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, June 25, 2010

Reconciling Opposites: Parah Adumah Helps Us Understand the Current Situation in Eretz Yisrael

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Utilizing Arrogance

Parah adumah is the chok of the Torah, for it simultaneously purifies the impure and makes the pure impure. While even Shlomo Hamelech could not fathom the full depths of this seemingly contradictory functioning, this mitzvah alludes to very deep concepts that even we can appreciate.
In the application of the parah adumah we find more opposites. The parah (cow) was first burned and mixed with water, and then applied with the branches of a cedar tree (erez), hyssop (ezov) and scarlet (tolas). The cedar tree is the tallest of all plants and hints tot the attribute of gaavah, haughtiness, while hyssop and scarlet are from the smallest of shrubs and are reminiscent of anava, humility.
Arrogance is extremely harmful, and is generally considered to be one of the worst middos. However, in certain situations, there is a place for it, and it can be harnessed for the good. If used properly, it can help elevate a person to the highest levels.
When a person starts learning Torah, there is a massive amount of knowledge in front of him, but he knows almost nothing. Looking objectively at his own talents versus the challenges that lie ahead of him could cause him to drop the whole endeavor and give up. At this point a person is allowed to feel a certain amount of haughtiness, for this can act as an impetus to push him to be a gadol baTorah (a great Torah sage)
Once a person has acquired a certain amount of Torah knowledge and recognizes what it means to be a talmid chochom, he should try to reverse his feelings. At this point, he should work on humility and recognize how minuscule he is vis-à-vis his Creator and the rest of the Torah that lies in front of him. This attitude will give him ore siyata diShemaya (heavenly help) and help him achieve much higher levels of Torah understanding.
Using the above concepts, the Baal Shem Tov explained what is hinted to in the seemingly contradictory nature of parah adumah. Arrogance has the power to purify the impure at the beginning of their endeavor to become a talmid chochom. Overestimating one’s abilities will save a person from the feeling of despair that he will never achieve anything.
However, once a person has reached a level of understanding regarding what Torah is really meant to be – once he has attained some purity – then haughtiness becomes a dangerous attribute. At this point, the very same attribute that he initially used to elevate himself in his Torah learning – to purify the impure – can now cause him to become impure and to plummet to the lowest depths. He should try to swing to the opposite extreme and work on humility.

Danger or Protection

We can understand the seemingly contradictory nature of the parah adumah in another light. Chazal reveal that Torah can be a sam hachaim, an elixir of life, or a sam hamovess, a deadly poison. When a person recognizes that Torah is the word of Hashem, and he uses his learning to bring himself closer to his Creator, then Torah has life-giving qualities. Even someone who is currently considered impure, as a result of transgressions, can be elevated to the highest level.
However, if a person learns Torah as would any other wisdom, Torah becomes extremely dangerous. A person can use his knowledge to embarrass others and transgress in various ways. Even a tzaddik can become impure as a result of learning Torah with corrupt intentions.
Based on this, we can understand another difficult parsha of the Torah. Chazal tell us that when Ysiro offered Moshe Rabbeinu the chance to marry his daughter Tziporah, he made a stipulation that their first child should become a priest to idol worship. After Yisro gave up a life of idolatry, how could he request that his grandchildren follow the same path that he abandoned?
Yisro recognized the danger of learning Torah for the wrong reasons. He felt that one should first try and grasp the futility of all other paths. Once a person comes to the understanding that all other ways are wrong and that Torah is the way to properly live one’s life, then he could embark on learning Torah with the correct attitude without running the risk of it being a sam hamovess.
Although Ysaro was correct in his perception of learning Torah for the right reasons, his methodology was mistaken. First, a person must internalize “ain k’Elokeinu” – that there is no other power in the world aside from the Almighty – and only then can he grasp “mi k’Elokeinu,” the deeper understanding of his existence. A person who starts off his search for truth by trying to negate all of the mistaken ideologies that exist in the world might be drawn after them in the process and wind up actually more distanced from Torah.

Difficult Questions

People who follow Yisro’s ideology and have not completely internalized “ein k’Elokeinu” might ask, “Where was the Almighty during he Holocaust? How could He stand by silently during the slaughter of millions of Jews, including women, children and cripples?” These and other similar questions plague them and do not allow them to achieve complete emunah.
“His (the Almighty’s) thoughts are not ours,” His thoughts are not on the same plane as ours, and we cannot hope to fathom the depth of His intentions. We must realize that just as we cannot comprehend the parah adumah, we cannot achieve a complete understanding of Hashem’s ways in this world.
The Chofetz Chaim compares this to an out-of-town guest who comes to shul for Shabbos. He sees aliyos being handed out, and at first glance, he thinks it is random and concludes that there is no reasoning behind this allotment. Why is a simple person receiving an aliyah, while an esteemed rov is not honrored?
The Chofetz Chaim explains that the confused guest does not realize the broader spectrum of what is going on in that shul. Next week, the rov is making a bar mitzvah for his son and will receive an aliyah then. The simple person has not been called up to the Torah in the past six months and is therefore getting an aliyah this Shabbos.
So, too, explains the Chofetz Chaim, we are not in touch with the full gamut of what is taking place in this world. We see life through our narrow perspective, but in truth, the picture is much broader. Only by accustoming ourselves to recognize the limitation of our vision can we hope to come to terms with life as we see it.

Eretz Yisrael

In our days, we must also reconcile opposites and deal with difficult questions of emunah. Jews come to Eretz Yisrael to seek out a life of kdedusha vetaharah (holiness and purity), and to try to give their children the best possible chinuch (education) of how a Jew should live his life. They are willing to live simply in order to be able to serve Hashem in His home.
In the midst of this mesirus nefesh, they find that they are thwarted by the secular government in achieving their goals. Last week, forty-three parents from Moshav Emamanuel were thrown in jail because they desired a higher level of chinuch for their children. The secular court system justified this verdict, claiming that halacha and the words of gedolei Torah must bow in the face of their ruling.
In another incident, Rav Sternbuch was violently attacked by police officers who shot gas directly in the rov’s face. The rov could not see for ten minutes and needed medical attention even afterward, but, bechasdei Hashem (with G-d’s Mercy), no lasting damage was caused. How can we understand why in Eretz Yisrael, in the palace of the King, such atrocities take place?
Rav Mordechai Pogromansky said that right before the coming of Moshiach, the final nisyonos (trials) will be regarding Eretz Yisrael. The Almighty will test whether the Jews living there are completely given over to His will. Those who successfully overcome these challenges and are faithful to Him will merit redemption.
Hashem’s eyes are not on those misguided individuals who are imposing these restrictions. Rather, His eyes are focused on how we will strengthen ourselves under this persecution and use these incidents to solidify our emunah. May we see the implementation of the true Torah leadership in Eretz Yisrael quickly.