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31/05/2021 09:56:00 AM

May31

                     

Shabbat sermon July 2: To Disagree agreeably or not - Korah, Hillel/Shammai, contemporary controversies

04/07/2022 09:56:06 AM

Jul4

It is said among the classical commentators that Parshat Korach can be discussed at any time because there is always controversy, division, and dispute. Korach and his cohorts, led by Datan and Aviram, followed by 250 others, challenge the authority of Moses and Aaron. Even when Moses tries to reach out and go to them, they refuse to talk. Ultimately, since Korach and the others refused to talk with their mouths, the earth opened up its mouth and swallowed all the rebels.

In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Sages, we find an important teaching based on today's Torah lesson. There are two kinds of dispute, one for the sake of heaven and one not for the sake of heaven. An example of a dispute for the sake of heaven is exemplified by the rabbinic disputes between Hillel and Shammai. A dispute not for the sake of heaven is exemplified by Korach and his cohorts.

The disputes of Hillel and Shammai, relatively few in number, were based on discernment of God's will. These two schools of rabbinic thought never allowed their differences to prevent their followers from marrying among each other and from eating off each other's plates. The Talmud explains that most of the time, we follow the views of Hillel because in their disputes, the school of Hillel always explained the views of the school of Shammai before offering their own. Nevertheless, the Talmud also shows respect for both views by saying that where we follow Hillel in this world, we will follow Shammai in the world to come. Ultimately, Hillel and Shammai show how to disagree agreeably and with respect for the other.

In that Pirkei Avot statement, the dispute not for the sake of heaven is exemplified by Korach and his cohorts. Interestingly, the text does not say between Korach and Moses. The blatant disrespect and disregard for the other came long before the challenges to Moses and Aaron. Korach and his cohorts were already divided among themselves based on ego and a search for personal fame.

We could list many examples of dispute, be they in our families, in our community, in our country, in the world. As I wrote in a blog this past week, the decision in our shul to make the wearing of a mask recommended and not required has been the subject of discussion and debate for a while. As I wrote: "Some will experience this decision as liberating, and others as terrifying.  On the one hand, seeing and being seen are at the forefront of the human experience. There is also an imperative to understand those for whom unmasking is an impossibility, and to ensure that they too are fully respected and understood."

Perhaps the most recent example of debate and how it is being handled took place just over a week ago just South of the border, as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade decision on abortion and has handed the decision making process to the local states. 

Here is an excerpt from the response pf the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations: "The Orthodox union is unable to either mourn or celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's overturing of Roe v Wade. We cannot support absolute bans on abortion- at any time in a pregnancy- that would not allow access to abortion in lifesaving situations. . . . The mandate to preserve life requires us to be concerned for the life of the mother. Jewish law prioritizes the life of the pregnant mother over the life of the fetus such that where the pregnancy critically endangers the physical health or mental health of the mother, an abortion may be authorized, if not mandated, by Halakha."

Here is an excerpt from the response of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative rabbis: "The Rabbinical Assembly has repeatedly affirmed the right of a pregnant person to choose an abortion in cases where continuation of a pregnancy might cause severe physical or psychological harm, or where the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective."

While Rabbis have authored many responsa over the ages, the short Jewish position goes as follows: In the Torah, in a case where two fighting men cause a woman to lose her fetus, the punishment is monetary. In a case where two fighting men cause a woman to lose her life, the punishment is capital. In Judaism life begins at birth, not conception. Until birth, the fetus is considered potential life. In the Middle Ages, Rashi says about a feus, "Lav Nefesh Hi - It is not a life." Maimonides calls a fetus which endangers the life of the mother a "Rodef - pursuing the life of the mother, and therefore must be removed for the life of the mother.

Jewish views are nuanced. In principle, Judaism opposes an unrestricted abortion on demand. The body of a person is on loan and belongs to God. At the same time, Judaism opposes a Pro-Life view which defines the beginning of life at conception. As a result, in any state or in any place in the world, there must be legally approved and safe places for abortion to take place within the canons of Jewish law for Jewish women. The recent decision theoretically makes the application of Halakha difficult if not impossible when a mother's life is endangered by her pregnancy. Further, the decision violates the presupposed separation of religion and state, a fundamental principle in the U.S.

As the debates have only just begun, my prayer is that the disputes around the recent decision and future policy making should resemble what our tradition says about Hillel and Shammai and not about Korach and his cohorts.

In whatever situation disaccord appears, let us stay away from the Korach model and embrace the Hillel-Shammai model.

Shabbat Shalom!

Remembering a Gadol Ha'Dor - Rabbi David Weiss Halivni   ז״ל

30/06/2022 09:04:33 AM

Jun30

In 1982, I was accepted to the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary. As a Yeshiva day school graduate, I had the option to place out of first year Talmud by taking an oral exam of a chapter by my choice. There I sat in the office of an unfamiliar Talmud professor with my volume of Talmud in my backpack. I came prepared to read and explain some thirty pages. When the teacher asked what I had prepared, he started firing questions at me without either of us having an open book. Nervous as could be, I asked if I could use my book. I had not memorized the chapter. I would learn that he knew the whole Talmud by heart.

This was my introduction to Rabbi David Weiss Halivni who died this week. I would soon learn that he was a Gadol Ha'Dor, one of the great sages of our generation. A survivor of the Shoah, he knew and learned with Elie Wiesel. Rabbi Halivni served on the faculty of JTS for many years before moving on to teach at Columbia University and  ultimately settling in Israel. There, he was awarded a prize in Talmud several years ago.

His academic excellence included his several volume collection called "Mekorot U'Mesorot," in which he analyzed manuscripts of the Talmud searching for the original and authentic rendition of the text.

Rabbi Halivni was one of the most humble people I ever knew. On Friday evenings, he delivered a brief beautiful gem of Torah during services. At the Seminary synagogue, he prayed in a simple but dignified manner which inspired me and others.

He was a sage, scholar, and a rabbi's rabbi.

Yhi zichro baruch - May his memory be a blessing. 

Sincerely,
Rabbi Howard Morrison

Masks - from required to recommended

27/06/2022 09:52:03 AM

Jun27

Last week, Beth Emeth transitioned from requiring the wearing of a mask in the synagogue to recommending the wearing of a mask in the synagogue. Some will experience this decision as liberating, and others as terrifying. 

We can turn to Moses in the Torah as a model for how to live in this in-between space of masking and unmasking that we face now in synagogue and in society. In the book of Exodus, chapter 34, Moses' close encounter with God after receiving the Ten Commandments leaves his face radiant with the light of encounter. However, the light is too bright for the Israelites to see him in all of his radiance. Thus, they shrink back at the sight of him. For the rest of his life, Moses chooses to mask with the people to cover the light of his face and to unmask when before God. When Moses spoke with God, he would remove his mask. After he finished speaking with God and was with the people, he would continue unmasked while transmitting prophecy, and then, once finished, he would put on the mask for his everyday interactions with the Israelites. 

The lesson of Moses teaches that seeing and being seen are at the forefront of the human experience. At the same time, Moses' lesson teaches us that there is also an imperative to understand those for whom unmasking is an impossibility and to ensure that they too are fully respected and understood. 

In this transitional moment, may we be like Moses, able to deftly move between worlds, knowing when it is safe to unmask and when it is necessary to raise back up the mask in order to allow all people to draw together without fear.  (inspired and excerpted from "The Torah of Masks: on seeing and being seen," by Rabbi Avi Strausberg, Yeshivat Hadar).

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Of spies and Tzitzit - Parshat Shlach-Lecha

22/06/2022 09:02:39 AM

Jun22

The weekly Torah portion begins and ends with virtual bookends and mirror images. At the outset, twelve designated tribal leaders are sent as a delegation to investigate the land of Israel and bring back a report. They are sent to "tour (LATUR)" and share what they SAW. Ten of the leaders report back that they SAW giants. As a result of the propagandized report, the people want to return to EGYPT.

At the end of the Parsha, the Mitzvah of Tzitzit contains much of the same language. One should not be led astray (V'LO TATURU), which stems from the same root as "LATUR" in the context of the spies. In addition, when one dons Tzitzit, one is commanded to SEE the fringe and remember God's commandments. For this reason, many Jews choose to wear their Tzitzit externally. The Tzizit also remind us that God liberated our people from the land of EGYPT. 

Notice the common words and expressions in the beginning and end of this week's portion. It is as if the Mitzvah of Tzitzit serves as a corrective to the episode of the spies. The donning, reading, and appreciation of Tzitzit encourage us not to become spies or tourists with our tradition.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering my father, Ruben Morrison - Reuven ben Moshe, Zichrono L'Veracha

20/06/2022 09:30:15 AM

Jun20

This Wednesday is the 23rd of Sivan and the 23rd Yahrzeit of my father, Ruben Morrison, of blessed memory. Ironically, the date comes a few days after "Father's Day." Also ironically, my dad's Hebrew name, Reuven, appears at the outset of Parshat Shlach, this week's Torah portion.

My dad grew up in an impoverished foster home. Yet he was one of the most humble and remarkable people I ever knew. With a university degree, he also had a doctorate in street smarts.

As a teenager holding my first part time job, I would meet my dad after work. His office was nearby. Once I arrived early and waited in the lobby. I overheard two men screaming at my dad's receptionist. A few moments later, dad emerged and calmed them down in mere seconds. That was my father.

I will always remember the Yom Kippur war from the following story. At age 13, I accompanied my dad to shul on Yom Kippur. Dad was serving as the usher next to the sanctuary door when an unfamiliar Israeli entered and demanded from my dad that he see the rabbi right away. When the man explained the situation, my father immediately escorted him to the rabbi. Without asking how the man knew what was transpiring in Israel, the rabbi correctly paused the service and started leading the congregation in special prayers and psalms for Israel.

My dad created with my mom a loving family, dedicated to Judaism and the world at large. This year his 23rd Yahrzeit falls out on 23 Sivan. 

May his Neshama have an Aliyah  and his memory be a blessing.

Love,

His son - Howie

Preparing for Shabbat

17/06/2022 09:07:44 AM

Jun17

This week's Parsha introduces the seven branched Menorah. It symbolizes the seven days of creation and of the week. However, the large middle branch represents Shabbat. The three to the left are Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday leading up to Shabbat. The three to the right are Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday following Shabbat.

Already as of Wednesday, one may begin to greet Shabbat Shalom since Wednesday is closer to the coming Shabbat than to the preceding one. It is noteworthy that the Psalm for Wednesday morning ends where the first line of Kabbalat Shabbat begins on Friday evening,

One may recite Havdalah into Tuesday morning if one forgot to do so earlier since Tuesday is closer to the preceding Shabbat than to the coming one.

Every morning, the daily Psalm is prefaced by this is such and such a day toward Shabbat.

While Shabbat is the last day of the week, it is the centerpiece of our mindset.

As has been said by the Zionist, Ahad Ha'Am, and others -  More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The lights of shul

14/06/2022 09:09:26 AM

Jun14

At the outset of this week's Torah portion of B'ha'alotecha, we read about the kindling of the Menorah. Aharon is commanded to kindle the lights of the Menorah so that they become self sustaining. The seven lights of the Menorah remind us of the seven days of creation, the seven immediate relatives in one's family, and the perpetual presence of God in our lives.

In the contemporary synagogue, the Ner Tamid, everlasting light, is reminiscent of the seven branched Menorah from ancient times. With the waning of Covid's effects, we have been grateful to once again conduct daily, Shabbat, and Festival services in our synagogue over the last number of months. For the continued reasons of physical distancing and people's comfort, all of our services until now have taken place in our sanctuary with livestream available for those who wish to participate from home or elsewhere.

Beginning this coming Sunday night, we will experience the eternal light once again in our Lerman chapel. With the ninety seats in the chapel, there will be plenty of space to be physically and spiritually safe there. Moving forward, Shabbat services (Friday evening, Saturday morning, and Saturday night) will take place in the sanctuary. Daily evening and morning services (from Sunday morning through Friday morning) will take place in the Lerman chapel. Livestream is accessible in both rooms of prayer.

I am thankful to professionals and volunteers who are making it possible for us to be illuminated by both eternal lights in our synagogue. I look forward to seeing more of us in shul in the weeks and months ahead.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A personal remembering and honoring

09/06/2022 09:03:56 AM

Jun9

This week in the aftermath of Shavuot is very personal for me. On June 7, my father passed away twenty-three years ago on the secular calendar. The Hebrew Yahrzeit is 23 Sivan, which will coincide with June 22nd.

This coming Shabbat, June 11,  Parshat Naso is the Torah portion by which my younger son Yonah celebrated his Bar Mitzvah eleven years ago.

In many ways, my son reminds me of my father, with both being mechanically inclined, very Zionistic, and possessing a mental capacity for envisioning complicated designs and layouts.

Jewishly, my father had been trained on a Hachshara farm in New Jersey to make Aliyah soon after Israel became a State. While those plans never materialized, the wellbeing of Israel was a constant topic of conversation in my childhood home.

My son actualized a personal moral commitment to serve as a lone soldier in Israel for three years after finishing high school. His Jewish identity centers around the wellbeing of Israel. 

On Shavuot, I thought of dad when I recited Yizkor, and I thought of both my children when I contemplated Shavuot being known as the Festival of the first fruits.

In Parshat Naso, we will read the longest portion of the entire Torah. In it, we find the origin of the Priestly Blessing, words which my father recited to me as a boy, and words which I now recite every Friday evening to my son.

"L'Dor Va'Dor," from generation to generation, may we pass on the heritage of our parents to our children.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Shavuot and visiting Israel

01/06/2022 09:20:24 AM

Jun1

For most Jews, Shavuot is associated with the season of the giving of our Torah. This theme pervades the liturgy of Shavuot. The Torah reading on the first day, which is the only day celebrated in Israel, focuses on the events leading up to and including the revealing of the Ten Commandments, as found in the book of Exodus chapters 19-20.

Another main theme of Shavuot is its agricultural dimension, the Festival of the first fruits. The Maftir passage on both days and the Torah reading for the second day of the Festival emphasize this side of Shavuot. Except for farmers and Kibbutzniks in Israel, this aspect is not as dear to many Jews as is the giving of the Torah.

This past Tuesday night, twenty adults from our shul community met with me to discuss ideas for a Beth Emeth trip to Israel in 2023. While all kinds of ideas are just beginning to ferment, everyone wants to discover and experience the land and the evolution of Jewish life in Israel. As I listened to the comments of the participants, all I could think of was Beth Emeth entering the land of Israel as described in Deuteronomy chapter 26, which details the ritual of the first fruits coupled with a recitation and celebration of Jewish history from the inception of our people to entering the land itself.

More details will follow in the weeks and months to come. We hope to have an itinerary with dates, sites, and fees in time for the High Holy Days.

In advance, I wish everyone a meaningful and joyous Shavuot this weekend.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Completing Vayikra and celebrating Jerusalem

25/05/2022 09:44:01 AM

May25

This coming Shabbat, we will complete the third book of the Torah, Sefer Vayikra - the book of Leviticus. One of the blessings mentioned at the outset of Parshat B'Chukotai is "V'Natati Shalom Ba'Aretz - I (God) will grant peace in the land." Shalom (peace)  is the root word of Jerusalem, which literally means, "a city of peace.". On Sunday, we will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day. We remember the miracle of the Six Day War in 1967, when the old and new of Jerusalem became a single unified city. From that time onward through today, we are able to visit and celebrate our Jewishness in the most sacred sites of Israel's holiest city, symbolized by the Kotel - the Western Wall.

At the Beth Emeth Shacharit service this coming Sunday morning, we will recite Hallel and sound the Shofar. Hallel is traditionally recited on Festival days which are connected to being in Israel. These include the Biblical Festivals as well as Chanukah, and Yom Ha'Atzmaut/Yom Yerushalayim in contemporary times. Many of us remember Rabbi Shlomo Goren sounding the Shofar immediately after the liberation of the Kotel and the old city of Jerusalem. Our sounding of the Shofar will reverberate to those sounds which were intoned fifty-five years ago.

Sadly, Jerusalem, specifically, and Israel, in general, are far from being at peace in the world at large. We pray, using the words found in the Parsha this Shabbat, that God should grant peace in the land. Nevertheless, we will celebrate the gift of a unified Jerusalem this Sunday.

In advance, I wish us all a Yom Yerushalayim Sameach.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Parshat Behar - Share this portion with everyone you know

20/05/2022 09:12:55 AM

May20

If one needed a single Torah portion to show to fellow Jews and to society at large regarding the rights of Israel and the contributions made by the Jewish people to the world, one need look no further than this week's Torah portion, Parshat Behar.

The Jewish people gave to the world the teaching that one should rest every seventh day - "Et Shabtotai Tishmoru/You shall safeguard My Sabbaths."

The Jewish people gave to the world the teaching that the land should rest every seventh year - "Shemitta/Sabbatical."

The Jewish people gave to the world the teaching that every forty-nine years, one must return one's personal land to previous personal ownership - "Yovel/Jubilee." The earth belongs to no person or nation - The earth is the Lord's. God is landlord and people are tenants.

The Jewish people gave to the world the teaching to renounce all forms of slavery and to preserve freedom for all - "You shall proclaim liberty in the land to all its inhabitants."

The Jewish people gave to the world the teaching that every sovereign nation should have the right to exist on and govern its own land. For four thousand years, only the Jewish people have been challenged by the world regarding sovereignty in its own land. Zionism is a universal message that every nation deserves its inherent right to sovereignty. "When you enter the land that I (God) assign to you."

All of the above quotations appear in Parshat Behar - a noteworthy Parsha to share with fellow Jews and the world at large.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The "Behar" Mitzvah and "Let's go to Israel"

19/05/2022 09:07:36 AM

May19

This week at Beth Emeth, we are seeing many signs of returning to normalcy. One of them is the return of lifecycle ceremonies, in particular, Bnai Mitzvah. Last Shabbat, last Sunday, today (Thursday) and this coming Shabbat, we will have celebrated three Bar Mitzvahs and one Bat Mitzvah, with more to come in May and June.

I myself celebrated my Bar Mitzvah this week on the Jewish calendar in May of 1973 as part of my entire family's first ever visit to Israel. At the end of a two week family tour, I read Parshat Behar at the Kotel at the side closest to the Mechitza so that my entire family could feel close to the service. My introduction to Canadian Jews took place on that trip to Israel. On the previous Shabbat, we had met a group from a Montreal synagogue at a Kibbutz up North. Coincidentally, a week later, we all stayed at the same hotel in Jerusalem, and our  new Canadian friends were invited to my Bar Mitzvah on that particular Shabbat.

Over the years, I have been to Israel many times since my Bar Mitzvah - As a rabbinical student, as a rabbi leading shul trips, as a perpetual student studying Torah, and as a father visiting his child. Due to the pandemic, I and many others have not been to Israel over the past few years.

With the requests of others and my own desire, let's go to Israel as a synagogue family. On Tuesday, May 31 at 7PM, you are invited to a preliminary meeting at Beth Emeth to discuss ideas and dates so that we can fulfill as many goals as possible toward a Beth Emeth trip to Israel during Israel's 75th year of celebration in 2023.

Back in May of 1973, I celebrated what I like to call my "Behar Mitzvah," based on the name of the Parsha. This week at our shul, a number of young people celebrated their "Behar Mitzvahs" on the eve of or during the week of Parshat Behar. I extend a Mazel Tov to them and to their families. These Simchas and others are a testament to the vitality of Judaism as we hopefully enter the final stages of the pandemic.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Happy Passover...again!

11/05/2022 07:58:16 AM

May11

We are roughly half way through counting the seven weeks of the Omer. These days connect Passover and Shavuot. We are now counting upward anticipating the anniversary of God revealing Torah to the people of Israel. Yet, my greeting for us entering this weekend is Happy Pesach again! Why?

This Sunday, May 15, is the 14th of Iyar. In the Jewish calendar, this Hebrew date is called "Pesach Sheni - A Second Passover."

In the Torah, one who could not bring the Passover offering on time, either because he was in a distance place or was considered  ritually impure, could bring the offering exactly one month later. Thus, the 14th of Iyar is called Pesach Sheni.

Nowadays, we no longer celebrate Pesach as it was observed in ancient times. For us, Pesach Sheni can be interpreted spiritually by validating second chances in personal conduct. There is no statute of limitations in Judaism. The repentance model allows second chances for refining moral and ritual piety.

And so - I wish us all a Happy Passover again this coming Sunday.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

Honoring our Mothers 

09/05/2022 09:07:37 AM

May9

Yesterday, Sunday May 8, was Mother's Day. In 1960, Mother's Day also fell on Sunday May 8, and I was born at 2AM on the Monday. I used to tease my mother that Judaism teaches a concept called, "Ain M'arvin simcha B'simcha - one does not comingle two joys at the same time. Thus, I entered the world a couple of hours into the following day.

Over the years, my mother instructed me that in Judaism, every day is mother's and father's day - based on the Mitzvah of honoring one's parents as found in the Ten Commandments and of revering one's parents as found in the past week's Parsha.

Actually, in Judaism, there is one particular day usually overlooked which is a Mother's Day. The eleventh of Cheshvan is considered the Yahrzeit of Rahel Imenu - Rachel our Matriarch. The eleventh of Cheshvan is forty-one days after Rosh Hashanah, and the letters for 41, Mem and Alef, spell the word, "Aim," meaning mother. 

On Rosh Hashanah, we read a Haftarah from Jeremiah in which Matriarch Rachel is personified as the mother who weeps after her children have been exiled to Babylon, refusing to be comforted until their return to the borders of the promised land. I hope and pray that since 1948 and 1967 the metaphoric Rachel is beginning to celebrate a bit more. 

When one recites Eishet Chayil - the Woman of Valor at the Shabbat table on Friday nights, one is honoring not only one's wife, but all the women and mothers of Israel. I personally have continued to recite the Woman of Valor of passage even when not married, as I gaze at a picture of my mother and father taken on their wedding day. 

In our Torah, the Mitzvah to honor one's parents places the father before the mother, and the Mitzvah in Parshat Kedoshim to revere one's parents places the mother before the father. Perhaps in generations long ago, it was more natural to honor the mother and more natural to revere the father. Thus, the Torah reverses the sequence in both contexts to properly balance the requirements of honoring and revering, both, our moms and our dads.

In this past Parsha, the fullness of the verse reads as follows: "You shall each revere his mother and his father, and keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord (Lev. 19:3)." In Jewish law, revering one's parents is superseded by observance of Shabbat. Our parents are not allowed to obligate us to violate Shabbat, except for the case of a health concern. Not sitting in one's parent's chair, not interrupting one's parents, and not contradicting one's parents in a disrespectful way are all included in the Mitzvah of "You shall each revere his mother and father."

There is nothing wrong with honoring our mothers on mother's day. By all means, give them flowers, treat them for a meal, and treat them kindly. But let us take note that each and every day is mother's day, and that Judaism provides us with a particular day in the year when the memory and values of one of our founding four matriarchs is cherished for us to emulate.

May the memories of our mothers of the past, the honor due to our mothers in the present, and the hopes and aspirations of new mothers to be in the future, all serve to connect us to the Jewishness of our families, our communities, and our heritage.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Israel wants us

06/05/2022 09:04:07 AM

May6

Today is the actual Hebrew date of Yom Ha'Atzmaut, the fifth of Iyar. The celebration was pushed back to Thursday so that there would be no celebratory conflicts with the onset of Shabbat.

How appropriate that last night our shul's executive gave the okay for me to begin organizing a Beth Emeth trip to Israel. Due to the pandemic, we have not traveled as a shul community in a long time. In November of 2019, we saw Jewish historical highlights in Spain, Gibraltar, and Portugal. We were last in Israel as part of a Poland-Israel experience in November of 2015. We were last in Israel exclusively for a two week trip in the Fall of 2013. It has been a long time.

Now that the pandemic's force is lessening, and travel restrictions are down to a minimum, it is time. Israel needs to see us, and we need to see Israel. Next year, Israel will celebrate its 75th modern birthday. While there are community trips already being arranged, I am calling a meeting for Beth Emeth families to come together and express what will work best for us, in terms of time of year to travel, demographics, duration, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and more. Hopefully, at an initial informational meeting, we can already begin to outline and form the next Beth Emeth trip to Israel.

No commitments are needed at this time. Anyone who is even slightly interested is invited to a preliminary meeting with me on Tuesday evening May 31 at 7PM. I look forward to seeing you and hearing your ideas.

Chag Yom Ha'Atzmaut Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

From sadness to celebration - How Jews commemorate!

04/05/2022 09:09:51 AM

May4

Throughout our history, the Jewish people have learned how to balance sadness and celebration. Many examples illustrate the need to accentuate both polarities in consecutive fashion.

On Erev Pesach, a Taanit Bechorim, a Fast for the first born, precedes the joyous celebration of Passover. In this instance, for many, the Fast is negated by participating in a Siyum, completing a unit of rabbinical text study.

On Erev Purim, Taanit Esther, the Fast of Esther, precedes the joyous celebration of Purim. The one day Fast harkens back to three days of fasting in the Biblical account. One recalls the near tragedy which almost befell Persian Jewry before one celebrates the miracles associated with Purim. 

This week, Yom Ha'Zikaron, Israel's Remembrance Day, precedes Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. We remember on the fourth of Iyar this Wednesday with the sounds of the siren calling for silence in Israel. Memorial prayers commemorating all who have fallen for the sake of the State of Israel are recited throughout the Jewish world.

On the following day, the fifth of Iyar this Thursday, we celebrate Israel's  independence. Religious Zionists have developed many liturgical ways to sanctify this special day. At Beth Emeth, we will recite a full Hallel and a contemporary Al Ha'Nisim ("for the miracles") at our daily morning service on Thursday.

While many cultures separate their days of remembrance and independence by a number of months, the Jewish people understand the significance of both themes and often place them side by side.

May joy outweigh sadness, and may despair be followed by rejoicing. 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

From Yom Ha'Shoah to Yom Ha'Zikaron/Yom Ha'Atzmaut

29/04/2022 09:44:44 AM

Apr29

In a non-leap year, the two portions of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim are read together as one unified Torah portion. Acharei Mot begins with "after the death of. . . " The Parsha of Kedoshim contains near the very end, "You shall possess their land, for I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey." Then, one of the Haftarot designated for Kedoshim concludes, "I will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild cities and 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 land I have given them."

All of these verses, from the Parsha some 3300 years ago and from the Prophet Amos some 2500 years ago, could have been written in the last 70-80 years. As I hear the words of these texts, I think of the Shoah and even Yom Ha'Zikaron with Acharei Mot, "after the death of." I think of two thousands years without sovereignty in the land of Israel, which came back to our people only in May of 1948, when I hear the words about being restored and re-established in Israel.

These Biblical words appropriately surround new sacred dates on the Jewish calendar which take us from Yom Ha'Shoah V'Ha'Gevura yesterday to Yom Ha'Zikaron seven days later, and Yom Ha'Atzmaut one day after that.

May we all have the spiritual and emotional strength to properly internalize the roller coaster ride of the worst sadness and the greatest joy in modern Jewish history as we transition from remembering the Holocaust to celebrating the State of Israel.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Yom Ha'Shoah v'Ha'Gevurah

28/04/2022 09:08:23 AM

Apr28

Many people refer to today as Yom Ha'Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. However, the fullness of the day is called Yom Ha'Shoah V'Ha'Gevurah. The last word means strength, might, and heroism. The established date is linked to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, an occassion of "Gevurah." For roughly a month, with a minimum of weaponry, the Jewish people imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto held off the Nazis (yimach sh'mam) in a proverbial David versus Goliath epic. 

There were many acts of heroism demonstrated by the Jewish people while living and dying in indescribable ways. The legacy and fame associated with the diary of Anne Frank is such an example. Right now, at Beth Emeth, we are hosting an Anne Frank exhibit in the Arback Hall, sponsored by the Goldfinger family fund. Viewing is open during the day time. Diaries were kept and preserved by others as well. As a child, I also read the diary of Moshe Flinker, less famous than that of Anne Frank but also very touching.

Acts of heroism included the lengths gone to by many Jews to preserve traditional forms of observance, whether it be Shabbat, Kashrut, daily prayer, regular study, holy days, and the like. The performance of shows, the playing of music, the creation of art, the writing of many forms of literature, and more are also acts of "Gevurah." 

The sheer will to survive is an example of "Gevurah." I would even suggest that survivors who found ways to establish families, move to different parts of the world with almost nothing to their name, succeed in business, create synagogues, become leaders in Jewish communities, and perpetuate their Jewishness have continued to exemplify "Gevurah" to this very day.

Thus, let us remember to call this day by its full term, "Yom Hashoah V'Ha'Gevurah." Let us recall not only the perpetrators of evil and the destruction of six million Jewish lives, but to recall the acts of heroism, courage, and bravery by so many Jews and in so many different ways.

This evening at 6:15PM, I invite you to the Samuel Edelstein Children's Garden at Beth Emeth for our annual brotherhood candle lighting ceremony. We will light candles in memory of our six million brothers and sisters, in memory of destroyed communities, in memory of one and a half million murdered Jewish children, in memory of the ghetto fighters and partisans, in memory of the righteous of the nations, and in honor of the State of Israel.

It is appropriate that the ceremony will take place around a garden dedicated to honor the lives of children who died under the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

I wish us all a meaningful Yom Ha'Shoah V'Ha'Gevurah.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Welcoming Cantor Yakov Zingboim

27/04/2022 09:27:02 AM

Apr27

This week, our shul has the privilege of welcoming Cantor Yakov Zingboim and his daughter, Sivan, from Israel. While the visiting Chazzan is auditioning for a full-time position at Beth Emeth, the timing of his visit is perfect.

This coming Shabbat, we will anticipate the coming of Yom Ha'Zikaron (Israel's Memorial Day) and Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day), which occur on Wednesday and Thursday May 4-5.  Our service on Shabbat morning will be filled with Israeli melodies. In addition, my sermon will be dedicated to this sacred season in the contemporary Jewish calendar.

In addition, Cantor Zingboim will lead Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday evening as well as services on Shabbat, Saturday evening, followed by a Kumzits, fun filled casual Jewish singing. 

I invite us all to become spiritually enriched and inspired by this world renowned Cantor over the coming Shabbat.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Mr. Eli Dovek - The original owner of the Israel Book Shop in Brookline, MA

25/04/2022 09:20:31 AM

Apr25

I am heartbroken to learn that Mr. Eli Dovek has passed away. My memories of him and the store go back to when I was a little boy growing up in Brookline. My parents brought me in often to the former location on Harvard street. When I was old enough, I went to both locations on my own. Over the years, I purchased all kinds of things for me and others whether they be works of art, books in English, or Limudei Kodesh in Hebrew. I am now sixty-one years old working as a congregational rabbi in Toronto. Many of my books and Judaica, which I am gazing at right now, originated from the Israel Book Shop. I will always remember Mr. Dovek putting Tefillin on my older son prior to his Bar Mitzvah, Tefillin which I purchased from the Israel Book Shop. That boy is now twenty-seven years old living in Denver. 

More important than all the purchases was the warmth exuded by Mr. Dovek. The store was like a home, and he demonstrated Hachnasat Orchim to me and to all who entered. I always felt like I was with family with him, his wife, and all who represented the store behind the counter. Mr. Dovek and the Israel Book Shop represented the best of Judaism. He himself was a strictly pious Jew. His store, unlike many Judaica stores today, was completely pluralistic, carrying book titles and authors from the entire spectrum of Jewish thought and practice. 

I am writing this message on Motzaei Pesach and Motzaei Shabbat, after having recited my own personal Yizkor just hours ago. I will truly remember Mr. Eli Dovek, a true mentsch and exemplar of Judaism's highest Middot.

Baruch Dayan Emet.

Yhi Zichro Baruch.

Rabbi Howard (Howie) Morrison

formerly of Brookline

Remembering the Rav

20/04/2022 09:12:10 AM

Apr20

Yesterday, the eighteenth of Nissan, marked the twenty-ninth Yahrzeit of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Known as the Rav, he was the most outstanding figure of American Modern Orthodoxy in the twentieth century. He established Yeshiva University in New York and the Maimonides Day School in Brookline, MA, my hometown. As a child, I attended Maimonides from Kindergarten through grade twelve from 1965-1978. Believe it or not, I still remember as a five year old, my father sitting with me outside the school campus telling me that I would be going to school there. Over the years, the Rav would often visit the school. The students learned from a young age to stand up out of respect whenever he walked in our presence. On Saturday nights after Shabbat, the Rav would deliver a community lecture in Yiddish to which my father would sometimes take me. While my dad had a love for Yiddish, I had no clue what was going on. Nevertheless, now in my sixties, I cherish the memory of going on those occasions with my father.

Rabbi Soloveitchik innovated the concept known as Torah U'Madah, Torah and Science. He believed that a pious Jew should be educated equally between religious and general studies. In my high school years, I would often have ten different forty-five minute classes a day. I would go from Talmud to English, to Chumash to math, to Tefila to American history, to Navi to French, to Jewish history to chemistry, etc. In addition, the classes were all co-ed, including Talmud and other religious classes, which was unique at that time in Orthodox religious education. Many institutions back then to this very day would teach Talmud to the boys and different subject material to the girls. 

When I was almost Bar Mitzvah age, my parents faced a dilemma. On which hand should I place Tefillin? I wrote left-handed but did everything else right-handed. My folks wanted the definitive answer. Instead of calling our local shul rabbi, they contacted the Rav directly. He educated my parents teaching them that in Judaism the writing hand is considered the dominant hand, based on the juxtaposition of the verbs, "You shall bind them" and "You shall write them" in the first paragraph of the Shma. Thus, the hand your write with is the hand you bind with, meaning that as a lefty, I bind the Tefillin with my left hand and place them on my right hand. 

In my own personal Judaism and rabbinate, I am proud to say that I have had my own selection of rabbinic heroes who have spanned the denominations over the course of my life. Growing up in his hometown, the Rav was the first of my rabbinic role models. Yhi Zichro Baruch - May his memory be for a blessing.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Passover and Pandemic

19/04/2022 01:12:01 AM

Apr19

Two years ago, many of us sat alone or almost alone for our Pesach Seder. Last year was not much different for many people. This year, while some may have continued to sit and feel alone, many others attained some normalcy with their Seder experience. Hopefully, the trend will continue in the weeks and months ahead.

Pesach is a season of rebirth and renewal. It is a time of freeing ourselves from the bondages of our personal Mitzrayim, places of distress, into new places of personal freedom and growth.

Already during Pesach, I have had the privilege of seeing some familiar faces in shul, whom I had not seen in a couple of years. While the livestream will continue to be accessible for all who are not yet comfortable returning to shul, I encourage as many people as possible to start coming back. With the onset of Pesach, all religious services will now take place from the synagogue, whether we have a minyan or not. The Tuesday morning Sisterhood classes are returning to shul right after Pesach. The Chesed Knitters are back in the library, their home base for many years. Gradually, more and more activity is returning to shul.

The Haggadah instructs us, "All who are hungry come and eat." We have been hungry for religious, educational, and social activity in Beth Emeth. our shul is ready to serve. The doors are open. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Which idea of Elijah the Prophet speaks to you? 

18/04/2022 08:11:25 AM

Apr18

The Haggadah which many of us recited for two nights consists of fifteen chapter headings. However, one central theme does not fall under any category. Between "Barech" and "Hallel," we invoke the name of Elijah the Prophet, display a cup filled with wine reserved for him, open the door, and recite some Biblical verses. 

Until that point, the focus of the Seder has been on the past and the present. Following that point beginning with Hallel, we will focus on aspirations for the future. the "Elijah" moment takes place at the cusp of the time frames and falls under an unnamed category of its own.

In scripture, Elijah the Prophet is known for his zealousness in trying to eradicate the idolatry of his time. Elsewhere in scripture, as recited on Shabbat Ha'Gadol, Elijah the Prophet is the great communicator uniting the generations. In rabbinic literature, he is the one who will be the harbinger of the Messianic era. In addition, exclaim the Sages, he will be the one to reconcile all unresolved disputes. This notion is symbolized by the Elijah cup at the Seder. An unresolved dispute is whether or not one should consume four or five cups of wine at the seder. The reserved cup for Elijah puts forth an ambiguous cup of wine from which no-one at the table drinks, waiting for Elijah to come and respond. In Jewish folklore, Elijah dresses in disguise often in the form of a wanderer knocking on the door of the Jewish home testing the hospitality of the host.

When we open the door for Elijah the Prophet, what message are we conveying? Trust in divine security, as God watched over our people on the night of the Exodus? An opening into the futuristic Messianic era? Hospitality for the hungry who might come knocking? Concern for pogroms and blood libel accusations?

How do we respond to the Biblical verses which were added after the Crusades of the eleventh century, which we recite when the door is opened? These verses call upon God to pour out divine wrath, fury, and indignation on the nations that do not recognize God. Can we relate to these verses as our predecessors did when they felt helpless and victims to anti-Semitism, oppression, and persecution? Since Jewish law prohibits us from taking revenge, does it make sense to call upon God to exact vengeance for us or the dignity of the divine name? Should these verses be removed? Should they be augmented with a positive statement for those non-Jews who do recognize God and who do stand up for Israel and the Jewish people? Should "Pour out your wrath?" be augmented by "Pour out your love on the nations who do recognize God?"

While the section between the blessings after meals and additional praises contains no official title, I encourage us to reflect on the wide array of emotions, perspectives, and meanings of this unit in the Haggadah.

I wish us all a continued healthy and joyous Passover - Chag Kasher V'Sameach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Wishing everyone a Zisen Pesach

14/04/2022 08:56:36 AM

Apr14

Tomorrow night, we will begin to celebrate Pesach. For some, the restrictions caused by the pandemic will continue to be in place and limit in person attendance.  For others, larger gatherings will take place this year than in the past two years. Either way, I wish everyone safety and good health as we celebrate Pesach 5782.

There are many topics to be discussed at our Seder tables beyond the contents found in the Haggadah. Some include - Recent acts of terror in Israel, Evil and atrocities being committed by the Russians in the Ukraine, The past year's surge of Anti-Semitism in Canada and around the world, Continued illness and death from the Corona virus, Assimilation, and much more. In all, we should ask ourselves what we can do proactively in order to be agents of help and support. 

The sequence of the Haggadah is based on four Talmudic words, "Matchil B'Gnut U'Mesayem B'Shevach - Begin with our people's history of degradation and end with praise and optimism. Whatever difficult topics we discuss at our Seders, I encourage us to find constructive means of dialogue and relationship so that our personal experience concludes authentically on a note of positive uplift.

I wish us all Chag Kasher V'Sameach and a Zisen Pesach,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

My presentation at the multi-faith panel on Monday April 11

13/04/2022 09:14:34 AM

Apr13

From hurt to hope through healing:

I am elated to be part of this amazing panel and to address our theme for tonight entitled, "from hurt to hope through healing."

Given that the faiths being represented tonight are celebrating respective sacred seasons right now, I want to briefly address our topic from the lens of Passover, a Jewish holiday, which begins in a few days. While the narrative of the holiday speaks to the distinctive Jewish historical experience, it also speaks with a universal message for all people. 

On Passover evening, Jews celebrate a Seder, a prescribed order of ritual events, and retell a story each year from a book called, the Haggadah. The series of tellings in the Haggadah actually takes us through a journey of hurt, hope, and healing.

Part one of the Passover journey is an annual retelling of the "hurt" of Israelite bondage, a period of which lasted for hundreds of years in ancient Egypt. Ultimately, a transition takes us to a place of hope and healing through a combination of food symbols, stories, and prayers. symbolic foods include eating Matza, a flat bread, known in the beginning of the tale as "bread of affliction" but by the end of the experience as "bread of complete freedom." in between, we eat an admixture of chopped apples and nuts called Charoset (sweetness) and white horseradish (marror) to physically taste our going from bitterness to sweetness. The first half of the Seder culminates with a festive meal. Our ancestors achieved their freedom, and we celebrate our freedoms today. The second half of the Seder, after the festive meal, reminds us that our freedoms can be temporary and be removed from time to time. Ultimately, we strive for a Messianic "utopian" freedom for all people and for all time.

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, literally means "in distress." When we replay the ancient story of bondage, I ask those gathered with me, "What are the sources and causes of your distress today? How are you hurting? How can you hope to improve your situation? What kinds of healing do you need in your lives? physical? emotional? spiritual?"

Each and everyone of us is hurting from some kind of distress in our lives? What do we need to do to experience our own transformation? Our own individual proverbial Passover story of going from slavery to freedom, from pain to praise? Can we find hope from a belief of God's presence in our lives, which can come from above and/or from within?

Some of us may be hurting from the loneliness and anxiety brought on by two years of the pandemic.

Some of us may be hurting from poor health, economic challenges, physical and/or spiritual challenges.

Some of us may be hurting from the surges in Anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, other forms of bigotry and prejudice.

Some of us may be hurting from war and evil in different parts of our world.

Know that you need not feel alone and isolated. Your own faith community is here to support you. And know that those who believe in multi-faith and multi-cultural initiatives care for all people in our Canadian community.

I conclude with a petitionary prayer for healing which is recited almost every single day, morning, afternoon, and evening in the Jewish liturgy:

"Heal us, God, and we will be healed. Save us, and we will be saved, for You are our praise. Bring complete recovery for all our ailments, for You are God, Sovereign, the faithful and compassionate Healer. Praised are you God, who heals."

May God bless us all! 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Did you hear the one about the Minister, the Rabbi, and the Imam?

12/04/2022 09:03:08 AM

Apr12

Not a joke - last night, I had the pleasure of participating on a multi-faith panel with Imam Imran Ally and Pastor Judith James in a program hosted at Adath Israel by Rabbi Adam Cutler and York Centre M.P. Ya'arah Saks. Entitled "From hurt to hope through healing," each faith representative spoke for a few minutes and then responded to questions. The panel discussion took place as the celebrations of Ramadan, Easter, and Passover are taking place this month. 

In my short presentation, I shared some of the universal messages of Pesach, such as transitioning from the bitter to the sweet in our lives, symbolized by Maror and Charoset. I spoke how the Matzah at first is a bread of affliction but later is a bread of freedom. I discussed how the Hebrew word for Egypt, "Mitzrayim," means distress. What is each of us doing to try to become free from the distresses in our personal lives?

I am grateful for the open mindedness of my colleagues who participated last night. The full program is available on the Adath Israel website. I look forward to future opportunities for different faith adherents to come together and celebrate the diversity of our respective traditions in a spirit of empathy and mutual respect.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering my first childhood rabbi - Rabbi Emanuel Forman, Zichrono L'Veracha

11/04/2022 09:14:14 AM

Apr11

As a young boy, my first synagogue rabbi at the Young Israel of Brookline was Rabbi Emanuel Forman. He was truly my parents' favorite rabbi over the years. By the time I was eight or nine, he had left Brookline for Toronto, where he served at the local Shaarei Shomayim. From there, he made Aliyah, where he served a shul in Netanya, before spending his retirement years in Jerusalem. Rabbi Forman died this past weekend.

My childhood memories of him are vague. A son of his was a classmate of mine for a brief time at the Maimonides Day School. In the mid-1980's, however, I spent a Shabbat with him and his wife and watched him preside at his shul in Netanya, during my rabbinical school year in Israel.

In the early 2000's when I was visiting Brookline on a vacation, I went to Young Israel for Shabbat morning services. Little did I know that Rabbi Forman was in town and was asked to deliver the sermon that day. What a thrill!

Several years ago, I saw him at a Summer program for rabbis at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. During one of the sessions, we were asked to break into groups to study some texts as a Chavruta, a small fellowship. One of the fondest memories of my rabbinate was the privilege of studying in the same Chavruta as Rabbi Forman. I will always cherish that experience.

In recent months, I learned that his health was failing. Rabbi Forman died in his nineties after having served Modern Orthodox shuls in Brookline, Toronto, and Netanya.

Just maybe, he is preparing to teach Torah to my parents of blessed memories, and to many others whom he inspired in three different countries during his rabbinate.

Yhi Zichro Baruch - May his memory be a blessing.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Remembering Nechama Leibowitz, zichrona l'veracha

06/04/2022 09:20:24 AM

Apr6

One of the most outstanding Torah scholars of the twentieth century was Nechama Leibowitz. Today is her Yahrzeit, the fifth of Nisan. She passed away on April 12, 1997. Some of us own her five-volume set, Studies on the weekly Parsha. These books were originally written in Hebrew and later translated into English. On each Parsha, she put together a number of scholarly essays. Each one had a particular theme, and she shared a number of original citations from Biblical exegetes from across the ages. 

What some people do not know is that these books originated as single sheets of paper which she handed out to her students when she taught in the classroom. I was fortunate to study with her during the academic year of 1983-1984 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as part of my rabbinical school education. Her topic for that particular course was entitled, "Mai'Avdut L'Cherut - From slavery to freedom." We studied the first seventeen chapters of the Book of Exodus: the portions of Shmot, Va'era, Bo, and B'Shallach. Somewhere in storage, I have my notebook from her class and all the sheets which she gave out, which would become the essays in her books.

Looking back, I realize that I sat in front of a great Torah scholar. She was unique in that she earned the respect of the entire Jewish world and taught before Ultra-Orthodox Jews as well as liberal Jews. Today, we take for granted the many great female Torah scholars from whom we can learn. Nechama Leibowitz, while not looking to be known as a feminist, was a trailblazer in her era.

That class I took, "From slavery to freedom," is an apt title for us to consider right now, as we prepare to celebrate Pesach, and as we observe the genocide taking place in the Ukraine, the terror attacks in Israel, and other forms of evil around the world.

May the memory of Nechama Leibowitz be for a blessing, and may her teachings continue to inspire new generations of Torah students.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

What a  Great Sabbath!

05/04/2022 07:42:19 AM

Apr5

It is coming soon, Shabbat Ha'Gadol, the Great Sabbath, which precedes Pesach.

On this Shabbat, we read about the coming of the GREAT and awesome day of the Lord. The heart of the parents will be restored to the children, and the heart of the children will be restored to the parents (Haftarah on Shabbat Ha'Gadol).

The Great Shabbat harkens back to a time when our people prepared the Paschal lamb a few days before the Festival.

The Hebrew for "great - gadol" refers to an adult Jew who is obligated to perform mitzvot. The preparations before Pesach also prepared our people to enter a life of performing mitzvot.

It is said by some that Shabbat Ha'Gadol was originally called Shabbat Haggadah. It is customary to review the Haggadah on the Shabbat before Pesach so that the Seder experience will be meaningful and relevant to all attendees.

I wish us all "Shabbat Ha'Gadol - Shabbat Haggadah Shalom." Make it a GREAT Shabbat.

Sincerely, 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

 

 

Wed, 6 July 2022 7 Tammuz 5782