

When we say that humanity, male and female, are created in God's image and likeness, we know that in Jewish tradition we have "many many" different conceptions of God, based on time, place, and circumstance. Some describe God in masculine terms: Our Father, our King, Man of war. Others describe God in feminine terms: The Shechina, feminine in dwelling presence; Compassionate One, from the word Harachaman, literally of the womb. In the second day Haftarah for Rosh Hashanah, God is described as a mother weeping over her exiled children. God is a composite of male and female attributes. So, of course, men and women are created equally in the image and likeness of God. Judaism teaches us that EVERYONE is made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly.

In recent years, we have all heard stories of people, some being members of our own families, who are struggling with their gender identification. There are those individuals who are phenotypically one sex but morphologically the other, or ambiguous. There are people who have complex genetic or biochemical realities that create tensions between their genetic makeup and their apparent gender. Sometimes this is resolved in favor of their genotype and sometimes in favor of their outward gender. Sometimes this resolution changes at puberty. These are hard cases that need nuance, balance, and medical expertise. Of course, every person needs to be dealt with kindness as they seek answers to many religious questions that a gender-ambiguous person has.

Over two thousand years ago, the ancient rabbis were aware of an individual whose sexual characteristics were indeterminate or obscured and whose gender was in a state of doubt, called a TUMTUM.

Over two thousand years ago, the ancient rabbis were aware that someone could display both male and female characteristics, called ANDROGYNOS.

Over two thousand years ago, the ancient rabbis understood that a transition could take place as one aged. A person who was identified as a female at birth but developed male characteristics later on was called AYLONIT.

Over two thousand years ago, the ancient rabbis understood that another transition could take place as one aged. A person who was identified as a male at birth but developed female characteristics later on was called SARIS.

Of course, the ancient rabbis understood male as ZACHAR and female as NEKEVAH.

For the ancient rabbis, these categories were not merely theoretical and abstract. For example, the ANDROGYNOS was not just a thing of the mythic past. The ANDROGYNOS was in fact a recognized gender category in their present, with both, male and female sex organs. The term appears no less than 32 times in the Mishnah and 283 times in the Talmud. Most of these citations consider how Jewish Law applies to one who has both, male and female sexual characteristics.

For example, in Mishnah Bikkurim 4:1, we read explicitly: "The ANDROGYNOS is in some ways like men, and in other ways, like women. In other ways, he is like men and women, and in others, he is like neither men nor women."

That the rabbis recognized non-binary categories of people is clear. That the rabbis were challenged with particular legal applications of Jewish law to non-binary categories of people is also clear. What is remarkable, however, is that over two thousand years ago, our great leaders, teachers, and rabbinic masters recognized a wide array of human diversity. They discussed the matters as reality, with openness, with love, with compassion, with understanding, with sympathy, and with empathy. In other words, the ancient rabbis were remarkably ahead of their time. They recognized and accepted a world of possibilities.

What about us today? Are we judgmental with pre-conceived notions of human diversity? How many of us were aware of the vastness I have shared today from within the canons of sacred Jewish literature? 

It is no accident that the Golden Rule of Judaism, the exact mid-point of the Torah, is the famous expression, "V'Ahavta L'Reacha Kamocha - Love the other as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:18)." Just as you and I do not want to be rejected, alienated, judged, or labeled, we should not do so to others, and definitely not in the name of religion. All people are to be loved and made to feel welcome. 

While the ancient rabbis understood gender to "largely" operate on a binary axis, they clearly understood that not everyone fit binary categories, and they even specified realistic categories for acknowledging specific differences.

May we learn true ideals for today from a tradition of true ideals from thousands of years ago.

I wish everyone Shanah Tovah U'Metukah - A sweet, healthy, good, and peaceful new year.
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Today is 9/11.

11/09/2023 10:49:07 AM


Today is 9/11. We all knew where we were in 2001 when the tragic news reached us. On a Tuesday, I was teaching the sisterhood weekly class at that time.
I remember over 3000 fallen souls from disparate locations.
I remember the clergy led memorial service performed in our shul.
I remember learning after the fact that my brother walked from near the New York destruction to New Jersey to get home safely.
I remember the acts of kindness performed by so many volunteers.
Tonight, the Yankees play the Red Sox. While I have my loyalty, it is good to live normal lives and play ball. 
May we remember the New Yorkers and others who lost their lives on 9/11.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The month of Elul - Selichot is upon us

07/09/2023 09:17:50 AM


The month of Elul is not only the last month of the year 5783. It is also a month of spiritual preparation in advance of 5784. Already from the outset of Elul, the Shofar is sounded at the end of daily morning services as a preparatory wake up call. Since the sounding of the Shofar is considered optional or customary during Elul, it is paused on the last day of Elul to distinguish it from the commandment of hearing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.

Also, at the outset of Elul, we began to recite Psalm 27 at evening and morning services. Every line resonates with High Holy Day themes. The Talmud interprets the opening line as follows: "The Lord is my light - Rosh Hashanah. The Lord is my salvation - Yom Kippur." Elsewhere, the Psalm makes reference to the Sukkah as a place where God protects us. The last line offers hope, faith, and strength, as we transition from one year to the next. The Psalm is recited through the very end of the Sukkot season.

It is customary throughout Elul to visit the graves of loved ones. A meaningful spiritual preparation for the new year is to take note of those who have guided us through our lives and who continue to inspire us even after their passing from this world.

Sephardim began to recite daily prayers of Selichot, forgiveness, from the outset of Elul. Thus, they recite penitential prayers for forty days, from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur. Moses stood atop Mount Sinai forty days to receive Torah and did so again after the episode of the golden calf. With Moses' second experience, forty days are associated with God's forgiveness of the Jewish people.

Ashkenazim begin to recite daily prayers of Selichot following the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah. These prayers of penitence must begin no less than four days prior to Rosh Hashanah. Ashkenazim begin on a Saturday night following Shabbat for a number of reasons. The joy of the Shabbat just observed balances the serious mood of the Selichot prayers. In addition,  The Torah portion of Nitzavim-Vayelech contains variations of the word Teshuva-Repentance many times. The Talmud teaches us that when we are in need of divine forgiveness, we ought to recite the thirteen attributes of God's forgiving the People of Israel following the sin of the golden calf.

I invite you to join us at Beth Emeth this Saturday night. At 9PM, we will reflect on a number of prayers and readings for the new year. At 10PM, our new director of spiritual engagement, Cantor Ron Donenfeld, will lead us in a traditional Selichot service.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova U'Metuka - A good and sweet new year,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

What is your story? - Parshat Ki Tavo

31/08/2023 08:02:13 AM


At the outset of this week's Parsha, we read the first story to be told by our people when they are to enter the land of Israel. While participating in a dramatic first fruits ceremony, a liturgical history is recounted, beginning with the words, "My father was a wandering Aramean. . . " These words harken back to either Abraham or Jacob, depending on one's interpretation. The narrative goes on to briefly summarize how our ancestors came to Egypt, were oppressed, but were ultimately liberated. The story concludes with taking care of the needy and celebrating in gratitude God's gifts. 

This brief story became the highlight of Shavuot when our people literally celebrated the holiday with first fruits when the Temple stood. In a post Temple age, our rabbinic Sages inserted this same Biblical text as the KeyPoint narrative in the Pesach Haggadah, which is recited to this very day.

Next week begins the Selichot season. Rosh Hashanah is two weeks away. What has been your story for the past year? Have you enabled all or part of it to come true? What will be your story for yourself, your family, and your community for the coming year?

As we read perhaps the single most poignant summary of Biblical Jewish life, history, and values in this week's Parsha, may our contemporary Jewish narrative augment the story and stories of our people's 4000 years of Jewish storytelling.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Golda and the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war

28/08/2023 11:02:56 AM


On Sunday, I watched the new film entitled, Golda, starring Helen Mirren. How appropriate that the movie was released in theaters mere weeks prior to the fiftieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur war.  I found the movie certainly worth seeing, realistic, and edgy. Even more so, however, the movie brought me back to where I was on that Yom Kippur day almost fifty years ago.

I remember sitting as a thirteen-year-old with my dad in my childhood Orthodox shul. We sat near the back of the sanctuary, as my dad was also one of the designated ushers by the sanctuary entrance. During the mid-morning of services, an Israeli man, not a shul member, interacted with my dad at the sanctuary door. The man was certainly not Orthodox. He mentioned to my dad that he had driven to shul and heard on the car radio the terrible events that were transpiring in Israel and insisted on speaking with the rabbi at that precise moment, even while prayers were being recited.  Without a moment of hesitation, my father escorted this individual to the rabbi at the Bima. The rabbi interrupted his davening to listen to this man. Seconds later, the rabbi correctly paused the service, shared what he had heard with the congregation, and special Psalms of spiritual reflection were instantly inserted into the service.

I remember these events like yesterday, and which were conjured up quickly while watching the movie, Golda. I am sure that anyone my age or older knows where we were when we learned about the Yom Kippur war.

The film also reminds me that our Diaspora Jewish connection with Israel must be for and with the entire nation of Israel and not merely with a particular political party or religious denomination. 

Watching Golda felt like a proper spiritual act as we have recently ushered in the month of Elul, a time of personal and national introspection prior to the onset of the High Holy Days.

I look forward to seeing you this coming Shabbat, at which time Rosh Hashanah will be two weeks away.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

04/08/2023 09:41:28 AM


Comfort, Comfort My People   (sermon from Shabbat July 29,2023)

31/07/2023 08:08:48 AM


This past Thursday was Tisha B'Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. During the two ancient Temple periods, this period of the year was filled with internal strife and division among the Jewish people. During the first Temple period, Jews were committing acts of bloodshed among each other, acts of promiscuity, and acts of idolatry. During the second Temple period, Jews were divided along political and religious lines, often informing on each other to the Roman authorities. There was senseless hatred among our people. The internal divisions left our people vulnerable and fragile, leaving it easy for the Babylonians and subsequently the Romans to plunder Jerusalem and exile our people.

This year, two and a half days prior to Tisha B'Av, a Knesset vote of 64-0, which really would have been more like 64-56 without a boycott, has left our idyllic Israel fragile and vulnerable. Can you imagine an IDF where reservists are refusing to serve? It is not for me to judge or fully understand Israel's Parliamentary system. I have read many articles from different perspectives. Did the Supreme Court have too much power that the government could not make decisions and carry them out? Does the government now have too much power without the necessary checks and balances coming from the courts? Was the Supreme Court's use of "reasonableness" as a legal check on Government appointments and plans applied too broadly or not?

What I do know from history is that when the Jewish people are not united, we are weakened internally within ourselves and externally to the threats of foes around us. These matters concern me the most. Was there no way to pause further? To not find a way where different viewpoints could find enough common ground? Is it true that Israel has not been this divided since the events leading up to and including the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin?

The Shabbat following Tisha B'Av is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of comfort. The Prophet Isaiah, after the fall of the first Temple, cries out to God, "Comfort, comfort my people." I am not a prophet, but I too call out to God today, "Comfort, comfort my people. The Jewish people need to take a deep breath, find some comfort after this past week, begin to heal, and hopefully find ways to reunite and re-energize ourselves.

Perhaps today's Parsha has come at the right time. In the final chapter of his life, Moses stands over the promised land and has his people come back to basics. In the Parsha today, we have read for a second time the Ten Commandments. We have read the Shma. We have read the words we recite when the Torah scroll is lifted, "And this is the Torah which Moses placed before the Children of Israel."

All Jews are equal recipients of our Torah and our tradition. May we find common place in our heritage to utilize the upcoming seven weeks of comfort and be renewed, even as we will soon renew another year on the Jewish calendar.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Tisha B'Av lessons - from past to present

24/07/2023 08:46:33 AM


This Wednesday night and Thursday (July 26-27)  is Tisha B'Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. While the day recalls historical Jewish tragedy, the centerpieces of the sadness surround the destruction of both holy Temples in Jerusalem. 

History focuses on external causes. The Babylonians destroyed the first Temple, and the Romans destroyed the second Temple.

Rabbinic tradition, however, focuses on internal causes. The first Temple was destroyed on account of promiscuity, idolatry, and murder. The second Temple was destroyed on account of senseless hatred, Sinat Chinam.

On this Tisha B'Av we are again threatened on all sides. Externally, acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise. Acts of terror take place in Israel.

Internally, we Jews are divided religiously and politically. Legitimate debate is one thing. Illegitimate debate is another.

Consider the Knesset's decision on judicial reform this past Monday. Sadly, partisan ideology superceded the unity of Israel. Could there not have been a way for disparate views to find enough common ground? We now pray for healing and the future of Israel.

Consider the Western Wall, the last vestige of the Temple, which should unite us. On Rosh Chodesh Av, as Neshama Carlebach was leading a women of the wall service on the women's side of the kotel, chareidi leaders blasted music of her late father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, to drown her out. Skirmishes ensued.

Friends -  while external forces destroyed ancient Jerusalem twice, our Sages focused on internal strife. We must do so as well. We must begin the process of national and individual repentance now. From Tisha B'Av, we enumerate seven weeks of comfort leading to the "Ten Days of Repentance." Of course, repentance ought to be a daily practice. Now is the time nationally and individually.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Concluding B'Midbar  and dad's birthday

14/07/2023 09:01:23 AM


This coming Shabbat, we conclude the book of B'Midbar, the book of Numbers. On the secular calendar, the date is July 15th, which coincides with my father's birthday. Ruben Morrison, of blessed memory, was born in the Bronx on July 15, 1927. He passed away on June 7, 1999 at the age of 71. 

The book of B'Midbar is the ultimate book of journeys in the Torah. Most of the forty-year journey experience shared by the Israelites is described in B'Midbar, with the nation of Israel poised on the threshold of the Promised Land by the end of this Shabbat's Torah reading.

Parshat Masei, the last portion of B'Midbar, enumerates the halting places made along the journey. According to Rashi, this enumeration points to the acts of lovingkindness performed by God at each place along the way.

My dad made many stops along his journey of life, guided by God at each place. The third oldest of six brothers, my dad and two younger brothers were raised primarily by an Orthodox foster family in the Bronx. Dad developed a passion for tall ships and for antique tools, especially the Stanley Company metal planes from the late 1800's to the early 1900's. My father earned his college degree in Boston in the field of construction engineering. Over the years, he worked for two Boston area construction companies and served as the project manager for many projects in the city. Perhaps most notable was the Devonshire, a large skyscraper in the heart of downtown Boston.

Dad met and married a Boston area native, my mom, Helen, of blessed memory. Ironically, she passed away on Rosh Hashanah 1999, just three months after dad died. They were married in 1954 and went on to raise four children, including myself. 

While my father worked long hours during the week, we always sat as a family for Shabbat Friday night dinner. Dad was actively involved, as was mom, at the Young Israel of Brookline. Together, they enabled all four kids to attend the Maimonides Day School from grades K-12. 

Dad was blessed with four grandsons. The youngest was born after his passing. The third youngest, my nephew, was born mere months before my father died. My brother made sure that Zayde and grandson had an interaction while dad was very ill. That grandson will be getting married this coming mid-August almost exactly a month following dad's birthday.

What an incredible journey - From poor biological parents, to an orphanage for a short time, to a foster family, to a new life in the Boston area, to a love of wife and family, to an ongoing commitment to his Jewish heritage, to two interesting hobbies, and more - my father had an amazing journey in this world. 

Inasmuch as I recite Kaddish on his Yahrzeit; inasmuch as I remember him every day; I will pause this Shabbat to celebrate what would have been dad's ninety-sixth birthday.

Dad- Yom Huledet Sameach (Happy Birthday), and may your memory continue to always be a blessing.


Chukkat-Balak - Remembering our righteous

04/07/2023 09:22:14 AM


According to most sources, Parshat Chukkat takes place during the fortieth year of our people's journey in the desert. Early in our reading, we read about the death of Miriam. There is no mention of mourning because after her death, a fresh supply of water ceased, and the panic of the people overtook any sense of national mourning. In one particular Midrash, Aaron and Moses were sitting grieving her loss, but the panic of the people prevented them from privately mourning as well.

Miriam's death and a lack of water for the people serve as a catalyst to the events that took place soon after at a rock, where Moses and Aaron were told by God to speak to the rock. Filled with their own grief, the two brothers struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Some commentators suggest that they did not follow God's instruction clearly because they were still grief stricken. When the people are called Morim (rebels) out of frustration on the part of Moses, one can hear the name Miram in the word Morim. Clearly, Miriam's death had an impact on what came afterward. Soon after the events at the waters of strife, we learn of Aaron's passing. With the urgency of water now over, the people observe a thirty period of mourning. Soon after this, Moses learns that he too will die in the fortieth year of wandering and will not be allowed to enter the promised land.

In the Midrash, these three great sibling heroes are each associated with a divine gift that temporarily ended after their deaths: the well of water associated with Miriam, the clouds of glory associated with Aaron, and the Manna from heaven associated with Moses.

Put another way, Moses was the rabbi (Moshe Rabeinu); Aaron was the Temple officiant or ritual director; and Miriam, along with other gifts and talents, was the musician of the people, as evidenced by her song and instrument at the Red Sea.  All three deaths are either documented or hinted to in this week's Parsha.

As we celebrate Canada Day today and the onset of Summer, we ought never forget the remembrances of three heroes in Beth Emeth history. Just a few months ago, we lost our beloved ritual director of many years, Danny Allman, of blessed memory. He wore other hats as well.

Last Shabbat, the 5th of Tammuz was the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Joseph Kelman, who passed away on June 27, 2009.

Coming three days after Tisha B'Av, will be the Yahrzeit of Chazzan Louis Danto, on the 12th of Av. He passed away on July 23, 2010.

Just as Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were given gifts by God to lead the people of Israel up to the threshold of the Promised Land; so too, Rabbi Kelman, Chazzan Danto, and Danny were given special talents and led our community into the 21st century.

As we remember one trio mentioned in the Torah, let us also remember another trio, without whom our synagogue would simply not have been.

May all the memories be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Celebrating Freedom

29/06/2023 09:06:04 AM


As a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, I have the privilege of celebrating Canada Day on July 1 and American Independence Day on July 4. While both occasions are celebrated with fireworks, barbecues, and more, we ought never take for granted the importance of freedom and our mandate to preserve it.

From the inception of Jewish history, our people have tragically known what it is like not to be and free and to be persecuted by others. The Jewish people have had to ensure the slavery of Biblical Egypt. We have had to endure the oppressions of many different empires in antiquity, such as the Hellenistic and Roman Empires. We have had to endure medieval forms of hatred perpetrated against us during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and pogroms. We have had to endure the atrocities of the Shoah, and we have had to endure contemporary forms of terrorism and anti-Semitism. Is it any wonder that we Jews enthusiastically celebrate the weekly Shabbat, the annual Festival of Passover (called "the season of our freedom") and Yom Ha'Atzmaut ("Israel Independence Day")! We celebrate our freedom because we know what it means not to be free.

In Canada and in the U.S. this coming week, we should go beyond attending fireworks and barbecues. While there is much more progress that needs to be made, we should pause and be grateful for the freedoms we have living in North America. It is proper that many synagogues, including Beth Emeth, recite a prayer for Canada during Shabbat services. Even two thousand years ago, our ancient Sages saw the merit of living under the auspices of a civilized government. In the Ethics of the Sages, we learn:

"Pray for the welfare of the Government, for if people did not have awe for it, they would swallow each other alive (Pirkei Avot 3:2)."

I wish everyone a healthy, joyous, and meaningful Canada Day and Fourth of July.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Hachnasat Orchim - Welcoming guests

19/06/2023 09:17:38 AM


The Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests, is listed in a small collection of supreme Jewish values which is recited in private daily morning prayer before the official synagogue service begins.

The Mitzvah of welcoming guests is one of the first Jewish values we learn from the first Jewish couple, Abraham and Sarah. When three mysterious guests appear before their tent, the couple welcomes them, feeds them, and extends deeds of lovingkindness.

The Chuppa at a wedding is symbolically modeled after the Abraham-Sarah tent, covered on top to indicate the privacy of the home, and open on the sides so that the Jewish home is a welcoming place for guests and those in need.

This coming Shabbat, our synagogue will truly be a welcoming place. While we open our doors to almost anyone on a daily or weekly basis, this will be accentuated on Shabbat. In addition to having a visiting Cantor, Chazzan Adam Frei, an Aufruf, and a baby naming, we will also be welcoming over 100 guests from the Mississauga Chinese Baptist Church. Several weeks ago, I met with its pastor, the Reverend Galahad Cheung and its Church educator, Shu Sam. They and their members are enthusiastically looking forward to watching and appreciating a traditional Shabbat morning service.

I hope that many of us will attend services and, whether formally or informally, welcome the guests of our lifecycle events, our visiting Cantor, and our new friends from a nearby Church. In so doing, we will truly be observing the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim - Welcoming guests.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat B'ha'alotecha - With Pride (delivered on Shabbat June 10, 2023)

13/06/2023 09:11:43 AM


In today's Parsha, Miriam speaks to Aaron against Moses' life choices. "He married a Cushite woman." Our tradition identifies this woman as either Tzipporah, Moses' wife in Exodus, or perhaps a different wife from Egypt. Regardless, this woman is perceived by Miriam as being an outsider, looks different, and is not worthy of marrying Moses or being a member of the Jewish people. Whether it is her religion, color, orientation, or some other supposed fault, her "otherness" is too much for Miriam to accept.

While Judaism is a tradition based on boundaries, sometimes, we become too exclusionary in our attitudes when we need to be more inclusionary. Perhaps this is the lesson Miriam needs to learn in our Parsha today. As we read in the Torah text, Miriam is stricken with Tzaraat, the scaly skin ailment associated with the punishment for slander and gossip. Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days, and the people did not march forward until Miriam was readmitted. Miriam was forced outside the very boundaries she was attempting to erect and enforce.

Perhaps the seven day exclusion of Miriam was meant to give her time to rethink her attitudes and to transform her experience of exclusion into a lesson of inclusion not only for herself, but for others who identify with the Jewish people, but who may be perceived by themselves or others as being "outsiders." For the Israelite community to move forward, it was not for Moses or his wife, but Miriam who had to temporarily leave the community - a lesson in radical inclusivity.

As we know, June is Pride awareness month. This month and today's Parsha contain lessons that all identified Jews, LGBTQ and otherwise, must know that they are included within the Jewish community. Inclusivity is a lesson for those who perceive themselves as "inside" and those who perceive themselves as "outside" to reflect upon and understand. 

When I was a rabbinical student in New York back in the 1980's, I was troubled that there was a synagogue in lower Manhattan designed specifically for the gay and lesbian Jewish community. I had always thought and still do that a synagogue is for all Jews, unconditionally. Friends who I had made from that particular congregation had taught me that they were all too often made to feel uncomfortable in the so-called normative synagogues and had no choice.

Forty plus years later, how far have we come? Are all Jews welcome in our synagogues regardless of ideology, skin color, sexual persuasion, and otherwise? 

We may do well to understand what Miriam had to understand, in a Biblical story from over 3500 years ago, in which she had to be excluded in order to learn about being included!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering my father - Ruben Morrison, of blessed memory

12/06/2023 09:36:48 AM


Today, Monday June 12, coincides with the twenty-third of Sivan and is the twenty-fourth Yahrzeit of my father, Ruben Morrison, Zichrono L'Veracha. 

Earlier in the month of Sivan, we celebrated the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah and is highlighted by reading the Ten Commandments. According to many scholars, it is the fifth commandment, to honor one's parents, which holds all Ten Commandments together. It is the parent who teaches the child one's duties to God and to society at large.

My father was raised by an impoverished foster family. One of six brothers, he and two of his siblings were raised by a loving and caring foster family in the Bronx, NY.  My dad grew up in a Sabbath observant home and attended shul regularly. Years later, after studying in the Boston area, he met and married my mother, Helen Scott Morrison, and together they raised four children, me and my three siblings.

Being a mensch and a committed Jew were supreme values for my dad. He ensured that all four children attended Jewish day school from kindergarten through high school. In my case, the influence of mom and dad inspired me to minor in Jewish studies at the Boston Hebrew college, to major in business and liberal arts at Boston University, and to pursue rabbinical ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

My father visited me in my previous two congregations proudly and had once said to me that I had one more career move to make. He must have known about Beth Emeth in Toronto before I did. My father died on June 7, 1999 - 23 Sivan 5759. During the year that I mourned his loss and recited Kaddish daily, I was interviewed and subsequently hired by Beth Emeth. My mother passed away three months after my father died on Rosh Hashanah - September 11, 1999. I was still reciting Kaddish in her memory when I began my rabbinical duties in Toronto in the Summer of 2000.

While I remember my mom and dad fondly every day, today in particular, I cherish the memory of my father. When I was mature enough as a teenager, he became my best friend and confidante.

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May the memory of my father, Ruben Morrison, Reuven ben Moshe, be a blessing.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Mazel Tov to Beth Emeth graduates

08/06/2023 08:21:33 AM


On behalf of myself personally and on behalf of our synagogue, I wish to extend a Mazel Tov to all of our Beth Emeth graduates who are completing elementary, middle school, high school, and university programs. I hope that you will stay connected to our shul community, and we  at the shul look forward to staying connected with you.

It is noteworthy that our Torah portion this week, B'ha'alotecha, contains a vivid description of the Israelites' journey experiences in the wilderness. Of note is the mention that the Ark of the covenant led the way from place to place.

All of our graduates are completing one phase of their journey in life only to enter the next phase of their journey in life. May your Jewish values guide you, as the Torah has guided our people for thousands of years.

I wish you and your family Mazel Tov on your accomplishments, and Hatzlacha (success) on your future endeavors.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Naso - Counting what matters

01/06/2023 08:06:41 AM


This past Monday was entitled "National paperclips day." Whenever I think of paperclips, I remember a tremendous act of solidarity, education, and inspiration performed by students and teachers from a high school in Whitwell, Tennessee. In order for a school of Christian teenagers to identify with the horrors of the Shoah, the school community endeavored to collect six million paperclips. By the end of the project, they collected millions more than that. All the paper clips received were meticulously counted.

Parshat Naso begins where Parshat B'Midbar left off, a counting of the tribes of Israel and the Levitical groups. Parshat Naso ends with a counting of the exact same dedication gifts brought by the twelve tribes of Israel over a twelve-day period.

A week ago, we completed counting forty-nine days, seven complete weeks, which connected the Festivals of Passover and Shavuot - from physical freedom to receiving heavenly Torah; from courtship with God to marriage with God; from the planting of a Spring harvest to the ripening of the first fruits.

The lessons of Whitwell, Naso, and the Festival season all share the idea of not merely counting, but counting that which is truly important.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

What is  Your Torah?

24/05/2023 12:22:37 PM


This past Sunday was Rosh Chodesh Sivan. With the onset of the new month a few days ago, we already began preparing for Shavuot, which begins Thursday night.

It is noteworthy that on Rosh Chodesh, I participated in a baby naming at 8:30am, a Bar and Bat Mitzvah at 10:30am, and a wedding at 5:30pm. In all three lifecycle events, I impressed on those present that Shavuot is the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. It is ironic that Shavuot is possibly the most neglected of all the holidays. Is it because Shavuot lacks dramatic ritual, as compared to holidays which have a Shofar, Sukkah, Chanukiah, or Seder? Is it because Shavuot comes and goes so quickly, one day in Israel and two days in the Diaspora? Is it because the main aspect of Shavuot is expressed in the study of Torah, notwithstanding some loose customs such as eating dairy (the Torah is compared to milk and honey)?

Yet, the main theme of Shavuot is "Zman Matan Torateinu - the season of the giving of our Torah." Without Shavuot and the giving of the Torah, there would be no understanding of Shabbat, kashrut, holidays, lifecycle, ethics, etc. Shavuot is the foundational holiday from which everything else in Judaism is derived. 

With Shavuot upon us, I encourage us to consider what Torah means to us? What is our expression of Torah? and how will it grow in the coming season?

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison


Counting on each other out of love - Parshat B'midbar

19/05/2023 06:31:46 AM


The book of B'midar is called Numbers in English and begins with a series of countings. The commentator Rashi suggests that God counts the people of Israel out of love for them - when they leave Egypt, after the golden calf, and when God rests the divine presence upon them.

The book of B'midbar starts with a census counting the tribes and the Levitical clans. The very end of B'midbar details a counting of all the stopping places made during the years of wandering in the desert.

While Scripture has God counting our people out of love, Jewish tradition has us counting out of love for God. Each day of the week is counted as a particular day towards Shabbat, God's gift of rest to us. 

 At this season of the year, we count the forty-nine days of the Omer, a seven-week period of counting from the day of freedom (Passover) to the day of receiving the Torah (Shavuot). Alternatively, we count these seven weeks which connect our courtship with God (Passover) to our wedding with God (Shavuot), with Mount Sinai as the Chuppa, the Ten Commandments as the Ketuba, and the angels as the witnesses and guests.

Many people count that which they love: coins, stamps, the days toward a significant occasion, and more. 

As we begin to read the book of B'midbar and anticipate Shavuot next week, may God and the Jewish people continue to count on each other out of love for one another.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison


Shabbat for Whom? - Parshat B'har

12/05/2023 07:11:16 AM


The commandments to celebrate Shabbat appear all over the Torah. In Genesis chapter 1, God rests on Shabbat after creating the world. In Exodus chapter 20 and Deuteronomy chapter 5, the two versions of the Ten Commandments have us "remember" and "safeguard" Shabbat. In Parshat Ki Tisa in Exodus, the famous V'Shamru passage links Shabbat to the everlasting covenant with God and Israel.

In Parshat B'Har, the portion begins and ends with Shabbat. First, Shabbat is for the land - the Land of Israel shall observe its own year of rest every seventh year, lie fallow, and no Jew shall work the land. This Mitzvah of Shemita, Sabbatical, has us show reverence for the earth; teach us that the earth belongs to God and not to us, and that the land of Israel in its very self has sanctity.

The Mitzvah of Shemitta was certainly operative when Jews were sovereign in the land of Israel with its holy Temple until the Temple's destruction in the year 70CE. For nearly 2000 years, our people were not sovereign in the land of Israel. Since our modern indepence in 1948 and even moreso since the unficiation of Jerusalem in 1967, which is being celebrated next Thursday, the Mitzvah of Shemitta is back on the radar.

Can Shemitta be observed without the Temple being re-established? Should Shemitta be observed in its fullness as a Toraitic or Rabbinic commandment? Should Shemitta be observed in part or full as a pious gesture? Answers abound depending on your ideology. Nevertheless, the concept of Shemitta with or without its ritual fulfillment has everlasting relevance for the reasons stated above.

The end of the Parsha transitions the notion of Shabbat from the land back to the people, in the way that Shabbat is treated throughout the Torah: "Et Shabtotai Tishmoru - You shall safeguard my Sabbaths," referring to every week.

In as much as we are commanded to rest physcially and spiritually every seventh day, does the land deserve no less every seventh year?

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

A cordial welcome

11/05/2023 09:13:25 AM


This Shabbat we welcome Ron Donenfeld. Ron is a candidate for the position of spiritual engagement director. Ron will lead the Friday night Shabbat davening at 6pm. On Shabbat morning, he will teach a session at 9:45am and will conduct Musaf. In the evening, he will teach a session at 7pm, an hour before Mincha. Ron is trained in a wide variety of Jewish music and synagogue skills. I invite you to join us and share your feedback for the wellbeing of our shul.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

My message at the Free Mason's Ecumenical service hosted at Beth Emeth May 7, 2023

08/05/2023 08:30:47 AM


I wish to welcome you to the Masonic Four Districts Divine Service. I acknowledge and congratulate the new Grand Chaplain, Michael Litvak

Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue is a Traditional congregation, rooted philosphically between the Conservative and Orthodox branches of Judaism.

This synagogue was founded in the mid 1950s. The building came to fruition in the late 1950s. Rabbi Joseph Kelman, of blessed memory, served as its founding rabbi for over forty years. He passed away roughly a decade ago. I was hired as the senior rabbi in the Summer of 2000 and have enjoyed almost twenty-three years of serving the Jewish and general community.

The Book of Genesis teaches us that God created humanity in the divine image and likeness. Each one of us, male or female, regardless of faith affiliation, is created in the divine image.

In Leviticus chapter 19, which was read liturgically in synagogues around the world a week ago, the exact midpoint of the five books of the Torah contains the golden rule, "Love thy fellow as thyself." In ancient Jewish commentary, these words are understood as "What is hateful to you do not do to another. That is the essence of Scripture. The rest is commentary- Go and Learn."

There is an ancient Jewish teaching which explains when mankind is minting coins, all the coins come out the same. However, when God is minting human beings, every human being is created uniquely. This teaching predates our understanding of DNA by thousands of years and understands that while each person is created in God's image and likeness, each person is also uniquely different at the same time.

We celebrate today and every day "The unity of our diversity." We celebrate that we are diverse individuals who comprise a united community of fellowship and faith.

Today, our Scriptural reflections have come from the book of Psalms and the book of Proverbs. While they were known for all kinds of accomplishments, ancient tradition attributes Psalms to King David and Proverbs to King Solomon. Over 3000 years ago, King David established Jerusalem as the sovereign capital of Israel. King David paved the way for his son, King Solomon, to oversee the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Both David and Solomon were spiritual figures. In Hebrew, the book of Psalms is called "Tehilim,' which means "Praises." The Psalms are used in daily prayer to affirm our faith in God at times of celebration and sadness. According to ancient tradition, Solomon authored Song of Songs in his youth, Proverbs in his mid-life, and Ecclessiastes in his elder years. Proverbs is exactly that - offering sage proverbial messages for day to day living. How wonderful that today's recitations come from these two famous Biblical luminaries and their writings.

I thank you all for attending and participating today. After refreshments, I invite you all back into this sanctuary for those who would like to learn about and see the objects of the synagogue sanctuary.

Rabbi Howard Morrison


Parshat Emor - The Spring season continues 

04/05/2023 09:11:58 AM


On the second night of Pesach, we began to count the seven weeks of the Omer, which unite the festivals of Pesach and Shavuot.

In the modern Jewish calendar, we have already seen the entries of Yom Ha'Shoah, Yom Ha'Zikaron and Yom Ha'Atzmaut into the Omer season. 

The Biblical origin of counting the Omer appears in this week's portion of Emor in a section which digests the appointed seasons of the Jewish calendar.

In the aftermath of Emor, we will celebrate Lag B'Omer next Tuesday, May 9, a day of rejoicing when much of the Omer period is associated with historical sadness.

On the 28th of Iyar, Friday May 19th, we will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, which commemorates the miracle of the six day war in 1967 and the reunification of Jerusalem.

Over the years, I have had a poster at home entitled, "Yerushalayim K'Achat - Jerusalem as one." A half of the poster visually depicts the old city, and the other half visually depicts the new city.

With Parshat Emor, we read the origin of counting the Omer and the continued admixture of old and new in the Jewish calendar.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Rabbi Harold Kushner   ז״ל

01/05/2023 10:09:31 AM


On Friday afternoon around 3:45 PM, I learned that Rabbi Harold Kushner passed away. The name might be familiar to you. He wrote many books that touched the lives of modern Jews around the world. His first best seller was the famous "When bad things happen to good people." He first wrote the book to comfort himself and his family after his young boy died of an aging disease. While I did not necessarily share his theology, I and thousands if not millions of others valued his writing which brought comfort to those who struggle with perceived injustice in the world. I also remarked to people that the book was not entitled "WHY," which no one can answer, but rather, "WHEN," which we can answer with compassion, sympathy, empathy, and just being there for one another.

Over the years, Rabbi Kushner touched people with other best seller but lesser-known works, such as a modern interpretation of Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd - Healing wisdom of the twenty-third Psalm." He also wrote a book called, "When all you've ever wanted is not enough," which I used one year as the basis of a High Holy Day sermon. He also authored "Living a life that matters" and much more.

Rabbi Kushner spoke as well as he wrote. He had that rare ability to take timeless ideals and make them timely. He touched Jews and non-Jews, religious Jews and secular Jews.

For years, he would teach at the annual Rabbinical Assembly convention. I always looked forward to his sessions. I also heard him before my rabbinical school days in the Boston area where I was raised. He served as a career pulpit rabbi in Natick, MA.

If you want to be inspired and enriched as a person looking for depth and purpose in your life, I encourage you to read Rabbi Kushner's writings.

On this Shabbat, we read the double portion Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, followed by Parshat Emor. The titles translate as "After one's death, one speaks of his sanctity." How true this sentiment is for the memory of Rabbi Kushner, who will be laid to rest this coming Monday.

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May Rabbi Harold Kushner's memory be for a blessing.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

In the aftermath of Yom Ha'Atzmaut

27/04/2023 09:08:08 AM


The Haftarah for this coming Shabbat has the Prophet Amos envisioning a time when the land of Israel will be re-established with Jewish sovereignty. His vision has been realized in part since 1948.

This past week, we celebrated modern Israel's 75th birthday. Now in its aftermath, I encourage you to consider our shul's two week tour this coming October 30 - November 13. Already twenty have registered. Our travel agent has blocked 25 seats for the trip. The itinerary is posted on our website.

How exciting it will be for BEBY to celebrate Israel at 75 in a few short months.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

A calendar rollercoaster ride

20/04/2023 09:09:05 AM


As you read this message, we will have completed the observance of Yom Ha'Shoah this past week, and we anticipate the observances of Yom Ha'Zikaron and Yom Ha'Atzmaut next week.

While our tradition did not know of these dates prior to the mid-twentieth century, they are now engrained in the Jewish calendar and in the soul of every single Jew. How does one emotionally and spiritually ritualize the remembrance of six million brothers and sisters and then go on in a week's time to remember all who fell for the State of Israel and to celebrate its independence the following day? There is no definitive answer.

Just as many of us commemorated Yom Ha'Shoah by lighting a yellow candle and/or attending a public ceremony this week, I encourage us to find personal and/or public ways to commemorate Yom Ha'Zikaron and Yom Ha'Atzmaut next week. At Beth Emeth's Shacharit service Wednesday April 26, we will celebrate with the insertions of Hallel, Al Ha'Nisim (For the miracles), the Prayer for Israel, Ha'Tikvah, and the sounding of the Shofar. All of this is preceded next Tuesday with Israel's Day of Remembrance. May we all pause for a moment of silence as the sirens are sounded in Israel on that day.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Inexplicable loss of life: From the Torah - the deaths of Nadav and Avihu/ From Passover this year - the deaths of Lucy, Maia, and Rina Dee

14/04/2023 09:10:35 AM


The situations are different and similar at the same time. In this week's Parsha, Nadav and Avihu, the adult sons of Aaron, the High Priest, die tragically on the spot having brought a strange fire to the altar of the Tabernacle. Why they die is inexplicable. Commentaries have been offered throughout the ages, suggesting that the more one tries to understand, the more one will never understand. The grief of their father, Aaron, is indescribable. He is silent and perhaps in shock after the sudden deaths of his two sons.

A week ago today, which was already Chol Ha'Moed in Israel, Lucy Dee and her daughters, Maia and Rina, were brutally slain by a terrorist in Israel while driving en route to Tiberias. Husband and father, Rabbi Leo Dee, was unharmed while following them in another car. His two daughters were found dead and were buried last Sunday. The critically wounded Lucy died on Monday and was buried on Tuesday. A family of seven is now a family of four, with three surviving children and their father.

Demonstrating courage and bravery, Rabbi Dee, who buried three family members within a couple of days, spoke last Monday night. He proclaimed "Dees day" - a time to differentiate between good and evil. One must never blame the victim for being the recipient of terror. The terrorist is always to blame. While grieving in a way that no one should have to grieve, he made the halakhic decision to have five organs from his wife be posthumously donated to the living to help save five human lives. In addition, he encouraged every Jew to post a picture of himself or herself on social media with a flag of Israel to demonstrate that we always stand with Israel.

With the inexplicable loss of family life and the indescribable nature of their grief, Aaron, in Parshat Shemini, and Rabbi Leo Dee, during a Passover we will never forget, teach us how to be strong and proud ambassadors of our faith and heritage.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Passover Sermon Day 1 - the Haggadah and the State of Israel

10/04/2023 09:41:10 AM


One of the overall lessons of Pesach is how to achieve unity without imposing uniformity. When we gather at the Pesach Seder, we sit as a united family and fellowship even while we share differences of thought, belief, and practice. The four kinds of children perhaps exemplifies this lesson best.

Similarly, when we gather as a congregation, we sit together as a macro family, not any different than the micro family gathered at the Seder table.

Many Jews are Zionists. I am a Zionist. I share a love for Israel. Most of us in this sanctuary love Israel and identify as Zionists. This does not mean, however, that our views and feelings are one and the same. It is appropriate to dwell on Israel, Diaspora, and Zionism today. After all, Pesach celebrates the Exodus from Egypt and the journey toward entering the land of Israel.

Over the past few months, we have all heard, read, and seen the images of political debate in Israel. On the one hand, such debate celebrates Israel as an open democracy. On the other hand, there are those in Israel and abroad who fear for democracy in Israel. There are those living in the Diaspora who are vocal in their sentiments, and there are those in the Diaspora who feel we should have little or no say since we do not live in Israel or serve in the IDF.

In general, I personally feel the latter. If I were asked to comment on Israel's state of affairs, I would not be naive. However, my comments would always focus on the overall State of Israel, not any political party. I would always focus on Ahavat Yisrael, a genuine love for Israel. I would always focus on Klal Yisrael, the totality of the Jewish people. If I felt that my traditional but non-Orthodox rabbinic legitimacy was at stake, I would work with like-minded colleagues living in Israel to speak on my behalf. I fear that any potential critique, no matter how loving,  would only come across as a Diaspora bashing of Israel. 

A couple of weeks ago, our local UJA-Federation published an excellent statement on the political happenings in Israel, entitled, "When good people disagree." Some of the highlights include: Speaking to Israelis as Family. Quoting the noted Irwin Cotler, when debate becomes division, 'what's needed is engagement without apocalyptic language.' At times of polarization, we must model how to hold difficult conversations without fueling divisions. We must speak with clear and direct dialogue.

It seems to me that the Pesach Haggadah is the optimum tool and text for achieving positive and constructive goals while always maintaining our love and support for the State of Israel. Just as the Haggadah presents diverse views in a harmonious conversation, so too, we can present diverse views on the matters of today in a harmonious conversation.

Next year in Jerusalem, the Haggadah concludes. May that be the case for our Beth Emeth trip to Israel next Fall, and for all of us to visit, tour, study, and even live in the homeland of our people and heritage.

Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Your Haggadah Experience

05/04/2023 09:18:26 AM


The Haggadah is one of the greatest literary masterpieces in Judaism. It contains citations from every period of Jewish history to this very day.

The Haggadah should not be merely davened or read. It should  be discussed, questioned, and made relevant.

For example, what are the four most  pressing questions in the world now? What are today's ten plagues? What four challenges face our children nowadays?

Lively question, respectful conversation, and constructive dialogue should define your Haggadah and Seder experience.

Chag Kasher V'Sameach,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Preparing for Pesach Spiritually

30/03/2023 09:23:21 AM


On Shabbat Ha'Gadol, the Great Sabbath preceding Pesach, it is customary to review the Haggadah in preparation for the Festival. I remember as a child being asked by my parents to bring down the Haggadot from the previous year. In them, I would find Matzah crumbs, wine stains, and more. I would first and foremost clean the Haggadot from last year. 

Ultimately, one is supposed to study the Maggid section this coming Shabbat, the main part of the Haggadah which contains the narratives, rituals, and songs leading up to the Festive meal. One should prepare in such a way that the Seder experience for the new year becomes more than a repeat performance of years past. Each year and over the first two nights of Yom Tov, the Seder experience should feel fresh and innovative. Ma Nishtanah - How will your Seder be different this year?

For many of us, this year's Pesach will have us truly celebrate freedom, in that we will not be enslaved to the rules and regulations of the pandemic, which altered how many people could sit with us at the Seder table as well as influencing the whole Seder experience.

The Haggadah is probably the most available Jewish text in the market place, with more editions, commentaries, and perspectives than any other kind of Jewish text. I strongly encourage everyone to augment their current array of Haggadot by adding a new Haggadah which contains the complete traditional text and which contains new insights not found in your current supply of Haggadot.

Let us take advantage of the custom of Shabbat Ha'Gadol (also called Shabbat Haggadah) to spiritually prepare ourselves for the arrival of Pesach next week.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher V'Sameach,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Fri, 22 September 2023 7 Tishrei 5784