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Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rav Sternbuch on Parshas Vaera: Behind the Miracles:Internalizing the Message of the Makkos

Behind the Miracles: Internalizing the Message of the Makkos
By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

The following was written by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis based on a drasha given on leil Shabbos by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah Chareidis of Yerushalyim.

Injections of Fear

The Torah describes the miracles that the Almighty performed for the Jewish people in Mitzrayim. First, Moshe Rabbeinu comes before Paroh and his staff transforms into a snake. After Paroh downplays this sign, the Almighty turns all of the water in Egypt into blood. After that, He brings a swarm of frogs into Mitzrayim. Eight more plagues followed, each one completely unique.
When we take a closer look at these miracles, we might wonder what the reason for them was. The Egyptians were masters of sorcery and their magicians could do tricks that appeared similar to some of the miracles that the Almighty performed. What was so special about the makkos (plagues)?
Miracles do not automatically change the way people think. While melachim (angels) are compelled to serve their Master, man has free choice. Every miraculous occurrence comes along with an alternative explanation in order to give us the choice to err in our assessment of the situation.
Mitzrayim was a place where many people knew enough magic to apparently manipulate the course of nature. The Almighty’s miracles alone did not shock the Jewish people and therefore did not provide an immediate boost for our faith. However, there was an element of the makkos that changed Klal Yisrael as a nation.
The Haggadah Shel Psach tells us that every miracle was accompanied by yad chazakah, a strong hand, zeroyah netuyah, an outstretched arm, and morah gadol, great fear. All of these phrases describe the same thing; manifestations of the Almighty’s awesome might. Every miracle in Egypt was accompanied by an “injection” of fear of G-d, which caused these wonders to have a huge impact even on people who were accustomed to seeing spectacular magic tricks.

Yiras Shomayim

The Torah writes that those Egyptians who feared the word of the Almighty brought their animals in during the plagues. At first glance, this pasuk surprises us. How is it possible that the Mitzrayim were G-d fearing?
There is a distinct difference between a person who is G-d fearing and someone who has yiras Shomayim. An individual who is G-d fearing only retains that attitude when the Divine Presence is revealed to him. The moment that the Almighty goes back to hiding Himself, the G-d fearing person will forget all about Him.
Yiras Shomayim is a more subtle concept. Someone who has yiras shamayim fears the Almighty at all times, even when he is not experiencing a revelation of the glory. This exalted level can only be attained by Klal Yisrael and not by the other nations of the world.
As we get closer and closer to the coming of Moshiach, the Almighty is revealing Himself with greater frequency through open miracles, catastrophic natural disasters, and other demonstrations of His infinite might. Those who fear G-d are temporarily moved by these displays of might, but quickly revert to their old habits with the passing of these incidents from the headlines. Those who have yiras Shomayim and are able to maintain their feelings of awe in the long term will escape the tribulations of chevlei Moshiach.
In the Birkas Hachodesh that is recited in shul before Rosh Chodesh, we mention yiras Shomayim twice. One time we add yiras cheit, fear of transgression, and once we say yiras Shomayim without any additions. What is the difference between these two descriptions?
These two descriptions refer to the two different types of Divine fear. Yiras Shomoayim by itself refers to an appropriate level of fear that is experienced as a result of the Divine Presence being revealed. However, yiras cheit is a constant sense of awe that can only come from Torah study and working to internalize the level that we reach when seeing and contemplating the Almighty’s miracles.

Immune Fear

There was one person who did not receive an injection of fear when observing the miracles. The Almighty hardened Paroh’s heart, allowing him to see things at face value. Consequently, these spectacular demonstrations of Divine power did not move him. For him, these miracles were no different than any of the other magic tricks that his sorcerers performed daily.
This is a typical reaction of a rosha when shown the truth. Instead of admitting the error of his ways, he stands firm in his foolishness. This can lead him to act illogically and against his own best interest.
During World War II, the great rasha, Hitler, ymach shemo vezichro (may his name be blotted out) showed us just such behavior. The Allies were advancing on the Germans, and the army asked him for more trains to carry supplies to the front rather than transporting Jews to their death in the camps. Seemingly, this was a very logical request for supplies were essential in their bid to regain the upper hand in the war.
Hitler responded with great fury: “Don’t you realize how important it is to rid the world of the Jews?” Even as he was witnessing his own destruction unfolding, his passion for evil blinded him to his own folly.

The End of Days

In Mitzrayim the Almighty performed miracles that clearly; showed that only He controls the world. Seeing these displays of Divine might instilled yiras Shamayim into the Jewish people. Yet this pales in comparison to the clarity and fear that we will experience in the days of Moshiach.
“I took you (Klal Yisrael) to be My nation, and I manifested Myself as Elokim to you, I am Hashem Elokim.” Sometimes the Almighty shows Himself to the world as Elokim, i.e. strict justice. In other instances, we see Him as Hashem, as He sends us overflowing mercy and kindness.
On the surface, this world presents itself to us as a mixture of Divine justice and mercy. Why are some people poor and others wealthy? Why are some gifted and others lacking in intelligence? Why do some have an easy life and others suffer? These are some of the many questions that we often ask when trying to comprehend G-d’s way in this world.
Yet, as the pasuk tells us, “Hashem Elokeichem is true.” In reality, there is absolutely no contradiction between the Divine attribute of mercy and that of strict justice. The two abide together in complete harmony, even though we are not expected to understand this. There is no “good” or “bad,” only truth.
Rav Chaim Brisker said that in the End of Days, the Almighty will answer these questions. Each person will find out how everything that happened in his life was precisely designed to serve his individual needs. At that moment, every individual will experience great trepidation when he sees how he squandered many of the opportunities that the Almighty graciously offered him.
As we read these parshiyos in the Torah, we can learn from the Almighty’s actions what is in store for us at the End of days. Now we can prepare ourselves, to ease the shock that will surely come. May those days come soon, and may we be prepared adequately to experience the joy that will accompany them.