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2020-12-11 09:06:00 AM

Dec11

Honour your mother

2021-05-07 09:12:55 AM

May7

Dear Congregational Family,

On this coming Sunday, we will celebrate Mother's Day. Over the years, my mother taught me that in Judaism, every day is a mother's and father's day. Nevertheless, she never turned back the gifts that I brought her on the second Sunday in May.

In ten days, we will celebrate the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. Many Jews think of the Ten Commandments as the symbol and outline of the entire Torah. In it, "Honor your father and your mother" is the fifth commandment. It is the one that unifies all the commandments together. It is found with the first five statements, which define our relationship with God. Who else but our parents are the ones to nourish us when we are young with the values of our faith and heritage? The same commandment links the remaining ones which enhance our relationship with society at large.

I wish all the mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers a healthy and happy  Mother's Day. May your families honour and appreciate all that you do for them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Land Acknowledgement in Parshat Bhar

2021-05-05 09:07:05 AM

May5

Dear Congregational Family,

I once heard it said that the land of Israel does not belong to the people of Israel. Rather, the people of Israel belongs to the land of Israel. This notion stems from the Torah's teachings that the land of Israel requires that its residents live according to a prescribed moral and religious code. If the code of behavior is neglected, the land may choose to oust its residents. This line of thinking is consistent with Biblical theology.

In this week's portion of Bhar, the Torah makes its message clear: "for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me (Leviticus 25:23)."  The Etz Hayim Torah commentary adds, "Even the Israelites are but God's tenants, resident aliens in the Land. Only if they live up to the terms of the Covenant will they endure there."

The ancient law about the Jubilee year meant that in every fifty years, land reverted to its original owner. While there is scholarly debate as to whether this law was ever operative, its purpose was to teach that all the earth and all of its inhabitants belong to God. 

Psalm 24 begins, "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains; the world and its inhabitants." It is recited as the daily Psalm for Sunday, which commemorates the first day of creation. It is also recited on weekdays, when the Torah scroll is returned to the Holy Ark. 

In our Scripture and in our prayers, we affirm and acknowledge that all land belongs to God. We humans are tenants and are instructed to care for the earth and to uphold God's moral and religious teachings.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Shabbat for the people and the land

2021-05-04 09:02:53 AM

May4

Dear Congregational Family,

This week, we read Parshat Bhar. This was my Bar Mitzvah portion, which I read at the Western Wall in 1973. I kiddingly refer to it as my "Bhar Mitzvah" Parsha. Much of the content deals with observances that are contingent on the land of Israel. The very beginning and end serve as bookends. The opening verses speak of a Shabbat for the land itself, called Shemita, the origin of the word "Sabbatical." Every seventh year, the land of Israel rests. Since re-entry into Israel after 1948, different rabbinic  interpretations suggest that the land should once again rest in one of a variety of ways. 

The very end of the Parsha reaffirms personal observance of Shabbat, "You shall safeguard my Sabbaths." Back in 1973, I had the privilege of keeping two Sabbaths with my family in Israel, and I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah on the second Shabbat while in Jerusalem.

This year, more than ever, we need Parshat Bhar and its directives for the land and the people to have Shabbat. We continue to mourn the loss of life, and we grieve over the many injuries, all of which occurred during Lag Ba'Omer. Both, a  people and its land, would benefit from the peace, serenity, and tranquility that Shabbat provides.

How appropriate that Parshat Bhar comes at a time when its lessons are so relevant.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Faith in mental health

2021-05-03 09:29:29 AM

May3

Dear Congregational Family,

In many communities, this week has been designated as mental health awareness week. This evening at 6:30PM, I will be part of a multi-faith panel on Zoom, arranged by the office of our York Centre MP, Ya'ara Saks. The community dialogue is entitled, "Faith in mental health." I will be applying some of the lessons of Sefirat Ha'Omer to better understanding mental health. Details about the program can be found on the shul website.

Until this year, Lag Ba'Omer was a day of joyous respite during a season which commemorates many tragedies throughout our history. Sadly, Lag Ba'Omer will now be identified with sadness, given the tragic events which took plan on Mount Meron during Lag Ba'Omer festivities. Well over a hundred people have suffered injuries, and some forty-five have died, which includes a number of children.

As we observe mental health awareness week amidst the sorrows which took place in Israel, Chai Lifeline has written an advisory article which includes some mental health tips: Check in with yourself. Identify your own reactions. Notice your thoughts. Be aware of how you are reacting within. Talk and listen empathetically. Encourage children to share what they have heard, and how they have reacted. With age appropriate children, validate their soul searching questions. Reassure them, but make it clear you do not know all the answers.

Yesterday was a day of mourning throughout the Jewish world. May our mourning soon be transformed to meaningful celebration.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Our dancing has turned to mourning (Lamentations 5:15)

2021-04-30 09:08:01 AM

Apr30

Dear Congregational Family,

Today is Lag Ba'Omer. Today is the definitive day of rejoicing during the counting of the Omer. Originally, the entire seven week period was meant to be a time of joy anticipating the journey from Egypt to Sinai, and counting each intervening day with spiritual excitement.

Sadly over the years, historical tragedies entered this season of the year: The genocide surrounding the Bar Kochba revolt, the deaths of thousands and thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva, the medieval Crusades, pogroms, and massacres, the designated date of Yom Ha'Shoah. All of these and more took place during the seven week period known as Sefirat Ha'Omer.

The one definitive day of joy that has always stood out has been Lag Ba'Omer. On this day, the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students came to an end. On this day, one celebrated the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron in Northern Israel. On this day, one celebrated his Kabbalistic influences, which have inspired the recitation of  daily value concepts when counting the Omer.

As many of us learned yesterday, tragedy befell our people who were celebrating Lag Ba'Omer in and near Mount Meron. Some forty-four people have died, and over a hundred people are seriously injured, as result of a terrible accident.

Now is not the time to intellectually analyze. Now is the time to join our brothers and sisters in grieving, empathizing, and comforting. As recounted in the book of Lamentations, "Our dancing has turned into mourning."

In shul tomorrow, I will expand on these words, and we will recite selected Tehilim-Psalms, passages of comfort to be recited at a time of pain and duress.

Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh La'Zeh - All of Israel is bound to one another, the Talmud teaches us, at times of joy or sadness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Tonight is Lag Ba'Omer

2021-04-29 09:10:36 AM

Apr29

Dear Congregational Family,

Tonight begins a day of rejoicing, and we need it. While the Omer period was meant to be a joyous anticipation from Pesach to Shavuot, historical tragedy entered this season. The Hadrianic persecutions, Crusades, Yom Hashoah and other sad chapters of suffering took place at this time of year. While customs vary, most Jews mourn for either thirty two days or almost all forty nine days of the Omer.

The thirty third day of the Omer stands out as a day of rejoicing. The Talmud describes the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students coming to an end on Lag Ba'Omer, the thirty third day of the Omer. This teaching may be a euphemism for the deaths which took place during the Hadrianic period of the Roman Empire.

Another tradition identifies Lag Ba'Omer as the Hilula, celebration, on the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. A student of Rabbi Akiva, he inspired the early stages of Kabbalistic teachings in rabbinic Judaism. Bonfires are lit to honor his memory.

As a day school student, regular classes were paused on Lag B'Omer. Instead, we participated in outdoor  sporting events, symbolically referring to Jews coming out from caves of hiding on this day during Roman oppression.

During the sadness surrounding Covid, we especially need a day of rejoicing right now. So, find some time to do something fun and meaningful on Lag Ba'Omer. In preparation, my class today at noon will focus on the history, ritual, and customs. Tonight after Maariv, Rabbi Grundland will lead a virtual bonfire kumzits.

I wish everyone a Lag Ba'Omer Sameach.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Three interesting Parsha titles

2021-04-28 09:14:36 AM

Apr28

Dear Congregational Family,

The Parsha titles of last week's and this week's portions are called "Acharei Mot, Kdoshim, Emor." As a single statement, the words are translated as "After one's death, one must speak of that person's holiness."

How true this is when we honor the memory of a loved one at a funeral, shiva, and beyond. Eulogizing goes back to the very first death in Judaism when Abraham eulogized Sarah after her passing. To this day, the rituals associated with Yahrzeit and Yizkor help us to continuing memorializing our loved ones.

Perhaps a lesson learned, however, is not to wait for one's death before we recognize that person's sanctity. How many of us honor and recognize those dear to us in life? How often do we regret not telling dear ones how much we loved them before it was too late?

Yes - say positive true things about a person after death.

Yes - say positive true things to that person in life

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Don't miss a second chance

2021-04-27 09:08:49 AM

Apr27

Dear Congregational Family,

Did you know that yesterday was a Jewish holiday? Monday April 26 coincided with 14 Iyar, also known as Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover. In ancient times, if one was impure due to contact with a corpse or far off in a distant place, that person was unable to celebrate Pesach at its appropriate time and place. In those situations, the Torah allowed that individual to celebrate the Pesach offering exactly one month later, called, Pesach Sheni.

The institution of Pesach Sheni marks one of a handful of cases where Moses did not know what to do. In the case of an individual who was unable to celebrate Passover at its desginated time, God informed Moses to offer the impure or distant person a second chance.

While we should never neglect Jewish obligations purposely, our tradition offers second opportunities to those who sincerely could not observe properly the first time around, and who earnestly desire to be faithful Jews. Such ideas as Repentance and the cyclical nature of Judaism enable all of us to improve our spiritual conduct over and over again. We are always given second chances. We can keep Shabbat better next week than the week before. We can keep Kosher better the next time we prepare a meal. We can keep the upcoming annual holiday better than we did last year, etc.

If you missed the recognition of Pesach Sheni yesterday, you can look for it again next year. One does not have to miss a second chance.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Va'chai Ba'hem - And live by them

2021-04-26 09:12:47 AM

Apr26

Dear Congregational Family,

This past Shabbat, the double portion of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim was read. These two portions occupy the center of the entire Torah and are part of a section known as the holiness code. Given the Covid  centered world in which we currently live, one particular verse stands out in my mind for everyone and which is particularly relevant for our Beth Emeth community this week.

In Leviticus 18:15, we read, "You shall keep My rules and My laws, by the pursuit of which one shall live by them (Va'chai Ba'hem). . . "

From this single verse, our tradition teaches us that all commandments, excluding murder, incest, and idolatry, are set aside for "Pikuach Nefesh - saving a human life." One is specifically commanded to violate the Torah to save one's life in order to live by the Torah afterward. The words "Va'Chai Ba'hem - And live by them" are meant to teach us that we shall not die by our observance of Judaism.

As you know, for the first time since livestream equipment was installed last Summer, we did not offer a Shabbat morning service this past weekend. Due to a potential Covid exposure which might have taken effect on the previous Shabbat, the entire clergy team was mandated by governmental health protocols to stay away from shul and observe a fourteen day quarantine. Speaking for myself, I took a Covid test Friday afternoon and found out after Shabbat that I tested negative. Of course, our on line services and programs will continue. Given that the quarantine will end on this coming Friday, we fully intend to provide a Shabbat morning service next Shabbat.

In our personal and collective lives, we all understand that safeguarding life comes before all else. The words of this past Shabbat's Torah lesson makes our understanding of life first very clear. Especially during this past year of Covid related concerns, let us remember to do our utmost best in safeguarding our lives even as we do our utmost best to safeguard Jewish practice.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Earth Day - At the heart of Judaism

2021-04-22 09:37:39 AM

Apr22

Dear Congregational Family,

Today is Earth Day. In Judaism, every day can be called by that name. Our Torah begins with Genesis chapters one and two to illustrate that God is the landlord of the earth. We are tenants and stewards and must take care of what God has provided us.

Shabbat, with its cessation of labors and interferences with nature, is an earth day by definition. The various Festivals are all agricultural in nature and speak to the protection of the earth. Tu Bishvat is perhaps the most tangible earth day celebration in the Jewish calendar.

In our liturgy, the first mandatory blessing morning and evening describes God as the author of creation, the creator of morning and evening. The blessings after meals begins with the theme of God as sustainer of all.

The challenge of Earth Day is for humanity to properly appreciate and distribute the great gifts God has bestowed upon this earth.

Happy Earth Day,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Counting Upwards

2021-04-21 09:19:52 AM

Apr21

Dear Congregational Family,

In secular culture, one counts downward in anticipation of celebratory events. One might say something like "only such and such number of days to go until my birthday, or some other occasion."

At this season of the year in Judaism, we are counting upward, as we anticipate the Festival of Shavuot. The second night of Pesach was day one in the count. Today is day twenty-four. After forty-nine days of counting in total, we will have arrived at Shavuot. The ritual of counting upward simulates for us the physical and spiritual journey our ancestors faced from the time of the Exodus to the time of their encampment at Mount Sinai.

During this challenging pandemic, it is important that we stay as positive as possible by looking upward and not downward. At Beth Emeth, it is noteworthy that on the Monday and Thursday mornings this week and next week, I will have been in shul officiating a Shacharit service with either a baby naming or a Bar-Mitzvah. While the celebrant families know they are restricted to a very small gathering in our sanctuary, they are grateful to celebrate their milestones in the synagogue, while inviting their guests to join on Zoom or livestream. 

For four thousand years, Jewish life has had to confront  many threats and challenges. For the most part, we have persevered and moved forward in a positive direction. Our historical experience is symbolized by the Israelite journey from Egypt to Sinai, and by the daily seven week ritual of counting the Omer in an upward direction.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Personal and Collective Responsibility

2021-04-20 09:11:11 AM

Apr20

Dear Congregational Family,

The outset of this week's double Parsha of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim is familiar. It is also read on Yom Kippur morning. In it, we read about the very first observance of Yom Kippur. In Biblical times, the Kohain Gadol, High Priest, had to achieve three forms of atonement - for himself, for his household, and for the entire household of Israel. The Jewish value of individual, familial, and communal responsibility goes back some 3500 years in our tradition.

Judaism has always emphasized responsibility to oneself and to others. In Pirkei Avot, The Wisdom of the Sages, which we study at this season of the year, we are taught: "If I am not for me, who is for me? If I am only for me, what am I?" Often, I hear how altruistic one is toward the wellbeing of others. However, if one neglects oneself, how altruistic can one be really be? How often have I seen a loving person caring for a dear one who is ill. Sadly in many instances, the loving person becomes more ill than the other because care for the other superseded care for the self. 

The sequence of  effecting atonement is no accident. The Kohain Kadol took care of his spiritual needs, followed by the spiritual needs of his household, followed by the needs of the entire community. 

During the pandemic we are facing, the lessons of the Parsha and of our tradition could not be more relevant. Yes - We must take care of ourselves. Yes - we must be responsible to those around us. Wearing the mask, maintaining physical distancing, and following the rules of society benefit ourselves and the relationships we share with those in our community.

May we always take heed and precaution for ourselves, our families, and  those around us.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

In the midst of a journey

2021-04-19 09:25:20 AM

Apr19

Dear Congregational Family,

This week, we find ourselves in the midst of a journey on different levels.

We transition from the third to to fourth week in counting the Omer. The totality of seven weeks of counting connect Passover with Shavuot. This week, we are right in the middle. What  are we doing to integrate the spiritual roller coaster ride of Spring which takes us on an up and down journey from Pesach to Yom Ha'Shoah to Yom Ha'Zikaron to Yom Ha'Atzmaut to Yom Yerushalayim to Shavuot and the historical sadness associated with the Omer period?

We find ourselves smack in the middle of the five books of the Torah. The double Parsha of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim is the midpoint. Our Sages teach us that the majority of the fundamental principles of the entire Torah are found in Kedoshim. The Ten Commandments are indirectly found as we encounter the midpoint of the Torah.

It is customary to study the six chapter treatise called Pirkei Avot, The wisdom of the Sages, during the six Shabbatot between Pesach and Shavuot. This coming Shabbat marks chapter three in the journey through Pirkei Avot. In our weekly Tuesday class started virtually last year, we are in the beginning of chapter four. Feel free to join our group or study these brief inspirational maxims on your own. Most complete Siddurim contain Pirkei Avot.

A year ago, we probably thought that the pandemic would be finished by now. It is clearly not over. Hopefully, we are past the mid point, but who knows for sure? While vaccinations are on the rise, so are actual cases. I encourage everyone to continue exercising caution. We are still in the midst of journeying through the pandemic.

We are in the midst of the midpoint on many things right now. May we be inspired by our calendar, our Torah portion, our rabbinic literature, and may we be aware of what needs to happen while we continue to confront Covid-19.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Transforming words of sadness into words of joy - Parshat Tazria/Metzora

2021-04-16 09:15:36 AM

Apr16

Dear Congregational Family,

Two of the most challenging Torah portions for modern Jews are Tazria and Metzora, which we read as a unified double Parsha this Shabbat. Both portions deal with the physical malady called Tzaraat, translated as leprosy or hansen's disease. In Biblical times, this condition could afflict a person, one's clothing, even inside the foundations of one's home. In antiquity, the Kohen functioned as both spiritual healer and physical doctor. On both levels, the Kohen was to assess and treat the particular situation.

If a person was deemed to have contracted Tzaraat, he/she would be quarantined outside the camp for periods of seven days at a time until healing occurred and reintegration was possible. Over the last year plus, we know too well of being quarantined. Those who have overcome Covid know to slowly and carefully reintegrate into the larger community. 

It is ironic that this week's double Parsha takes place during the period of Yom Ha'Shoah, Yom Ha'Zikaron, and Yom Ha'Atzmaut. The Hebrew words for "the plague of leprosy/hansen's disease" are "Nega Tzaraat." Switching the sequences of letters, "Nega (plague)" can be read as "Oneg (joy)," and "Tzaraat (leprosy/hansen's disease)" can be read as "Atzeret (celebration)."

We pray for the day when all forms of "Nega Tzaraat" will end and be transformed into "Oneg Atzeret - joyful celebration." What a challenging week we have had in the contemporary Jewish calendar transitioning from Yom HaShoah to Yom Ha'Zikaron to Yom Ha'Atzmaut.

We pray for the day to come soon when the affliction of "Covid" will be transformed into the joyful Hebrew "Cavod," meaning honor. 

In the meantime, let us be diligent to staying well, paying honor to our healthy lives, and bringing honor to this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Yom Ha'Atzmaut - Israel's seventy-third birthday

2021-04-15 09:06:59 AM

Apr15

Dear Congregational Family,

Today is a special birthday. Some of us remember when the State of Israel was proclaimed and born. Others of us remember this day from the time we were young children. I am proud to have been raised in a Zionist family and will always remember my Bar Mitzvah in Israel mere days after her twenty-fifth birthday in 1973.

I believe that Yom Ha'Atzmaut is more than an act of history. While the Zionist effort began in the 1800's with Theodore Hertzl and many others, I believe that modern Jews should approach Yom Ha'Atzmaut in the same spirit as Chanukah and Purim. I favor the recitation of Al Ha'Nisim on Yom Ha'Atzmaut. I favor the recitation of a full unabbreviated Hallel on Yom Ha'Atzmaut. I favor the inclusion of a prescribed Torah and Haftarah reading on Yom Ha'Atzmaut. I favor the regular recitation of a prayer for Medinat Yisrael which refers to the modern State as "the first flowering of our redemption." 

While we should have fun and patriotic activity today, may we find appropriate ways to include Yom Ha'Atzmaut as an authentic religious observance. May we truly say Chag Sameach!

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The sanctity of memory - Yom Ha'Zikaron

2021-04-14 09:10:26 AM

Apr14

Dear Congregational Family,

Today is the observance of Yom Ha'Zikaron, Israel's Remembrance Day. Today, we recall all who have given their lives for the safeguarding of the State of Israel. Military forces, security forces, victims of terror, our brothers and sisters,  and many others are being remembered. Today, we recall acts of heroism and self-sacrifice. 

Our Jewish way of life necessitates personal and collective remembrance. We remember loved ones ritually on their Yahrzeit and occasions of reciting Yizkor. We remember all our slain on Tisha B'Av. We remember our Six Million on Yom Ha'Shoah. We remember our Israeli martyrs on Yom Ha'Zikaron. 

While we look forward to celebrating Yom Ha'Atzmaut tomorrow, the day of remembrance is a vital prerequisite. One cannot properly celebrate without reflecting on the ultimate prices which have been paid with human lives. The celebration of Purim is preceded by the Fast of Esther. The celebration of Pesach is preceded by the Fast/Siyum of the firstborn. We understand how remembrance and reflection precede festivity and celebration.

When the siren sounds at 12 noon Israel time, may we pause at that moment and throughout the day to recall our fallen heroes, without whom we could not merit the benefit of Medinat Yisrael in our lives.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A nation that remembers and celebrates

2021-04-13 09:09:07 AM

Apr13

Dear Congregational Family,

What other nation observes its remembrance day and its independence day in two consecutive days? 

In May of 1973, my immediate family and I went to Israel for the first time to celebrate my BarMitzvah. It was then that my appreciation for everything Israel truly began. The images in the Siddur and Tanach became clear as I visually witnessed many of the sites, sounds, and feelings. Suddenly, our history, literature, and values came to life.

While my arrival to Israel in 1973 took place immediately after Yom Ha'Atzmaut, I witnessed the juxtaposition of Yom Ha'Zikaron and Yom Ha'Atzmaut during my rabbinical school year in Israel during the academic year of 1983-84. How struck I was by the siren on Israel's remembrance day - a nation standing in attention, followed by intense joy and celebration the day after. 

In describing the Biblical Fasts which commemorate the destruction of the First Temple, the words of  Tanach anticipate "Mi'Yagon L'Simcha - from sadness to celebration." How amazing that the collective peoplehood of Israel actually transitions from one to the other in a twenty-four hour period nowadays.

Since the fourth and fifth of Iyar, the designated dates for Yom Ha'Zikaron and Yom Ha'Atamaut, are not derived from Torah or observed with halakhic restrictions as on Shabbat, the two days are deferred in terms of their observance this year to Wednesday and Thursday, the second and third days of Iyar. This way, the contemporary rituals will not inadvertently lead to violations of Shabbat practices. Nevertheless, the two straight days of remembrance and celebration are juxtaposed one next to the other.

May we all find meaningful ways to connect with Medinat Yisrael this week and always.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

"This land is your land; this land is my land" - Whose land is it?

2021-04-12 09:08:06 AM

Apr12

Dear Congregational Family,

In recent times, there has become a concern about "land acknowledgement." At face value, proponents are sensitive to the feelings of so called "original" landowners. In my lifetime, I grew up in Boston. I never make reference to the Boston Tea Party or other events which led to the city in which I was raised. Growing up in the United States of America, I do not apologetically get into the history of events surrounding Plymouth Rock or U.S. Thanksgiving.  I call my spiritual homeland Israel. I do not make reference to Biblical Canaanite nations or others who have made claims over the centuries. In my twenty plus years living locally, I know to say Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seemingly, any place in the world contains layers of different civilizations and definitions of ownership.

The fact of the matter is - our Torah makes it very clear that God is the owner of all land. People are mere tenants. Many portions of Torah make this very clear. The fact that Scripture begins with the book of Genesis clarifies that God is the creator and owner of the entire earth. On the very first verse of Bereishit, Rashi quotes an ancient teaching which explains why the Torah begins with Genesis and not the first Mitzvah given to the Children of Israel. Since God is the owner of all lands, God decided to apportion the land of Israel to the Jewish people. 

In ancient Jewish teaching, the creation point of the world is the Foundation stone in the ancient Temple's holy of holies. From there, God created the world. In that sense, Jerusalem is the foundation of the entire earth.

With the commemorations of Yom Ha'Zikaron and Yom Ha'Atzmaut this week, I suggest that while we should be sensitive to the feelings of others, we must humbly refrain from the politics of land acknowledgement. God owns all land, and we are respectful tenants. God swore to Abraham that the land of Israel would be an essential part of the divine covenant with the Jewish people for all time.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Are you a witness - A Yom HaShoah challenge

2021-04-09 09:20:43 AM

Apr9

Dear Congregational Family,

My grandparents on both sides (whom I never knew) were already living in the United States, where my parents were born. Not being a child or grandchild of a victim or survivor, I was nonetheless raised with a strong consciousness for remembering the Shoah.

As a young child, my father made me and my siblings know the story and the branded number of a survivor who was a member of our local synagogue. My father's idea was that one day, my family would be this man's witness to the future of humanity.

As a rabbinical student, I wrote a paper in which I proposed that Yom HaShoah be considered a statutory Fast day on the Jewish calendar. This way, the special Torah reading and additional prayers would perpetuate the memory of the Shoah on our calendar for generations to come. If our predecessors could sanctify the joys of Chanukah and Purim as well as the sadness of Tisha B'Av, why couldn't our generation sanctify the sadness of Yom HaShoah and the joy of Yom Ha'Atamaut? Ironically, in many communities, the joy of Yom Ha'Atzmaut has made it in terms of extra liturgy, exemplified by the recitation of Hallel and even a prescribed Torah and/or Haftarah reading in many communities. On Yom HaShoah, at best, the traditional memorial prayer is added and not much more.

A few decades ago, Megillat HaShoah, a six chapter fictionalized history, was composed in the style of other historical texts. Leaders of the Toronto Jewish community with scholars in Israel assembled this important document. The intention was for it to become globally recited on Yom HaShoah in the way Biblical Megillot are recited on other Festivals of the year. In reality, very few communities have picked up on it. After many years of devoting a particular night to reading Megillat HaShoah in a designated synagogue, the interest locally seems to have waned.

As the number of survivors decreases, it seems to me that my father's notion when I was a young boy is still correct. We, the descendants of survivors/victims, or we, the next generations of the Jewish people, must become witnesses. We must take ownership and become witness of someone's  story. We must become "Ke'ilu - as if" we are that victim or survivor. A number of Holocaust museums have us take on the identity of a victim or survivor experientially as we go through our visit, not knowing if our "personna" died or survived, until the end of our experience. 

At stake nowadays is not a meaningful museum experience, but a lifetime calling. If the young people of today do not become witnesses to the Shoah, how will the memories and the lessons be perpetuated for the Jewish people and the world community?

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Balancing Safety and Spirituality

2021-04-07 09:09:01 AM

Apr7

Dear Congregational Family,

"Ashreinu Ma Tov Chelkeinu - How fortunate is our lot" that we were able to have a Minyan and a full liturgical service on the morning of Shabbat Ha'Gadol and all the Yom Tov mornings of Pesach. I am grateful to those who attended our synagogue and to the several hundred who participated via livestream during the Festival.

As you are aware, even while more and more people are getting vaccinated, the number of Covid cases in the GTA and Ontario is increasing dramatically. Hospitals are filled, and schools are shutting down their in person classes. As a result, our synagogue leadership is temporarily restricting Shabbat morning attendance to clergy only. Safety must always come first. At the same time, the clergy of our shul feel safe to come into the building and maintain physical  distancing so that we can present a meaningful service with everyone joining via livestream. In this way, we are able to properly balance safety with spirituality in the best way possible.

In our Torah portion this week, we read about the fullness of spirituality as the Tabernacle is dedicated, and the Priests are ordained over an eight day period of celebration. Tragically, we also read about a strange offering brought by two of Aaron's sons, where safety is not considered at all. The classical commentators debate on what the strange offering was. Nevertheless, physical and/or spiritual security were ignored, which resulted in the sudden deaths of Nadav and Avihu.

With both Torah extremes in mind, we at Beth Emeth will continue to do our utmost in providing absolute safety and security while providing authentic spiritual expression to our community.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The many uses of lights - Preparing for Yom Hashoah

2021-04-06 09:24:34 AM

Apr6

Dear Congregational Family,

Much of Judaism centers around light. Each morning, we thank God for the light of a new day. Each evening, we thank God for evening light.

We distinguish the beginning of Shabbat from weekdays by lighting at least two candles. We separate the end of Shabbat by lighting a Havdalah candle.

During Chanukah, we celebrate the miracles of the season by lighting an additional candle each night. We do so based on a teaching, "We ascend in holiness and do not descend."

When we mourn the loss of a loved one, we light a seven day Shiva candle. At the time of Yahrzeit and Yizkor, we light a twenty-four hour memorial candle. These practices are based on a verse, "The human soul is likened to a flame kindled unto God."

Over the past few decades, The Federation of Jewish Men's clubs has initiated the idea of lighting a yellow candle to memorialize the Holocaust, known as the Yom Hashoah candle.

At Beth Emeth, we have traditionally distributed these candles in the Spring to commemorate Yom Hashoah. In the past few years, we have publically gathered at the shul on the night of Yom Hashoah. Sadly, because of the pandemic, we are unable to physically gather. However, we are able to gather virtually, as we did last year.

Wit the notion that light dispels darkness, we are making available the Yom Hashoah candle outside the synagogue entrance today and tomorrow between 9-5pm. The candle should be lit tomorrow night, Wednesday April 7. You may choose to do so during our on line remembrance ceremony, which begins at 8pm.

May we observe the many rituals involving light, which help us to celebrate, to remember, and to grieve.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Day After

2021-04-05 09:20:39 AM

Apr5

Dear Congregational Family,

If you are like me, a certain ritual takes place right after Pesach ends. For me, it includes boxing my Pesach kitchen utensils, breaking down folding tables, and a general cleanup. As rabbi, I also buy back Chametz from the non-Jewish person to whom I sold it on your behalf prior to the Festival.

The day following a Festival is called Isru Chag, a spiritual one day aftermath to the holiday. I hope we will take lessons learned during Pesach into the post Pesach season.

We now continue our upward spiritual journey, symbolized by the daily counting of the Omer until Shavuot. Today is the eighth day in a seven week counting period.

In modern Jewish life, we enter a season of contemporary observances soon after Pesach which surround the Shoah and the State of Israel. This Wednesday night, we will commemorate Yom Hashoah with an on line ceremony at 8pm.

The day after Pesach does not bring a stopping point but rather a continuation of our people's journey now going on for 4000 years with its admixture of sadness and celebration.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

All that once was good, and it could be again

2021-04-01 09:15:00 AM

Apr1

Dear Congregational Family,

One of my favorite lines from Field of Dreams is when James Earl Jones says, "All that once was good, and it could be again." Baseball is back today. If we ever needed the look, the sound, the smell, the slow pace of baseball, we need it now. The quotation I have shared should inspire us that better days are coming. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

On this opening day of the baseball season, I share with you some excerpts from "The Baseball Haggadah," which came out in 2015:

The innings - Kadesh, Urchatz, etc.

The Teams - The Israelites (captain - Moses) and the Taskmasters (captain - Pharaoh)

Sing "Take me out to the Seder, Take me out to the crowds. Feed me some soup with a matzah ball. Pesach's in Spring and not in the Fall. For we'll root, root, root for the Israelites as they cross through the Red Sea. For it's one, two, three, four cups of wine we rejoice that we are free."

The Ten Plagues - "Being hit with a baseball, Foul off the foot, Lice in the helmet, Wild animals on the field, Dead grass on the field, Blister on the pitcher's finger, Rainout, Swarming insects on the field, Blackout of stadium lights, Line drive back to the pitcher."

Who Knows One? - Nine are the players in a Baseball game.

Eight was the perfect game in history that Koufax pitched.

Seven is the inning we do the stretch.

Six is the code for the shortstop.

Five is the number Hank Greenberg wore.

Four is the number of the bases.

Three are the outs of the inning.

Two are the teams of the game.

One is the World Series.

Root for the home team!

Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Howard Morrison

2021-03-31 09:27:08 AM

Mar31

Dear Congregational Family,

A week and a half ago, our synagogue reopened its doors for Shabbat and Festival morning services. This past weekend, we had a Minyan and a total of approximately twenty people on Shabbat and the first two days of Pesach. Present in the synagogue, we had more than ten men, a few women, and some grown children as well. I am grateful to all who chose to attend in person. In addition, I am grateful to the over one hundred households who continue to join us on Shabbat and Festival mornings on our livestream.

Because of health and safety requirements, it is imperative that all pre-registrants come to shul on time. Our services begin promptly at 9:30AM. Some of the attendees came in later. As a result, we had to skip the opening Kaddish recitations and the Borchu, which initiates the Shacharit service.

Starting this weekend with the last two days of Pesach, pre-registrants are encouraged to enter the synagogue at 9:15AM so that they are settled in their assigned seats when we begin at 9:30AM. For security purposes, the entrance to the synagogue will be locked at 9:45AM, after which time no-one will be permitted to enter the synagogue. Once in the synagogue, attendees are requested to stay in their seats, to follow the marked arrows when returning to their seats from the Bima or front of the sanctuary, to exit the sanctuary only for the use of washrooms or an emergency, and to follow the marked arrows for directions in and out of the sanctuary and the building.

It was meaningful to have a complete traditional service over the first two days of Pesach. We look forward to more of the same moving forward.

I wish everyone continued safety and wellbeing.

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Moving Forward Step by Step

2021-03-30 09:08:05 AM

Mar30

Dear Congregational Family,

Pesach celebrates the freedom of our people. Between Pesach and Shavuot, we count the Omer day by day for seven weeks. The transition from physical freedom to spiritual freedom is a step by step process. Pesach commemorates the physical dimension  of freedom from bondage. Shavuot commemorates the spiritual dimension of freedom with the revelation of Torah.

As we compare and contrast Pesach during the pandemic last year and this year, we are moving forward one step at a time. Last year at this season, shuls were completely shut down. This year, shuls are open. We had a full traditional service this past Shabbat and Yom Tov with some in shul and many on livestream. Neither in person attendance nor livestream were accessible last year.

The counting of the Omer is a step by step movement in a positive direction. So too is the progress made from last Pesach to this Pesach.

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

"Each and Every"

2021-03-26 09:05:07 AM

Mar26

Dear Congregational Family,

In preparation for Pesach, three statements from the Haggadah come to mind, all beginning with the expression "Each and Every."

"V'Chol Ha'Marbeh L'Saper Bi'Yetziat Mitzrayim Harei Zeh Meshubach - Each and every person who increases the telling of the Exodus from Egypt is considered praiseworthy." The Haggadah is not a Siddur. It is not meant to be davened. Our challenge is to talk about and raise lively discussion on the meanings of slavery and freedom from the past to the present. It is no accident that the following passage describes a group of Sages who spent all night until sunrise discussing the Exodus from Egypt.

"B'Chol Dor Va'Dor Chayav Adam Lirot Et Atzmo K'eelu Hoo Yatza MiMitzrayim - In each and every generation, one must regard  oneself as having left from Egypt." The Haggadah must be made current and relevant. What are the slaveries and  freedoms in our generation? What must we do to experience our own Exodus from personal oppression? 

"B'Chol Dor Va'Dor Ohmdim Aleinu L'Chalotainu - In each and every generation, enemies rise up against us seeking to destroy us." Who and/or what are our enemies today? Are they physical? spiritual? Are they obvious? Are they subtle? Do they attack us with guns? with propaganda? What are we doing as individuals and as communities to define and confront those enemy forces?

These are three statements in the Haggadah which begin with "each and every." I encourage each and everyone of us to rise to the challenges raised in the Hagggadah.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher V'Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Shabbat Haggadah

2021-03-24 09:11:31 AM

Mar24

Dear Congregational Family,

Have you located your Haggadot from last year? Are you content with your current edition? Or is it time for a contemporary upgrade in terms of layout, artistic form, and commentary? Now is the time to plan your Seder experience. Whether in person or over social media, who will be assigned to lead which portions of the Haggadah? How will you make the evening spiritual and relevant? 

Consider the following suggestions: what are the four questions for today? What is plaguing society? To what can we say Dayenu-enough? How are we enslaved in modern times? What will it take to be freed?

While this Sabbath is called Shabbat Ha'Gadol, one particular theory suggests that this coming Sabbath was once called Shabbat Haggadah. During the afternoon, one would go over the Magid section and prepare a meaningful presentation.

Given that Pesach immediately follows Shabbat this year, why wait to prepare? Now is the right time to make Haggadah decisions in order to create lasting impressions for your Seder participants.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A re-emergence of congregational joy

2021-03-23 09:11:45 AM

Mar23

Dear Congregational Family,

With warmer weather, vaccinations taking place, and some leniencies in provincial protocols, a re-emergence of congregational joy was experienced this past weekend.

On Shabbat morning, our doors were once again open to those who felt comfortable coming into shul. As an officiating rabbi, it was nice to see members of the congregation occupying pews in our sanctuary. Our rows of seats had been empty for too long. Joyfully, we continue to have over one hundred households joining us via livestream on Shabbat mornings.

On Saturday night, right after Shabbat, we celebrated a family Bat Mitzvah in the context of Havdalah. Some twenty people in our sanctuary were augmented by many others on Zoom and livestream. The Bat Mitzvah and her family restored the joy of celebrating lifecycle milestones in our shul.

On Sunday morning, on Zoom, a synagogue family celebrated the baby naming of a newborn daughter. This was the fourth straight Sunday morning I officiated a Zoom baby naming. The ceremony had parents, grandparents, and great grandparents participating. It was a wonderful entree to Passover, the most multi-generationally celebrated holiday on the Jewish calendar.

On Sunday night, our shul arranged a pre-Pesach Zoom dinner and program in lieu of Shabbat Across North America, which we normally hold on a Friday night in March. Our congregational family gathered in large numbers and with an enthusiastic spirit. 

With the various Simchas celebrated this past weekend, I encourage those who are comfortable to consider registering and joining us in person this coming Shabbat and the Yom Tov days of Pesach. Of course, our livestream will continue to be accessible to all.

Better days are coming.

Chag Kasher V'Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Great Sabbath

2021-03-22 09:43:29 AM

Mar22

Dear Congregational Family,

The Shabbat preceding Pesach is called Shabbat Ha'Gadol - The Great Sabbath. This year, Shabbat Ha'Gadol literally takes place on Erev Pesach. Reasons abound for the naming of this coming Shabbat.

In antiquity, a few days before Pesach, our ancestors prepared the lamb for the Passover offering. This obligation was considered an early Mitzvah observance in the life of our people. Gadol refers to an adult who is commanded to observe, referring to the rituals leading up to Pesach.

Also in antiquity, the Rabbi would speak at length on the Shabbat before Pesach. Gadol refers to the length and quality of the scholarly remarks shared prior to the Festival.

The Haftarah next Shabbat concludes with the "coming of the great (Gadol) and awesome day of the Lord." The Haftarah makes reference to Elijah the Prophet, who occupies a major place at the Seder table.

With several days to go, I encourage us to find ways to make this week, this Shabbat, and this Pesach truly Great-Gadol in our personal lives.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Sat, 8 May 2021 26 Iyyar 5781