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.
Thursday, April 29, 2010


Larry said...

There are two different schools of thought regarding Moshiach. So my question is what is the correct one........is it that we stay in Guelahs and hear the shofar then Moshiach will come and take us home (Eretz Yisrael)? Or is it that we go home first? So is Hashem waiting for us or are we waiting for him?

Rabbi Coffman responds: Great question! Which one is right, probably both. How so? According to one opinion, we shouldn't try and do anything to hasten Moshiach's coming. In other words, that is G-d's department, and when He feels that the time is right, then the Moshiach will come. Who are we to interfere.

On the other hand, there is an opinion that our actions will either make or break Moshiach coming. That means, if we do what we are supposed to do in our service to G-d then all will be well and nothing bad will happen as Moshiach will come. If not, then G-d will put up a king like Haman, and scare the wits out of the Jews to have them repent and Moshiach will come that way.

In either case, the question is shouldn't I just come to Israel. The answer is it depends on the situation. The Gemera tells us that Eretz Yisrael is only acquired with great difficulty. That means that even if one wants to go there, it certainly does not mean it will be easy. At the same time, there is no greater spiritual place to be in the world.

It is a tricky question that needs to be dealt with further

Shaking up the World: Protecting Ourselves from Natural Disasters

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Volcanic Eruptions and Earthquakes

Recently the world experienced one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in the past century. Ash shot up in the air, causing a billow of smoke ten kilometers high. This incident caused one of the greatest air-traffic delays in history, and the cancellation of thousands of flights. How can we understand the deeper meaning of this phenomenon?
The Torah wars us to distance ourselves from the ways of Egypt and Canaan. Rashi explains that these nations were steeped in immorality. Their licentious behavior was unparalleled by any other country in the world.
Mitzrayim governed a huge empire, which extended from what is today called Egypt all the way down to Africa. They were highly successful in the business world and seemingly reached the height of material and cultural success. The same was true regarding the seven nations that resided in the land of Canaan.
Even with all their material success, both of these great empires collapsed. Klal Yisrael, the tiniest of nations, successfully toppled them. The secret to our success was that we clung to purity, while they connected themselves with the worst abominations in the world.
Today, the nations have achieved control over the entire world to a greater extent than every before in history. Men have walked on the moon and information can be broadcast via television, satellite, internet, and so forth. These are just a few examples among myriad innovations which continue to expand rapidly, both in number and complexity. Seemingly, we have reached the pinnacle of success.
Mankind, however, has chosen to use this technology to increase immorality in the world. And, unfortunately, some members of Klal Yisrael have followed in their path and have been led astray. Hashem’s anger ahs been ignited.
“He looks on the earth and it trembles; He touches the hills and they smoke” (Tehillim, 104:32) The Yalkut Shemoni explains this posuk follows: When the nations misuse the world, Hashem punishes them measure for measure. Instead of letting life function normally, He shakes up the very fabric of existence, causing natural disasters, one after another.
Immorality causes the strongest reaction. The internet has brought depravity to new lows, and has made it possible to bring the vilest and most revolting images straight into our houses, causing the downfall of families and homes. As a result, Hashem has shaken the world with the recent earthquakes and now this volcanic explosion. Only He can know what is to follow if we do not try and mend the spiritual damage that has already taken place.
In Germany, prior to the Holocaust, the Jews felt that one should be a Jew at home, but a sophisticated, cultured person outside in “the world.” Jews went to work without covering their heads, rationalizing and justifying their actions. History has shown us the Divine reaction to such behavior.
A Jew must know that there is just one way that we can remain protected in a world filled with anti-Semitism. Only Torah and mitzvos can safeguard us from the great dangers that surround us. If we are pulled after the abominations that exist in the world – nowadays, on the internet, in particular – we will lose our protection, and we cannot know what the Divine response will be.

Purified by Hashem

“And on this day, You will forgive them and purify them from all of their transgressions, before Hashem you are purified” (Vayikrah 16:30).
We live in a world where impurity is rampant. There are few people who can say that they have successfully protected themselves from all of these negative influences. What can we do to bring ourselves back to where we must be?
Yom Kippur achieves more than forgiveness; it causes purification. What does this mean? A person who transgresses the will of the King has harmed himself in two ways. First, he has ruined his relationship with the King by losing favor in His eyes. He has also caused himself personal harm by soiling his neshamah with sin.
When a child does not heed the warnings of his parent and defiles himself, a good father will threaten to punish his son in order to direct him to the right path. The child cries to his father for forgiveness and assures him that he will mend his ways. Yet, even after all the tears and promises, the child is still dirty as a result of his actions.
So, too, when we transgress, we deserve punishment. When we cry to Hashem for forgiveness, He pardons us and forgets the punishment. Yet, we, our neshamos, still remain soiled with sin.
Yom Kippur is the day of the year that has been set aside for us to feel Hashem’s Presence and to reach this extreme level of purification. In truth, it is possible for us to continue living on this level and feel Him in our lives at all times. This is the mitzvah of shivisi Hashem lenegdi tomid, living with awareness of Hashem during every second of our lives.
When a person immerses himself in transgression, other impure sources will enter his life and cause him to become even more tamei. However, when he takes his life in his hands and decides to change himself, he is on the road to taharah (purification). If he follows this route, he will soon find himself a different person.

Kedushah through Kindness

“You should be holy, for I am sanctified to be Hashem, your G-d” (Vayikrah 19:2)
Chazal reveal the only way for us to safeguard ourselves from the dangers that are inherent before the coming of Moshiach. Involvement with Torah and acts of chessed is what will protect us. Seeing Hashem shake up the world via these natural disasters should inspire us to strengthen ourselves in these areas.
The Kli Yakar explains that the holiness of the Jewish people is intrinsically different from that of Hashem. Divine sanctity comes from separation from all worldly activity. Our holiness comes from interaction with people and helping others as much as we can.
When Rav Chaim Brisker would go to the marketplace, he would not wear his regular rabbinic garb, but would dress like a simple Jew. One time when he was walking home, passing by the train station, a Jew stopped him and asked him for directions to his lodgings in Brisk. Rav Chaim said that although he was not traveling in that direction, he would nonetheless go with him, in order to show him the way.
While they were walking, the Jew told Rav Chaim that he was very tired and asked Rav Chaim if he could carry his bags. Always happy to help another Jew, Rav Chaim consented. Fro the entire duration of their journey, Rav Chaim lugged this Jew’s belongings.
As they approached this man’s lodgings in Brisk, Rav Chaim apologized and said that he would have to give him the bags back to carry. The Jew argued that he had started the mitzvah and thus should finish it. Rav Chaim was adamant and remained firm that he could not longer aid him.
Rav Chaim returned the bags to the Jew who was traveling with him, and showed him where his host lived. Before he left, the traveler mentioned that he would like to visit the rov of the town, so Rav Chaim told him wehere his house was. They parted ways, and the guest settled into his lodgings.
A while later Rav Chaim heard a knock on his door, and there was the very same Jew who had asked him to carry his bags. The guest’s face turned red from embarrassment when he realized that the simple Jew who had carried his bags was none other than the renowned Rav Chaim Brisker, and he begged forgiveness from the rov. Rav Chaim calmed the man down, thanking him profusely for the opportunity to do a chesed for another Jew.
After the guest regained his composure, he asked Rav Chaim why, if he liked doing chesed so much, he didn’t carry the bags all the way to the home where he was staying. Rav Chaim replied that he realized that if this Jew’s host saw him walking with Rav Chaim while Rav Chaim was carrying his bags, he would scream at him for his behavior. In order to spare him from embarrassment, Rav Chaim gave him back the bags.
From here we can see that the greatness of Gedolei Yisrael is not limited to their Torah. When they perform chessed, they also use their brilliance to calculate how they can be of the absolute greatest help possible, taking every aspect into consideration. Gedolim understand that holiness is achieved by maximizing one’s ability to help others.
Non-Jews believe that the way to be holy is to emulate Hashem and separate oneself from others. Those who attempt to do this live secluded, and cut themselves off from worldly endeavors. The Jewish concept of holiness is that our holiness differs from that of Hashem; only through interaction can we achieve the kedushah that the Torah requires of us.
We are witnessing natural disasters on a regular basis lately, and their power seems to be increasing. Chazal ask what we can do to spare ourselves from the pangs of Moshiach and they answer that we should dedicate ourselves to Torah and chessed. By doing so, we can ensure that we will remain safe from these displays of Divine might and protect ourselves from what lies ahead.
Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Anatomy of Jewish Leaders: How Gedolim Deal with Tragedies in Klal Yisrael

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Consulting Gedolim

“And on the eighth day Moshe called Aharon and his children and the elders of Klal Yisrael” (Vayikar 9:1)
On the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Je4wish people are instructed to offer a number of sacrifices. Among the korbanos they brought were a calf and two goats. Chazal explain that the calf was to atone for the transgression of the Golden Calf and the two goats amended for the sale of Yosef Hatzaddik.
We can understand why, at this auspicious moment, it was crucial to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf. His action caused the Divine Presence to depart from the Jewish people and in order to bring it back, a sacrifice was definitely needed. But why, together with the calf, was it important to bring a korban for the sale of Yosef?
Yosef Hatzaddik was tried according to din Torah (the laws of the Torah) and it was ruled that he was trying to usurp the kingship of Yehudah and was, therefore, liable to the death penalty. However, before carrying out the verdict, the brothers should have taken one more action: they should have consulted with their father, Yaakov, to determine whether their ruling was correct and ascertain that they were not merely acting out of bitter feelings toward their brother.
The same principle is true regarding the transgression of the chet ha’Eigel. (sin of the Golden Calf) Had the Jewish people consulted first with Aharon, they would not have made a Golden Calf. By rushing to act without taking counsel, they were influenced by the Eirev Rav (mixed multitudes that came out of Egypt with the Jewish people) to completely throw off the yoke of Hashem.
Before inaugurating the Mishkan, both of these transgressions needed to be atoned for. The Jewish people had to learn that from now on, their actions should be guided by the wisdom of the Gedolei Yisrael, the great Jewish leaders of every generation. For this reason, the Torah stresses that Moshe and Aharon performed these sacrifices together with Ziknei Yisreal, the elders of Klal Yisrael.

According to the Generation

Once, when Nadav and Avihu were walking behind Moshe and Aharon, they commented, “When will these two old men die so that we can take over the leadership of the Jewish people?” Chazal reveal that it was this transgression that was the cause of the death of Aharon’s children (Sanhedrin 54a)
At first glance, the words of the Gemara are shocking. Even the basest and coarsest individuals would not make such a crass comment, let alone the completely righteous children of Aharon Hakohein. What was the deeper meaning behind their statement?
Moshe and Aharon were the humblest individuals that ever lived. Their great humility enabled them to withstand the complaining and misbehavior that the Jewish people engaged in on a regular basis. As long as they were the leaders of the generation, Moshe and Aharon would shoulder the burden of Klal Yisrael’s actions, and the Jewish people in turn, could “get away with” continuing to act improperly.
Nadav and Avihu, on the other hand, were disconnected from all worldly matters and had not connection with the intricacies of political management. They just did not possess the personalities to deal with internal strife and the sorting out of national issues on a daily basis as Moshe and Aharon did. Had Nadav and Avihu been the leaders of the Jewish people, they would not have been able to shoulder the misbehavior of Klal Yisrael.
In truth, Nadav and Avihu were not wishing that Moshe and Aharon would die. Rather, they were davening for the day that the Jewish people would act properly. This way, they would no longer need leaders who were willing to deal with all of the difficulties and strife in their interactions.
Despite their good intentions, their words were not completely free of bias. There was a certain element of self-glorification in their statement, a wish to take over the leadership of the Jewish people. Slight as it was, that hint of tainted intentions was the cause of both of their untimely deaths.

Positive Hesitation

“And Moshe told Aharon to draw close to the mizbeiach…” (Vayikra 9:7)
Why did Aharon need to be instructed to go close to the mizbeiach? Rashi explains that Aharon was embarrassed to take a leadership role for himself. Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu had to encourage him and reassure him that he had been chosen for this position of honor.
One might view Aharon’s hesitation as a show of weakness, in truth, it is just the opposite. One of the signs of a great Jewish leader is the hesitation to take responsibility upon himself, lest he not be worthy of this exalted role.
A young talmid chochom who had been selected to be the rov of a city approached the Chofetz Chaim to take counsel regarding his new position. He understood the level of learning that a rov should really have and felt that he was unworthy to take on such a role. The young man asked the Chofetz Cahim if he should, nonetheless, accept the job.
The Chofetz Chaim replied that his reluctance was proof that he understood the tremendous responsibility involved with being the rov of a city. If an issue came up that was beyond his grasp, he would surely speak to other rabbanim greater than he to help him resolve the question. His hesitation was the strongest proof that he was the right choice for the job.

Doing what’s right

Although a talmid chochom will tend to resist taking a position of honor, when it comes time to stand up for the truth, he will do so without hesitation. Even during the most difficult periods, he will strive to overcome all physical and emotional barricades in order to do what is right. All other concerns fall to the wayside and he only sees what the Almighty asks of him.
For example, the untimely demise of Nadav and Avihu was a shock to all of Klal Yisrael. Chanukas haMishkan (the inauguration of the Mishkan), which was supposed to be a time of great joy, was exchanged for a time of tremendous mourning. Understandably, this threw off the avodah of the other sons of Aharon HaKohen – the brothers of Nadav and Avihu – as well. But when Moshe Rabbeinu saw korbanos that they were permitted to eat even while mourning, he put his humility aside and reprimanded them for their actions. (Vayikra 10:17). Moshe Rabbeinu’s only concern was the truth. He could nto stand hesitation when it came to fulfilling the Divine will.
When Aharon told Moshe Rabbeinu that the halachah was not as he thought, Moshe did not try to cover up his error. He immediately admitted his mistake. He was not embarrassed to say that he had not heard this halacha from Hashem.

Divine Justice

“And Aharon was quiet” (Vayikra 10:3)
Witnessing the death of children is one of the most painful experiences that a parent could possibly endure. Yet, when Aharon’s two sons died, he did not react to what happened; rather he responded with complete silence. Chazal praise him for his ability to accept the harsh judgment of Hashem.
Most people cannot stand up to the brunt of middas hadin (strict Divine Judgment) so staunchly. The shock of bad news will inevitably throw them off and disrupt their Divine service. Only gedolim can follow in Aharon’s ways and accept such circumstances with peace of mind.
During the Holocaust, the Nazis took entire kehillos and slaughtered them. In one such incident, they allowed the rov of the community, Rav Baruch Karmarner, to speak beforehand. He related the following:
The Torah writes, “With my kerovim (close ones) I am sanctified and in front of all the people achaveid” (Vayikra 10:3). The simple translation of achaved is “I am honored”. Deaths of those who are close to Hashem exhibit His attribute of strict justice, as well as how exacting He is with those who are close to Him. However, the word achaveid can also mean difficult.
Based on this alternate translation, we can understand the words of the Torah in a different light. Only those who are close to Hashem can honor their Creator with silent acceptance of His strict justice, for most of the Jewish people, this is extremely hard.
Hashem has high expectations of the leaders of the Jewish people. They are meant to live a dual existence, on one hand shying away from honor, yet at the same time, staying firm and standing up for what is right. Even under the most adverse conditions, they are expected to cast all other consideration aside and focus solely on what Hashem wants from them. Happy is the nation who has been given such great leaders, and may we have the insight to consult them regularly.
Friday, April 9, 2010

After the Pesach Blues Revisited

Anonymous said...

Even though we are still in conversion process, but it gives us more inpsiration to be Jews......to be a part of the Jewish nation is huge for us. I can see why we have Pesach, to help us reach a higher level in hearing all the miracles. Thanks

Rabbi Coffman responds:

There is no greater night than the Passover Seder to give over the miracles of what transpired to the Jewish people in the land of Egypt. The seder is only the beginning! The whole week of Passover one can learn from the many Haggadot in the marketplace about the miracles of what happened in Egypt.

Not only that, one can learn about the miracles in the Torah as well, by go through the book of Exodus. In either case, the more we delve into the miracles and the more we make them real in our everyday life, the more we can appreciate all the things that G-d does for us.

Making the mitzvos of Hashem and all their details alive in our lives can transform us and help to reach our true potential!

Choosing a community

How does one choose a community that they wish to live in? One thing an individual must know is what are they looking for in a community? what religious standards do they want to follow and emulate?

Are they looking for something more Chassidic, Litvish, Modern orthodox? Unfortunately, we have too many labels within Judaism. Nonetheless, one must place themselves with some sort of community, as previously mentioned.

Even with that said, there are many different shades of these labels. One idea is to try and speak to as many people as possible about certain communities to try and get a feel for what it is like. Then, if they like what they hear, they should go try and visit.

Another important factor is about schools (if you have kids), the job market... What are the synagogues like there? Is there a kollel?

One cannot do enough research. Just like one would search for a place that would be good for their livelihood and physical aspects of their life, one should search for those spiritual aspects as well.

The most important thing is determining what level of observance you are at and then try and find a community that meets those requirements.

A rabbi who knows you well should be able to help and guide you

Rabbi Shopping

How does one go Rabbi Shopping or community shopping?

Rabbi Coffman responds:

How does one find a rabbi and search for a community? Better question: what makes someone a rabbi? Just like in any other profession, one has to take the requisite exams to become proficient in their field. Rabbinics is no different. One has to have the proper knowledge in Torah to receive Semicha (rabbinic ordination)

Passing the exams on the information at hand is one thing. Putting it into practicality is another issue. The first thing is that once one passes the exams, they need to know for themselves what they "really" know and when they need to go ask someone more knowledgeable then themselves.

The most important thing in choosing a rabbi like in any other profession is to see their credentials. The credentials here are where they learned, how long they have been learning for but even more importantly than that who they learned under and who is considered their Daas Torah.

Daas Torah here means who do they themselves go to when they have a question or do they go to anyone at all. Another criteria is what practical experience do they have and what their background is. Not every rabbi is for every person when it comes to asking personal advice.

When choosing a rabbi, a person should check their background, where they have been, what they have done and then take it from there.

The other issue is even if they meet the above criteria, how do you get along with them. Do they have a nice personality?

The gemara tells us that for someone to teach and have students, that person has to be similar to a malach (angel). If that person does not strive to reach that level or has other issues that make it difficult for one to listen to that person, then one should find another rabbi.

If someone was exemplary in his knowledge but had some shady financial deals or other bad character traits, would we want to get advice from them? Something to keep in mind
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The after Pesach Blues

Hope everyone had an amazing Pesach! Pesach is the time of year that we have the ability to tap into G-d's reservoir of special Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence). The seder night has the ability to transform us into the believers that we should be, bringing G-d into our lives and telling over the miracles to our children and family.

AS the month of Nisan comes to a close, we are reminded of how much work we still have to do. Many start the custom of refraining from listening to music or getting haircuts from just after Pesach. We are in mourning over the deaths of the students of Rabbi Akiva because they did not show honor one to another.

If the students of Rabbi Akiva were punished so severely because they did not show proper respect towards each other, what does that say about us and how much we have to raise ourselves against the pettiness that we find ourselves surrounded by.

There is also the custom during this time to learn the 48 kinyanim of Torah that the Mishnah in the Sixth Chapter of Pirke Avos talks about. Some learn one each day and think about it a little bit to see how we can exemplify that character trait and try and incorporate it into our lives.

These 48 kinyanim lead us to the holiday of Shavuos, the day that we accepted the Torah from G-d.

May we use these days properly and inspire ourselves to reach the potential that G-d has given to each of us