Volume 45 Number 98
                    Produced: Sat Nov 27 22:14:41 EST 2004

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

Coming late to  shul
         [Robert Tolchin]
Relationship between Halachic development and Kabalah (4)
         [Avi Feldblum, Stan Tenen, Binyomin Segal, Allen Gerstl]


From: Robert Tolchin <tolchin@...>
Date: Fri, 26 Nov 2004 11:32:11 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Coming late to  shul

I've been watching the dialogue on the topic of coming late to shul, and
feel compelled to interject my two cents - as a person who basically
never comes to shul at the appointed time.

What strikes me is the utter abandonment of the concept of dan lekaf
zechut (judging your fellowman with benefit of the doubt). Folks here
are quick to condemn latecomers, judging them inconsiderate at best, and
ignorant and/or deliberate violators of halacha at worst. The
motivations of latecomers have been questioned; their excuses
rejected. For example, the excuse that someone has small children at
home to deal with is rejoined by pointing to an individual who's always
on time who has many small children at home.

Ignored is the fact that everyone lives and labors under different
circumstances. The challenges that Hashem gives each of us are
different. The fellow with small children who comes on time may have
exceptionally well behaved children and a wife or babysitter of strong
constitution so that his presence at home is not needed. He may also,
chas veshalom, have an unpleasant and contentious home life, which is
what motivates him to get out of the house and come to shul early - so
that his early arrival in shul which people here aspire to emulate is
actually a quite unenviable situation. In comparison, the fellow who
comes late because of his children may have a difficult situation at
home, such as difficult children, a wife who is having trouble coping,
sickness, financial difficulties, etc., and as such may have a perfectly
valid reason for coming late.

I was once criticized quite harshly by a newly married member of my shul
with no children because my daughters (then aged 1 and 3) made a bit of
noise during Shabbat Shacharit. What she didn't know was that my wife,
who was 7 months pregnant, was actually in the hospital with pneumonia
and a partially collapsed lung. I was all alone with the kids, and it
was a difficult time to boot. Following the precept of dan lekaf zechut
would have been a wiser course for her to have followed rather than
jumping to a conclusion and judging me harshly.

And yes, I come late to shul. I have three children. One is status post
enteroviral sepsis with multi-organ involvement and encephalitis (that
means he had a bad viral infection that almost killed him when he was 3
weeks old and left him with periventricular leukomalacia). He has
special needs and requires a lot of attention. Even if there's nothing
particular going on, my wife and I often relish a chance to relax a bit,
even if that means coming late to shul.

They say that before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in
his shoes. Before you judge someone, try to understand his
tzuris. Better yet, worry about how you can improve yourself, and let
your fellowman worry about his problems.

People with grave problems in their lives rarely wear signs advertising
their situations. They look like everyone else. Often, only the people
involved in their situations know what is going on. Bear this in mind
before you judge people harshly.

I want you to consider a different perspective.

One time I was in a wine store in Borough Park, Brooklyn. I was chatting
with the proprietor, a very affable Chasidic survivor of a Nazi death
camp. After the War, he wound up in New York, and felt trapped since as
a poor immigrant he couldn't travel anywhere. As soon as he became
eligible for a passport, he traveled the world. He and I got into a
conversation about places we'd been to and places still not visited. I
mentioned that I'd received a brochure promoting a nudist town in
France, where everyone walks around nude. We both agreed that was a most
unusual phenomenon. I observed that even to visit that place would be
incongruous; I asked: "how could one put on talis and tefillin in the
morning, and then go walk around such streets." He responded that when
he was a young man in Budapest, he was once riding his bicycle with his
payos and tzitzit flapping in the wind. Someone criticized him for being
so unkempt. His reaction was to think how unperceptive that critic was,
as instead of focusing on what he was doing right in life - wearing
tzitzit and payos - he was focusing on what's wrong. About visiting
the nudist town (just a theoretical discussion, I assure you) he
observed that my perspective was likewise flawed in that I was focusing
on what was wrong with the picture, not what was right about the
picture - wearing talis and tefilin.

Let's apply this to the issue of people who come late to shul. You're
focusing on what they do wrong. Why don't you stop and think that
they're doing the right thing in the first place by coming? If someone
comes 20 minutes late to make a minyan and enables someone to say
kaddish, the bottom line is he has done a mitzvah, and has helped to
restore the sparks and improve the world. Go brood about that. Instead
of posting whining comments on the internet about how someone came late
to shul, tell the world about the holy man who helped his community by
being the tenth man in a minyan.

The point I am making was made much more eloquently in the I. L. Peretz
story "If Not Higher." You can hear it at
http://www.kcrw.com/jewish/frames/jss1.html. The point was also made by
Shlomo Carlebach's story "Schwartze Wolf," about a community that had
misjudged a man who they learned too late (after his death) had been the
head of the lamed-vav tzadikim; it turned out that all the negative
attributes they had ascribed to him were just reflections of their own
inequities. As Shlomo concluded: be careful how you judge people, since
"you never know."


From: Avi Feldblum <feldblum@...>
Date: Sat, 27 Nov 2004 22:03:19 -0500
Subject: Re: Relationship between Halachic development and Kabalah

From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
>Avi said:
>> I object to the statement that it is a "FACT" that Halacha descends
>> from Kabbalah (where Kabbalah is being defined as the Sod aspect of
>> Torah s'baal peh by Stan). I would not object to a statement that there
>> are traditional sources that may be of that opinion, but I do strongly
>> object to a statement that basically says to me that no one disagrees
>> with that statement.
>I wonder if Avi finds this "fact" objectionable the way I stated it. I
>realize there are issues of strands and schools of kabbalah - I am
>purposely avoiding those issues. But that the law is based on some
>spiritual reality seems to me to be very clear conceptually. Avi, do you
>think I am mistaken here?

My original posting was focused on the issue of Halachic development and
Kabbalah, which was based on Stan's original formulation. I think that
Binyomin and I agree that Halachic process and the mechanism of change
within Halacha, both during the period of the Sanhedrin as well as in
post-Sanhedrin times as defined by the Responsa literature, has been
largely independent of Kabbalah.

The issue that Binyomin addresses in part of this posting, and is asking
whether I find it "a fact" I think refers more to what could be
classified under 'ta'ami hamitzvot' - the 'reason' for mitzvot. This is
an area where I still would not agree that it is a "fact" but would find
much less objectionable.

As part of the discussion of ta'ami hamitzvot, is the question of what
is the fundimental nature of mitzvot as a whole. Here there are a number
of approaches. I'll list just a few, other members of the list can
likely add others.

1) [based on my understanding of Sefer Hamitzvot] The fundimental
purpose of Mitzvot are to improve our nature and character. Each
Mitzvah, in some way, by our performing the mitzvah, improves us as

2) It is fundimentally un-knowable what the purpose of mitzvot are. Our
only responsibility is to best understand what HaShem asks of us, and we
do it purely because HaShem requires it of us.

3) [This is basically Binyomin's position, I think] The fundimental
purpose of Mitzvot are to effect changes in a higher, spritual
world. This may be tied in to a concept of sheviras hakalem - the
shattering of the vessels.  Each individual act has an impact on this
spiritual world.

So even in the sense of ta'ami hamitzvot, I would argue that it is not
correct to say that everyone agrees that Kabbalah and/or a higher
spiritual reality is the underlying reason for the performance of

Avi Feldblum

From: Stan Tenen <meru1@...>
Date: Fri, 26 Nov 2004 09:17:55 -0500
Subject: Re: Relationship between Halachic development and Kabalah

I'd like to thank Binyomin Segal for his fine analysis and contribution
to the discussion in m-j v45 #93.

I pretty much agree, or at least go along with, almost all that he
writes.  (There, are, however, a few "devils in the details.")

I do have a couple of questions and clarifications.

First, I'm particularly pleased that Binyomin points out that the
Sephardic and Chassidic approach is more inclusive of Kabbalistic ideas
than the Ashkenazi Mitnagic approach.  My way of thinking is closer to
the Sephardic and Chassidic. (My essay, "Man Bites Dog" in B'Or HaTorah
is backed up by references from Tanya.)

>Binyomin Segal writes:
>If I understand Stan correctly here, his statement is clearly contrary
>to classic Orthodox belief. The written text was not completed and given
>to the Jewish people until 2488. The oral tradition, including what I
>think of as kabbalah, and Jewish law was given 40 years earlier in
>2488. Rav Hirsch (and others) says explicitly that the written text is
>meant as "class notes" to remind us of what we had received 40 years

Here, I think there's a misunderstanding. When I'm referring to the
written text, I'm referring to the letter-text of Torah.  I'm not
certain what Binyomin is referring to, but clearly the letter-text of
Torah has been fixed (whether known to the public or not) since Moshe at

Good Shabbos.


From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
Date: Fri, 26 Nov 2004 11:51:24 -0600
Subject: Re: Relationship between Halachic development and Kabalah

Stan Tenen writes:
> Here, I think there's a misunderstanding. When I'm referring to the
> written text, I'm referring to the letter-text of Torah.  I'm not
> certain what Binyomin is referring to, but clearly the letter-text of
> Torah has been fixed (whether known to the public or not) since Moshe
> at Sinai.

If you are talking about a letter-text with no spaces, I imagine it is
possible that this text was revealed to Moshe at Sinai. And while
certainly the general understanding is that the "Torah" was given at
Sinai, a careful look at the sources makes it clear that the Oral Torah
and the Decalogue were given at Sinai. The written text was not complete
till 40 years later. Indeed, there is a dispute whether the last eight
verses were penned by Moshe or Yehoshua.

Good shabbos all

From: Allen Gerstl <acgerstl@...>
Date: Fri, 26 Nov 2004 15:05:30 -0500
Subject: Re: Relationship between Halachic development and Kabalah

From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>

>What is perhaps most interesting to note about this is Rav Hirsch's
>insistence (see his discussion of symbols in Collected Writings vol 1)
>that all the details of a law shed insight into the philosophy of the
>law. That is, there is a philosophical reason why a sukka needs only 3
>walls. And if your philosophic understanding doesn't explain why that is
>true then your philosophy is flawed. That is, Rav Hirsch has essentially
>reversed the equation, halacha - in all its detail - is a source for
>kabbala. He does not suggest changing the law based on the philosophy,
>but changing the philosophy to fit the law.

There was a debate in two issues of Jewish Action (Summer, 1996 and
Fall, 1996) concerning the underlying intentions of RSRH in presenting a
rationalistic approach to the mitzvot (and an open acceptance of much of
the best of western culture).  Rabbi Shelmo Danziger in reviewing a new
edition of the Nineteen letters that included notes by Rabbi Josef Elias
criticized the more Yeshivish approach to Rabbi Hirsch by Rabbi Josef

In his Nineteen Letters and then in Horeb, RSRH took a rationlistic
approach to the purposes of the commandments and he divided them up into
the following categories (IIRC) according to their purposes as he
defined them:

Torot (fundamental underlyng principles), Edot (acts commemorating
events in Jewish history that contained teachings for us as to our
purpose), Mispatim (justice), Chukim (justice between man and the
creations of HKBH), Mitzvot (acts of loving kindness), Avodah (worship).

This is a rationalistic assignment of mainly worldly purposes to the
mitzvot. Conversely the kabbalah, while promoting ethical behaviour
between people considers mitzvot as in a large part given to allow us to
work to improve the spiritual realm. So because Rav Hirsch appears to be
almost entirely concerned with relating the purpose of the mitzvot to
this world (ofcourse this does not mean that there may not be multiple
purposes for the mitzvot) I do not agree with Binyomin that the effect
upon spiritual realms must necessarily be taken by all as the ultimate
purpose of the mitzvot.



End of Volume 45 Issue 98