About Me

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.
Friday, March 26, 2010

Passover has come!!!!

This Shabbos is called Shabbos HaGadol, the Great Shabbos. Shabbat HaGadol is on the Shabbat immediately before Passover. There is a special Haftarah reading on this Shabbat of the book of Malachi.

Various reasons are given for the name of this Shabbat:

1) The Midrash Rabbah states: “When they (the Jewish people) set aside their paschal lamb on that Shabbat, the first-born gentiles gathered near the Israelites and asked them why they were doing this. The following was their response: “This is a Pesach offering to G-d who will kill the firstborn Egyptians.” They (the firstborn) went to their fathers and to Pharaoh to request that they grant permission to send the Jewish people free – but they refused. The first-born then waged a war against them and many of them (the Egyptians) were killed. This is the meaning of the verse (Psalms 136:10): “Who struck Egypt through its first born; for His kindness is eternal”.

2) The Tur states: The lamb was the Egyptian deity. Many Jews, after 210 years of immersion within Egyptian civilization, had also adopted this animal as their god. When G-d commanded that a lamb be set aside and tied to the bed for four days in anticipation of sacrifice, the Jewish people abandoned their idolatrous practice and courageously fulfilled this mitzvah in the eyes of the Egyptian people, thereby demonstrating their complete trust and faith in G-d. Nothing could have been more abominable to the Egyptians, for their god was to be slaughtered. Nevertheless, miraculously the Egyptians were unable to utter a word or lift a hand. They watched helplessly as their god was being prepared for slaughter. This miracle was a great miracle (nes gadol) and gives this Shabbos it’s name.

3) Rabbi David ben Joseph Abudarham writes: In the Haftorah of the Shabbos prior to Pesach we read the possuk [Malachi 4:5]: “Henei Anochi Shole’ach Lochem Es Eliyahu Hanavi Lifnei Bo Yom HaGadol V’hanorah.” This reason places Shabbos HaGadol in the same category as Shabbos Chazon, Shabbos Nachamu, and Shabbos Shuva for their name is derived from the Haftorah.
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Giving with Joy: The Other Half of Our Mitzvos

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Coins of Fire

“This is what everyo9ne who is included in the census must give, half a shekel…” (Shemos 30:13)
The Torah obligates every Jew to contribute half a shekel each year to the Bais Hamikdsoh. Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu had difficulty understanding this mitzvah. Hashem clarified the nature of this mitzvah to him by showing him a matbeiah shel aish, a coin made of fire.
Moshe Rabbeinu was the only person who was ever granted the ability to speak face-to-face with the Al-mighty. He was able to fathom the deepest and most intricate aspects of the Torah. Why, then was the mitzvah of machatzis hashekel (giving of the half-shekel) so difficult for him to grasp?
Even more baffling is Hashem’s response. A matbeiah shel aish would seem to have nothing to do with helping Moshe Rabbeinu out of his confusion. How did showing Moshe a coin of fire resolve his difficulty?
In truth, during the give-and-take between Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu, a very deep concept was revealed. Moshe Rabbeinu could not fathom why both a poor person and a rich person should be obligated to make the identical donation. Why wasn’t the wealthier individual asked to contribute more?
Hashem answered Moshe’s question by showing him a coin made of fire. The matbeiah shel aish symbolized the giving of tzedakah with burning passion. Hashem was showing Moshe Rabbeinu that, although in the giving both were equal, the complete fulfillment of the mitzvoth was achieved only through the enthusiasm that each person put into it.
Besides this clear indication of the passion one must have while performing mitzvos, there is another aspect of this association. Fire is an element that cannot be held or contained. Similarly, giving tzedakah with all one’s heart is a subtle act that has no physical manifestation and can be gauged only in the spiritual realm.
While the amount to be given for machatzis hashekel is the same for everyone, the level of devotion and joy each person experiences is very individual, different from that which anyone else experiences. Everyone, on his own level, infuses his mitzvos with unique intentions. Thus, the completion of the mitzvah of machatzis hashekel can be achieved only when one’s heart is focused on it completely.
In truth, this concept applies to all the mitzvos. Two Jews can daven the exact Shemoneh Esrei, both uttering the identical words, yet their mitzvos are worlds apart. One Jew experiences a deep connection to his Creator, while the other might be thinking about his personal needs and might be greatly distanced from Hashem.
Every mitzvah that a Jew performs is only half the fulfillment of Hashem’s Will. It is completed only with the fire that he infuses into it, the love and devotion he feels toward Hashem while he is performing the mitzvah. Indeed, the yeitzer harah, will allow us to perform mitzvos, but it will invest tremendous effort into marring our intentions and divesting our mitzvos of any genuine sincerity and joy.

Fearing Hashem

The Medrash tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem, “How will I be remembered for generations?” and Hashem responded that he would be eternalized through the machatzis hashekel.
This Medrash is most puzzling. The entire Torah is called Toras Moshe. What specifically does the machatzis hashekel add to Moshe’s status?
In fact, Moshe Rabbeinu was merely the intermediary between the Jewish people and Hashem. Yet, following Hashem’s directive to perform mitzvos together with the “fire” of the machatzis hasekel, he delivered the Torah with such intense awe that all subsequent generations have felt its effect. This was his personal contribution to kabbalos haTorah.
The posuk sates (Devorim 10:12). “What does the Al-mighty, your G-d, ask of you other than to fear the Almighty, your G-d…?” Chazal comment: “Is fear such a small thing? Yes for Moshe Rabbeinu, fear is considered a small thing.”
The Vilna Gaon explains that this Gemara is telling us that for anyone who was connected to Moshe Rabbeinu, fear was a small thing. Yiras Shomayim was Moshe’s very essence and it could be felt in everything he did. Moshe Rabbeinu’s contribution to the giving of the Torah was the elevated level of fear that he injected into the experience.

Partner’s in Torah

While all tzedakah is important, supporting Torah learning is especially significant. A person who supports a talmid chacham and forms a Yissochar-Zevulun partnership with him is entitled to half his reward, when he gets to the Next World, he will see all the fruits of this endeavor.
One would think that entering such a partnership would cause the “Yissochar” who is studying Torah, to lose out, but the Ohr Hachaim revelas that this is not the case. Even though the “Zevulun” receives half the reward of his partner’s Torah study, the “Yissochar” does not lose anything.
This concept is hinted to in the shekel coin used for hekdesh, which had a special halachah. Unlike other shekel coins, the one of hekdesh was twice the value of the normal shekel coin. By doubling the value of this coin, the Torah shows that someone who consecrates his money to be used for holy purposes does not lose anything. Even after he contributes a shekel to tzedakah, he is still left with the full value of a shekel.
The Vilna Gaon, on the other hand, understood that a talmid chacham who makes a partnership with a “Zevulun” does forfeit his reward. Even so, the Gaon did not see this as a reason for someone who is learning Torah and needs financial support to hesitate about entering into such an agreement. It is worthwhile to lose out on one’s reward in order to be able to devote oneself totally to Torah study and grow that much closer to Hashem.
Every mitzvah should be performed with love, fear, joy, passion and great devotion. This is the message of the machatzis hashekel. All of our mitzvos are half-entities, and it is up to us to complete them.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Battling Amaleik

Anonymous said...

Battling Amaleik is like our own Yetzar Hara.

Rabbi Coffman responds: Amaleik brought doubt into the world. Doubt there was anything supernatural that exists or ever did exist.

We live in an "automatic" world where natural things occur. I heard a great rabbi once say, "What is the difference between miracles and nature? Frequency" Many of us take this world for granted.

We don't even realize what we have here and all the goodness that G-d does for us.
Amaleik takes G-d right out of picture. The motto for Amaleik is "Stuff happens because stuff happens!!"

We need to train ourselves and see G-d everywhere in the world. In this world of hester panim (where G-d has hidden Himself), it is very hard to see Him in what we see as chaos.

Everyday we have to make the effort to see G-d's existence and how He runs the world. Through the learning of Torah and keeping the mitzvos, we must make them as real as possible, to bring G-d more into our everyday life.

Why don't Jews come and make Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael

Anonymous said...

What happens to a Jew still living in the diaspora? Why is it that they are not moving into the land that was given?

Rabbi Coffman responds: Many people will give different reasons as to why they don't live in the land of Israel. One reason may be because of the difficulty of making a living in Israel; another reason could be that they will learn Torah better in the Diaspora; others have elderly parents and they can't leave them.

There is a disagreement between the Rambam and the Ramban as to whether one of the 613 commandments is to live in the land of Israel or not. Many great rabbanim, the Vilna Gaon included, couldn't get to the land of Israel for various reasons.

There are many variables that make up the equation in such a difficult question. Education for kids is not a simple matter. If one's child is over the age of 10, a competent rabbinical authority must be chosen to deal with such a question.

Even with all these important factors, living in Israel is not an option for many because it is just easier to live in the Diaspora.

If one lives in a community with ample Torah schools, kosher amenities...etc. why would one want to live in the land of Israel?

Rav Mordechai Pogromansky, the Telzer ilui, when Rav Sternbuch told him that he wanted to go and live in Israel, Rav Pogramansky told him to be careful because when you live in the palace of the king, you have to raise yourself to a higher spiritual level because the king will demand more from you there.

It is physically harder in Israel and one has to get used to a European/Middle Eastern mentality, which for many Westerner's is very difficult to adapt.

While we would like all our brethren to come back to G-d's chosen land, many are just not able to come for reasons already mentioned and for some, they just have no interest to be there.

Rav Sternbuch's father used to say, better be a Jew in the Diaspora who desires to come and live in the land of Israel than a Jew in Israel who desires to live in the Diaspora
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Living for Others: A Gadol’s Responsibility to Klal Yisrael

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Erased from the Torah

“Why isn’t Moshe Rabbeinu’s name mentioned in Parshas Tetzaveh? When Klal Yisrael sinned and Hashem threatened to wipe them out, Moshe said, “If You do so, then wipe me out from the Torah” (Shemos 32:33). The Zohar (Pinchas 286) explains that the curse of a chochom is fulfilled even If the conditions are not met. Therefore, Hashem removed Moshe Rabbeinu from Parshas Tetzaveh” (Baal Haturim, Shemos 27:2)
The words of the Zohar, as cited by the Baal Haturim are quite astounding Moshe Rabbeinu was moser nefesh to defend the Jewish people, and agreed to have his name wiped out from the Torah in order to ensure their perpetuation. Why was he punished for such a seemingly noble act?
What makes this even more difficult is that we find that the Zohar criticizes Noach for his lack of initiative in defending his generation. So much so that the Zohar calls the Mabul “mei Noach, the waters of Noach.” Instead of condemning Moshe Rabbeinu for his defense of the Jewish people, the Torah should praise him for his actions.
We can understand Moshe Rabbeinu’s absence from Parshas Tetzaveh on a completely different light. Gedolei Yisrael, the Torah leaders of each generation, are obligated to be moser efesh to give up everything for the sake of Klal Yisrael. They must go out on a limb for the Jewish people even if it means losing out in their lives.
While this principle is certainly true regarding sacrificing personal comfort, it even extends to spiritual endeavors. Each day in Krias Shema, we proclaim that we must serve Hashem with all of me’odechah, literally our possessions. The Chofetz Chaim explains that this refers to that which is the most (me’od) important to us, namely, willingness to make spiritual sacrifices for the sake of Klal Yisrael.
While every Jew must be ready to give up everything for the sake of the Jewish people, for Gedolei Yisrael, forgoing their personal growth for the sake of the nations as a whole is part of their essence. Willingness to sacrifice their own spiritual ascension shows that they are completely sincere and dedicated to their work; this is the litmus test whether they have truly given themselves over to Hashem’s will completely.
Chazal tell us that even when a person leaves this world, if his name is mentioned in the context of his learning, then sefasayim dovevos bakever, it is as if he is still alive and learning Torah in this world. Moshe Rabbeinu’s suggestion that he be removed from the Torah was the greatest act of spiritual self-sacrifice that a person could ever offer. Moshe was ready to give up this possibility for eternal reward throughout all the generations in order to ensure the perpetuation of the Jewish people.
In this light, the removal of Moshe Rabbeinu’s name from Parshas Tetzveh is an accolade and not a criticism. It is a reminder of his great self-sacrifice, and a lesson to all future Jewish leaders. Gedolei Yisrael must be willing to follow suit and relinquish some of their spiritual growth for the sake of Klal Yisrael.

A Father of the Jewish People

Moshe Rabbeinu taught us that a Jewish leader must give himself over to the people. A gadol is a father to Kal Yisrael and must fulfill his role accordingly. While he must be willing to sacrifice himself for everyone’ needs, he must put in extra effort for those who cannot take care of themselves.
Once, a local rov visited the great gaon, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt”l. Rav Chaim asked him what he considered the role of a Jewish leder. The rov responded that such a person is obligated to worry about the kashrus, chinuch, mikvaos and eruvin of the town where he holds his position.
Dissatisfied with his answer, Rav Chaim pressed, “Is there anything else?” The rov thought for a minute, trying to think of any other halachic responsibilities that he might have omitted. He could not think of anything else, and replied that this seemed to be it.
Rav Chaim told him that he had forgotten on his most important jobs – to care for the orphans and widows in his town. AS the leader of his community, it was the rov’s obligation to ensure that individuals who had no one to worry about them were taken care of. Rav Chaim Ozer practiced what he taught and was known as the father of all orphans and widows in Klal Yisrael.

Personal Roles

While it is a great privilege to have the opportunity to give to the Jewish people, each person must know what his personal role is. One Jew’s job might be to be involved with kiruv rechokim, bringing back his brethren who have strayed from the truth of Torah. A different person’s role is to learn diligently and become a talmid chochom.
Taking the wrong role is a serious offense. The Gemara in Maseches Eruchin writes that a Levi who was meant to sing, yet instead locked doors, or vice versa, was obligated to be killed. Each person must take advice from rabbonim as to which role is best suited for him.
At first glance, the jobs that put a person in the limelight and present opportunities to affect the masses seem the most attractive. The Chazon Ish, however, that quality can override quantity. One true Talmud chochom can have a tremendous impact on the Jewish people just by his own private learning in his home or bais medrash.

Have a Heart

Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu that the workers he should find to construct the Mishkan must be chachimei lev – those who have “wisdom of heart.” Intelligence is generally associated with the mind, so it is surprising to find it here connected with the hart. What is the deeper meaning of this phrase?
While using one’s mind is one of the hallmarks of a Jews, it is not enough. We must infuse our actions with emotion and fervor as well. The combination of chochmah and lev produces truly outstanding results.
Whatever role a Jew assumes in Klal Yisrael, he should carry it out with much thought as well as passion. Putting one’s mind and heart into his actions show true commitment to what he is doing. All Jews should strive to be chochom lev, to reach the full synthesis of mind and emotion in all they do.