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FROM THE DESK OF RABBI MORRISON

01/04/20 04:25:09 PM

Apr1

03/04/20 09:06:35 AM

Apr3

Dear Congregational Family,

On Thursday, the Canadian Jewish News announced it was immediately closing its doors. I and many of us are deeply saddened. The CJN has been an essential voice in bringing unity to the diversity of our Canadian Jewish community. Over the past few years, I have been privileged to write a monthly Dvar Torah. I had recently submitted my next entry for the April16th issue during the final days of Pesach. Sadly, my message will not appear in the CJN but only on our Beth Emeth website and Facebook page:

"We have arrived at the last days of Pesach. When we recited Ma Nishtana this year, we truly meant it. For many of us, Pesach has been uniquely different. Many of us celebrated our Seder nights with fewer people around the table because of physical distancing during the pandemic. For some, relatives from across the border could not attend had they so desired.

Nevertheless, Pesach teaches lessons about handling tough transitions with realism, hope, optimism, and faith. I am reminded of the Midrash describing the scene as the Egyptians were pursuing our ancestors from behind, and a raging sea stood in front. Should we be taken back as captives? Should we fight in vain? Should we complain? Pray? As the bickering went on, a virtual noone named Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped into the sea. When the waters got up to his nose, the waters split, and the rest is history.

Pesach teaches us to exhibit courage and bravery during challenging times. Nachshon inspired a nation to follow. In this difficult season while confronting covid-19, we too are being tested on how best to interact while feeling attacked from all sides. I pray that the legendary story of Nachson will inspire us.

Two generations ago, knowing what their fate would be, Jews fought back from inside the Warsaw ghetto during Pesach. They fought the enemy physically and valiantly. They also fought back by preserving their faith and heritage by making a Pesach Seder, which has been retold like the Haggadah itself during these last two generations.

Pesach concludes this week. As we look back at Seder night, the Mishna describes the sequence of events in a few words: we begin with the story of degradation, and we finish with songs of praise.

Better days are coming.

"Our songs of praise will continue from generation to generation."

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

02/04/20 09:44:29 AM

Apr2

Dear Congregational Family,

Pesach is now exactly one week away. Sadly, it does not seem that Covid-19 will pass over before Passover. I am reminded from Torah that the Israelites were spared during the last plague because they stayed indoors. How imperative it is during this contemporary 21st century plague that we stay indoors as much as possible and completely for our elderly and vulnerable.

Please electronically get in your sale of Chametz forms by Tuesday night April 7. I will be selling your Chametz Wednesday morning April 8. You are on your own to dispose of your chametz. The texts can be found on the shul website.

We are now simulcasting prayer and classes on Zoom and Facebook Live. If you have any difficulty accessing Zoom, please try Facebook live. While Zoom enables us to see each other and interact, the davenings and classes remain on Facebook after the actual presentation for those who missed it the first time.

Our shul building will sadly be closed during Pesach. As a traditional shul, we do not livestream prayer on an actual Shabbat or Yom Tov. With this in mind, Cantor Guber and I will officiate a Yizkor Service on Zoom on the last day of Chol Ha'Moed, Tuesday April 14 at 9:30am.

I am grateful to the clergy team, office staff, and entire congregation for participating in the vastness of our outreach efforts.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay well. Better days are coming.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

01/04/20 04:15:57 PM

Apr1

Dear Congregational Family,

Today will be the fifth part of my Preparations for Passover virtual class, session #5. So far, we have had an introduction, an overview of the whole Haggadah, the four questions, and the four children.

Today, for the first time, I will try to simulcast on Facebook Live and Zoom, a first attempt for me. Our topic today will be "After we open the door for Elijah."

On Friday, we will look at the fun and serious sides of Chad Gadya.

I want to remind everyone that we have a number of meaningful links for Pesach on the website which include a form to sell chametz, the recitations for bedikat chametz and eruv tavshilin next week, the shul Passover guide, a lenient view of Passover food laws due to Covid-19 from the Rabbinical Assembly, and more.

I also want to remind you that UJA-Federation and Bnai Brith are organized to assist anyone needing support in receiving food during this challenging time.

With Pesach now just a week away, I begin wishing us all a Zisen Pesach - Chag Kasher V'Sameach.

Stay well. Better days are coming.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

31/03/20 09:21:48 AM

Mar31

Dear Congregational Family,

On Saturday night, I learned that my uncle Sydney passed away during Shabbat. He was the last of my father's siblings. Sydney was the youngest of six brothers. He lived his whole life developmentally challenged and was cared for in a group facility in upstate New York. He will be buried in the same cemetery as my Uncle Joe, his brother, who died ten years ago, in Staten Island.

Even with the challenges caused by Covid-19, my uncle's body will handled with all the tradition that takes place from pre-burial through the burial itself. A rabbi and Hevra Kadisha members will be present throughout.

Sadly, while no family members will be able to attend because of today's health concerns, my uncle will buried according to Jewish values.

While I will be officiating two shul funerals today and tomorrow, I wish to pay tribute to all who work in the Jewish funeral homes.

Especially now, their safeguards, preparations and dedication truly exemplify the ultimate form of lovingkindness.

May the memories of our loved ones be a blessing.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

30/03/20 09:26:02 AM

Mar30

Dear Congregational Family,

The resiliency of our community is amazing to me during this time of being isolated and shut in. The dynamism of the Jewish people continues to astound me.

A week ago Sunday, I participated in a virtual Bar Mitzvah on Zoom with some 100 virtual guests with the celebrant family in their home. The Bar Mitzvah young man chanted his readings from a Torah scroll and delivered his Dvar Torah, all which were originally scheduled for the prior day in our shul.

Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a wedding on Zoom with colleagues from Beth Tzedec. The wedding was originally scheduled to take place in our shul at the same time.

In addition, I have been in discussion with families about conducting baby namings via Zoom.

The thought and creativity being put into public virtual celebrations of sacred lifecycle moments testify to the brilliance of the Jewish people.

Our joys and celebrations may be structured differently for a while, but the continuity of our people and way of life will not be hindered or compromised.

On a separate note, I want to remind everyone that our caterer, Apex, can prepare your Seder plate and Passover meals for pickup at the shul. You do not need to risk going out into public shopping centers. Take a look at the Apex website which can be found via the shul website.

I wish everyone continued optimism and faith. The clergy, office, volunteer leadership, and I are here to assist.

Shavua Tov,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

27/03/20 09:43:01 AM

Mar27

Dear Congregational Family,

This week, Rosh Chodesh Nisan and the beginning of the book of Vayikra coincide. The major themes of both are instructive during this challenging time.

The book of Vayikra contains commandments about the bringing of certain sacrifices to the Temple. Once the Temple was destroyed, our rabbinic ancestors were able to preserve the narrative of the sacrifices by adapting and evolving Judaism into verbal prayer.

The Passover month of Nisan takes us back to the original commandment of bringing a roasted lamb to the Temple, which would be celebrated by families along with Matzah and Marror. Once the Temple was destroyed, our rabbinic ancestors were able preserve the narrative of the three primary Passover symbols by adapting and evolving Judaism into the Seder, as we know it today.

Nowadays, our generation is learning to adapt and evolve Judaism as well. We are preserving the best features of synagogue life: prayer, lovingkindness, music, Divrei Torah, and topical learning and developing them through virtual social media.

While I pray that soon we will return to familiar norms, I am grateful for all those who are helping to maintain Judaism with the current new normal.

I wish everyone Shabbat Shalom.

Be safe. Betters days are coming.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

26/03/20 08:15:14 AM

Mar26

Dear Congregational Family,

One of my favorite Hebrew songs goes as follows: "Kol Ha'OlamKuloGesherTzarM'od. V'Ha'IkarLo L'FachedKlal- The entire world is a narrow bridge. The essential thing is not to fear at all."

For those who do not know the music, I encourage you to go on line, hear the melody, and learn it for yourself. The Hebrew in song form is more powerful and meaningful than a mere English translation.

If there were ever a time when the world was truly a narrow bridge, now is that time. All humanity is united through the plague of Covid-19. No one in the world is exempt. No place in the world is untouched.

The second part of the song is our challenge, hope, and inspiration - "The essential thing is not to fear at all." Many individuals on their own are fearful about the changes taking place in society regarding health, economy, employment, watching and educating children, and more.

To combat anxiety about the present and unforeseeable future, we need the presence of a spiritual, empathetic, and caring community. At Beth Emeth, our volunteer Chesedcommittee is calling and assisting hundreds and hundreds of our members. If you have not received a kindness call and want one, let our clergy or office know.

In addition, our office continues to function and promote our on line programming. Our clergy team is reaching out with davening, music, DivreiTorah, and topical learning.

After the Second Temple was destroyed, and the ritual sacrifices could no longer be brought, it was determined that one would find atonement by performing acts of "Chesed- Lovingkindness."

I hope and pray that our synagogue's outreach efforts along with individual people's own sense of goodness will keep our community spiritually and emotionally strong as we walk on a narrow bridge together into the world of the unknown.

Be safe. Be healthy. Be well. Better days are coming.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

25/03/20 09:16:33 AM

Mar25

Dear Congregational Family,

I have been thinking and reading about leniencies within Jewish Law that can help us celebrate and observe Pesach during these exigent circumstances.

For those who arrange to sell their Chametz to a non-Jew through me or other means prior to Pesach, there is no need to discard Chametz. Especially this year, where going out to shop is risky for some of us, Chametz based products need not be thrown away. Since ownership is not Jewish during the eight days of Pesach, one observes not owning and seeing Chametz by boarding it up or putting it in a place where no one will look. Once Chametz is bought back after the Festival, one will own and may use the Chametz.

Some of you may have read that a body of Israeli Sephardic rabbis has issued a ruling for Seder night only that one may use Zoom to connect the elderly with their families. Of course, these rabbis are clear that the halakha necessitates activating Zoom prior to the beginning of Yom Tov and not touching it during sacred time. In Israel, where one day of Yom Tov is observed, Friday is Chol Ha'Moed, and the electronic social media can be deactivated. In the Diaspora, with two days of Yom Tov, halakhic observance is more challenging since Yom Tov will be Thursday and Friday, which go directly into Shabbat, creating three consecutive days of sacred time.

Another suggestion to connect the elderly with families in order to celebrate some Seder joy is to use social media to conduct an unofficial overview or abbreviated Seder which will begin and end prior to the beginning of Yom Tov. Once Yom Tov begins, the full traditional Seder would still be observed without the use of electronics.

As I mentioned in my first Passover preparation class this past Monday, one could expand the symbolic observance of the Biblical "Pesach Sheni - Second Passover" exactly one month after Pesach. The date is Thursday night through Friday afternoon May 7-8. Depending on the health situation, families could gather together in larger numbers or via social media if physical distancing is still in order. Health and safety must always come first. Pesach Sheni is not a Yom Tov. Thus, the ritual prohibitions of a Yom Tov do not apply. Specific Festival blessings like the Festival Kiddush and the special blessings preceding the Matzah and Marror would be omitted. However, the standard blessings before bread and vegetables would be recited. One may recite the blessings for wine and drink the four cups of wine, recite the narrative sections and songs, etc.

While the afore-mentioned ideas may not work for all, they are attempts to help make easier a Pesach which will more challenging than in most years.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

24/03/20 09:38:42 AM

Mar24

Dear Congregational Family,

 

What follows is a prayer composed by a colleague for our challenging time. For those familiar with liturgy, it is a take off from "Shfoch Chamatcha - Pour out your wrath" from the Pesach Haggadah. It is also a take off from the Hashkivenu prayer recited seven evenings a week. We pray that this world-wide plague of Covid-19 be speedily removed from our world.

 

Rabbi Howard Morrison

23/03/20 09:14:28 AM

Mar23

Dear Congregational Family,

With all the concerns and regulations surrounding Covid19, let us not forget that Pesach is a little over two weeks away. In previous messages, I have pointed out that we have the authorization form for you to sell chametz on the website. I have also pointed out that for those who are religiously comfortable, you may rely on the lenient positions regarding the use of Kitniot-legumes especially this year. Your Pesach guide has a full explanation.

Shabbat Ha'Chodesh has come and gone. This Thursday is Rosh Chodesh Nisan. With Pesach fast approaching, I invite you to join me today, Wednesday, and Friday at 12 noon on Beth Emeth Facebook live. While the style of learning does not allow for verbal interaction, you can write comments to me during the learning so that we have interaction. Unlike other forms of social media outreach, the lesson on Facebook live remains on our Facebook page for those who cannot join in person.

Some of our topics for today will include:

With whom and how many people should one celebrate a Seder this year? What is Pesach Sheni? Can it be broadened for this year? Which edition of the Haggadah will you use? What kinds of questions will you ask this year? and more.

In session 2 on Wednesday, we shall place the entire Haggadah into a discernible structure. In subsequent sessions, we will analyze particular passages.

One specific section begins with the words "Tzay U'Lmad - Go and learn," which means to study deeply. In these challenging times, I invite us to find educational and spiritual nourishment through a study of the Haggadah.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay well.

Better days are coming.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Shabbat Shalom

20/03/20 03:31:31 PM

Mar20

Dear Congregational Family,

"TGIS - Thank God it's Shabbos" takes on a new and special meaning this year. Regardless of our personal levels of observance, many of us will be more "Shomer Shabbat" out of necessity.

In Israel, many modes of daily operation which are usually in effect on Shabbat will be shut down because of the virus.

Here too, with many people being self isolated or limiting themselves to being with small numbers of people, the gift of Shabbat becomes more significant.

As a child, I used to complain about the "do not" rules of Shabbat. As an adult, I have come to appreciate the interrelationship between "Remember (what we do on Shabbat)" and "Shamor (what we do not do on Shabbat)." The fuller level of observance allows one to see the good in the world around us, better appreciate our family and friends, and to understand that God has a higher purpose for us beyond our work day pursuits.

Parshat Vayakhel begins with an interplay between public sacred space, the Tabernacle, and sacred time, Shabbat. While we cannot always participate in public sacred space, such as attending synagogue even in the best of times, we can always observe and celebrate Shabbat, a sacred period of time which transcends public or private space.

The famous statement coined by the cultural Zionist, Ahad Ha'Am, rings especially true this Shabbat: "More than the Jews have preserved Shabbat, Shabbat has preserved the Jews.

Wishing us all a true, peaceful and meaningful Sabbath.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

20/03/20 09:45:16 AM

Mar20

Dear Congregational Family,

The concluding Torah portions of shmot detail the last touches of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary which accompanied the Israelites in the days of Moses.

The usual haftarot for Vayakhel-Pkudei focus on the last touches of the first Temple in Jerusalem. These are not being publicly recited because of a replacement haftarah on Shabbat Ha'Chodesh.

These Biblical texts have made me wonder - What was it like for our people between the Mishkan and the first Temple? Between the first and second Temple? After the destruction of the second Temple to today?

In my Monday night class, a number of us recently studied sections of Tractate Gittin which provide a reconstruction of the period surrounding the fall of the second Temple. While some unrealistically hoped for an unchanged past to return, the Sage Rabban Yochanan and others paved the way for a new beginning in Yavneh outside of Jerusalem. While criticized by others, his way of hope, optimism and a new outlook enabled Judaism to survive and grow.

For the time being, we are in an in between time. We can choose to lament or unrealistically expect an unchanged past to suddenly return. Or, we can choose to emulate Rabban Yochanan. Take the best of what we still have and positively adapt it to our new situation.

Each day, many of us pray for the rebuilding of our holy Temple and a return to the nostalgic good old days, even as we have adjusted in the last 2000 years to a non-Temple based Judaism.

So too, we can and will hope and pray for a return of what life was like even just over a week ago, even as we celebrate the best of a new world order.

 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Thought on Pesach

18/03/20 09:31:28 AM

Mar18

Dear Congregational Family,

"Mah Nishtana Ha'Laila Ha'Zeh Mi'Kol Ha'Lailot - How is this night different from all other nights?"

This year, Pesach will be like no other for many obvious reasons. For some of us, our Sedarim will be smaller than usual. Out of country relatives and guests may be unable to come. Even those who live in local commuting distance may choose to avoid large gatherings.

In today's messages, you will find a reprint from our Pesach guide on authorizing me to sell your chametz on your behalf. You may electronically send your consent to the office, which will acknowledge your intent. The office will print your form and leave it for me.

While we hope that sufficient volumes of Pesach food will be in the stores, there are no guarantees. For those who are comfortable, you may rely on the lenient rulings of the Conservative rabbinate regarding the use of kitniot - legumes. Please refer to the synagogue's Pesach guide for the rationale and rulings by the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

If we are still not able to gather publicly prior to Pesach, I intend to teach a siyum for the first born on erev Pesach, Wednesday April 8 at 8:00 am via Facebook livestream. More details will follow.

One of the reasons we open the door during the Seder for Elijah the Prophet is to ensure the safety of our homes and families. This notion harkens back to the Middle Ages when Jews were falsely accused of blood libel. While the circumstances are far different now, please do everything possible to ensure your safety during these challenging times.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

The Toronto Board of Rabbis - Update

17/03/20 03:51:00 PM

Mar17

A Letter to Our Community Regarding Covid 19 and Funerals

We write to you today with new guidelines for funeral and shiva observance to meet the urgency of the current health crisis due to the spread of COVID-19. These are extraordinary times and they do call for measures we would never contemplate under other circumstances.

We take very seriously our obligations to our loved ones and the desire to honour those who have died. Equally so, we take seriously our obligations to the living to protect and keep us all in good health as long as we can.

We therefore advise under the strongest possible terms the following approaches to the observance of funerals and mourning in our community:

  • All funerals should be private and by family invitation only.
  • Attendance should be limited to the innermost circle of loved ones only, ideally solely the primary mourners.
  • Funerals should be graveside only.
  • Anyone experiencing the following should not attend a funeral or public gathering
    • fever, cough, sore throat, or other flue-like symptoms
    • contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or symptoms
    • return from outside the country within 2 weeks

Shivas should be private and those wishing to offer their condolences should do so by phone or other means of communication.

We wish circumstances were different. However, as we read in Kohelet, there is “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” Each embrace we refrain from now is potentially a life saved later. Let us embrace each other by other means in these days and weeks ahead, attending to each other by phone, letter, email, and virtual communications.

We pray for speedy healing to all those currently experiencing the virus. We ask the Holy Blessed One, ufros aleinu sukkat sholmeicha, spread over us the shelter of your peace as we continue to navigate this moment.

An Update...

17/03/20 12:02:19 PM

Mar17

Dear Congregational Family,

Months ago, I had arranged to visit my older son, Elie, who lives in Alpena, Michigan, from March 11-16. Who would have known that these six days away from Toronto would be so memorable?

Two days before I left from Toronto, hundreds had attended Beth Emeth for Purim eve services and our performance of Megilah-Mia. On Purim day, I sat around a table at a member's home with several people for a Purim Seudah. When I flew out Wednesday, the volume of people at Pearson was low, but my two planes were half filled. I interacted with business people, students on March break, even a colleague going to Florida for a week with a family of five. By Thursday afternoon, however, the situation had changed. Athletes and actors had tested positive. Professional sports shut down. You know the rest.

In Alpena, I was scheduled to be guest rabbi at the one little synagogue there, and which my son attends. A twenty family congregation comprised only of volunteers meets once or twice a month. I was set to officiate a Shabbat morning service and to teach about Passover on Sunday afternoon. When a guest rabbi shows up, many Christian clergy and parishioners attend to better understand their Jewish roots.

With the concerns of health and well being, should we meet or not? Should I dash back to Toronto? The Alpena community was eager to meet and adopt strict hygienic practices. I kept an eye on air traffic to Toronto. My return flight was already scheduled for this past Monday. And so - with a mixture of Jews and Christians, seventeen met on Shabbat, and twenty-five came on Sunday afternoon. We knew in advance that our numbers would be small enough to permit a safe gathering. The large local Churches had already shut down, like many of our synagogues in Toronto. An enriching time was had by all. I did return home safe and sound Monday night.

Who would have guessed that for the time being, my last public officiating would not be in Beth Emeth, but at Temple Beth-el in Alpena, Michigan? While I feel completely fine, health procedures now compel me to observe a two week self-isolation at home. Ironically. It coincides with my younger sister's birthday, today, March 17.

I and our shul's entire Beth Emeth leadership team are here to serve you by phone, video, and other forms of social media. I can always be reached at rabbim@beby.org or at 416-587-4918.

While we will not meet in shul this Shabbat, we conclude the book of Shmot-Exodus. I encourage us to study the assigned portions at home. The Torah reading begins with the word "Vayakhel - Moses congregated." From this one word comes "Kehila, a congregation and community." Even from our homes and private spaces, we continue to be a sacred community.

The second book of the Torah ends with the postscript words, "Chazak Chazak V"Nitchazek - Be of strength, be of strength, and let us together be strengthened as one. This is my prayer for us.

Rabbi Howard Morrison

A Prayer of Hope During This Pandemic  by Rabbi Naomi Levy 

16/03/20 11:55:56 AM

Mar16

Kaddish without a Minyan

15/03/20 11:54:40 AM

Mar15

During this challenging time, many of us are not able to attend synagogue for health related concerns. Now and days ahead, some of us may be mourners or may be observing a yahrzeit and wish to recite the mourner's kaddish. Traditionally, kaddish is recited in the presence of a minyan. Currently, Beth Emeth and other synagogues are reaching out by livestreaming as many services as possible so that one may join public prayer and/or recite kaddish.

The following attachment takes us back to an early time in our liturgical history before kaddish was regulated as a communal prayer.

For those who cannot attend synagogue or connect via a livestream, what follows are variations of kaddish which may be recited privately. The first two examples originate from Siddur Rav Amram Gaon, printed in the year 960CE, the very first printed Siddur.

During this time of concern and precaution, one may fulfill kaddish obligations by reciting any of the attached texts. Click here to find the texts

I wish everyone good health. I pray that soon enough, we will see each other at shul.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Howard Morrison

Mon, 6 April 2020 12 Nisan 5780