Sign In Forgot Password

2020-12-11 09:06:00 AM

Dec11

Parshat Ki-Tisa - Why is Pesach mentioned?

2021-03-04 09:05:33 AM

Mar4

Dear Congregational Family,

We all know that Pesach is just over three weeks away. Many passages in the Torah summarize the Pilgrimage Festivals, which begin with Pesach. The first mention appeared in Parshat Mishpatim, which we read just a few weeks ago. Why does the Torah reiterate the same Festivals in this week's Parsha so soon after the previous mention? Even though we read Parshat Ki-Tisa at a time when Pesach is fresh in our minds, this is not the reason.

Much of this week's Parsha deals with the episode of the golden calf, which the people referred to as a "Festival to the Lord." In the aftermath, the Israelites had to be reminded what constituted proper Festivals to the Lord. Right before Pesach is reiterated, the Torah states, "You shall not make molten gods for yourselves." The Torah comes to clearly delineate between unacceptable festivals versus  acceptable Festivals.

A comment in the ArtScroll Chumash commentary states, "Observance of the Festivals are the road to faith in God. So too is the Sabbath ..."

As we prepare to celebrate Shabbat weekly and Pesach in a few weeks, may our intent and purpose in what and how we celebrate be authentic, genuine, and meaningful.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Preparing for Pesach

2021-03-03 09:23:19 AM

Mar3

Dear Congregational Family,

We are taught that thirty days before Pesach, one should begin inquiring about the laws of the Festival. Of course, once Purim ends, it is a month before Pesach. Locally, the supermarkets seem to be ready for Pesach even more than a month in advance.

This coming Shabbat, three weeks prior to the Festival, is Shabbat Parah. The Maftir passage reminds us about ritual purification, and the Haftarah reminds us about moral purification. 

Pesach's laws about removing Chametz are both about ritual and morality. On one level, we remove all leavened products from sight and ownership during Pesach. On another level, we are commanded to remove our inner Chametz, meaning that which sours the soul.

Now is the time to begin the process of cleansing ourselves externally and internally. It is now three and a half weeks of shopping days until Pesach.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Lessons of the half shekel - then and now

2021-03-02 09:04:25 AM

Mar2

Dear Congregational Family,

This week's Parsha, Ki-Tisa, opens with the law of the half shekel. Interestingly, we read this same passage recently on Shabbat Shekalim.

The half shekel was a mandatory tax. The rich did not give more. The poor did not give less. The amount was used toward a census, toward maintaining the sanctuary, and more.

The symbolism of the "half" means that alone we are incomplete. We complete our purpose in life by being part of something larger than ourselves, be it the sanctuary thousands of years ago or the synagogue today.

In Hebrew, the word for half, "Machatzit," is noteworthy. The middle letter, Tzadi (for righteousness) is surrounded by the letters for "Chai" (life). The end letters form the word "Met" (death). When one lives a virtuous life, one leads a meaningful life and inspires others. When one is removed from a virtuous life, one leads a life dead of purpose and brings others down.

While the ritual of the half shekel is no longer operative, its lessons speak to us then and now.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

L'Chaim Reflections

2021-03-01 09:36:54 AM

Mar1

The following is my personal reflection at Beth Emeth's virtual L'Chaim on my twenty plus years with our synagogue:

I wish to offer some personal reflections by beginning with Hakarat Hatov - thanking and recognizing the good.

I am grateful to the special events committee, the executive and board, the entire congregation, my family, and Hashem.

I wish to frame my remarks around a quotation from Pirkei Avot, The Wisdom of the Sages:

Da Ma'ayin Bata - Know from whence you have come

L'An Atah Holeich -  (Know) where you are going

Lifnei Mi Atah Atid Liten Din V'Cheshbon - (Know) before whom you must give an ultimate accounting

 

KNOW FROM WHENCE YOU HAVE COME;

I was raised outside of Boston by two wonderful parents, Ruben and Helen Morrison, of blessed memories. I was surrounded by three amazing siblings - Reva, Mitchell, and Andrea. I was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1987. I served as rabbi for four years in Union, New Jersey, and nine years in Wantagh, New York. There, my two boys, Elie and Yonah, were born.

My life changed in November of 1999 when I received a call from Pearl Grundland, who co-chaired the rabbinic search committee with Gord Garshowitz and Avrum Gotlieb. A few days later, the four of us had a telephone conversation. In December, I flew here to meet with the search committee. In January of 2000, I met the congregation over a Shabbat weekend. In March, I accepted the position of senior rabbi, to start in August of 2000. The rest as they say is history.

In some ways, I feel like I just arrived yesterday. In other ways, I feel like I have been here forever. The reality sets in when I realize Elie and Yonah were six and two when I started here, and they are now twenty-six and twenty-two. You, the Beth Emeth community, helped to raise my two young gemstones. I will always remember the kindness you extended to a young Morrison family over twenty years ago. So many of you went out of your way to acclimate us to a new country, new culture, and a new beginning. The only thing I could not get used to was the notion of changing my sports loyalties. Sorry!

Beth Emeth is a vibrant spiritual and sacred community which has enabled me to teach, inspire, counsel, celebrate with, grieve with, and so much more. In turn, you have done the same for me. Remember that when I first came here I was a mourner myself, having lost both my parents in 1999. Soon enough, you celebrated the Bar Mitzvahs of my boys in 2007 and 2011. 

While you may call me your senior rabbi, I am reminded of a Biblical statement - "Mi'Kol M'Lamdai Hiskalti - I have been enriched by all who have taught me." I consider you all, some 1200 families, as my teachers and sources of inspiration.

How lucky am I to work with such an amazing clergy, Executive, Board of Directors, administration, and group of volunteers over the years.

I am blessed to call all of you my congregational family. 

Ashreinu Mah Tov Chelkainu - How fortunate are we in what we share together.

 

KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING:

What will the future hold for us? On the one hand, we are taught, "Ain Navi B'Iro - There is no Prophet in one's immediate location." On the other hand, we are taught, "Eizehu Chacham? Ha'Roeh et Ha'Nolad - Who is wise? One who can anticipate what is yet to be."

Exactly one year ago, who could have envisioned what these last twelve months would have looked like? I am so proud of our shul from its leadership to the entirety of the congregation. We have exhibited resilience, strength, and courage while addressing the unknown and the anxiety surrounding it. As Jewish Law would put it, we are truly living "B'Sh'at Dchak - in an unprecedented exigent time." While being faithful to the tradition and practices which describe the character of Beth Emeth, we quickly mobilized. We first committed ourselves to everyone's safety, health, and security. Then, we quickly organized with your active participation - daily on line prayer, study, guest speakers, social programs, cultural enrichment and more. When our livestream equipment arrived in August, we began to hold Shabbat and Yom Tov morning services without a break. When Toronto guidelines permitted it, we were able to have anywhere from 20-50 people safely situated in our sanctuary. When Toronto guidelines limited attendance to no more than ten people in total, our clergy have come in every Shabbat and holiday to offer a meaningful worship experience, all directed to over one hundred livestream households which join us every Shabbat morning. We hope and pray very soon that we will be permitted to have a full service with a microcosm of our congregational family in the sanctuary. 

In twenty years, you, the members of our Beth Emeth community have stood fast to the values of our Traditional Conservative synagogue. Now, two decades later, we are a unique congregation within the religious landscape of the GTA.

God willing, when Covid ends, we will integrate the best synagogue practices of life before Covid and lessons learned during Covid. 


KNOW BEFORE WHOM YOU MUST GIVE AN ULTIMATE ACCOUNTING:

I have defined my role as senior rabbi as facilitating spiritual growth for every person in his or her relationship with God, the Jewish people, and the world at large. I have accepted my duty with appreciation, responsibility, and humility. 

An ancient interpretation suggests that when the Children of Israel encamped at Mount Sinai, each person heard the message of God in a uniquely personal way. It is my mandate to help each individual and the community as well to construct an authentic ladder of spiritual growth. We take one step at a time. Judaism is not an all or nothing proposition. Each step we take is filled with holiness and purpose.

I am thankful for the trust you showed in bringing me aboard over twenty years ago.

I am thankful for the trust you continue to show in me over twenty years later. 

I am thankful to God. With God's help and with your confidence, I look forward to serving our community for years to come.

I thank you all for joining tonight's L'Chaim.

 

L'CHAIM!

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Megillat Esther - Revealing the hidden

2021-02-25 09:11:29 AM

Feb25

Dear Congregational Family,

Twice on Purim, we listen to the reading of Megillat Esther - the book/scroll of Esther. It is one of the most peculiar texts in the entire Tanach, or, Scripture. The historical background is debated among scholars, as to when in the fifth century BCE the story takes place. Are the characters real historical figures or fictional characters? Are the names Mordecai and Esther connected  to the polytheistic myths about the god and goddess, Marduk and Ishtar? Perhaps most striking is that the name of God never explicitly appears in the text. One is left to discover the hand of God between the lines or behind the scenes.

The words Megillat Esther mean more than the book or scroll of Esther. The words literally translate as "revealing the hidden." When we disguise ourselves with masks for fun and revelry, we are also being challenged to look behind the mask in order to confront and reveal our true inner selves which are often hidden from view. Similarly, we are called upon to reveal the hidden name of God in the story and to discover God's presence.

With all the joy and fun which surround the reading of Megillat Esther, let us use this holiday as an occasion to reveal our true selves and the place of God's presence in our lives.

Chag Purim Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The relevance of Purim in 2021

2021-02-24 09:31:39 AM

Feb24

Dear Congregational Family,

As Jews have done for centuries, the holiday of Purim will celebrate the survival and resiliency of the Jewish people.

Purim 2021 will go beyond the age old observance of triumph over evil. It will mark one calendar year that our lives have been taken over by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, Purim fell on March 9 and shortly afterward our lives changed as we began to face days filled with uncertainty.

While it may not seem like a time to celebrate, surrounded by so much illness and death; considering the historical significance of the holiday, Purim could not have come at a more meaningful time this year.

As the story goes, in the 5th century BCE, Haman, the chief minister of Persia, felt slighted that Mordecai, a Jew, did not bow before him. In anger and hate, Haman asked Persian King Achashverosh for permission to kill all the Jewish people. Mordecai's cousin and adopted orphaned  daughter, Queen Esther, saved her people by telling the king she too was in danger since she was Jewish as well.

In a twist of fate, Haman was sent to the gallows that were intended to terminate the Jewish people.

Holidays and festivals have been altered due to the pandemic. Still, variations of these occasions prove our ability to overcome obstacles and affirm Judaism's survival.

The Purim story is a story of resilience, one of a people that continues to move forward even through the unknown.

Purim was the last largely attended thing we did last year. We had  hundreds of people for Megillah reading and the BEBY Players show which followed.

This year, we will celebrate Purim via Zoom and livestream. Following the reading, we will spotlight those in costume and enjoy highlights of past Purim musicals led by our BEBY players. 

One of the major themes of Purim is "Nahafochu" - the expected being turned upside down. That which was intended for Mordecai happened to Haman.

In most years, our expression of "upside down" is demonstrated by wearing masks for fun, something not normally done.

This year, the "upside down" of masks takes on a new note, wearing masks for safety and well being.

I encourage those who wish to be seen and heard to join us on Zoom, while the one way livestream will also be available.

At the end of the Purim story, we read that the Jews went "from sorrow to gladness, and from bereavement to a good day." So may it be for us, that we see an end to this pandemic once and for all, and that our days are filled once again with "light, joy, and all that is precious."

Chag Purim Sameach!

2021-02-23 09:07:10 AM

Feb23

Perspective and moderation - a retrospective on this past Shabbat

2021-02-22 09:18:55 AM

Feb22

Dear Congregational Family,

It is roughly a year since the fullness of the pandemic fell upon us. Our shul was filled to the brim on Purim eve last year, March 9. A week later, shuls were shut down, and many of us began to feel quarantined in our homes. The pleasures of cruises, air travel, visiting Israel, attending sports events, watching live musicals, going to the movies, dining in restaurants, sharing physical company with family and friends were either minimized or ceased to exist. Many of us felt alone, anxious, and depressed. Our feelings are true. Noone has the right to dispute how we feel. As a community, we have tried our best to reach out, offer comfort and hope, conduct services, classes, and programs on line. 

For some of us, we have been humbled to be grateful for that which is truly important - our health, warmth in our homes, shelter, a roof over our heads, food, clothing, and the like. 

Judaism is ultimately a way of life based on moderation and perspective. Unlike some denominations which forbid wine or alcohol all the time, Judaism allows it in moderation most of the time. On Yom Kippur, one does not imbibe at all. On Purim, one imbibes a bit more than usual. Only if one suffers from addiction, is drinking prohibited strictly as a health and safety measure.

The laws of Kashrut instruct us to live a life of discipline and moderation. Yes - we are allowed to eat meat. But the laws of Kashrut instill respect for animals. They must not feel pain or be made to suffer when their lives are taken. Blood, the source of life, is removed before consumption. Of course, vegetarianism for many is an ideal to be strived for. 

This past week, we all sympathize and empathize with our brothers and sisters in Texas and some other areas. Their lives and homes have been drastically impacted by snow and ice, blackouts, a loss of all electric power. Many families have been devastated. We are called upon to give Tzedaka and extend compassion. Noone should have to live as they are right now.

Our Parsha this week is ultimately a lesson about free will giving to help those around us. In the Biblical text, giving Tzedaka, called Terumah, helped to ensure the community's spiritual center called a Mikdash or Mishkan. In a broader sense, giving Tzedaka is meant to ensure the wellbeing of people, their communities, their homes, and their vital institutions.

On this Shabbat Zachor, we also remember extreme evil, when Amalek attacked the Israelites from behind upon their leaving Egypt. While Amalek refers to an ancient historical nation, this past week, an extreme force of nature has attacked the innocent and vulnerable South of our border. We pray that help, health, recovery, and recuperation come soon.

And so - while we are all adversely affected by Covid one year later,  let us be grateful with perspective, discipline, and moderation for the gifts we truly cherish.

Sincerely, 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Most Famous Yahrzeit

2021-02-19 08:03:25 AM

Feb19

Today on the Jewish calendar is the seventh of Adar. According to rabbinic interpretation, based on a close reading of the Torah text, today marks the Yahrzeit of Moshe Rabeinu, Moses, our teacher/rabbi.

This date offers us an opportunity to delve deeper into the qualities which made Moses fit for leadership of the Children of Israel. Legends surrounding a young shepherd Moses consider him to be caring and compassionate to the most vulnerable. Moses would become known as the greatest Prophet who ever lived. His leadership titles include lawgiver, judge, teacher, arbiter and more. Moses had to confront a "stubborn and stiff-necked people." He dealt with one rebellion after another in the book of B'midbar, including those who complained about food, the episode of the spies, the mutiny of Korach and his cohorts, and more. Moses died at the age of 120. To this day, as a statement of good will, we pray that people live to the age of Moses.

To honor the memory of Moses in the most altruistic way, the seventh of Adar has become a time to honor the sacred work of the Hevra Kadisha. These men and women voluntarily perform the sacred task of purifying and preparing a body for traditional Jewish burial. With the utmost respect and modesty, women look after deceased females, and men look after deceased males. The Mitzvot they do constitute the highest forms of lovingkindness, "Hesed Shel Emet."

The framework of our entire tradition harkens back to Moses.  The very first statement found in Pirkei Avot teaches us, "Moses received Torah at Sinai and transmitted it . . ." It is our task to ensure that each and every generation receives and transmits Torah, as Moses did some 3500 years ago. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Zachor - A week of remembering

2021-02-18 09:20:34 AM

Feb18

Dear Congregational Family,

The Shabbat preceding Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of remembering. Specifically, we remember Amalek, the heinous nation which attacked the Israelites from behind after the Exodus from Egypt. Haman, the villain of the Purim story, is a descendant of the Amalek nation. He is called Haman the Aggagite. In the Prophetic literature, Agag was king of Amalek during the reign of King Saul. On Shabbat morning, we read the command to remember Amalek from a second Torah scroll, and we read the story of Agag in the Haftarah, from the book of Samuel.

Of course, in Jewish tradition, the Mitzvah of Zachor applies to many ideas. Many Jews recite a particular list called the Six Remembrances after the daily morning service. Among them, we remember Shabbat. We remember that we were slaves in Egypt, and we remember the gossip  initiated by Miriam against her brother Moses. To this day, celebrating Shabbat, ending all forms of enslavement, and preventing gossip by refusing to hear it or listen to it are imperatives of Judaism in the contemporary world.

In modern Canadian life, this past Monday, we celebrated Family Day. Ironically, February 15th is my younger brother Mitchell's birthday, which coincided this year with Family Day. While Covid has made it impossible to physically visit relatives near and far, I am grateful to have three wonderful siblings who live in the United States, and my two sons, one of whom lives in the United States and one who lives here in Toronto. I remember and celebrate my family always.

Remembering our family and our roots is a modern manifestation of the many calls to remember in Jewish tradition. When we Jews remember that we are part of a four thousand year history, our heritage will continue to breathe and blossom, always maintaining its beauty, relevance and significance.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Fundraising then and now - Parshat Terumah

2021-02-17 09:10:29 AM

Feb17

Dear Congregational Family,

In preparation for establishing the first Sanctuary in Jewish history, the people of Israel are asked to contribute towards this goal. Terumah means a free will offering. The Torah puts forth a wide list of voluntary gift categories: Gold, silver, copper, and many other categories of giving.

Rashi comments: "They were all given voluntarily, each person according to how his heart moved him, except for the silver, which was given equally, a half-shekel by each person."

The commentary comes to synthesize the list of voluntary categories in Parshat Terumah with Parshat Ki-Tisa, which imposes a half-shekel obligation. The mandatory tax was a very small amount which everyone could afford. Everybody participated since the community structure was meant for every single person regardless of how much a person would  participate. The long term viability of the Sanctuary depended on gifts from the heart which transcended the small obligatory amount.

Nowadays, over 3500 years later, the viability of the synagogue depends on both, fixed and voluntary giving. Most synagogues today encourage every Jew to affiliate based on a fixed and affordable amount. But it is voluntary giving which ensures long term purpose and success.

Almost twenty years ago, our shul called its voluntary High Holy Day campaign the Terumah appeal, based on this week's Parsha.

The reality of Covid has challenged all of us on many levels. I hope and pray that every Jew will continue to affiliate and where possible to share voluntary gifts from the heart.

Ultimately, the fundraising methodology has stayed much the same from Sanctuary to Synagogue over thousands of years.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The building or the people? - Parshat Terumah

2021-02-16 09:28:35 AM

Feb16

Dear Congregational Family,

Most of the remaining fifteen chapters in the book of Shmot deal with the Mishkan-Tabernacle. The initial command is found in the words, "Let them make for me a Tabernacle that I may dwell among them."

Commentators have noticed that the Torah does not say, "That I may dwell in it," meaning the Tabernacle. Rather, the text says, "That I may dwell among them," meaning the people.

Physical structures are important. They symbolize community, peoplehood, coming together, unity, and shared purpose. But the physical space is a means to an end. The most sacred value is God's presence within people, not a building.

We love our synagogue. The shul building represents all kinds of memories, lifecycle moments, and much more. We miss it on many levels over this past year. We hope to enter it safely soon. In the meantime, these past months have reminded us that connecting as a peoplehood is most important.

As we continue to connect through our virtual synagogue, let us strive to feel God's presence in our lives. As our Parsha teaches us, God does not dwell in a building but in the lives of those who let the divine presence inside.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Very First Shulkhan Arukh - Parshat Mishpatim

2021-02-11 09:35:22 AM

Feb11

Dear Congregational Family,

Many of us refer to the Code of Jewish Law as the Shulkhan Arukh, which literally means the prepared table or banquet table. The fact of the matter is that one should distinguish the original Shulkhan Arukh written in the sixteenth century from the Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh, an abbreviated codification of Jewish Law,  written in the nineteenth century by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried.

Some historical background - In the sixteenth century, Rabbi Joseph Karo wrote an extensive work on Jewish Law called the Beit Yoseph, which is usually found as a commentary to the Arba Turim, an earlier codification of Jewish Law. Rabbi Joseph Karo condensed his Beit Yosef into a briefer more succinct format known as the Shulkhan Arukh. Rabbi Joseph Karo was a respected Sephardic authority of Jewish Law. Around the same time that the Shulkhan Arukh was being composed, Rabbi Moses Isserles (the Rema), an Ashkenazic authority of Jewish law, composed a digest of rulings which became known as the Mapa, literally, a table cloth. The table cloth (Ashkenazic rulings) came to serve as a cover for the prepared banquet table (Sephardic rulings). The combination of Rabbi Karo's and Rabbi Isserles's comments is integrated into the sixteenth century Shulkhan Arukh. For many Jews, this particular codification of Jewish Law continues to be normative precisely because it incorporated both Ashkenazic and Sephardic practices. 

Notwithstanding the history of Jewish legal texts and collections, an earlier use of the term "Shulkhan Arukh" appears in the Midrash and the Talmud from Judaism's ancient period and is cited by Rashi in his classic commentary on the Torah. On the opening verse of this week's portion of Mishpatim, "These are the rules which you will place before them," Rashi quotes as follows:

"Which you will place before them - God said to Moses: It should not enter your mind to say. 'I shall teach them a section of the Torah or a single Halakha twice or three times until they know the text verbatim, but I shall not take the trouble to make them understand the reasons of each thing and its significance.' Therefore, Scripture says, 'which you will place before them,' like a table fully laid before a person with everything ready for eating."

This earlier usage of the term Shulkhan Arukh, a prepared table, suggests that Jewish law and teachings should not be merely received as something  learned  by rote or repetition. Rather, Jewish law and teachings should be savored, digested, and enjoyed like a delicious meal served at a banquet table. May this be the way we approach our commitment to the study and practice of Torah and its normative interpretations.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A leap of action - Just do it

2021-02-10 09:25:23 AM

Feb10

Dear Congregational Family,

Many of us have heard the expression "Take a leap of faith." This expression inspires us to have a positive outlook based on belief and optimism.

This week's Torah portion of Mishpatim introduces us to the expression, "Take a leap of action." When the Israelites respond to God's commands at Mount Sinai, they say two words, "Naase V'Nishma - We shall do, and we shall hear/obey/understand."

In secular culture, before we are willing to experience something new, we often have to study and understand all the details of the new idea before we venture into trying it. Taken to its extreme, we could potentially never try something, as we perpetually wait for compelling explanations.

In Judaism, we are instructed to do something new, meaning a Mitzvah, even without understanding the reason or benefits surrounding the doing. Doing a Mitzvah in and of itself will lead to a satisfactory understanding. 

Perhaps the Nike commercial, "Just do it," was inspired by the Israelites' response at Sinai.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Three Torahs at one service - Purim is coming

2021-02-09 09:15:54 AM

Feb9

Dear Congregational Family,

It is not very often that we read from three Torahs at one service. We are familiar with this on Simchat Torah. On that day, we finish Devarim from one Torah. We begin Bereishit from a second Torah. We read the Festival Maftir from a third Torah.

At times, we read from three Torahs on Shabbat Chanukah. This occurs when the weekly portion and the special reading for Chanukah coincide with Rosh Chodesh.

On this coming Shabbat, the weekly portion of Mishpatim, Rosh Chodesh, and Shabbat Shekalim all coincide. On this Shabbat, we usher in the month of Adar. With the reading of Shekalim, we are reminded to care for the less fortunate at all times and especially in preparation for Purim and Pesach.

A year ago, Purim was the last celebration which included hundreds of people in shul before the Covid shutdowns. This year, you will be invited to participate via Zoom or livestream. On Zoom, we will be able to see your costumes and hear your Haman noise. While the celebration of Purim will be affected by Covid, our tradition states that when Adar begins, we increase joy. For the last year, we have been a strong and resilient community. We must continue to do so in general and in particular to celebrate Purim appropriately in a couple of weeks.

Please look for details on line for scheduled times when you can pick up Megillah texts  and groggers outside the Wilmington entrance.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

World Wide Wrap - A Reflection

2021-02-08 09:19:53 AM

Feb8

Dear Congregational Family,

With thanks to our brotherhood, Beth Emeth continued its participation in a three decade long initiative called the World Wide Wrap. A project of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC), the morning of Super Bowl Sunday has become a time to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the Mitzvah of Tefillin.

Rabbi David Grundland and I spoke about the "body and soul of Tefillin." I explored the body aspects of Tefillin. Here are some snapshots from my presentation:

The Tefillin boxes are called "Batim - Houses." We should feel at home with Tefillin, our Judaism, and our relationship with God. The boxes house the four Biblical citations of Tefillin, handwritten by a scribe.

Since both, Tefillin and Shabbat, are called in Hebrew "Oht - Sign," we don Tefillin on weekdays but not on Shabbat/Yom Tov.

The hand one writes with is the hand one binds with. This is based on the Biblical juxtaposition of "You shall bind . . . (Tefillin)" followed by "You shall write . . . (Mezuzot.)"

This explains why those who write with the right hand don Tefillin on the left arm, and why those who write with the left hand don tefillin on the right arm. Since the Yud knot adjacent to the box must be the first thing angled to the heart, righty tefilin have that knot to the right of the box. Lefty tefilin have that knot to the left of the box.

When the tefilin are worn, one displays the letters - Shin, Dalet, Yud. These letters spell Shadai, a Biblical name for God. There are some different practices concerning where these letters are formed on the Tefilin.

In the box worn on the arm, all four Biblical citations are found in one single chamber. In the box worn on the head, four small compartments are formed. Each citation is located in its specific chamber. We act as one, but we think, comprehend, and believe in a multiplicity of ways.

On the box for the head, a three pronged and four pronged Shin sit on opposite sides. The numerical equivalent of each shin, plus the prongs, plus the word "Shesh (both shins side by side)" result in a numerology of 613, the symbolic number for all the Mitzvot in Judaism.

One may think of Tefilin as Jewish jumper cables which warm us up spiritually when we begin every ordinary weekday.

I thank FJMC, our brotherhood, and our daily daveners who made World Wide Wrap available and meaningful.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Jewish concerns about expanding Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD)

2021-02-05 09:07:36 AM

Feb5

Dear Congregational Family,

A few years ago, our federal government allowed the possibility of MAiD - Medical Assistance in Dying. I cannot think of a more sensitive topic than how we confront illness and death. Over the centuries, volumes have been written by scholars and sages on end of life care and treatment. In simple terms, Judaism advocates passive euthanasia but not active euthanasia. With advances in medical technology, it is not always easy to distinguish between the two.

For particular circumstances, I should be consulted.

According to all rabbis and scholars I know, the introduction of MAiD a few years ago runs contrary to Jewish law, tradition, and values, even though we are always sympathetic to end of life care and concern.

Now, the federal government is debating the expansion of MAiD, which increases Jewish ethical concerns. The most vulnerable and feeble would be most directly affected by the proposed bill C-7. 

I intend to address this topic in my sermon on Shabbat February 13. In the meantime, I encourage you to become more aware of the issues at hand. I share with you a letter approved this week by the Toronto Board of Rabbis. I support the letter, and I am a member of this rabbinical organization.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Listening to your father-in-law / doing versus delegating

2021-02-04 09:18:12 AM

Feb4

Dear Congregational Family,

In this week's Parsha, after the family of Moses is reunited, Moses' father-in-law, Yitro, observes his son in law at work. The Torah states, " Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening. But when Moses' father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, 'What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone?  . . . (Exodus 18:13-14).'"

Ultimately, Yitro advises Moses to set up a judicial structure to handle all the minor disputes, lest Moses burn out. A father-in-law advises his son in law that no one person can do everything. One must learn to delegate, which is a form of leadership not weakness.

One might wonder - who is Yitro to advise the famed Moses? Perhaps Yitro is indeed the one to offer sage council. He is family; he understands Moses' loneliness as a person. Now that wife and children have appeared, Moses is told to find meaningful time for his immediate family.

All of us need to be reminded of Yitro's message to Moses. Who offers us the "Yitro voice" that we need to hear?

After this scene, Yitro departs. He has fulfilled his parental role. A father (in law) is proud of his son (in law).

To whom can we turn for real understanding? At the appropriate time, are we ready to let go? These are messages, questions, and lessons from the Yitro - Moses encounter.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Z"L

2021-02-03 09:08:41 AM

Feb3

Dear Congregational Family,

Over this past weekend, another great rabbi died,  Rabbi Abraham Twerski, zichrono liveracha - of blessed memory. This sad passing comes soon after the recent passings of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and my childhood rabbi, Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer, both of blessed memories.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski lived in Milwaukee. He was a Chasidic Jew and part of a famous multi-generational Twerski/Twersky rabbinic dynasty. Growing up in Boston, I was familiar with the Talner Rebbe, Rabbi Isadore Twersky, z"l, who also taught at Harvard University. His son, Rabbi Moshe Twersky, z"l, tutored me in Talmud at the Maimonides Day School when he was in twelfth grade and I was in seventh grade. Tragically, Rabbi Moshe Twersky was murdered in Israel several years ago by terrorists when he and others were davening in shul on a weekday morning. His younger brother, Rabbi Mayer Twersky, was a classmate of mine and is now a renowned Torah scholar associated with Yeshiva University.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski was a prolific writer and speaker. Long before Jewish organizations began to address addiction and abuse in the Jewish community, Rabbi Twerski was doing so. I own and have read some of his books which apply the Parsha and Jewish values to challenges people face in their personal lives.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski died at the age of ninety. "Yhi Zichro Baruch - May his memory be a blessing."

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

On not seeing family

2021-02-02 09:10:05 AM

Feb2

Dear Congregational Family,

For many of us, a frustration during Covid has been the inability to physically see family members: grandparents, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, other extended relatives, and friends. For some, those loved ones live nearby. For others, those loved ones live elsewhere in the world. In my case, I last saw my son in Michigan almost a year ago. I last saw my three siblings in NY- NJ-MA almost a year and a half ago.

In this week's Parsha - Yitro, Tziporah, and her two sons reunite with son in law, husband, and father, Moses, after a very long time. The family was not with him when he pleaded with Pharaoh, when the ten plagues ensued, or when the sea was parted. Only after the battle over Amalek did the family come together.

What do you think Moses' family said to him after such a long time apart? Did they resent Moses for abandoning his family? Did they understand and accept his divinely appointed mission? Did the children even recognize their father? 

One can certainly sympathize and empathize with the plight of families during Covid. Can one do the same for Moses and his family? Can we apply lessons from them to our situation today?

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Ilan Ramon, Zichrono Liveracha - of blessed memory

2021-02-01 09:09:13 AM

Feb1

Dear Congregational Family,

Do you remember where you were when you heard about the tragedy of the space shuttle Columbia and the fate of its seven passengers, which included Ilan Ramon?

The date was February 1, 2003 on Shabbat. I was in the midst of celebrating a Shabbat weekend reunion with a Chavurah group from my previous synagogue. We were spending that time at a kosher hotel in the Catskills when news and tears spread quickly.

How ironic that the timing of Ilan Ramon's passing occurs around the season of Tu Bishvat. As we recently celebrated Rosh Hashanah La'ILANot ( the new year of trees), we pay homage to an Ilan, whose life was literally cut too short.

I will always remember Ilan displaying to the world from the heavenly abode a small replica of a Torah scroll and some other Judaic symbols. 

This week's Torah portion of Yitro details God's revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai amidst the sounds of thunder and lightning. Now, eighteen years after Ilan Ramon's death, I continue to metaphorically see his tiny Sefer Torah when I gaze into the heavens.

For many years now, a street is named in his honor and memory in the heart of the Richmond Hill Jewish community.

May we take some time today on the English anniversary of his passing to remember Ilan Ramon. May his memory be a blessing.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat B'shallach - What would you have done?

2021-01-29 09:15:10 AM

Jan29

This week's Torah portion provides a terse description when the Israelites were surrounded by a pursuing Egyptian army on one side and a stormy sea on the other side (Exodus 14:10-14). The Midrash fashions a narrative based on the Biblical verses and utilizes the Torah's words as responses. 

The Israelites were divided into four groups. The first said, "Let us throw ourselves into the sea," to which Moses responded, "Stand by and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today."

The second group said, "Let us return to Egypt," to which Moses responded, "The Egyptians who you see today you will never see again."

The third group said, "Let us wage war upon the Egyptians," to which Moses responded, "The Lord will battle for you."

The fourth group said, Let us cry out (pray) to God," to which Moses responded, "Hold your peace."

Notice how the Midrash uses the scene in the Torah to create the four groups based on the Torah's words which Moses uses to respond to them, in the legendary interpretation. 

Ultimately, the Torah text continues, "Then the Lord said to Moses, why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward (Exodus 14:15)."

In an alternative Midrash, in the time that Moses is crying out (praying) to God  before God instructs the Israelites to go forward, one person goes forward on his own, combining action with faith. His name is Nachshon ben Aminadav from the tribe of Judah. He did not only pray; he did not foolishly throw himself into the water; he did not go back to Egypt or attempt to wage war. Rather, he "moved forward," with faith and belief after having witnessed God's miraculous hand in leading the Israelites to that point.

For the reader, it would have been understandable to watch Moses, Aaron, or Miriam take the first step. Rather, a common person, like all of us, took the first step. Nachshon moved forward and inspired all others to follow him.

As I think of Covid, many people are divided in various groups, similar to the four competing groups in the Midrash. How many of us are able to emulate Nachshon and "move forward?"

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Celebrating unity within diversity

2021-01-28 09:26:10 AM

Jan28

Dear Congregational Family,

Our ancient Sages wonder how hundreds of thousands of Israelites could have ended up in close proximity to each other after safely crossing the Sea of Reeds, One particular Midrash suggests that when the twelve tribes were going through the water on dry land, each tribe maintained itself within a transparent enclosure. As a result, each tribe was able to identify itself in relation to its fellow tribes. All twelve tribes stayed close to one another and were able to emerge safely with each other on the other side of the sea.

While this commentary is somewhat fanciful, it comes to teach many value lessons.  Each tribe had its own distinctive identity. Later in the Torah, each tribe will bear its own flag and be represented by its particular gemstone on the Priestly breastplate. Nevertheless, each tribe recognized that it was part of a larger unified nation. The peoplehood of Israel could not move forward to Sinai until all twelve tribes assembled as one. The Midrash underscores the concept of unity within diversity. We can be one people and respect individual distinctiveness at the same time.

The Midrash can be applied on many levels. A family can be united as one while recognizing differences within the family structure. The Jewish people can be united while recognizing diversity in thought and practice based on geographical origins or contemporary ideology. On a universal level, different religious, ethnic, and cultural groups can be united since we all trace our origins to a single source of humanity.

While the Torah contains many miracles leading to and through the crossing of the sea, a miracle that we must make happen is appreciating unity within diversity.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Tu Bishvat has arrived

2021-01-27 09:18:57 AM

Jan27

Dear Congregational Family,

Tonight marks the beginning of Tu Bishvat, the new year of trees in Israel. The Mishna identifies the fifteenth of Shvat as one of four new years on the Jewish calendar.

From the time I was a young child, I have observed Tu Bishvat by collecting Tzedakah in the famous JNF (Jewish National Fund) blue box and donating it so that new trees could be planted in Israel. The beautiful oasis that Israel has become in the last seventy plus years can be attributed in large measure to the work of JNF.

In the sixteenth century, the Kabbalists of Tzfat developed the original Tu Bishvat Seder and Haggadah. In the last several decades, the Tu Bishvat Seder/Haggadah has had a renaissance. Many different texts have been composed articulating diverse points of view.

Classically, the Tu Bishvat Seder contains four cups of wine or grape juice and four different categories of fruits. The drink evolves from white to white/red to red/white to red, symbolizing the transition from Winter to Spring in Israel. 

The fruits evolve from an outer shell to an outer skin with an inner pit to an inner pit only to a fruit with neither an outer skin nor an inner pit. The transition symbolizes facing outer and inner challenges in our lives to the anticipation and hope of complete peace and tranquility.

With the onset of Tu Bishvat, Purim is one month away, and Pesach is two months away. We await these joyous occasions with the anticipation of better times for all very soon.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz

2021-01-26 09:17:50 AM

Jan26

Dear Congregational Family,

Yesterday, the twelfth of Shvat, marked the seventy-fifth Yahrzeit of Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz. Chief Rabbi of the U.K. from 1913 until his death in 1946, Rabbi Hertz was the first graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, at a time when the gap between Conservatism and Orthodoxy was largely ideological. While Rabbi Hertz identified himself as Orthodox, he will be remembered around the Jewish world for the "Hertz Chumash" which filled the pews of synagogues from across the religious spectrum. Rabbi Hertz's anthology of commentaries drew from Jewish and non-Jewish sources which spanned the ages. His commentary was progressive for the time.

In recent decades, the different denominations have introduced Chumashim whose commentaries reflect particular ideologies and modern scholarship. While these are all welcome additions, there was something beautiful, nostalgic, charming, and unifying when most English speaking congregations housed the Hertz Chumash.

Our tradition teaches us that there are "Seventy faces" to the Torah, implying a multiplicity of interpretations and philosophical understandings of Torah. While Beth Emeth has introduced the Etz Hayim and the Stone edition of the Art Scroll Chumash in the last decade, our shul continues to provide the Hertz Chumash in our pews. To this day (pre Covid), many attendees continue to prefer being enriched by the timeless insights offered in the Hertz Chumash.

May the memory of Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz be a blessing.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Liberation - From Pharaoh to Eastern Europe

2021-01-25 09:26:48 AM

Jan25

Dear Congregational Family,

On Sunday, I officiated the funeral for a one hundred year old woman who survived the Shoah. Although the family was not affiliated with Beth Emeth, they knew me from years before and requested my presence. The deceased woman miraculously survived by identifying herself as a non-Jewish Polish teenager. At her death, she was survived by two children, a sibling, seven grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren. I truly marvel when survivors are able to start life fresh in a new country and go on to pioneer multi-generational families.

Ironically, this family's shiva will overlap with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, which commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. This year marks the seventy-sixth anniversary of liberation.

In this week's Torah portion, we read the first liberation from genocide and oppression. The Children of Israel embark on their liberation from Egypt. In the Parsha, we read the miraculous crossing of the Sea of Reeds. 

One can only imagine the stories told by those who experienced the Biblical exodus to their children and grandchildren who would be born in the wilderness of Sinai.

Likewise, one can only imagine the stories told by Holocaust survivors to their children, grandchildren, and in some cases, even to their grandchildren.

It is imperative that we know the stories of our peoplehood, happy and sad. The journeys of those who came before us four thousand years ago to eighty years ago to today will surely shape current and future generations.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

With our young and with our old

2021-01-22 09:13:16 AM

Jan22

Dear Congregational Family,

At the end of the sixth plague, as recounted in this week's Torah portion, Pharaoh asks Moses, "Who are the ones to go?" Moses responds with one of the most important statements in the entire Torah, "With our young and with our old, we go forth." As a Jewish leader, Moses understands that a community, a society, and a nation need the wellbeing of young and old. The old offer a perspective based on wisdom, history, and experience. The young offer a perspective  based on energy, vitality, and innovation. When these two demographics work with respect for each other, sharing similarities and differences, the result is a benefit for all concerned. 

Jewish tradition is based on the old, the youth of a previous generation, handing off our heritage to the young, who will become the old of a next generation. This successful transition from one generation to the next has ensured Jewish survival and growth. Each demographic needs to be nurtured and sustained. In my thirty-three years serving the pulpit rabbinate, the healthy synagogues are the ones that budget and offer meaningful programming for young and old alike. During this challenging time caused by COVID, I have been proud to see a lot of virtual activities directed to our elderly population, our young families, and our upcoming Bnai Mitzvah young adults.

The ideal situation is not only supporting the growth of young and old, but watching them cooperate together. I have observed the joy for both when a young person contacts an older person to simply say hello. Years ago, I oversaw a program where young people became pen pals to older members of the congregation. While each demographic has its own educational and spiritual needs, there are so many ways where young and old can work together and mutually benefit from each other's shared gifts and strengths.

A few thousand years ago, Moses did not merely tell Pharaoh that everyone was going forth. He was careful to say that we go forth with our young and with our old. Readers of our tradition understand the depth of meaning in Moses' response to Pharaoh.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Tefillin and the oath of office

2021-01-21 09:17:55 AM

Jan21

Dear Congregational Family,

On Wednesday in the U.S., a new president was inaugurated. In the ceremony, President Joe Biden raised his right (strong) hand, took an oath of office, and rested his left (weaker) hand on a Bible.

This presidential ritual reminds me of the Mitzvah of Tefillin. Two of the four Biblical references are found in this week's portion, Parshat Bo. 

We are taught that God freed the Israelites with a strong hand. While the verse speaks metaphorically about God, we Jews bind the Tefillin with our strong hand and wear it on our weak hand. Thus, right handed people don Tefillin on the left hand. Left handed people don Tefillin on the right hand. Based on the juxtaposition of  "You shall bind" followed by  "You shall write (referring to the Mezuzah)," the writing hand is considered the strong hand in Jewish law.

I pray that our usage of Tefillin and the president's oath of office result in fulfilling our sacred tasks with faith, truth, honesty, and transparency.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Hachnasat Orchim - the benefits of welcoming guests virtually

2021-01-20 09:10:04 AM

Jan20

Dear Congregational Family,

At the Monday night evening service, our regular participants joined as usual. I am glad that in this challenging time, our virtual synagogue community remains vital and relevant for so many people. A few minutes before the service began, an unknown name appeared in the waiting room. I was nervous about admitting this person, given recent episodes of zoom bombing, but I took a chance. Services were still a few minutes away, and I had my host finger on the remove button just in case. In actuality, the person, a guest at first, became a friend right away. This man found our shul from the internet. He was looking for an evening service to observe the Yahrzeit for his father, of blessed memory. He was intrigued by the "Kaddish L'Yachid - personal Kaddish" we recite during our virtual services. In the shmoozing time before we started, I learned that he lives in Brazil, and that he knows a former classmate of mine from the 1980's who grew up in Brazil and serves there nowadays as a rabbi.

From an initial concern, I realized how powerful the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests, is, especially during these extraordinary times. As we have seen with virtual technology, we have to be careful who joins us, but we also have to be optimistic and welcoming. Such was a nice experience at our service on Monday night.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel - Implications for today

2021-01-19 09:26:51 AM

Jan19

Dear Congregational Family,
 
With all that is happening in the world, we should not forget that Martin Luther King Day was observed in the United States on Monday. Although we live in Canada, the message of Dr. King is a universal one, the case of civil rights for everyone. In the late 1960's, he died as a martyr.
 
In some of the famous photographs taken of Dr. King, one may notice a white bearded man in the background. This was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The two were colleagues, friends, and ideologically like-minded. Rabbi Heschel marched with Dr. King in Alabama and elsewhere in the marches for civil rights.
 
January is a month when we recall them both. Martin Luther King Day is observed in January. Rabbi Heschel died in the same month back in 1972, just a few days after his last public interview on Meet The Press. They both had high regard for the Biblical Prophets. One of Rabbi Heschel's most famous books was actually called "The Prophets." Both of them would point to last week's and this week's Torah portion, quoting Moses' appeal to Pharaoh "to let my people go." In the Torah, the oppressed minority is the Children of Israel. For King and Heschel, these same words took on a more universal meaning  several decades ago. 
 
While much has improved since the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960's, there is still so much more to achieve. Prejudice, bigotry, racism, anti-semitism, and violence still abound. Almost every day, we sadly hear about, read about, or witness the harsh realities of living in a polarized world. We yearn for the day when all ethnic, cultural, and religious groups can practice their faith and heritage freely without fear of verbal or physical attack. 
 
Sadly, we do not see the likes of a King and Heschel standing side by side with their shared message these days. Each of us must strive to continue the work they did so many years ago.
 
On a personal note, the writings of Rabbi Heschel influenced me greatly in my late teens and early twenties at a time when I was yearning for deeper ways of understanding the meanings of Torah, Halakha, theology, ethics, and more. I am grateful that one of my Seminary teachers in the 1980's was a direct student of Rabbi Heschel, from whom I studied excerpts from all of Rabbi Heschel's books. One book in particular, a short text, which I believe will inspire all readers is Heschel's book entitled, "The Sabbath." Years ago, it had me appreciate the concept of Shabbat in a brand new way. All of his books are accessible.
 
While the history of Heschel and King dates back to the 1960's, the lessons they embodied ring true today. May both their memories be a blessing.
 
Sincerely,
 
Rabbi Howard Morrison
 
Fri, 5 March 2021 21 Adar 5781