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19/10/2023 10:57:58 AM

Oct19

Maccabees in Summer

20/06/2024 09:03:59 AM

Jun20

The same Haftarah we read on Shabbat Chanukah is also read this Shabbat for Parshat Bhaalotecha. The Prophet Zechariah famously says, " Not by power nor by might, but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts."

The Jewish way is predicated on spirituality, history, and truth - not by terrorism, violence, and false propaganda.  Over 2000 years ago, the small band of Maccabees fought and defeated the threats of Hellenism.

Today, every Jew must become a modern day Maccabee and fight the threats of contemporary Hellenism, which come from pro Hamas/anti-Jewish evil. The challenges facing Jewish freedoms are prevalent everywhere - on the streets, on campuses, in government, in schools, and more.

It is appropriate that the "Chanukah Haftarah" is being read this coming Shabbat to remind us of our roles and obligations as modern day Maccabees.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Naso - Unity then and now

17/06/2024 09:11:04 AM

Jun17

Parshat Naso is the longest Parsha in the entire Torah. Yet the final chapter, the longest ever, is fairly easy for a Torah reader. Twelve paragraphs are completely repetitive, except for the name of the chieftain and his tribe. We read about the gifts that were presented at the dedication of the Tabernacle by the chieftains of the twelve tribes of Israel. They brought exactly the same gift, each, one day after the other. 

The medieval commentator Abarbanel says that the chieftains had all agreed in advance to bring identical offerings. Knowing how often sibling rivalry between brothers causes pride or jealousy to interfere with sibling relationships, they were being extra cautious to prevent that from occurring here. If that is true, then surely that showed they had learned a lesson from the experience of their ancient Joseph and his brothers, for whom the tribes are named. 

But why read the same identical list twelve times over? Why couldn't the Torah just give the list of the names of the chieftains and tell us that they all gave the same gifts, and list the content of the gifts one time only?

Now come some classical commentators: The Bchor Shor says that it was so that each chieftain and tribe would have his day in the sun. Ramban says that the Holy One wished to provide equal honor to all of them. While each tribe brought exactly the same things in the same amount, each had its own independent reason for doing so.

The Baal Ha'Turim, known for commenting on numbers, mentions that each chieftain's name is recorded twice, thus 24 times in total. The 24 names allude to 24 hours. Each chieftain was given his own 24-hour time period when his tribe's gifts were celebrated. In addition, each chieftain's name is recorded at the beginning and end of a 6-verse allotment. The 6 verses allotted to each chieftain are an allusion to the 6 workdays of the week.

With all of these commentaries in mind, we see an unmatched unity among the leaders and the tribes of Israel, while maintaining each one's personal intent and commitment.

Last weekend reminded me of this chapter of Torah in a couple of ways. During last Shabbat, we learned of the heroic rescue of four hostages: Noa Argamani, Almog Meir Jan, Andrei Kozlov,  and Shlomi Ziv. The unity and euphoria were felt in Israel and all over the Jewish world. A beachfront in Tel Aviv erupted when the announcement was made. In our own shul last Shabbat, there was not a dry eye. With this unmatched unity of spirit, there were also tears for the remaining hostages and their families. There were tears that Almog's father had passed away days prior to his son's liberation due in part to overwhelming grief. There were tears that chief inspector Arnon Zmora of the police forces died of wounds suffered in the rescue effort.

Then, last Sunday, as expected, neither rain nor anti-Israel protests kept some fifty thousand Jews from walking for and with Israel. I took some time to stand at the intersection of Bathurst and Sheppard to witness many of our own Beth Emeth members as well as the diverse segments of the entire Jewish community coming together. For 36 consecutive weeks, the Jewish community has stood as one with prayer and reflection at that intersection. With each individual expressing his/her commitment in a personal way, collectively, the many thousands stood and walked as one cohesive community.

While the last chapter in Parshat Naso could have been made shorter, its full repetition of the 12 days worth of gifts presented by the 12 tribes of Israel serves as a role model and paradigm for the kind of people we can be at the most important of times.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Shavuot sermon - From a day of Torah to a day of Torah

14/06/2024 02:20:30 PM

Jun14

There are many Jews who confuse the meanings of Simchat Torah and Shavuot. There are those who think that Simchat Torah is the date on which God revealed the Torah. As we know, it is on this date of Shavuot that God revealed the Torah at Sinai to our people. Simchat Torah actually has no mention or status in scripture. Its significance developed in Talmudic times when the annual cycle of reading the Torah began and ended on Simchat Torah. Because its status is less than Biblical, Simchat Torah became a looser yom tov in terms of joy, celebration, and even a level of frivolity. Conversely, Shavuot is the second of the Torah's three pilgrimage Festivals - Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, physical freedom, spiritual purpose, and endurance in the wilderness.

Nevertheless, Simchat Torah and Shavuot are both the definitive holidays on the calendar which speak to the experience of Torah directly. The other holidays have all kinds of symbolic objects and ritual practices. If Simchat Torah celebrates the cycle of READING the Torah, Shavuot celebrates the importance of STUDYING the Torah. Thus, many people observe a late medieval mystical practice of staying up the first night of Shavuot and studying selections of the written and oral Torah.

This year, sadly of course, there is a different kind of relationship between Simchat Torah and Shavuot. In Israel, October 7 coincided with Simchat Torah (Shemini Atzeret in the Diaspora). The celebration of reading, singing, and dancing with the Torah was marred by 1200 tragic deaths and the taking of hundreds of hostages. While secular leaning Israelis were singing and dancing at the Nova music festival, they were celebrating in their own way the ideals of peace and unity, cherished Torah values.

When twenty-one of us were in Israel in mid-May, our tour guide, Moshe Gold, spoke of counting the days of darkness toward the anticipated day of light. I could not help but notice that for the forty-nine days of Omer counting between Pesach and Shavuot, the two hundred and X days paralleled the X days of the Omer. Thus, when we concluded the Omer counting on Monday night, Tuesday, the 49th day of the Omer, mirrored the 249th day since the horrors of October 7. How so many of us yearned for the war to end with the return of all the hostages by the end of the Omer period, which was not to be.

 

Now, the Festival of Shavuot comes with our having endured over eight months of hardship and oppression, felt not only in Israel but all over the Jewish world. For many of us, it is our commitment to Torah which is providing us with an anchor, stability, and support, to cope and persevere.

For some, it is the study of the weekly Parsha which is keeping us strong.

For some, it is the daily recitation of Psalms which is keeping us strong.

For some, it is the Torah's call to perform acts of Tikun Olam and social action which is keeping us strong.

For some, it is the anticipation of baby namings, Bnai Mitzvah, and weddings which is keeping us strong.

For some, it is the Torah's call to stand in peaceful protest which is keeping us strong.

"Etz Hayim Hee - The Torah is a tree of life to those who grasp it, and all who uphold it are blessed. Its ways are pleasant, and all its paths are peace."

In whatever ways we incorporate Torah in our lives, may its paths lead our people in Israel and around the world to a true peace speedily.

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Yizkor - Aner Elyakim Shapira z"l

14/06/2024 09:16:46 AM

Jun14

It is difficult to focus on the life and death of a person by sharing numbers only. Numbers are just too vast, be it six million Jews who were slaughtered during the Shoah or the thousands of Jews who have perished for being Jewish between October 7th and now.

In the spirit of all whom we recall today, I wish to focus on the remembrance of one particular soul whose name came up many times on the shul's recent Israel solidarity mission. He represents the courage, bravery, and pride of every Jew whom we recall today. His name is Aner Elyakim Shapira. We encountered his name at least three times over nine days in Israel.

First, we heard direct testimony from Rachel Goldberg-Polin. Over the years, she has worked at the Ramah Israel Institute as a guidance counselor. She has had to take time off nowadays. Ramah brought her in to speak to our group and other Ramah groups. She has been prolific and outspoken regarding the hostages, as her son Hersh is among those taken captive. Assuming Hersh is still alive, his survival is due to Aner Shapira. On fleeing from the shooting and violence at the Nova music festival, a large number of Israelis crammed into a local safe house. There, the Hamas terrorists were hurling grenades into the crowded area. With military background, it was Aner who stood by the front catching and throwing back seven grenades, saving the lives of others, though he was subsequently murdered. One of the lives he saved was Hersh's, who lost his arm while being taken hostage.

Second, a few days after hearing from Rachel, our Beth Emeth group actually entered the safe house, which is now famous. We witnessed and took photos of the outside and inside of the safe house. We saw the dried blood and the bullet holes. But we also saw, seven months after the terror, Azkarot - beautiful tributes and poems inscribed on the walls inside the safe house, mentioning Aner and the others.

 

Third, on our last day we visited Mt. Hertzl cemetery. On Yom Ha'Zikaron, Israelis visit the military cemeteries on the day which commemorates all the fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Most of our group was actually traveling that day to Israel. Our mission began the following day on Yom Ha'Atzmaut. So, we made our last day a sort of BEBY Yom Ha'Zikaron. At the Mt. Hertzl cemetery, as many of you know, the stone monuments on the graves are configured liked a bed with a pillow at the top. When we came to Aner's grave, the monument had not yet been established. His was a fresh grave, laid out beautifully with branches, plants, and shrubbery, along with tributes and testimonials.

One story of remembrance to represent all the stories of remembrance on this day. We will remember the fallen as they were in their lives, what they managed to accomplish, their ambitions, and the dreams left unfulfilled. We will remember the last minutes of their heroism. The Israelis who were murdered since October 7th leave behind orphans, widows, widowers, siblings, and bereaved parents. We know that 116 hostages still remain. Are they dead? alive? in what physical condition? We need them all back. 

On Shavuot, we eat dairy. The Torah and the land of Israel are described as flowing with milk and honey. 

On Shavuot, we remember this day as Yom Ha'Bikurim, the Festival of the first fruits, when the ancient Israelite farmer dedicated his first fruits to God and to our heritage. On this day, he recited a litany of history beginning with the words, "Arami Oved Avi - An Aramean sought to destroy my father," but he concluded his words with "God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey."

Some 3600 years later, the proverbial Aramean continues to seek to destroy us, and yet we continue to thrive in a land and with a heritage flowing with milk and honey.

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Parshat B'Midbar - Raising our flag of Jewish identity

10/06/2024 09:09:48 AM

Jun10

Today, we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, B'Midbar-Numbers. Our ancestors begin to trek through the wilderness for thirty-eight years. The twelve tribes of Israel are arranged in a particular sequence, each displaying its unique flag, with the portable Tabernacle situated in the center among the tribes. 

No longer a rag tag bunch of slaves, the Israelites are a prepared army ready for potential conflict. Another reading suggests that the distinctiveness of each tribe with its own flag and banner is a paradigm for each of us to find our own particular flag of Judaism, a distinctive way which will help each of us frame the importance of Judaism in our lives.

For some of us, that distinctive flag will be ritual observance. 

For some of us, that distinctive flag will be daily prayer.

For some of us, that distinctive flag will be Tikun Olam, social justice.

For some of us, that distinctive flag will be ongoing education.

For some of us, that distinctive flag will be our love and support of Israel

For some of us, that distinctive flag will be Holocaust awareness and the lessons learned from Millenia of anti-Semitism.

For some of us, that distinctive flag will be a combination of some or all of the above.

And the list goes on. . . .

With the coming of Shavuot, four days from now, we all know that Torah, like the Ark of the Covenant in the ancient Tabernacle, stands as our center piece. While Torah represents a holistic approach to Judaism, our tradition has never been binary in that you are either "this" or "that", either "observant" or "not." As taught in the story of Jacob's ladder, Judaism is step by step, not all or nothing. Every bit counts. For my older son, Judaism begins with the observance of Mitzvot from which everything else ensues. For my younger son, Judaism begins with a secure Israel from which everything else ensues.

In rabbinical school, I studied the theologies of two great modern theologians, Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel and Mordecai Kaplan. When it came to the Ten Commandments, for Heschel, the first commandment, the oneness of God, led the way to the remaining nine. For Kaplan, the tenth commandment, "thou shalt not covet" led the way to the remaining nine. Each was right in his own distinctive way.

The fact that our history began with twelve distinctive tribes with its own symbols and expressions underlies contemporary Jewish pluralism. There is more than one authentic way to express one's Jewish identity.

Tomorrow will be a modern re-creation of the alignment of the ancient tribes of Israel. Given the last eight months, I expect more Jews than usual to attend the annual Walk with Israel. While we can assume protesters will abound, that will not deter us. 

Tomorrow will be a microcosm of the diversity found within our Jewish community: Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Traditional, Orthodox, secular, religious, Israeli, Ashkenazi, Sefardi, and more. Every Jew will be united by a strong Jewish identity centered around a love and commitment for the people, land, culture, and state of Israel. 

Now is a time to remember that internal divisions and strife, called Sinat Chinam, must be replaced by baseless love for each and every Jew, called Ahavat Chinam.

This past year, our Diaspora love for Israel has been reinforced by our two shinshinim, Omri and Sharon. While they have their own young evolving ideologies about Judaism, together, they showed us the best of Israel and a new generation of leadership. We wish you both good health, safety, and success in your upcoming military careers in the IDF, followed by your advanced education, and professional careers. We cannot thank you enough for all the vitality you have brought to us, especially in a year that has had to be so challenging for you on many levels.

Our BEBY community fell in love with you both instantly. I know that we will continue to stay in touch in the months and years to come.

With tomorrow's march with Israel, Shavuot, and our Shinshinim in mind - what comes to mind for me is the famous Talmudic statement, "Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh La'Zeh - All of Israel is bound to and responsible for one another."

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

10/06/2024 09:08:43 AM

Jun10

The following is a letter I have sent to leadership of the Toronto District School Board before their meeting this coming Wednesday night (during Shavuot):

To the Toronto District School Board,

My name is Rabbi Howard Morrison. I am a certified Conservative Rabbi serving Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in Toronto. I am a member of the Toronto Board of Rabbis and the Rabbinical Assembly of Ontario. It has come to my attention that the school board is proposing to adopt as a standard an anti-Palestinian racism statement which would actually jeopardize free speech and prevent members of the Jewish and Israeli communities from expressing profound truths. The proposed statement as I understand it would prohibit Jews, Israelis, and others from honestly criticizing anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, and anti-Zionist content. For example, anyone I talk to understands the statement , "from the river to the sea" as meaning from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which means the entirety of the State of Israel. Any student of history knows that the history of Israel as the Jewish homeland dates back  four thousand years, and that Jerusalem as the capital city of the Jewish people in Israel dates back  three thousand years.

I am concerned that the proposed policy would be based on false information and would unfairly be prejudicial to historical truths and the continued wave of Jew-hatred, as evidenced in Canada and throughout the world.

My brief statement would be supported by the vast majority of properly certified rabbis throughout Ontario and Canada.

I thank you.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Walking with . . .

06/06/2024 09:32:56 AM

Jun6

Three significant events are coming up, all centered around walking with.

This Shabbat, we begin to read B'Midbar- Numbers. Our people are enumerated as they walk with each other, tribe by tribe, for nearly forty years until entering the Promised Land

This Sunday in Toronto, thousands of us will walk with Israel at an annual event. While Jews will walk WITH, many Jew-haters will walk AGAINST Israel. Tragically, such people know only to walk against and not for a noble cause.

Next Tuesday night, we will begin to celebrate Shavuot for two days. On this Festival, we received the Torah, a heritage with which we have walked for 4000 years.

This is the nature of the Jewish people - to walk with our people, with Israel, and with Torah.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Shabbat Bechukotai - "Be Strong"

03/06/2024 09:11:25 AM

Jun3

In a conventional Jewish calendar year, last week's portion of Bhar and this week's portion of Bechukotai are read as a single unified portion. In a leap year, with four additional weeks on the calendar, they are split into separate Shabbat Torah readings. As many of you heard last week from Caren Leinwand, ever since my Bar Mitzvah, with the exception of Covid, I have always chanted Bhar, my Bar Mitzvah portion publicly, until last week. Instead of reading it, I lived it and walked it.

Bhar, Leviticus chapter 25, mentions Israel 20 times. Bechuotai, chapter 26, mentions Israel 23 times. As a unified double parsha, Israel is mentioned 43 times int total, more references than anywhere else in Torah.

Take a few examples from today's reading:

"Vee'Shavtem La'Vetach B'Artzchem - You shall dwell securely in your land (Lev 26:5)." Clearly, this has not happened yet. However, our Sages understand this verse to mean that within the Jewish people, there will be unity. Since the horrors of October 7, there indeed has been more unity within the Jewish people. 21 people from Beth Emeth saw this to be true from May 14-22.

"V'Natati Shalom B'Artzchem - I will grant peace in the Land (Lev. 26:6)." The very next verse - How does it differ from the previous one? Our Sages understand this verse to mean that there will be peace in the land between Jews and her non-Jewish neighbors. Clearly, this is not the case yet. Our Arab Israeli bus driver loves living in Israel. He could not get the same rights anywhere else. He served in the IDF. His two sons are currently serving in Gaza. Yet, we also met a woman from his Moshav who does not get it, even with direct evidence as to the horrors just a 45-minute bus ride away.

My friends - I am not going to retrace our solidarity mission step by step, like a journal or diary. I have done that for us. You can find nine daily blogs with pictures on the shul website. What I will share is how we fulfilled our three goals:

We went to Israel to bear witness, and we did. We saw two safe houses from inside where unspeakable horrors took place. We saw the Nova music festival site, where unspeakable horrors took place. We went to hostage square and saw families and friends who are mourning terrible loss and who want their loved ones taken hostage brought home. A democracy with diverse opinions - We took note that almost every Israeli wants the same - Bring them home now and uproot Hamas. We beared witness to the resolve and resilience from IDF soldiers in their early 20's enjoying a barbecue we made for them. We beared witness from the IDF units we saw at Castel, at Mt. Herzl cemetery and other places.  They are all committed to their mission and purpose.

We went to Israel to learn the truth from impacted families, and we did. We heard live and in person a mother speak about her son who is still a hostage. Is he dead? alive? How can one begin to understand a mother's pain? We heard live and in person two elderly parents whose daughter was murdered while protecting her two young children. How can one begin to understand the pain of these parents and grandparents? We visited a relocated Kibbutz, now temporarily called a vertical Kibbutz in a Tel Aviv skyscraper whose community was attacked on October 7. We met with people who cannot go back home right now. How can one begin to understand the pain of individuals and families who cannot live the pioneer style they were dedicated to in planting a Kibbutz lifestyle? Even in our hotel, we met some individuals for whom the hotel is now their temporary home because they have been evacuated, at least for now.

We went to Israel to simply offer some help and we did. We pruned at a vineyard. We got a farm ready for the growth of tomatoes. We packed and boxed fruits and vegetables. We made a hundred submarine chicken salad sandwiches which were delivered same day for IDF soldiers serving in Gaza. We packed all kinds of beans at Pantry Packers to be shipped to hungry Israelis all over the country.

In Bechukotai, we read: "I will remember my covenant with Jacob . . . with Isaac . . . with Abraham, and I will remember the land (Lev. 26:42)." This is the only verse in the entire Torah where the land itself is personified. We are commanded to treat the actual land of Israel with the same love and respect as we would a fellow human being.

My friends - I felt safer in Israel than I do in parts of Toronto. I felt safer in Israel than I did in parts of New York city, when I visited my son in February. We all know that the situation for Jews all over in the Diaspora world is fraught with danger right now. I was still away when a neighboring girls' Yeshiva was shot up on a Shabbat. I was still away when a Jewish boy was bullied and afraid to attend his Faywood Arts School. However, we need to assume that same resolve and resilience that 21 of us witnessed in Israel. Do not be afraid to be Jewish in public. Careful - Yes! Afraid - No! Walk with Israel a week from tomorrow. Wear your bracelets, your dog tags, your tie, your Kippa, your Tzizit.

We Jews are a small minority. But truth is on our side, and we are not totally alone. Some TV personalities actually get it - Dr.Phil, Bill Maher, Megyn Kelly, Mark Levin, Jerry Seinfeld, Douglas Murray, amongst others.

If we need any inspiration boost, take into your hearts, souls, and minds, the three word postscript when we complete reading a book of the Torah: "Chazak Chazak V'Nitchazek - Be of strength, be of strength, and let us be strengthened together."

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Bechukotai - Diaspora or Exile?

31/05/2024 04:22:44 PM

May31

The final chapters in the book of Vayikra teach and remind us that the land of Israel is God's. In Parshat B'har, last week's portion,  we read - "For the land is Mine; for you are strangers and residents with me (Lev. 25:23)."

In this week's Parsha of Bechukotai, the point is made even stronger for Israelite non-compliance. We read, "I (God) will lay your cities in ruin . . . I will make the land desolate . . . and you I will scatter among the nations. . . . (Lev. 26:31-33)."

In our time, we have Jews living in Israel and in many parts of the world. Hopefully, our return to the land of Israel will be permanent. We will be residents with God and not strangers against God.

However, how should we regard those of us living outside Israel? Given our return to the land, those who live outside of it are not compelled to in the sense of God scattering us among the nations. Most of us are here by choice and/or by family ancestry.

In the best of times, we call living outside of Israel as "Tefutzot - Diaspora." In the worst of times, we call living outside of Israel as "Galut - Exile." Which term best defines our status now, with almost every Jewish community in the world dealing with ant-Semitism in virtually unprecedented ways?

For two weeks, I felt completely safe traveling in Israel. While there is war in the North and South, I felt completely safe in Israel, even while hearing the sounds of violence in Gaza and the sirens in Tel Aviv. I never witnessed anti-Israel protests, acts of violence, and obscene forms of propaganda within the cities I traveled. 

Now, back in Toronto (the same can be said about many communities in Canada and the U.S.), I do not feel completely safe. I feel careful as to what garb I am displaying. Can I wear my Kippah as is, or do I have to cover it with a hat to feel safe? Will we display our dog tags or "Stand with Israel" bracelets in downtown Toronto? Or will we tuck them under our clothing?

Are we living in the Diaspora or in Exile? Time will tell.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

The YOMS

30/05/2024 09:21:47 AM

May30

In contemporary Jewish life, we have a series of sad and happy holidays prefaced by Yom, the day of. . .

Consider Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Ha'Atzmaut. Our Beth Emeth solidarity mission began on Israel's 76th Yom Ha'Atzmaut.

Having just returned from Israel, I will share continued reflections this coming Shabbat, which began with Caren Leinwand's last Shabbat. It is perhaps no accident that the final two portions in Vayikra contain more references to the land of Israel than anywhere else in Torah.

With all this in mind, there is another YOM next Wednesday - Yom Yerushalayim. Jerusalem Day commemorates the unification of Jerualem and the miracle of the six day war in 1967, fifty-seven years ago.

May the miracles of 1948 and 1967 lead to a miraculous end to this terrible war with Hamas.

May all the hostages, dead or alive, be returned. May the world wake up from its anti-Jewishness and see the merit of Israel and the Jewish people.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

A season of counting

27/05/2024 09:23:01 AM

May27

I am writing my last blog from Israel before returning to Toronto.

Fifty-one years ago, I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel on Shabbat Bhar, the same Parsha this past weekend.

Parshat Bhar begins with a series of countings. First, one counts every seven year cycle, with the seventh year being a sabbatical for the land. Then, one counts a series of seven cycles of years, with the fiftieth year being a jubilee year.

Currently, we are counting the seven weeks of the Omer, uniting Pesach with Shavuot. Sunday was Lag B'Omer, the thirty-third day of the Omer, a day of semi-rejoicing.

It is ironic that the counting of the Omer has been parallel to the days of the war since the horrors of October 7. For example, the 33rd day of the Omer mirrored the 233rd day of the war. 

Each day, as we count the Omer, we pray that the hostages are returned, and the war come to an end.

May our aspirations come true before the end of the Omer counting cycle.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A fitting last day of our solidarity mission

22/05/2024 01:47:03 PM

May22

Our last day of the solidarity mission - We started our morning at Pantry Packers in Jerusalem packing food. This organization is under the auspices of Collel Chabad and provides food to the needy throughout the country. Our group was joined by a Bar Mitzvah group from Brooklyn, NY which simply felt the need to be in Israel at this time.

At Mount Hertzl cemetery, among the many graves we visited, we saw the grave of Michael Levin. He was a lone soldier who died in 2006.

We also visited the grave of Aner Shapira. A few days ago, we entered the safe room he was in protecting others of the Nova Festival before his life was taken.

We also saw the grave of Ilan Moshe Cohen who lost his life just a week ago. 

We visited the grave of Martin Davidovich. A Holocaust survivor, who died in an IDF training mission in 1948 in Czechoslovakia. Recognized as a lone soldier, his body was moved to Mount Hertzl in 2021. 

We concluded our visit with the recitations of Kel Maleh and Kaddish.

At the office of the World Zionist Organization, we met with V.P. Yitzhak Hess. He shared his views on the state of of affairs these days.

Afterward, we had our own private debriefing. Our group talked about the emotional power of giving and receiving hugs of support with Israelis. We marveled at our people's resilience on many levels. While some in Toronto found our mission to be "heartbreaking," we saw our mission as "heartwarming." The giving of letters to different strata of Israeli society elicited smiles and good feeling. Everyone was grateful to come and experience something which could only happen by doing what we did for nine days. We gave and received support in everything we did. All of us felt purpose, fulfillment, and meaning over these last nine days.

Our last program was a farewell dinner at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. Final reflections and lots of hugs were shared among Beth Emeth and Ramah staff. This was our third tour arranged by Ramah Israel Institute: Our 2015 Poland - Israel tour; Our 2019 Spain-Gibraltar-Portugal tour, and now our Israel solidarity mission.

One of Judaism's supreme Mitzvot is Hakarat Ha'Tov, recognizing the good in others. I am grateful to Beth Emeth, our travel participants, and to Ramah for an experience which transcends words.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

      

     

     

      

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

21/05/2024 10:05:43 AM

May21

This morning, we visited the Zechariah Moshav outside the area of Bet Shemesh and spent an hour and a half working on a tomato farm. I will never take fresh tomatoes for granted after seeing the preparatory work which is required.

We visited and climbed the Castel, just outside of Jerusalem. Originally a Crusader fortress, this hill was a signicant conquest by Israel in April 1948 which opened the way to Jerusalem during the war of independence.

We encountered a Golani brigade enjoying a mental health break after having served four consecutive months in Gaza. By experiencing Castel, young Israelis understand what we are fighting for to this very day.

Upon leaving Castel, we saw many new trainees in uniform. Their commanding officer told one from our group, " We are not merely fighting for our land. We are fighting for our nation." These young inductees understand the message of Castel to this precise moment in our history.

We visited an Arab-Israeli neighborhood called Ein Rafa. There, we were hosted by a resident named Yasmin. She shared her personal views on all kinds of subjects which were meaningful to all of us. While some of her views were controversial to our group, I would maintain that any level of authentic dialogue is important. We should appreciate that in a mission of this sort, it was imperative to meet with Yasmin and engage in difficult  conversation. The residents of Ein Rafa have been citizens of Israel since the founding of the State of Israel.

Finally, some of us donated blood via Magen David Edom. There is perhaps no greater Mitzvah than providing this life source for the needs of others.

          

      

    

Tel Aviv Experiences 

21/05/2024 09:39:40 AM

May21

This morning, we made sandwiches for IDF soldiers serving in Gaza, under the auspices of Citrus and Salt in Tel Aviv. The food that we prepared will reach our soldiers later today. One of the organizers is on a birthright internship and originates from Vancouver.

We visited the temporary Tel Aviv site of Kibbutz Reim which had to relocate from the South after October 7. Housed currently in a city skyscraper, these Kibbutznicks have recreated Kibbutz life as much as possible and are optimistic about returning home soon.

The speaker spoke about the three front lines being soldiers, Israeli civilians, and Jews from the Diaspora coming together with unprecedented rises of anti-Semitism.

After members of Kibbutz Reim normalized their situation on October 7-8, they initiated "Project Twenty Four - It's Within us." This project unites Israelis and Israeli communities impacted by October 7 with Diaspora Jews informationally and financially.

At Hostage Square, we viewed the long symbolic Shabbat table with settings for all the hostages. A number of booths were set up including Kibbutzim and the Nova Festival. Some of our group heard the story of an elderly gentleman from Nahal Oz. Another member spoke with the mother of a hostage. We met a birthright group. We concluded by davening Mincha. We were joined by a soldier, Barak, who recited the prayer for the IDF in Hebrew.

We gave support, listened to, and experienced  some of the most meaningful aspects of Tel Aviv in the wake of October 7.

          

     

          

Witness and support

21/05/2024 09:37:46 AM

May21

We began our day at Adi, a rehab facility in the Ofakim area. Adi in English stands for ability, diversity, inclusion. We visited with young and old, some of whom were impacted by October 7. In Hebrew, one sign read, "Sometimes we are similar. Sometimes we are different. We are always of the same worth." The location of Adi was not found on Hamas maps and was miraculously spared on October 7. Hundreds of amputees and wounded came to Adi on that fateful day.

As we walked around Ofakim, we saw the names and photos of murdered civilians from October 7 in front of their homes and on park benches. All are called "Giborei Yisrael - Heroes of Israel."

At Moshav Tekuma, we literally witnessed the over 1500 cars which were burned out and shot at by Hamas in the Nova Festival area on October 7. We learned how Zaka went thru every vehicle to ensure the removal and respect of body parts. We could barely fathom the people who suffered in these automobiles.

We passed by Kibbutz Be'eri and other attacked kibbutzim. Given that residents have not returned, out of respect, we did not enter directly.

At the forest site of the Nova Festival, we visited the memorial sites where some 364 young people were brutally slain. We witnessed a Sofer writing a new Torah scroll dedicating each letter to the souls of the holy ones, who cherished life and peace. At the site, we davened Mincha, as we have done every weekday, and recited Kaddish in memory of lives lost.

On the main road, we stopped by and entered the safe house where Anar Shapira, of blessed memory, tried to hold off terrorists and from where Hersh Goldberg - Polin was taken hostage.

To properly wrap up an emotionally charged day, we helped prepare a barbecue for an elite IDF air force unit,#669, at their air base, Tel Nof, between Kadera and Rechovot. The food was augmented by song and spirituality between us and the soldiers.

This was truly a day of bearing testimony and giving support.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

            

            

     

Shabbat in Jerusalem

21/05/2024 09:36:24 AM

May21

On Friday, erev Shabbat, we learned to tie Tzizit for IDF soldiers. Since October, volunteers and others have made 72,000 sets of Tzizit. Customs vary between Sefardim and Ashkenazim. For those who use Techelet, the blue admixture, customs vary as well. As a sign of unity, many Jews who do not normally wear Tzizit have chosen to do so in wartime.

A bus tour showed us the various geographical and political lines in the areas surrounding Jerusalem. After time in the Shuk for lunch, we reassembled for Shabbat.  Most joined together on the hotel roof for our own Kabbalat Shabbat. A few went to the Kotel. We celebrated Shabbat dinner as a group. We were joined by our guide Moshe, his wife Vered, and their year and a half old twin daughters, Shai and Carmi. Many of the group visited with our Adath Israel friends after dinner to hear the stories of four current lone soldiers.

On Shabbat morning, people went to the shul of their choice. After lunch, Moshe led a walking tour. After dinner, we gathered on the rooftop for Havdalah. On the other side of the roof, some fifty university age students on a mission with the Shalom Hartman Institute made Havdalah as well. Afterwards, most of our group hit the area of Ben Yehuda Street for shopping, dining, and enjoying the Jerusalem night sky.

    

    

    

    

 

 

A day of purpose and passion 

16/05/2024 01:03:24 PM

May16

We started our day at an organization called Tachlit. The word means purpose. Tachlit was founded 25 years ago to feed the hungry all over Israel. Since October 7, it provides food to 1500 families and 400 reserve IDF families on a weekly basis. Today, we helped prepare all kinds of vegetables for shipment and delivery.

Housed in an industrial area in Jeruslem,  Tachlit's offices include a Beit Midrash. The day starts with traditional prayer and study for those who desire. On one wall are the photos and names of civilians murdered on October 7. On another wall are the photos and names of IDF personnel who have died  from October 7 to now.

While the main purpose is distributing thousands of food baskets per week, their mission integrates the three main pillars of Judaism: Torah, Avodah (work) and Gemilut Chasadim (deeds of kindness).

Next we met with Nissimmi Naim Naor. His website is called "Nissimmi's food wonders." 

He instructed us how to bake Challot. His mission is to share the sweetness of carbs with those who most need it. Since October 7, he and his small staff, complemented by volunteers, provide to IDF families.

On a personal level, he explained how his shul on October 7, Simchat Torah, sang lullabies to the young children when they were called up for the last Aliyah. The tragic news had already broken.

Soon after October 7, Nissimmi was called up for his reserve duties, as director of the military funeral unit. He shared passionate stories of arranging many funerals in a short time. Nissimmi spoke of the kindness coming from all Jews in Israel and expressed deep gratitude to groups such as ours for coming at this time to offer support. He affirmed that all Jews should consider Israel as home. Currently, Nissimmi is completing his rabbinical studies at the Shalom Hartman Institute, which I and some others of our shul know well.

While walking to our bus, I saw Jason Goldberg, son of Eric and Gloria. Their grandson Ezra competed proudly in the international Bible contest held in Israel.

Lastly, our group and the teens of T.R.Y., The Ramah Jerusalem high school, listened attentively to Jacqui and Yaron Vital. On October 7 at Kibbutz Holit, their daughter, Adi Vital Kaploun, was murdered in her safe room while protecting her two sons, Negev (almost 4) and Eshel (6 months). Her husband Anani was on a hiking trail at the time. In a moment of courage, she called Anani to inform him of the impending danger and for a crash course on how to use their M-16. While she fought off one terrorist from within her safe room, she succumbed to shots from other terrorists. By phone, she kept her father Yaron away, who was in a guest house. He explained to us that he was spared because the terrorists thought the guest house was empty. Jacquie was in Ottawa visiting family.

Terrorists took the children and a neighbor, Avital, into Gaza. In an act of propaganda, the terrorists released them in front of cameras. Adi's body was found four days later wrapped in a blanket under the safe room bed, which was boobytrapped. Fortunately, the boobytrap never went off and was disarmed by the IDF. 

Jacquie described Adi as one who fought like a lioness. Yaron told us that speaking to groups like ours is therapy for him. By hearing him, we absorb some of the pain. Jacquie and Yaron's message to us is to keep talking about Adi.

Anani and the boys, like many other survivors, are living in hotels for the past seven months. It will take years for their Kibbutz to be rebuilt. They are all living an abnormal life physically and emotionally.

This was our day - one of purpose and passion.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

    

   

                                                  

Day 2

15/05/2024 11:40:11 AM

May15

This morning we said goodbye to  "Israel 365", a Christians for Israel group. From all over the U.S., their motto is "With faith not fear." How moving - we would say "B'Emunah v'lo B'Yirah."

In the morning, we attended the home of all the Israel based Ramah programs. We heard from Rachel Goldberg Polin, whose son Hersh is one of the 132 hostages. Rachel has served on the staff of Ramah Israel. She has spoken out for her son and all the hostages. For as much as we wanted to give her strength, she actually strengthened us.

Among the attendees were high school students from the Gan Academy, a school like CHAT, housed in the Boston area. They were here on a 10 day mission, similar to ours.

Also present were high schoolers from all over North America, here for four months studying in the Jerusalem Ramah high school, known as T.R.Y. My own son and others from Beth Emeth have studied here over the years. Usually 30-40 participate annually. This year, the enrollment is 14 due to the war. We are proud of these students.

At a vineyard outside of Jerusalem, we spent an hour and a half pruning grapevines. Most of their regular Palestinian workers are no longer appearing due to the war. The necessary physical labor depends on visiting volunteers. We learned that every little bit we do counts.

At the Supreme Court, we learned about the controversies over proposed judicial reforms which were well known before October 7. We also sat in for part of an actual court case and saw the passion of the two lawyers and the judge. The judge himself was an Arab Israeli.

Finally, we visited a Haredi elementary and high school, called Netzach, which is a pioneer in the Ultra Orthodox world integrating students with the broader Israeli society on many levels.

This was a day for witnessing unity within diversity amidst the sorrow and pain from October 7 to the present.

Sincerely, 
Rabbi Howard Morrison

     

    

     

 

                                      

 

 

Yom Ha 'Atzmaut in Jerusalem

14/05/2024 02:09:20 PM

May14

Today was the first day of our solidarity mission. We spent it touring the old and new sections of Jerusalem.

Working our way through the Zion Gate, we walked and saw sights precious to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Once in the Jewish section of the old city, we davened Mincha at the Robinson's Arch section of the Western Wall. Group members recited the prayers for Israel, the IDF, hostages  and for peace. We also recited a version of Al Ha'nisim for Yom Ha'Atzmaut.

Notwithstanding Israel being at war, we saw people celebrating the day with picnics and barbecues. In front of Jerusalem City Hall, we observed actors playing parts of key events in Jewish history.

While the tone was celebratory, it did not cross the line of being inappropriate. Fireworks and other forms of entertainment were withheld out of respect for the losses and sacrifices made since October 7th.

After one day, we could already see the impact we were giving and receiving by being in Israel at war time.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

 

First blog - Israel solidarity mission

13/05/2024 10:02:18 AM

May13

I am writing at 9:30am. I had taken a cab at 3am to Pearson for a 6am flight to JFK in NY. My son Yonah as well as Jonathan and Fran Isaacs are on my flights. Now we are waiting for our 10:30am El Al flight.

I am feeling overwhelmed. Today is Yom Ha'Zikaron, Israel Remembrance Day. In many years, this day is about remembering the past, of soldiers and civilians  who fell in past wars and acts of terror.

This year is vastly different. We are remembering here and now - from October 7th to this very moment. Each week, we lose IDF soldiers. How many hostages have died? Others?

Sitting at JFK, I am surrounded by over a hundred birthright participants. While their numbers are smaller than in previous years, there are still many young men and women, university age,  going to Israel for the first time. How proud we are of them.

At the gate is the usual mix of Jews - Charedim, Modern Orthodox, Chiloni, Israeli, old and young, etc. Our flight is expected to be full.

Today, I am saddened on this Yom Ha'Zikaron, and I am elated with the throngs of Jews awaiting our flight. 

Next blog from Israel.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Kedoshim - The Kedusha of speech, interaction with God and people, the land

12/05/2024 09:08:24 AM

May12

Parshat Kedoshim is part of a trilogy known as the holiness code, combined with the portions of Acharei Mot (last week) and Emor (next week). Kedoshim is considered the mid-point of the entire Torah. Our Sages teach us that the majority of the Torah's fundamental principles are found in Kedoshim. They also teach us that the familiar Ten Commandments are restated in their entirety in this week's Parsha. The term Kedusha, holiness, pervades everything that we are and that we do: Our speech, our ritual interactions with God, our ethical interactions with people. Even the land of Israel is considered to be holy.

It is perhaps no accident that the centrality of the land is featured toward the end of the Parsha and toward the end of the Haftarah from the Prophet, Amos.

Given that we will observe Yom Ha'Zikaron on Monday and Yom Ha'Atzmaut on Tuesday, I am focusing on the significance of Israel today.

Given that 21members of our congregational family will be starting a solidarity mission in Israel this Tuesday, I am focusing on the significance of Israel today.

In 1973 at this season of the year, I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel in Jerusalem. Almost every single year since then, I have read my Bar Mitzvah Parsha in public. In 1984, during my Israel rabbinical school year, I read my Parsha at the Kotel for a second time, with my fellow students. My Parsha was not Kedoshim, but Bhar, for which I will be in Israel in two weeks' time. I hope to find a place in Israel to recite my Parsha.

Given the world in which we now live since October 7, I am focusing on the significance of Israel today. While many non-Jews may not care what our Torah has to say, we need to heed our own spiritual message.

In today's Parsha, we read: "You shall possess their land (the nation that God has thrown out), for I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey (Lev. 20:34)."

In today's Haftarah from the Prophet, Amos, we read: "I will restore my people, Israel . They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; They shall till gardens and eat their fruit; And I will plant them upon their soil, nevermore to be uprooted from the soil I have given them- said the Lord your God. (Amos 9:14-15)."

The Prophet, Amos, lived in the 700's BCE. Clearly, our people were uprooted from our divinely gifted land many times since his prophecy. The last exile from Jewish sovereignty lasted from the Second Temple's destruction in 70CE until 1948, with the birth and creation of the modern State of Israel.

What is each and every Jew doing to help preserve Israel as the Jewish homeland? Much of the world at large has gone mad with its chants and rhetoric of: Death to Zionists, Gas the Jews, Go back to Poland, Go back to Brooklyn, From the river to the sea, and so on, and so forth.

Monday - Yom Ha'Zikaron - Take time to remember all who have given their lives for the State of Israel, from pre-1948 to young men and women sacrificing their lives right now, even as we sit safely in shul.

Tuesday - Yom Ha'Atzmaut - Take to appreciate and celebrate Israel Independence Day. Come to shul in the morning and recite Hallel and a special Al Hanisim, "for the miracles." Or, celebrate it in a way which is meaningful to you.

Today, we read about Kedushat Ha'Aretz, the holiness of our homeland. 3600 years later, it is our task to study it, cherish it, remember it, and celebrate it.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Kedoshim

09/05/2024 09:03:12 AM

May9

The end of this week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, and the Haftarah from the Prophet Amos both make reference to God's establishing the land of Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people. While many non-Jews may not care about our Torah's references, we the Jewish people should care.

It is noteworthy that we will commemorate Yom Ha'Zikaron, Israel's remembrance day, on Monday May 13 and Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's independence day, on Tuesday May 14. It was with these dates in mind that we planned our shul's Israel solidarity mission, which will run from May 14-22. In the spirit of Joshua and Caleb, our twenty-one-person delegation will bear witness to the events of the last seven months, visit some of the most impacted sights, meet with families, soldiers, and dignitaries, and provide physical help and support.

We will share our report and observations with you on the first night of Shavuot, Tuesday June 11, as our Tikun Leil Shavuot program.

Am Yisrael Chai and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Community Yom Hashoah Service - May 5, 2024

07/05/2024 09:00:29 AM

May7

May 5, 1945 - The liberation of Mauthausen, 79 years ago today. On the one hand, today's English date marks the gradual ending of the Shoah, with most places of horror coming to an end in the Spring of 1945.

28 Nisan 5784 - Tonight and tomorrow's Hebrew date marks the official date chosen by the State of Israel to be known as "Yom Hashoah V'Ha'Gevurah - Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day."

Many people forget to add "Gevurah - Heroism." How important that is. How did the 28th of Nisan get selected, when any day and every day could be called a remembrance day?

The blessing of Jewish unity among our diversity tells it all. Today's day was ultimately selected because of our people's heroism, linked to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which began at the beginning of Pesach. Many Jews wanted this day of remembrance during Pesach. But other Jews believed one could not have this day during Pesach and wanted it after the entire month of Nisan was over. The decision which brought all Jews together was to have this observance in Nisan, to connect our remembrance to acts of heroism, but to hold off until a few days after Pesach. So, there you have it - "Yom Hashoah V'Ha'Gevurah."

My name is Rabbi Howard Morrison. I have proudly served Beth Emeth since the Summer of 2000. Our congregation was founded largely by survivors of the Shoah who located after the war in Bathurst Manor as well as other local areas. Sadly, over the last twenty-three plus years, I have had to say farewell to many of them. Still, to this day, Beth Emeth is comprised in part by survivors, children, grand-children, and great grand-children of Holocaust survivors.

This is ironic for me personally. Growing up outside of Boston, my parents were second generation Americans. My closest connection to the Shoah was the name of a member of our local shul. My parents had me and my three siblings learn the name, history, and even the number branded on the skin of Joseph Boniafca, a survivor and a member of the Young Israel of Brookline, Massachusetts.

Also, ironically, my two boys, now 29 and 26, visited the sites of Poland on youth programs before I did with members of Beth Emeth in 2015.

I am proud to be a part of our Jewish community here in the GTA, which takes the history, memory, and lessons of the Shoah seriously. 

This year, it is impossible to not think of the horrors and evils witnessed in Israel and around the world to this very day, even as we gather to remember the Shoah. If "Never Again" was a key lesson learned some eighty years ago, then "Never Again Is Now" is the operative lesson for today.

Our ceremony this evening is sandwiched amidst the three Torah portions called Acharei Mot, Kedoshim, and Emor. As a statement, these three titles translate as, "After the death, one speaks of the holy ones." How appropriate this message is as we contemplate the lives and deaths of six million precious souls.

On behalf of Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Hebrew Men of England, I am grateful to the organizers for selecting Beth Emeth as the venue for this year's gathering. I welcome you all here tonight.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Acharei Mot - Being The Scapegoat

06/05/2024 08:59:51 AM

May6

In anticipation of Yom HaShoah tomorrow night, Jews throughout history have been the "other," the scapegoat, the nation that suffers for the sins of the world.

Consider the book of Esther - "Haman said to King Ahashverosh, there is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are different from those of every people; and they do not keep the king's laws; therefore it is not for the king's profit to tolerate them."

 Jew as the "other" goes back from Amalek to Haman, from the poisoners of the wells in the black death, to the victims of the Inquisition, from the enemy of the Nazis, to the oppressors of today. We Jews are the eternal "other." 

The scapegoating of Jews finds perhaps its most damaging example in the claim by many Christians prior to modern times in that all Jews throughout history are responsible for the death of Jesus. Jews were seen as being capable and guilty of committing deicide.  While most of Christianity has reversed its stance, it fueled the perception of Jew as scapegoat for the last two thousand years. 

The origin of the term scapegoat actually goes back to today's Parsha. We learn the earliest laws of Yom Kippur, including the ancient ritual of the scapegoat. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest rolled lots on two goats. One represented the people of Israel as a holy offering. The other carried away the sins of the people into the wilderness, known as "Seir La'Azazel," literally, the "scapegoat." 

The 20th century French anthropologist Rene Girard suggests that the ritual represents a fundamental human need. One goat represents our people, our community, the group we are to protect. The other goat represents "the other," the scapegoat, the threat to our community, the people we dislike. It is this "other" who carries on its shoulders the sins of the community. According to Girard, it is natural for a community to have "an other." Throughout history, in community after community, the Jews have been "that other," that scapegoat. Perhaps the most horrendous example of this hatred of Jews was the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis, yimach shmam. 

Some old manifestations of Jew as scapegoat include: Blaming Jews for the death of Jesus. Blaming Jews of being responsible for the Bubonic plague. Alleging that Jews poisoned wells in an attempt to kill Christians. Alleging that Jews used the blood of missing children for Passover Matzah.

Some newer manifestations of Jew as scapegoat include: Blaming Jews for the pandemic. Blaming Jews for 9/11. Blaming Jews for economic depressions. Blaming Israel and only Israel, and by extension Jews and only Jews, for conflict and violence in the Middle East.

Can we not see these vile Chamas protests on campuses in North America as the most contemporary forms of scapegoating. I have not heard of one person from any campus protest even acknowledge the murders of October 7 or the taking of hostages. But I have heard Israel as being blamed and accused of genocide.

While the following Mitzvah in the Torah seems far off; after the Exodus from Egypt, we are commanded not merely not to hate, but to learn to love the stranger, the other - "Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deut. 10:19).

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Alright to be angry 

02/05/2024 09:08:17 AM

May2

I do not like abbreviated Siddurim - Prayer books. I might not say every word of every service, but I want every word to be there for me to consider, for me to choose, and for me to edit.

I do not like abbreviated Machzorim - High Holy Day prayer books. I might not say every word of every service, but I want every word to be there for me to consider, for me to choose, and for me to edit.

I do not like abbreviated Haggadahs - I might not say every word, but I want every word to be there for me to consider, for me to choose, and for me to edit.

Ever since there were abbreviated Haggadahs in the market place, one of the first edits to appear is a series of statements when the door is opened for Elijah the Prophet, after the main meal.

The statements are ancient, Biblical, from the books of Psalms and Lamentations. The insertion of these statements entered the Haggadah sometime after the Crusades of the 11th century. Our people were angry, mad, pissed off and wanted these emotions expressed in the Haggadah, which is perhaps the best story of our national history from Abraham to Moses, to the Talmudic Sages, to the Middle Ages, to this very day. The Haggadah is filled with joyous and sweet, but is also filled with bitter and emotional.

Sometime after the Crusades, three Biblical quotations were inserted into the Haggadah as we open the door for Elijah the Prophet:

"Pour Your fierce anger onto the nations that did not know You and on the governments that did not call in your name. For it has eaten Jacob and made his habitat desolate. (Psalms 79:6-7)"

"Pour on them your fury and make your burning anger grip them. (Psalms 69:25)"

"Pursue in anger and destroy them from under God's heavens. (Lamentations 3:66)"

Consider the Middle Ages - 

Jews who refuse to renounce their faith are slaughtered community by community. 

Jews are accused of murdering non-Jewish infants for the purpose of using their blood to bake Matza.

Jews are forced to convert to another faith in order to survive, lest they be burned at the stake, or imperiled during the Inquisition. Some choose to secretly practice their Judaism down in the basement.

Consider 80-90 years ago -

Jews who have an ounce of Jewish blood from their mother's side or their father's side, from a grandmother's side or a grandfather's side, are sent to their deaths - by forced labor, by mass shootings, by being squeezed in gas chambers.

Consider October 7 - 

Worst genocide since the Shoah. Over 1200 Jews are murdered in Israel in one single day. Hundreds are taken as hostages, including infants, young children, young men and women, the elderly. Babies in Southern Israel are beheaded. Women are raped before they are slaughtered.

Consider Shabbat April 13 -

Hundreds and hundreds of missiles, drones, and projectiles are hurled all over Israel, the first horror of this kind, emanating from within Iran to within Israel.

Do we not have the right and even the religious expression to say we are mad, angry, pissed off? Of course we do. This passage of the Haggadah should never be removed. Repressing or denying our fierce anger is unhealthy. Fire held tightly inside us can consume us. We demand and humanly seek Justice. 

However - Anger, when hardened into a desire for vengeance, can become vicious, can re-traumatize us again, and can turn victim into victimizer!  And so, the Haggadah invites us to entrust God with our anger, and to ask Hashem to take over our anger and find its right use in the world. 

Did you ever notice that on the cemetery monuments of deceased Holocaust survivors, often you will find names of family members who were murdered in the Shoah inscribed on the backside? And under the names you find the following two abbreviations:

"Ayin, Koof, Dalet, Hay - Al Kiddush Hashem - For sanctifying God's name as martyrs."
"Hay, Yud, Dalet - Hashem Yikom Damam - May God avenge their blood."

Lastly, in every chapter of Jewish history, there have been righteous non-Jews who have stood by our side. At my Seder, after I invoke the three Biblical statement demanding of God to pour out divine wrath, I add the following which is not found in most Haggadahs, but originates from a Haggadah manuscript in the 1500's:

"Pour out Your love on the nations who have known you 
and on the kingdoms who call upon your name. 
For they show kindness to the seed of Jacob,
a
nd they defend your people Israel from those
who would devour them alive.
May they live to see the Sukkah of peace
spread over your chosen ones and to participate
in the joy of all your nations."

 

Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Pesach - On account of righteous women

01/05/2024 09:06:42 AM

May1

While the opening chapters of Exodus, introduce us to Moses and Aaron, the Biblical text is replete with the accomplishments of women:

Shifra and Puah, the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh's edicts.

Miriam, who accompanied baby Moses floating down the Nile, ensuring his viability. Later on, she lead the women in song and dance after crossing the Reed sea.

The daughter of Pharaoh, who received and raised Moses.

Yocheved, the biological mother of Moses, who weaned and nurtured him.

Tziporah, the wife of Moses, who was the one to circumcise their sons.

And more!

The Talmudic Sages teach us - On account of righteous women were the Israelites redeemed from Egypt.

Fast forward to the Talmud and the early compilations of Jewish law - Men and women are commanded to observe all of the 365 "thou shalt not" commandments of Judaism. Men and women are commanded to equally observe most of the 248 "thou shalt" commandments of Judaism. Now comes the rub, on which essays and books have been written from all kinds of viewpoints.

"Women are exempt from the obligation of observing positive time bound commandments." If there was an original reason, it is lost. Lots of conjecture emerge: Women are homemakers and should not come into conflict between time bound prayer, for example, and child rearing. Or, women do not need to have positive time bound commandments because their inherent nature and sexuality differ from the needs of men. Now comes another rub, over the generations, there have been many exceptions to the rule. So, while, hearing the shofar and dwelling in the Sukkah are timebound, women are customarily expected to observe these Mitzvot.

Fast forward to the 1950's and 1960's - Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda was founded as a Traditional Conservative shul. At the time, almost every Conservative shul accepted the halakhic legitimacy of family or mixed seating. The idea of separating the sexes in shul was seen as a custom not a law, one that developed in the Middle Ages, as in Churches as well. The original precedent for separating the sexes took place as a one-time segregation in the Holy Temple during Sukkot because of frivolity, but was not intended for all time. That there was a designated area in the Holy Temple called a "women's section" was in name only. Many activities centering around men took place in the "women's section (Ezrat Nashim)."

Jewish tradition distinguishes between law and custom. Laws are binding and are interpreted by a community's elected rabbi. Customs are discussed with the rabbi but are ultimately decided by the congregation's leadership after rabbinic validation. 

Traditional Judaism is not static or monolithic. It evolves organically and carefully. Consider the twenty-three plus years I have served as your rabbi. Prior to 2004, women officers were not allowed to sit on the Bimah. Back then, I suggested that there was no religious distinction between the pews on the floor and the seating on the Bimah. Since then, women officers have sat on the Bimah. This was a change in custom, not law.

After a two-year period of study, the board ratified that women could chant the Haftarah on Shabbat and Yom Tov. I taught that the recitation of the Haftarah was a matter of custom which originated when Jews were forbidden from reading Torah by non-Jewish censors. Since 2004, women have been welcome to chant Haftarot.

When I came to Beth Emeth, children 12 and under were not welcome into the main sanctuary until 12 noon. It took eight years for this policy custom to be changed so that all Jews could pick their service of choice and so that multi-generational families could sit together in the main sanctuary on the High Holy Days. 

In the early 2000's, women were permitted to hold Torah scrolls during Simchat Torah Hakafot and to conduct their own women's Minyan, performing the entire service without modification.

All of these changes, or modifications, were about matters of custom, and not reinterpreting actual law, which is a more challenging endeavor.

Fast forward to now - About two years ago, our shul began a strategic plan on all sorts of topics. A survey was sent to the entire congregation. On ritual matters, the sizeable majority of respondents wrote to keep the shul Traditional (whatever that meant to the respondents) AND to incrementally expand the role of women's participation in services.

What is a rabbi to do? In the past year and a half with the participation of our ritual committee, executive, and board of directors, I have sought to expand those areas which are based on CUSTOM and not LAW. In discussing a number of possibilities, the following was approved at the April 16 meeting of the board of directors. Please understand the role of rabbi and shul leadership when it comes to custom. The rabbi determines what is PERMISSIBLE. Then, the board determines if the PERMISSIBILTY is communally ACCEPTABLE.

After my presentation just a couple of weeks ago, the board voted unanimously in favor to allow the following:

  1. Women may open and close the Ark at all services in the same manner that men currently do.
  2. Women may be invited to do Gelilah, the wrapping and dressing of the Torah scroll after it has been lifted, in the same manner that men currently do.
  3. Women may receive the Maftir Aliyah at all services when a Haftarah is chanted. On this point, please understand that there is a halakhic/legal difference between the Maftir Aliyah and the preceding Aliyot. All other Aliyot are based on a number of different halakhic criteria which does make distinctions between men and women. None of this applies to the Maftir Aliyah, which is meant solely to honor the person who will chant the Haftarah. This is the case whether or not we read from one or more Torah scrolls in any given service. The permission of women receiving the Maftir Aliyah is an extension on the custom of women chanting Haftarot, which was allowed at Beth Emeth in 2004. Also please understand that the Maftir Aliyah includes reciting the prescribed Berachot and/or chanting the Maftir Torah text.

I gave my rabbinic approval for these three items as being permissible customs for Beth Emeth, and the Board ratified these as meaningful and acceptable practices for our shul.

I will conduct an explanatory evening on this topic Thursday May 9 at 7:30PM.

The implementation date of the new customs will take effect on Shavuot Wednesday and Thursday June 12-13.

During the Pesach holiday which honors the tradition of righteous women in Jewish tradition, now is an appropriate time to have deliberated, studied, and decided on incremental roles for women's participation within the ethos of Beth Emeth continuing to be regarded as a Traditional Conservative synagogue.

Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Chad Gadya - A children's poem? For adults too?

26/04/2024 09:05:30 AM

Apr26

On one level, it has been theorized that Chad Gadya is a typical children's story or poem borrowed from other cultures. In our own time, it reads like a Dr. Seuss kind of story for children.

There are, however, many adult oriented theories as to the origin and importance of Chad Gadya:

It is a poetic restatement of the ten plagues. The references to goat, cat, and dog mirror the animals mentioned in the Ten Plagues, such as frogs, lice, and wild beasts. The references to natural objects, like fire and water, mirror the mentioning of hail, boils, and darkness in the Ten Plagues. A key difference is that in the Ten Plagues, the angel of death wields power, but in the Chad Gadya poem, God does away with the angel of death, a precursor to Messianic times.

A more prevalent theory has it that while the words were composed in Aramaic, the poem originated with Ashkenazim around the fourteenth century, long after Aramaic was used as a vernacular. Before that, Chad Gadya did not appear in Haggadot, and has never appeared in Sephardic or Yemenite Haggadot. In this theory, the objects represent nations through time who have tried to rid the world of the Jewish people.

 The cat is Assyria from the 700's BCE during which time ten of the twelve tribes lost their identities. 

The dog is Babylonia from the 500's BCE during which time the First Temple was destroyed, and the Jews were exiled to Babylonia.

The stick is Persia from the 400's BCE during which time Haman tried to kill the Jews of his time and place.

The fire is Greece from the 300's BCE to 165 BCE during which times Alexander the Great dominated Israel and Antiochus attempted to Hellenize or wipe out the Jewish people there.

The water is Rome from the Second Temple period during which time the Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was taken over, thousands upon thousands of Jews were murdered, and a remnant of our people escaped to Yavneh to plant the seeds of Talmudic Judaism.

The Ox is Mecca from the sixth century CE, denoting the beginnings of Islam, the Koran, and a religious opposition to Jews and Judaism.

The slaughterer is medieval Europe, including the Crusades, forced disputations,  and the Inquisition perpetrated by Christians against Jews and Christianity against Judaism.

The angel of death represents the Turkish and Ottoman Empires from the 16th century through the 19th century, preventing Jewish autonomy in the land of Israel.

Ultimately, the Holy One blessed be God is our eternal hope of a Messianic future and the correct standing for this little goat called the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. This little nation was acquired by God via two zuzim, either the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, or the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 

Ultimately, we are here to stay. Despite the adversity imposed upon us from one oppressor to another and from one era to another, we have either eliminated ancient nations or have endured their threats.

Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome are gone. For the most part, Jews and Christians have come to modernize their relationships with each other. With Islam, our history has been filled with ups and downs. The alliance a year ago with the United Arab Emirates was an upswing, which in the last half year has been downturned by Hamas and Iran.

Chad Gadya concludes the Seder and reminds us to be vigilant for sure, but also to have faith and optimism. Ancient Persia is today's Iran - We will overcome one as we did the other. If new empires and dictatorships emerge, over time, they will be vanquished liked the ancient empires of yesteryear. 

Yes, in the Chad Gadya poem, we may be envisioned as a little goat, but we also know that in English, GOAT is the GREATEST OF All TIME.

Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Making each day count

25/04/2024 09:17:21 AM

Apr25

On the second night of Pesach, we began to count the 49 days of the Omer. This seven week daily counting unites Pesach and Shavuot. The planting of the Spring harvest becomes connected with the ripening of the first fruits. The Festival of freedom becomes connected with the giving of the Torah.

Originally, a time of great joy, sadness entered this season with the tragedies of the Bar Kochba revolt, medieval episodes of Jew-hatred, the Shoah, and more. Thus, many Jews refrain from weddings and even haircuts for much of this season.

In our time, the tragic events of October 7th and the acts of hatred targeted against Jews world-wide intensify the semi-mourning of the Omer period.

As we count each day, may we make each day count in terms of celebrating joy, grieving over loss, and refining ourselves spiritually and morally at this time of year.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Shabbat Ha'gadol/Haggadah - This year's Haggadah post October 7

22/04/2024 09:04:06 AM

Apr22

Today is Shabbat Ha'Gadol, "The Great Sabbath." It is the special terms for the Shabbat immediately preceding. Why this title?

Some suggest that Gadol refers to the great Mitzvah of taking and preparing the paschal lamb on the 10th of Nisan, a few days prior to Pesach.

Some suggest that Gadol refers to the fact that Gadol-Greater is the one who is commanded than the one who is not commanded. It was at Pesach when the Jewish people matured from being "Katan/minor" to "Gadol/adult " in terms of Mitzvah responsibility.

Some suggest that Gadol refers to the statement in today's Haftarah, when the prophet Malachi envisions the coming of the GREAT and awesome day of the Lord, when the hearts of parents and children will be restored to each other.

I actually prefer a different theory altogether. It is customary to begin reviewing the Haggadah on Shabbat afternoon. Which parts will be recited, sung, discussed, omitted, read in English, Hebrew, by whom????? Thus, a long time ago, it was already suggested that this day be called "Shabbat Haggadah."

Will you use the same Haggadah as in years past? Will you purchase a new edition for everyone at the table or for one or two people to share different insights and perspectives? The Haggadah is possibly the most widely published and interpreted book made accessible to all.

Ma Nishtana? - How will Pesach this year be different from years past? How will night one differ from night two?

Clearly the events of October 7 and the last six months will make this year's Pesach different. The events of Saturday April 13 will intensify the horror of sadness even more so. Will you augment your Haggadah to reflect on the events of this past year? When the Haggadah says that in each and every generation one must regard oneself as having left Mitzrayim, a place of "Tzarus," we can easily relate.

 

A few ideas and suggestions:

Like our symbolic Bimah chair - Leave an empty chair or put a sign or a list of the captives in the seat or on a plate. We are empty even as we enagage in joy. A child might ask - Why is there an empty place at the table this year? We may talk about being sad about what is happening in Israel, that many Jews are suffering around the world, that some people are not able to be at a Seder with their families. 

When we break the middle Matza - We recognize that we live in a broken world. When we drop the wine from our cups during the recitation of the ten plagues, we recognize that even as we go free, others are made to suffer. 

When we light the Yom Tov candles, will we light an extra with the following in mind? to remember and not forget the hostages still missing? for soldiers dead and those serving in action? for children, toddlers and teens who have not yet tasted the fruits of life? For people who just wanted to live their lives in peace?

Will we come up with other meaningful ideas and suggestions to incorporate into our Seders this coming week?

Today is called Shabbat Ha'Gadol/Haggadah. It is up to us to make it so.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Pesach 5784 - More contemporary reflections from the book "Seder Interrupted."

19/04/2024 09:05:36 AM

Apr19

From the River to the Sea:

It split once for Moses and once for Joshua.

The water ran away from them

Like the fox in my backyard who

Runs away from my dog.

The fear is different.

But the result is the same. One runs and hides,

And the other crosses without worry.

I listen to the chants

for the water to split again

And then drown the people

Who purify water and cure illnesses.

The ones who yell are like the fox

Who thinks he is winning by killing my chickens,

Tearing up my garden and

Multiplying faster than I can see.

It seems they have all taken a toxic bath

Of hate and do not realize

That the waters are not going to split again,

And my dog, who loves, life, will soon end the hatred.

"Hayav Adam Lirot et Atzmo K'Ilu Hoo Yatza Mi'Mitzrayim - One must see oneself as one who came out of Egypt:"

One must see oneself as one who came out of Be'eri. Out of Kfar Aza. Out of Sderot. Out of Ofakim. Remember and do not forget until the final day. Not to seed more fear, but to ready our hope. Elderly will again sit on the lawns of Be'eri. The streets of Sderot will be filled with children playing. Torched houses will be painted over. Plowed fields will be furrowed, and tomatoes will be picked. The existential threat will be removed. This is not a prophecy of consolation. This is our next agenda.

Speak Out:

First, they came for the Zionists, and I did not speak out - because being anti-Zionist is not anti-Semitic.

Then they killed civilians and took hostages, and I did not speak out - because Israelis are colonialists.

Then they raped Jewish women, and I did not speak out because I did not believe the victims or the bodycams.

Then they came for the Jews in traditional attire, and I did not speak out - because they chose to set themselves apart.

Then they came for the Jews who dress like me, and I did not speak out - because they are white and are excluded from our DEI policy.

Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.

The West is next.

AND . . . 

We prayed for peace and the fulfillment of dreams. And we awoke to a nightmare. A nightmare so unreal that we didn't believe it and still can't comprehend the truth. It happened! The unimaginable. . . . 

Now we are left with the aftermath. . . And shock, And questions, And responsibilities, And burdens, And fears, And disbeliefs, And, And, And. . .. . 

Please God, as we enter this season of liberation and renewal, we ask that you watch over us and our Israeli brothers and sisters . . .

That you bring the hostages safely home from the narrow spaces

That you help heal the wounded.

That you offer comfort to the bereaved.

That you offer healing to shattered souls.

That all innocents are protected.

That there are changes in hearts and minds. 

That there be love . . . 

That there be peace . . . 

That there be goodness in all of its iterations . . . 

And, And, And . . . 

Amen!

Chag Kasher V'Sameach
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Sat, 22 June 2024 16 Sivan 5784