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 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.