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31/05/2021 09:56:00 AM

May31

Safeguard and Remember the Sabbath in one utterance

22/07/2021 09:23:39 AM

Jul22

Dear Congregational Family,

In the Friday night hymn, L'cha Dodi, the first stanza begins with the words, "Shamor V'Zachor B'Dibur Echad - Safeguard and Remember (the Sabbath) were uttered (by God) in one utterance."

The poet of the hymn, Shlomo Ha'Levi Alkebitz, lived in the Kabbalistic city of Tzfat and authored the poem in the 16th century. He reminds us that the Ten Commandments appear twice in the Torah, in the book of Exodus and in the book of Deuteronomy. Since every word of Torah is infused with divine inspiration or revelation, both sets of the Ten Commandments reflect the will of God. Yet, the two texts are not identical. the most glaring distinction appears in the description of Shabbat. In the Exodus narrative, "Remember the Sabbath" is reinforced by the Creation story, wherein God rests on Shabbat. The Genesis theme is universal in nature.  In the Deuteronomy narrative (in this week's Parsha of Va'etchanan), "Safeguard the Sabbath" is reinforced by our people's slavery in Egypt, a particularistic theme unique to the historical experience of the Jewish people.

While Moses himself frames the entire book of Deuteronomy from his perspective, the verse in L'Cha Dodi teaches us a profound lesson. Shabbat must be "remembered" by such acts as lighting candles and reciting Kiddush. Shabbat must be "safeguarded" by refraining from prescribed prohibited activities.

In the Shabbat evening Kiddush, we reflect on Shabbat being a gift to the whole world when we recite, "Zecher L'Ma'aseh V'Reishit - A remembrance of the act of Creation." We also reflect on Shabbat being a particular gift to the Jewish people when we recite, "Zecher L'Yetziat Mitzrayim - A remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt."

As we look forward to Shabbat each and every week, may we ponder the meanings of "Safeguard and Remember" as well as their particular and universal meanings.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Stand with Israel means take a stand

21/07/2021 09:10:21 AM

Jul21

Dear Congregational Family,

This week, Ben and Jerry's, under the parent company Unilever, became the latest to join the BDS movement. For years, many of us have enjoyed the variety of ice cream flavors that have been offered. However, if we truly believe that "stand with Israel" is more than a slogan, then we have to take a stand to show our support of Israel. We dare not fall into the false narratives that supporters of BDS portray about Israel, including the false narrative called "occupied Palestinian territories."

If you choose to correctly stand with Israel, I can recommend many other delicious ice cream flavors and companies.

Sincerely, 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

20/07/2021 09:13:40 AM

Jul20

From saddest to happiest in one week

19/07/2021 09:10:50 AM

Jul19

Dear Congregational Family,

Yesterday, on Tisha B'Av, we observed the saddest day of the Jewish calendar year. As already noted in previous articles, Tisha B'Av commemorates calamities from Biblical antiquity, to the Temple periods, to the Middle Ages, to modern and contemporary times.  The month, which we call Menachem Av, the comforting Av, takes us on a spiritual roller coaster ride from the grief of Tisha B'Av to seven weeks of comfort, leading right up to the High Holy Days.

What is often neglected, however, is one of the two happiest days of the Jewish calendar year. Tu-B'Av, the fifteenth of Av, just six days after the saddest day of the year, is considered one the two most joyous days of the year along with Yom Kippur afternoon. In ancient times, these two days were matchmaking festivals where young men and women were introduced to each other for the purpose of marriage. With its uplifting celebration of romance, enhanced friendships, and the forging of new relationships, Tu-B'Av, which falls out this coming Shabbat, counters the despair felt on Tisha B'Av and the three weeks which precede it. 

The comforting month of Av is found in the ability to move from strife and baseless hatred to rebuilding a metaphorical Temple, through tolerance, respect, and love.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Do you say Eicha (How?) or Ayeka (Where are you?)

16/07/2021 09:03:12 AM

Jul16

Dear Congregational Family, 

From services on Shabbat morning, Erev Tisha B'Av, through the Tisha B'Av evening service, we will recite a phrase beginning with the word "Eicha" three times. In each instance, the phrase is offered by a Prophet in the opening chapter of his respective book.

On this Shabbat, we begin to read the book of Devarim-Deuteronomy. This fifth and final book of the Torah is a recapitulation of earlier events and lessons from the distinct perspective of Moses. In chapter 1:12, Moses exclaims, "Eicha - How can I myself bear your cumbrance, your burden, and your strife?"

In the Haftarah recited on Shabbat morning, the Prophet Isaiah exclaims, "Eicha - How the faithful city (Jerusalem) has become a harlot (Isaiah 1:21)."

In the book of Lamentations recited on Tisha B'Av eve, the prophet Jeremiah exclaims, "Eicha - How desolate lies Jerusalem that was once full of people ((Lamentations 1:1)."

At face value, each of these three verses originates from a particular time, place, and context, as voiced by the particular Prophet. However, from a literary point of view, these three verses can be read as one leading into the next. When cumbrance, burden, and strife are not confronted immediately, they can lead to the licentiousness of harlotry. When the licentiousness of harlotry is not confronted immediately, it can lead to a spiritual and physical destruction of what was once a sacred community.

 The Hebrew letters of Eicha, meaning "How?"  can also be read as Ayeka, meaning  "where are you?" The Sages find the precedent for this lesson when God asks Adam after the sin of the forbidden fruit, "Where were you?"

While we may not have the ability as individuals or as communities to completely transform the world around us from acts of immorality to acts of righteousness, we must try our best. "Where are you?" asks our tradition when we observe the perils that Moses and Isaiah observed. Will we arrive in time so that the desolation described by Jeremiah does not repeat itself again?

So, when you see the Hebrew letters - Alef, Yud, Chaf, Hay - will you say Eicha (How?) or Ayeka (Where are you?)

Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Fast,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Mourning loss and celebrating life

15/07/2021 09:36:30 AM

Jul15

Dear Congregational Family,

Years ago, two grown children whose father had passed away a couple of years earlier came to shul for morning services. I presumed incorrectly that they came to commemorate their father's Yahrzeit. I was wrong. They informed me that the day would have been their father's birthday. They came to shul, not to recite Kaddish, but to celebrate his life. On that occasion, I became a humble student.

At funerals, yahrzeits and yizkor, we may talk about celebrating a loved one's life. However all too often, those times become associated with one's passing. The idea of celebrating a loved one's life on the birthday struck a chord with me.

Today on the secular calendar is July 15. My dad, Ruben Morrison, of blessed memory, was born on this date in 1927. Today, I celebrate his life, which took him from a foster family upbringing in New York to rearing my family in the Boston area. Dad lived a fulfilling life before his death in 1999. He loved his wife, children, occupation, hobbies, and heritage. 

On this day, I do not grieve your loss but rather celebrate your life. Yom Huledet Sameach - Happy Birthday.

Love,

Your son, Howie

Israel defending the world

14/07/2021 09:23:30 AM

Jul14

Dear Congregational Family,

This past weekend, the delegation from the IDF which was sent to help in Surfside, Florida finished its mission and departed back for Israel. Many of us saw the video in which these brave Israelis were given a standing ovation for their efforts, notwithstanding the enormity of the tragedy.

In today's Parsha, Moses recounts the episode of the first military delegation, the envoy of twelve tribal leaders, who were sent to investigate the Promised Land. Now, forty years, later, Moses summarizes lessons learned from that failed venture to a new generation which is poised to enter the Promised Land.

Some 3500 years later, the Israel Defense Forces not only defends our people in Israel, but goes across the globe to help anyone in distress, Jew or non-Jew. Their most recent efforts in Florida were the latest in a history of missions to help save human life in our world.

How ironic that as Anti-Zionism/Anti-Semitism continue to plague the world, our moral mandate guides us to help, search, rescue, and save at all costs.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Reflections on Tisha B'Av

13/07/2021 09:21:25 AM

Jul13

Dear Congregational Family,

On Saturday night July 17, we usher in the Fast of Tisha B'Av. While we at Beth Emeth will gather on line, I encourage one to observe traditional practices. On this saddest day of the year, we become a nation of mourners. In this spirit, one does not wear leather shoes on Tisha B'Av. Similarly, one sits on a low chair during the recitation of the book of Lamentations and Kinot, the poetic dirges and elegies.

On the day of Tisha B'Av, one feels that the joy of our covenant with God is in peril. In this spirit, specific references to the covenant in the liturgy are omitted. The wearing of Tallit and Tefillin is deferred from the morning service to the afternoon service.

Two particular Hebrew months are prefaced with adjectives. Mar Heshvan denotes that Heshvan is the only month without sacred occasions. "Mar" means bitter, a meaningful description of Heshvan which immediately follows Tishrei, the month filled with the High Holy Days, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

The current month of Av is called Menachem Av. "Menachem" means comfort.

Immediately following the sadness of Tisha B'Av, we look to the rest of the month and the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah as weeks of comfort. The Shabbat immediately following Tisha B'Av is called, Shabbat Nachamu - The Sabbath of comfort.

Two months are known for polarities in relation to joy. When Adar enters, one's joy is increased, exemplified by Purim, the happiest occasion on the Jewish calendar.

When the current month of Av enters, one's joy is decreased, exemplified by Tisha B'Av, the saddest day of the year.

Two occasions in the year are known for being major Fasts, starting at sunset on the eve of the special occasion and concluding after sundown the following night. Yom Kippur - an introspective spiritual day and Tisha B'Av - a day when we are mindful of historical national tragedies which have befallen our people.

I wish us all an easy yet meaningful Fast this Tisha B'Av. We pray and yearn for the day when our Fasts will be transformed into Feasts.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The nine days of Av - Transform baseless hate into baseless love

12/07/2021 09:38:22 AM

Jul12

Dear Congregational Family, 

This past Shabbat, we ushered in Rosh Chodesh Av. We are now observing a period of time known as the "nine days," which will culminate with the Fast of Tisha B'Av this coming Saturday night and Sunday. 

Our tradition describes many tragedies associated with Tisha B'Av as well as many theories and explanations. Perhaps the most well known calamity connected to Tisha B'Av is the destruction of both the First and Second Temples of Judaism. The most prevalent explanation for the cause of the Second Temple's destruction is "Sinat Chinam - baseless hatred between Jews." 

If we were to take a time machine back to that historical period, there were a number of factions among the Jewish people which included Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Dead Sea sect, Zealots, and more. While the Romans may have physically destroyed the Temple and much of Jerusalem, the foundations of Jewish life were already crumbling because of Sinat Chinam. While one need not agree with the other based on principles of belief or practice, one must not ever hate a fellow Jew.

In our day, not only is the world at large polarized, but the Jewish people are polarized as well. We are divided on attitudes regarding:

  •  Denominations -  Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox;
  •   Ideologies - The authoritative nature of Torah, Halakha, a commanding God; 
  •  Ethnic background - Ashkenazic, Sefardic, Ethiopian, Jews from Arab lands;
  •   Sexual orientation - The LGBTQ communities;
  • Political affiliations - Democrat vs Republican in the U.S., Liberal vs Conservative in Canada, Labor vs Likud in Israel, etc.

While one may choose to "agree to disagree" intellectually on how to best manage the challenges of contemporary Jewish life, one must always be respectful and welcoming.  Are not all Jews, let alone all people, created in the image and likeness of God?

I always prefer to adopt the teaching of Rabbi Abraham Isaach Kuk, the first Chief Rabbi of pre-State Israel in the early twentieth century. He often remarked that we need to replace "Sinat Chinam - baseless hate" with "Ahavat Chinam - baseless love."

May the acceptance of baseless love be the motto for all Jews regarding their relationships with their fellow Jews as we count the days toward Tisha B'Av.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Looking back on the journeys in our lives - Parshat Masei

09/07/2021 09:25:04 AM

Jul9

Dear Congregational Family,

This Shabbat, we conclude the fourth book of the Torah with the portion of Masei. As the Israelites stand at the threshold of the Promised Land, they are commanded to reflect on the forty-two encampments they have come to during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

In his commentary, Rashi explains that the list of encampments emphasizes God's compassion. Notwithstanding the decree that they wander in the desert for forty years, the people enjoyed extended periods of rest. The first fourteen encampments took place before the mission of the spies. The last eight encampments were in the fortieth year. Thus, during the thirty-eight intervening years, there were only twenty journeys.

It is worth reflecting on the journeys of our lives from multiple perspectives: geographical, educational, professional, familial, ideological, etc. Hopefully for all of us, the majority of our journeys have been positive and productive, with a minimum of hardships along the way.

This week, I officiated at the funeral of a Holocaust survivor. In many such instances, I marvel at how survivors, who experienced horrors beyond our imaginations, were able to pick themselves up, start a new life in a different part of the world, learn a new language and career, and succeed in finding love, building a family, and experience success and purpose in their lives. 

As we continue to journey in our lives, may we continue to be enriched by new experiences and opportunities for growth on a variety of levels.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Toronto Board of Rabbis' statement 

08/07/2021 09:19:03 AM

Jul8

The following statement is from the multi-denomination Toronto Board of Rabbis, of which I am a member:

 

An independence to remember

07/07/2021 09:18:28 AM

Jul7

Dear Congregational Family,

In the past week, Canada and America celebrated their Independence Days respectively on July 1 and July 4.

While Israel Independence Day usually occurs in April, a special anniversary coincided with July 4.

On July 4, 1976, the miracle of Entebbe took place. Those who are old enough remember the despot Idi Amin holding Jews from an airline hostage. The liberation and independence of many Jews took place because Israel reaches out to Jews wherever they are. Sadly, IDF soldier Yoni Netanyahu was killed during the rescue, and one hostage, Dora Block, who had been taken to an infirmary, was never found. 

This past July 4 marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the historic rescue.  I was sixteen at the time. I remember the saga vividly as well as the Israeli and American movies which were made soon after. 

The week containing Canada Day and U.S. Independence Day will always provide for me a great memory of why supporting and safeguarding Israel are imperatives for every Jew.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Feeling vengeful in response to acts of Anti-Semitism?

06/07/2021 09:16:31 AM

Jul6

Dear Congregational Family,

As a Bostonian by birth, I was emotionally charged this past weekend by the latest act of Anti-Semitism in the world at large. On Friday, Boston area Chabad Rabbi, Shlomo Nogrinski, was stabbed several times by Khaled Awad. Fortunately, the rabbi is going to be alright, and local police apprehended the culprit quickly. It was discovered over the weekend that the oppressor is indeed Anti-Semitic and had previously expressed hateful comments regarding Jews. We must remember that an attack on any Jew is an attack on all Jews.

It is easy to understand our feeling vengeful in response to acts of Anti-Semitism. In fact, in this week's Torah portion of Mattot, we read what seems to be an act of vengeance against the Midianites. "Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites . . . let them (chosen Israelite men) fall upon Midian to wreak the Lord's  vengeance upon Midian (Numbers 31:2-3)."

As indicated in the commentary of the Etz Hayim Chumash, the modern reader is likely to be bothered by this section of Torah. What one can say is that this particular undertaking is the "Lord's vengeance (31:3)" and can be directed only by the word of God. We know from earlier in the Torah that we, the Jewish people, are prohibited from taking vengeance against others. We have the right to defend ourselves and prevent haters of Israel from having the resources to afflict us, but not to take revenge. In Parshat Kedoshim, known as the Holiness Code of Judaism, we read, "Lo Tikom V'Lo Titor - You shall not take vengeance, and you shall not bear a grudge (Leviticus 19:18)." The Art Scroll Torah commentary adds: "Revenge consists of retaliating against someone who has displeased you by attempting to do him some harm, or by refusing to do him a favor that you would normally have done."

We may feel vengeful when acts of hatred are perpetrated against our people. But we may not act in this regard. It is for God only to exact vengeance in ways we do not understand. Such an example is found in Parshat Mattot. Another example is found in the Shabbat prayer, Av Ha'Rachamim, which was composed shortly after the Medieval Crusades. In that passage, we read, "For God will avenge the blood of His servants and bring retribution upon His foes." In the same spirit, have you ever noticed the abbreviation on the back of tombstones which contain the names of martyrs who perished in the Shoah? "Hashem Yikom Damam - God will avenge their blood."

Many of us may feel strong vengeful sentiment these days. Feelings are one thing. We Jews must exact justice, but leave any potential acts of vengeance in the hands of God only.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Pinchas - July 3, 2021 "Buried Alive and Surviving"

05/07/2021 09:15:04 AM

Jul5

It boggles the mind how relevant and insightful every Torah portion is to the current world in which we live. Over the past nine days, we have been glued to the tragic events which have unfolded in Surfside, Florida. For days, some 150 people missing, the plight of family members, the heroism of rescuers including a search and rescue team from the IDF, and much more. 

In a different context, today's Parsha refers to a world opening up with mass casualties and a minority of survivors:

"The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with Korach . . . The sons of Korach, however, did not die." (26:10-11)

We all know the Biblical story from a few weeks ago. We know that the deaths of innocent people last week from a building opening up is not to be compared to God opening up the earth to punish Korach and his cohorts. But there is something to be gleaned from the these two scenarios.

A major lesson is the hope that many people have held onto this past week.

 In our Parsha, how is it that the children of Korach survived? Commentaries vary.

Rashi writes that they were the first to get involved in the conspiracy, but during the dispute, they had thoughts of repentance in their hearts. Therefore, a secure, elevated area was set apart for them in the underground, and they settled there.

Some other commentators suggest that when their repentance became complete, the children of Korach emerged completely from their designated area in the underground of the earth.

Regardless, the children of Korach, who presumably witnessed their father, relatives, and many friends perish, maintained a steadfast faith and a hope for the future. They were spiritual, and they contributed to the life of the Jewish people. They became the progenitors of many Psalms and Levitical songs in the Temple. 

Take for example the beginning of Psalm 42 - " by the sons of Korach - Like a gazelle yearning, thirsting for water, so too, my soul longs to you, my God."

Take for example the beginning of Psalm 45 - "A Psalm of the sons of Korach - A song of love.

Psalms 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87, and 88 are all attributed to the sons of Korach. In them, you can see that they yearned for God, peace, and beauty. 

Psalm 49, by the sons of Korach, is recited at the end of services in a Shiva house, a passage which is meant to provide comfort to the bereaved. 

Psalm 47, by the sons of Korach, is recited on Rosh Hashanah prior to the sounding of the Shofar, a passage about singing praises to God on coronation day.

Psalm 48, by the sons of Korach, is recited every Monday morning. It harkens back to the Temple period. 

I think of Surfside's community being comparable to the children of Korach - the families, the search and rescue teams, the friends, neighbors, and strangers, the dignitaries, the ones who found their way out of a pit literally like the sons of Korach did.

We have read and seen of Jewish children of loved ones in the rubble reciting Tehilim, Psalms, and other liturgical texts, leaning on to their faith and heritage when there has been little else to hold on to.

What nation is there in the world like Israel, which sends its own IDF search and rescue team into harm's way to try and save life? After all, Pikuach Nefesh, saving life, supercedes all else.

So many people in so many ways have reminded me this week of the children of Korach, whose miraculous survival and influence on our history are indicated in this week's Parsha.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Happy Canada Day - With Freedom Comes Responsibility

01/07/2021 09:32:42 AM

Jul1

Dear Congregational Family,

I wish everyone a healthy and happy Canada Day. Celebrating independence should not be taken lightly or for granted. Throughout our history, Jews have lived in lands where freedom to practice our heritage was denied and punishable. Today, around the world, many faith groups are not allowed to practice their religion.

With freedom comes responsibility. In Judaism, freedom is called "Cherut" in Hebrew. Interestingly, a Hebrew word for being responsible to the tenets of our tradition is "Charut." This word specifically refers to the engraving of the Ten Commandments. In Pirkei Avot, we are taught to read Cherut as Charut, meaning freedom entails responsibility.

Our great country of Canada is now undergoing its own Cheshbon Nefesh, an accounting of its soul. The recent discoveries of graves at residential schools have prompted all of Canada to ask serious fundamental questions about freedom and individual rights.

This Canada Day should be more than a vacation. May we reflect on the gift of independence and the responsibilities associated with it.

Sincerely, 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Rabbi Reuven Bulka ז״ל , Zichrono Li'Veracha, of blessed memory

28/06/2021 09:17:04 AM

Jun28

Dear Congregational Family,

As I had already noted in a previous article,  the seventeenth of Tammuz, Sunday June 27, 2021, commemorates five specific calamities in antiquity, as enumerated in the Mishna. On that date, the Babylonians broke down the walls of Jerusalem, en route to destroying the Holy Temple three weeks later on Tisha B'Av. The three week period which begins on the seventeenth day of Tammuz is known as the three weeks of sadness/distress/ in the narrow straits. The date is also a day on which many Jews fast from sunrise to sundown.

The seventeenth of Tammuz takes on a larger note of sadness this year. Early Sunday morning, Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Ottawa passed away after a several month fight with cancer. He was a "Rabbi's Rabbi." While he identified himself as being Modern Orthodox, he was beloved by rabbis and members of all the streams of Judaism. He wrote many books and articles. He was progressive in multi-faith dialogue and served many Klal Yisrael organizations.

I first met Rabbi Bulka in the 1990's on a mission to Israel for the State of Israel Bonds, of which he was a leader. Soon after that trip, he came to my former community in the U.S. to present awards of recognition to a number of local rabbis. Throughout my career, I have had a picture of him making a presentation to me in my rabbinic office. 

During my tenure at Beth Emeth, I co-officiated a wedding with him at our shul. He was happy to share the Chuppa with me in every single way. Rabbi Bulka was a shining beacon of unity, modesty, and distinguished learning. 

This week, in Rabbi Bulka's memory, I will share excerpts from his two volumes on the weekly Parsha called, Torah Therapy and More Torah Therapy, as well as from his psychological commentary on Pirkei Avot

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May the memory of Rabbi Reuven Bulka be for a blessing.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A prayer for Surfside, Florida

25/06/2021 01:33:30 PM

Jun25

Ha'Rachaman - Compassionate One

We pray about the rescue operation happening at the twelve story building that collapsed in Surfside, Florida. We are thankful for the people who have already been rescued and pray that they will receive the necessary medical treatment as efficiently as possible.

We pray that any more people who are trapped will be found as quickly as possible.

Guide the rescuers. Sharpen their hearing. Show them where to look.

We pray also for those who grieve the loss of life that has been discovered and the loss of homes. Comfort and provide for them.

May friends, neighbours, and even strangers help the hurting quickly and enthusiastically.

We pray that the truth of this situation will be uncovered. Guide investigators as they explore how this tragedy happened.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Holocaust Survivors' Day

25/06/2021 10:01:21 AM

Jun25

Dear Congregational Family,

Some modern holidays stick, and others do not. Occasions such as Yom Hashoa, Yom Ha'Zikaron, Yom Ha'Atzmaut, and Yom Yerushalayim have clearly made it to the Jewish calendar and have been accepted by the Jewish people.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January and the commemoration of the anniversary of Kristallnacht in November are are still in progress.

This past March, a segment of the Jewish people has designated June 26 as Holocaust Survivors' Day. The purpose is to reflect not on the evil which was committed against our people, but rather, the courage and bravery exhibited by survivors. Part of the idea behind affixing a date is to honor survivors while we still have them in our midst. 

Whether or not the new date sticks is unclear. Only time will tell. One of the greatest lessons of the Shoah is the survivor's triumphant spirit. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, once visited the Dean of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, together with some other businessmen. The Rabbi, himself a survivor, asked: "What is the most important lesson of the Holocaust?" He described the terrible, indescribable sufferings thrust upon Jews. He said when we reached the barracks, we were given one blanket for six people. We could choose to share it, or each one could try to grab it. "The greatest lesson of the Holocaust is the triumph of the human spirit," he said. "Now each of you return to America and share your blanket with five others."

In my twenty-one years serving as a Rabbi in the GTA, I am inspired by how survivors have lived their lives. Many came here with nothing; many built an economic success; many married and established multi-generational families; many rooted their lives in Jewish values; many pioneered great synagogues in our community, and more.

An annually accepted Holocaust Survivors' Day? An interesting idea!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Persevering in narrow straits

23/06/2021 09:00:38 AM

Jun23

Dear Congregational Family,

This coming Sunday, the seventeenth of Tamuz, begins a sad period on the Jewish calendar called, The Three Weeks. This period begins with a sunrise-sundown Fast on Sunday and concludes three weeks later on Tisha B'Av with a sunset-sundown Fast. Classically, our Sages referred to the three weeks as "Bain Ha'Metzarim - amidst narrow straits." The Talmud enumerates five specific calamities which befell our people on the seventeenth of Tamuz and on Tisha B'Av. During the First Temple period, the Babylonians breached the walls surrounding the Holy Temple on the seventeenth of Tamuz. Both, the First and Second Holy Temples, were destroyed on Tisha B'Av. In recollection of many historical tragedies which occurred at this season of the year, weddings and other festivities are not permitted.

In the recent past, we know too well of having to persevere in narrow straits. While we are optimistic that Covid is beginning to fade, we have had to cope with the effects of Covid on many levels. Even with vaccinations, physical distancing and wearing a mask continue to be imperative.

Jews in Canada and around the world continue to hear falsehoods about Israel in the wake of the war which was started by Hamas. We also continue to hear about acts of Anti-Semitism locally and elsewhere. Right here in Canada, the hatred has become so bad that a governmental coalition to address Anti-Semitism has recently been put together, led by the well known Irwin Cotler.

I encourage all of us to be reflective in meaningful ways over the next three weeks beginning this Sunday. Hopefully one day soon, our Fasts will be transformed into Feasts. May we know only of good health, happiness, and peace for the Jewish people and the world at large.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Ma Tovu - A year after Covid started

21/06/2021 09:09:11 AM

Jun21

Dear Congregational Family,

In Parshat Balak, we read the origin of the well known statement, "Ma Tovu Oholecha Yaakov Mishkenotecha Yisrael - How goodly are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places Israel."

These words were first recited by the heathen Prophet, Bilam. Sent by the Moabite king Balak to curse the Israelites, Bilam ultimately blessed our people with these classic words.

Over time, the words of Ma Tovu became the opening statement upon entering the synagogue. In the Biblical setting, the words referred to the privacy and modesty of the Jewish home. In Rabbinical literature, the words referred to synagogues and houses of study.

Over the past year, our homes have become our synagogues due to Covid restrictions. With Zoom and Livestream, our homes have been our shuls. Now, slowly but surely, our synagogues are opening up again. I presume that over the next while, we will see a hybrid of shul and home working hand in hand.

As we progress, may the Torah's words of Ma Tovu be a blessing upon our homes and our synagogues.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Transition in Jewish leadership

18/06/2021 09:44:00 AM

Jun18

Dear Congregational Family,

In Parshat Chukat, we read about transition in leadership. Miriam passes away. Aaron dies and has his priestly role succeeded by his son, Eleazar. Moses is informed that he will depart from the scene before entering the promised land. Joshua will be mentored to succeed him.

In the past week, after a number of unresolved Israeli elections, a new coalition government has now begun to take form. As Zionist Diaspora Jews, our mandate is to support the democratically elected leadership in Israel regardless of party affiliations. 

In the prayer for the State of Israel, we recite before God, "Bless the State of Israel, the dawn of our redemption. . . . Send Your light and your truth to its leaders, officers, and advisors, and bless them with your good counsel." 

The Prayer for Israel transcends politics and parties. During my years in the rabbinate, I supported the Rabin government as well as the Netanyahu government. Once the citizenship of Israel decides its structure of leadership, we in the Diaspora must show our affirmation.

We thank the Netanyahu government for its many years of dedicated leadership. We now wish the Bennett-Lapid government success for the wellbeing of Israel and the world Jewish community.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

To Vaccinate is not a question but an affirmation

14/06/2021 09:05:14 AM

Jun14

Dear Congregational Family,

In the last sixteen months, I have sadly heard about and officiated at funerals for those who have died from Covid related issues. A year ago, our means of supporting ourselves were limited. There was no vaccine available at that time. Last Spring, I lost a disabled uncle, who had contracted Covid from a worker in his upstate New York retirement home. I remember reacting with both sadness and anger.

In recent months, I have officiated and heard of more tragic situations. Now, however, we have vaccinations accessible to us. I know many people who have received both their first and second vaccinations. I know many others who have received their first vaccinations and who are eagerly waiting for their second one.

For reasons I have trouble understanding, there are some who are refusing to receive a Covid vaccination. Unless, there is a legitimate health concern for such a position, I am chagrined. This past year, the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and my teacher, Rabbi David Golinkin of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, have authored Jewish legal responsa mandating our taking the vaccination as a halakhic and moral imperative, unless a legitimate health concern can be proven. 

Unlike this time a year ago, we have vaccinations available. We not only help to protect ourselves but also those around us. Jewishly, we have obligations to preserve ourselves and to help save others. 

Last week, I proudly and happily received my second vaccination. I strongly encourage everyone to move forward in this area. The more that society is vaccinated, the quicker we can all get back to the normalcy of the kind of life we cherish.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Statement from the Rabbinical Assembly

09/06/2021 09:22:48 AM

Jun9

Dear Congregational Family,

I share with you a statement from the Ontario region of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative rabbinate)

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrisoj

The Perils of Lashon Ha'Ra - contrasting tales of rebellion in three consecutive portions

08/06/2021 09:45:44 AM

Jun8

Dear Congregational Family,

The people of Israel are not perfect. In the Torah, we worshipped a golden calf, and God forgave us. In last week's Parsha of B'haalotcha,  we complained about the lack of luxury in the wilderness - we even rebelled, and God forgave us. In the coming week's portion of Korach, while the mutineers are punished, the people as a whole are forgiven by God.

When do we see God punishing and not immediately forgiving? When one kind of offense takes place - Lashon Ha'Ra, simply put, evil speech.

Last week's portion of b'haalotcha concluded with the Lashon Ha'Ra perpetrated by Miriam against her brother, and she was immediately punished by God. Only with the intervention of Moses and a week of quarantine did the punishment end.

In this past week's portion of Shlach, the people complain and rebel. They are punished by having to wander an additional 38 years in the desert. Why is there punishment here but not in other Biblical scenarios? Because the revolting comes as the result of Lashon Ha'Ra. Ten of the tribal chieftains, upon returning from their scouting of Israel, produce a false narrative to the people. The Torah clearly says, "They brought forth to the Children of Israel an evil report on the land (13:32)."

Divine punishment comes as a result of false and hateful speech. No wonder the daily Amidah is prefaced and concluded with words about how we use our lips. No wonder that most of the Al Chet list on Yom Kippur focuses on different kinds of improper speech.

The Torah details the Lashon Ha'Ra of one person, Miriam, in last week's Parsha. The Torah details the Lashon Ha'Ra of a group of people, the ten chieftains, who spoke against the promised land to their own nation.  Nowadays, we witness  the perils of Lashon Ha'Ra as a world at large speaks Lashon Ha'Ra against Israel and the Jewish people.

Take note that while God forgives most wrongdoings in the Torah, Lashon Ha'Ra stands out as something that must be corrected. If not, false hateful speech is so evil that God acts out in response.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering D Day

07/06/2021 09:30:38 AM

Jun7

Today, June 6, marks the 77th anniversary of D-Day. On this day, 150,00 soldiers from a number of  Allied Nations, including the U.S. and Canada, began the process of bringing Hitler and Nazism, Yimach Shmam, to an end. An estimated 4000 Jews were among the fighting forces on that day. While tragically, six million Jews, over a third of our people, were slaughtered by beasts in under a decade, the Allied Nations' battle began on this date in 1944. From the events which began to transpire on this day, the evil which had spread across Eastern Europe was ultimately brought to an end. Only after the victory of the Allied Nations did entry to  the camps and photographs taken show to the world the worst evil ever perpetrated against a particular people, the Jewish people. It is important that we remember this day along with the dates of Kristallnacht, Yom Ha'Shoah, and other significant dates.

Almost eight  decades ago, the world began to see the horror which befell the Jewish people. Now the world needs to understand that while the Jewish people and the State of Israel are peace loving, we will never again be put in the position we were during the lifetimes of our parents or grandparents. Whether in Tel Aviv, Toronto, or anywhere else, we the Jewish people must cohesively stand up for our right to live and to practice the tenets of our heritage.

In the three plus decades of my active rabbinate, I have had the privilege of serving as a U.S. military chaplain and as a chaplain to chapters of Jewish war veterans in the U.S. and Canada. I am forever humbled by the veterans I have met along the way who served on or who remembered this day, June 6, 1944

Am Yisrael Chai.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

 

(written yesterday and posted on Facebook, June 6)

My sermon from this past Shabbat 

07/06/2021 09:20:29 AM

Jun7

Choosing what you want to see - Parshat Shlach Lecha (June 5, 2021 - 25 Sivan 5781)

How could it be that twelve people saw the same material reality and came back with opposite conclusions? All twelve tribal representatives agreed that the land flows with milk and honey. They all agreed that the residents are powerful and the cities are fortified. They agreed about the various groups living in different parts of the land. Ten, however, responded, "We cannot go up; they are stronger than we; we look like grasshoppers to ourselves and to them." In the narrative, the ten add their own editorial to their description: "They brought forth an evil report to the children of Israel." Perhaps most striking at the outset of their report is the word Efes." The word is translated as "However (the people who inhabit the country are powerful)." Literally, "Efes" means "Zero." The ten chieftains saw themselves as a zero from the outset. They were destined to see what they wanted to see - zero, nothing, no chance, doom and gloom. Only Joshua and Caleb chose to see things in a different way: "The land is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us."

Ten of the delegates saw negative in themselves and chose to see only the negative of what stood before them. Two of the delegates saw positive in themselves and chose to see the opportunity already promised to them by God.

What about us? What is our predisposition when encountering the unknown? Have the last 16 months weighed us down? Have we found some silver lining? Are we positive or negative in anticipating the end of Summer, the Fall, or next Winter? 

Two months ago, our shul sent out a survey questionnaire asking how we were doing in your eyes during Covid? Most of the respondents saw the good in what we have been trying to accomplish during unprecedented challenging times? Some found our efforts average. A small few were highly critical. As we soon prepare for a new Jewish year, we hope and pray that the shul will be open to many more attendees than last year. Of course, livestream will continue to be made available. How many of us will become more involved and help our community to be the best it can be as we plan to gradually emerge from Covid?

Switching gears, what are we choosing to see regarding Israel? While no person or country can ever be perfect, are we choosing to be influenced by the haters of Israel? Are we choosing to see the good of Israel? Its promise and opportunity to the Jewish people and to the world at large? Have any of the haters of Israel thrown into the garbage all the medical and technological advances made because of Israel's pioneering efforts????

Are we choosing to see that Israel is not merely a 1948 construction coming out of the Shoah? Zionist efforts began in the mid-1800's. In fact, the case for Israel as the Jewish homeland is well over 3000 years old. In today's Parsha, we read of the very first time that a representation of the entire peoplehood of Israel stepped on to its sacred grounds. Tragically, only two saw the good, while ten incited a panic, which led to the  punishment of a 40 year wandering period in the desert.

I urge you all to read an article which appeared on May 28 in the New York Times. My rabbinical school classmate and rabbinic colleague, Rabbi David Wolpe, wrote a guest essay entitled, "The Jewish history of Israel is over 3000 years old. That's why it's complicated." In the piece, Rabbi Wolpe writes, "Part of the intractability of the conflict in the Middle East is that the Jewish relationship to Israel did not begin in 1948. Our history here, of both pain and holiness, stretches back dozens of generations. Our ancient historical markers, scattered throughout this land, are the tactile expression of Jewish memory, and an ancient spiritual yearning. For thousands of years, Jews in the Diaspora would leave a corner of their homes unpainted, to remind themselves that they were not yet home. They prayed in the direction of Jerusalem. They recited prayers for weather . . . for those in Israel, since we expected at any moment to return."

What we choose to see has to do with our own inner values and core beliefs. In the Parsha, the designated leaders are first told "Latur - literally, to tour the land," followed by, "U'Re'item - See what kind of country it is." By seeing themselves at the outset as mere tourists in someone else's land, the majority were doomed to fail.

At the very end of the Parsha, we read the commandment to wear Tzizit as a reminder of God's Mitzvot. In that description, "U'Re'item - you shall look upon the fringe" precedes "Lo Taturu - literally, you will not be a tourist and thus led astray from your spiritual mission.

We choose what we want to see. I hope and pray that each of us is properly fortified so that we see what truly matters and counts for us as individuals, our family, our community, our homeland, and our world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A contrast of two narratives - To have fear or faith?

04/06/2021 09:19:41 AM

Jun4

Dear Congregational Family,

In this week's Parsha of Shlach, we read the famous narrative of the twelve tribal chieftains who are sent to investigate the promised land. In later Scripture, they are called "spies," but not in the original episode. As many of us know, ten come back with an editorialized account of what they have seen. They fill their report with falsehoods and personal opinions, inciting a panic among the people. Only Joshua and Caleb return with a factual, faithful, and positive report. Ultimately, after the entire nation is punished to wander in the desert for a total of forty years, only Joshua and Caleb will enter the promised land from the generation that had been liberated from Egypt.

The reporting of the ten leaders reminds us of the false and editorialized reporting taking place in our day regarding Israel and the Jewish people. It is this kind of propaganda which has led to outbreaks of Anti-Semitic verbal and physical violence around the world. In the Biblical incident, the root cause came from within our people. Nowadays, all Jews regardless of belief and practice, are victimized by external forces.

A generation after the Torah's account, Joshua leads the Children of Israel into the promised land. In this week's Haftarah, he sends two representatives to investigate the city of Jericho. This time around, belief and optimism prevail. A more mature nation,  now settled in Israel forty plus years after the Exodus from Egypt, is confident in its faith and purpose. The Haftarah's narrative is a model lesson for us.

As Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav wrote, "The entire world is a narrow bridge, but the important thing is not to be afraid."

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Noon time Torah studies - Thank you and Yasher Koach

03/06/2021 09:16:39 AM

Jun3

Dear Congregational Family,

During the past year and a half of Covid, the structure of Jewish life has changed drastically. For the most part, I and Rabbi David Grundland have offered noon time classes during this era of virtual synagogue life. In the last several months, Rabbi Grundland has addressed prayer and the Bible, while I have focused on rabbinic literature and the weekly Torah portion. I wish to thank everyone who has joined us over the past year on a full time or part time basis. Given that I will be taking off a couple of weeks here and there over the Summer, my noon time classes will pause for most of the Summer after today, June 3. I and other leaders in the shul will assess how and when classes will resume at the end of the Summer season. Rabbi Grundland's Wednesday noon class will continue until the end of June.

Although formal classes will be put on hold, Jewish learning is a continuous cycle. Traditionally, Pirkei Avot, The Wisdom of the Sages, is studied as a body of literature from after Pesach until Rosh Hashanah. My class will be taking its break while we are in the middle of chapter four in this six chapter literature. My weekly Torah portion class is rooted in the dictum that during the week, "one should study the parsha twice in the original and once in translation." I encourage us to continue dedicating some time during weekdays to study and review the upcoming Shabbat Torah portion.

With warm weather and Summer upon us, I pray that everyone stay as safe and healthy as possible. We look forward to a gradual transition from the last sixteen months into a healthier new world.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

My father - my best friend

02/06/2021 09:20:40 AM

Jun2

Dear Congregational Family,

I am truly blessed. I had the best mom and dad in the world. Many of you know of my mother's Yahrzeit because it falls out on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. I dedicate my sermon to her memory every year. My dad passed away June 7, 1999, the twenty-third of Sivan, some three months prior to my mom's passing. Tonight will be the twenty-second Yahrzeit of Ruben Morrison. In this week's Parsha, the tribe of Reuven is mentioned at the outset of the Torah portion, and the name Moshe permeates the Torah lesson. My father's Hebrew name was Reuven ben Moshe. While my dad was the third oldest of six siblings, like Reuven the oldest of Jacob's sons in the Bible, my father served as the oldest brother to his two immediate younger brothers. As an elementary school age child, those three brothers were being raised by a particular foster family in New York.

Not having a warm and fuzzy childhood, my dad expressed love and fun in his own way when my siblings and I were young. We knew he loved us. The hugs and kisses came, but to play ball with his two boys was not part of his DNA. Around the time I was completing high school, my dad truly became my best friend and confidante. As I was maturing, I understood him better and appreciated the background in which he was raised. As I ventured into university and a series of part time jobs, dad was my go to guy for just about everything. When I assumed the position of a part-time rabbi in the Bronx during my second to last year of rabbinical school, mom and dad visited me at my first shul. I still have a photograph to prove it. My dad had grown up not far from that shul in the Bronx during the 1920's and 1930's. My parents also saw me in action when I served as a full time rabbi in Union, New Jersey and Wantagh, New York. 

My father died a little over a year before I assumed my current rabbinical duties at Beth Emeth. He never got to witness the Bar Mitzvahs of his two grandsons in Toronto. Yet, so much of his spirit resides in my boys. Elie is known for his precision in the way he works as a meteorologist in Michigan. My dad, an architect and construction engineer, excelled in precision. Yonah is mechanically inclined and can envision a final product in his mind from the inception of an idea. So was my dad when he designed plans which would become a blueprint and soon after an actual building in the Boston area. 

My father trained to become a Chalutz in New Jersey at a Hachshara farm preparing to make Aliyah before he went to university and met my mom. Although he never did make Aliyah, his Zionism and love for Israel filled my childhood home. My own love for Judaism and for Israel comes from both my parents. These commitments are now shared by my grown children. Elie is an unofficial advisor to the only synagogue in Alpena, Michigan. Yonah recently completed three years in Israel as a lone soldier. 

My dad received very little Jewish education as a child because of the depression. Nevertheless, he was an observant Jew, a shul goer, and a virtual one man house committee in my childhood synagogue. He was my best friend. When people ask me about the most significant sources of Jewish inspiration and education in my life, the answers are Ruben and Helen Morrison, of blessed memories.

Tonight, I will proudly and sadly observe my father's twenty-second Yahrzeit. "Yhi Zichro Baruch - May the memory of Reuven ben Moshe V'Chaya be for a blessing."

With love,

Rabbi Howard Morrison - Avraham Tzvi ben Reuven V'Chana Fruma

Children's Lives Matter

01/06/2021 09:26:49 AM

Jun1

Dear Congregational Family,

Earlier this past week, we learned of the horrific tragedy as the remains of 215 children were discovered at an indigenous residential school.

Any ethical human being should be outraged at this loss of life, all of whom were children. We Jews understand the horrific tragedy of Jewish remains being discovered and the loss of children's lives.

In our synagogue, we have a garden to honor the lives of children. The mantle of our Haftarah scroll has inscribed in Hebrew, "For those who did not have a chance."

As Jews, we empathize with the loss. As a minority ourselves, we can identify with the grief being experienced by the indigenous community and all of Canada.

May the memories of these precious children be a blessing to those who knew and loved them.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Fri, 23 July 2021 14 Av 5781