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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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Followers

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.
Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jurisprudence

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

PRIORITIZING

"Do not show favor in judgment, listen carefully to small and large cases, do not be afraid of anyone, for mishpot is in the jurisdiction of Elokim..."
Sefer Devorim starts off by describing the type of judicial system that we should establish. After listing a number of requirements, the Torah substantiates its requirements by writing that mishpot is in the jurisdiction of Elokim. What is the deeper meaning of this idea?

Moshe Rabbeinu is instructed to set up these courts, and to find judges who can decide cases between one Jew and another. On the surface, it might appear as though this mitzvah pales in comparison to Shabbos, kashrus, and other such Torah commandments that govern man's direct relationship with his Creator. These are the areas that would seem to deserve much more focus and attention.

For this reason, the Torah states the direct association between mishpot and Elokim. In connecting judicial law to His Divine name, the Torah is saying that someone who downplays the mitzvos involving interpersonal relationships should recognize that his actions are an affront to Elokim. This is why the neviim (prophets) repeatedly warned the Jewish people to make sure that they were not lax regarding this category of mitzvos.

UNPAID DEBTS

There is also a more hidden aspect to this association: On occasion, a person might come to bais din thinking that he has an open and shut case, one hundred percent sure that he will be victorious. Yet, when the p'sak is issued, it is actually his opponent who is rendered the victor. How can he come to terms with what seems to be a clear perversion of justice?

The Zohar explains that this is the deeper connection between mishpot and Elokim. At times, there are debts that need to be repaid from other gilgulim, i.e., previous occasions that we lived in this world. Through some minor financial losses in this world, Elokim makes sure that a person can go into the next world free of previous debts.

Every Jew who experiences seemingly undeserved suffering in this world should keep the above concept in mind. Nothing in this world is for naught. Any travails that a person experiences during his lifetimes lessen the necessity for punishment in the next world.

Rav Sternbuch remembers seeing Rav Mordechai Pogramansky during the last days of his life. Although Rav Pogramansky was stricken with stomach cancer, was already blind, and suffered from unbearable pain, he did not complain at all. On the contrary, he pleaded with Hashem that He should allow him to pay off all of his debts in this world and come to the next world clean.

Rav Pogramansky's actions are certainly an extremely high level and far beyond the reach of most Jews in this generation. Yet, there is an important message in his words, even for us today. All of Hashem's actions are just, and if we can swallow what He sends us, we will definitely be remunerated with acceptance in the next world.

IN THE SHADOWS OF CHURBAN HABAYIS

Perhaps the greatest punishment that the Jewish people have received as a nation was the destruction of both the first and second Botei Mikdosh. On Tisha B'Av, we spend the entire day recognizing this tragedy. Yet, our mourning goes far beyond that: Tisha B'Av is also the day to remember all of the many tragedies that Klal Yisroel has experienced throughout history.
The Medrash describes Tisha B'Av as a day of mourning and as a mo'ed, a festival. We can understand why Tisha B'Av is viewed as a sad day, given all of the travails we suffered on that day, but what about Tisha B'Av classifies it as a festival?
When the Bais Hamikdosh stood, Divine judgment was much stronger. Since we were able to witness constant miracles there, any doubt in emunah was considered a major breach in our relationship with Hashem. Transgressions during this time quite seriously aroused His anger, and the attribute of din was very prominent.
After the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, the full extent of the Shechinah's Presence is no longer felt. Because of this, Divine retribution is much less harsh. While His face is hidden, Hashem expects much less of us.
For this very reason, Tisha B'Av is also considered to be a festival. In today's world, where the Shechinah is almost completely veiled, any mitzvah we perform is considered a major accomplishment. Even the smallest act is looked upon as something extraordinary.

On the other hand, because there is so much impurity in the world, our transgressions are viewed as less serious. What once required many fasts and other forms of abstention to gain atonement can now be achieved with relative ease. The same destruction that is a reason to mourn can simultaneously be viewed in a different and more positive light.

As we approach the coming of Moshiach, we can strengthen ourselves by keeping the dual nature of this time in mind. We should never let the craziness of the world around us pull us into the abyss of modern day society. Our lowly state should not be a cause for depression. Rather, we should use it to lift ourselves up and empower ourselves to strive forward during this final chapter of Jewish history.

War Tactics: Fighting Midyan Teaches Us How to Wage Modern Day Battles

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Disguised Plans

In the parsha of the war with Midyan, we find a most unusual situation. Bilam, who was a Midyanite, advised Moav to send women to entice the Jewish people toward immorality,, and many of the men of Klal Yisrael were unable to stand up to his test. One would expect that the Moavites, who were the ones who committed this transgression, would be punished severely.
Instead of waging war with Moav, the Torah commands Klal Yisrael to destroy the nation of Midyan – men, women, and children. Only the females who were too young to engage in immorality were spared from punishment. Why did Midyan receive this harsh punishment, while Moav did not receive nearly anything as serious?
Bilam, who advised Moav to cause the Jewish people to sin, was the mastermind of the nation of Midyan. Instead of using his brilliance to better his people, he put all his effort into trying to destroy Klal Yisrael. As the ruler of Midyan, Bilam’s actions were representative of his whole nation, so they, too, were punished for their leader’s sins.
While Moav committed the actual transgression, Midyan’s actions were, in some respects, worse. By hiding themselves behind the mask of Moav, Midyan made themselves look clean. These are the most dangerous types of enemies, for without careful scrutiny, they cannot be recognized.
Such hidden enemies pose a great threat for innocent Jews who are not sufficiently cunning to uncover the real motivations behind these people’s actions. Before a person realizes what happened, he can get pulled in by seemingly pure intentions, until the victim’s spiritual life has been completely ruined. It is for this reason that Hashem commanded us to completely annihilate the nation of Midyan.

Wearing Tefillin

How does one fight such a cleverly disguised opponent? Since this was a spiritual battle, Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to find tzaddikim to wage war with Midyan. Otherwise, there would be a claim against the soldiers that since they themselves were not spiritually strong, how could they consider engaging in such a battle?
The Medrash in Ssir Hashirim (4:5) states that Moshe Rabbeinu was told to look for tzadikkim who always put on their arm tefillin before the head tefillin. Seemingly, there are many other mitzvos with much greater merit. Why was this particular one chosen as the litmus test for selecting appropriate soldiers?
Tefillin on the arm represent a person’s actions, while those on the head symbolize his thoughts and levels of comprehension. Some people’s deeds are limited by their level of understanding, and they cannot act if they do not have a complete grasp of a situation. Since the Torah is infinitely deep and it is impossible to arrive at a complete understanding, such individuals are severely handicapped in how much they can accomplish.
While tzaddikim also strive for a deep understand, they act even when they have not achieved total comprehension. They faithfully perform Hashem’s commandments even if they remain with unanswered questions. This was the level of the Jewish people at Har Sinai, when they said, “Na’aseh venishmah” – we will first do and only afterward will we fathom the depths of the commandments.
Putting on one’s head tefillin before that of the hand symbolizes the exalted level of “na’aseh venishmah.” When a tzaddik dons his arm tefillin before the head tefillin, he shows that his actions come first and they will not be interrupted because of intellectual disturbances. A simple action becomes a sign of deep commitment to one’s Creator.
In the war with Midyan, Klal Yisrael was commanded to kill nearly the entire nation, each of the men, women and children. The human mind cannot readily comprehend why innocent children have to be slaughtered because of the actions of their parents. Such thinking could cause one to hesitate in fulfillment of the Divine command.
Hashem wanted to completely uproot any trace of the evil that was so deeply rooted in the nation of Midyan. This is why He instructed us to wipe out every single one of them, barring very young females. Only a tzaddik who was not bothered by the outwardly moral and intellectual dilemma of such instructions could properly fulfill such a commandment.

Purging Evil

“As high as the heavens are from the earth, so too, is the distance between human comprehension and Divine wisdom.” Hashem recognizes the true most depths of every situation, including any evil inherent within it. For this reason, He ordered the complete destruction of Midyan and did not give this command in the fight against Sichon and Og.
In this light, we can understand the deeper meaning of that which the Torah instructs in this parsha regarding the mitzvah of hecsher keilim, removing non-kosher taste from utensils by boiling or firing them. The elements of issur (forbiddeness) within these items are invisible. We might not even know that they were there at all had the Torah not revealed this spiritual reality to us.
After committing such transgression of immortality intermingled with the nation of Moav, it is inconceivable that no trace of impurity would remain. Only a deep-rooted spiritual purge is capable of removing the traces of evil left behind. The Torah symbolizes this need by including the mitzvah of hagalas kelim in the parsha.

Hakoras HaTov


Moshe Rabbeinu sent PInchos to lead the battle against Midyan. Why didn’t he take on the responsibility himself? The Medrash explains that since Moshe Rabbeinu grew up in Midyan, he was afraid that his sense of gratitude would cause him to be merciful to his enemy.
Pinchos, on the other hand, had no previous connections to Midyan. By killing Zimri and Cozbi, he already proved himself worthy of fighting the battle against Midyan without taking any other factors into account. Moshe Rabbeinu was sure that he would wage this war with all of his heart.
Moshe Rabbeinu’s behavior proves his elevated level of spiritual sensitivity. He stepped down from his position of leadership fearing that he was incapable of complying one hundred percent with Hashem’s command. His decision showed that he was completely lesheim Shomayim in everything that he did.
Although this battle ended with Midyan’s defeat, the Jewish people continue to fight people who hide their true intentions. At times, they can be found within our own camp, and if we are not careful, we will be drawn in by their seemingly good intentions and follow in their ways. It takes great cunning and spiritual sensitivity to recognize who these dangerous people are and to determine how we can come out victorious in this battle without compromising our own spiritual growth.
Saturday, July 17, 2010

Deep Secrets: The Hidden Meaning of Klal Yisroel's Journey's Throught he Desert

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

More than Meets the Eye

“These are the journeys of the Jewish people...” (Bamidbar 33:1)
At first glance, Parshas Masei appears to be on e of the most uneventful parshiyos of the whole Torah. Why does the Torah have to tell us about all of the journeys that the Jewish people made during their time in the midbar (desert)? Furthermore, what is the point of giving names to all of the places where they rested?
The Raavad (Ediyos 2:9) explains that when Moshiach comes, the Jewish people will not be taken straight into Eretz Yisrael. As the novi Yechezkel writes, “I will take them through the desert of the nations.” Rashi on that posuk says that this refers to Klal Yisroel’s travels through the desert when they left Mitzrayim. What is the deeper connection between these journeys and the time of Moshiach?
From Rashi we see that all of the difficulties that the Jewish people endured during their travels in the desert left a lasting effect on the world, which will only be fully recognized when Moshiach comes. As a result of all of our traveling in the desert, Klal Yisroel gained the ability to survive the long journey through the golus, which is comparable to a midbar. These journeys gave us the tools that we need to be successful in all of the difficult nisyonos (tests) that we face during these trying times.
All of the tribulations that we encounter today are, in fact, hinted to in the 42 journeys that the Jewish people made whilst in the desert. These 42 maasa’os also parallel the 42 letters of one of Hashem’s names. Is there a connection between these two remazim (hints)?
Everything that takes place in the world is Divinely orchestrated. This is what is hinted to by the number of journeys, which is equal to the numerical value of a Divine name. When Moshiach comes, the gates of wisdom will be opened up and we will merit to understand how every single tribulation that Klal Yisroel endured during our time in golus was with great Divine precision, and each one stemmed directly from Hashem.

Taking a Break

Parshas Masei lists each of the journeys of the Jewish people during their forty-year sojourn in the desert. Why, then, does the Torah also list the places where they rested? Seemingly, this has nothing to do with their travels...
During these forty years, the Jews were on their way to Eretz Yisroel. Since they were traveling for the sake of a mitzvah, the Torah considers them to be actively journeying even while they were taking a break. Resting in order to have the strength to complete a mitzvah is also called doing a mitzvah.
Internalizing the message of this parsha will help us view life differently. All of one’s time in this world is a journey to the next. In this light, everything that one does while here is preparation for his true dwelling in Olam Haba.
This is what Chazal meant when they said that talmidei chachomim do not have rest in this world. Every moment of their lives is channeled to reaching higher and higher levels of spiritual perfection. They are constantly on the move to their true destination in the World to Come.
A wealthy Jew once visited the Chofetz Chaim and was shocked to see the austere quarters that he resided in. When he asked the Chofetz Chaim where all of his furniture is, the Chofetz Chaim surprised him by posing the same question to him. When his visitor replied that he was traveling and could not take all his furniture with him, the Chofetz Chaim explained that he was also just passing through this world and did not want to load himself up either, as that might make his journey more difficult.

Talmidei Chachomim

“The desert will rejoice...” (Yeshayahu 35) What is the reason for this simcha? The Medrash on Parsha Masei explains that in the future, Midbar Sinai will be rewarded for hosting all of the Jewish people during their time in the desert.
The Medrash then takes this idea one step further: If the desert was rewarded so grandly for its involvement with the Jewish people, then a person who hosts a talmid chochom in his home will receive even greater compensation. We cannot even fathom the reward for this.
Why is hosting a talmid chochom such a great act? Having a great Torah scholar in one’s home elevates his entire residence. Hashem views it differently because of the talmid chochom who is residing there.
The places in the midbar where Klal Yisroel stayed were written in the Torah and thus publicized and recorded for all of eternity. So, too, someone who hosts a talmid chochom in his home turns it into an achsanya shel Torah, an encampment of Torah where the Shechinah swells. His residence gains universal acclaim and he will merit to see the fruits of his actions for all of eternity.
Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Art of Protest: Sanctifying Hashem’s name During the Darkest Times

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


Sanctification and Desecration

Recently, a great chillul Hashem took place when a Supreme Court judge in Israel sentenced the parents of 43 Bais Yaakov girls to jail, because they wished to give their children a higher level of religious observance.
These parents countered what took place with a kiddush Hashem and did not stand by silently. Rather, they said Shema Yisrael, and accepted upon themselves to fight this decision at all costs. They stood by the p’sak of gedolei Torah, and were willing to go to jail rather than to give in to the coercion of the court system.
Parshas Pinchos teaches us how we should react in such situations. When we see a chillul Hashem, we cannot be quiet. Instead, we must look for ways in which we can sanctify His Name, as these parents so courageously did. Let us try and understand some of the finer points of kiddush Hashem as they are shown in Parshas Pinchos.

Pacts of Peace

Parshas Balak ends with ma’aseh Zimri, the dreadful turnaround of one of the leaders of the Jewish people from being a great tzaddik to desecrating Hashem’s Name through public immorality. Targum Yonason writes that those who witnessed this spectacle recited Krias Shema. This was their way of showing that they had no part in what was taking place, and that their dedication to the Almighty remained strong.
While saying Krias Shema was certainly a praiseworthy response to what was taking place, it was not enough. Such an abhorrent and open desecration of Hashem’s honor requires one to take up arms and try to bring it to an end at all costs. Pinchos was moser nefesh to do just that, and was miraculously successful in stopping it.
When such abhorrent events take place, the Almighty’s anger becomes inflamed, and in order to quiet His fury, drastic measures must be taken. This is exactly what was done by Pinchos in his act of killing Zimri. Since in so doing, he made peace between Hashem and Klal Yisrael, he was rewarded with bris shalom, a covenant of peace.

Just Reward

Pinchos received great reward for his act. Rashi says that Pinchos received his reward bedin, with the attribute of justice. What is the deeper meaning of reward which is given bedin?
Reward for mitzvos is completely spiritual. According to the letter of the law, it is impossible to receive compensation in this world. Only when a person completes his life and moves on to the next world will he be able to get payment.
However, at times, a person acts far beyond the call of duty. In these instances, he is no longer bound to the exact terms of payment; Hashem rewards him for his actions in this world and the next.
When Pinchos killed Zimri to defend the honor of Hashem, he acted in just such a way. This is what Rashi means that he received his reward bedin. Because he went out of his way in this world to safeguard the Torah and the Almighty’s honor, he was justified to receive compensation in this world as well.

Defending the Faith

In today’s society, there are numerous opportunities to stand up for Hashem’s honor. Anyone who is able to protect himself from the dangers of the internet, the media, and all of the other destructive forces that are rampant in the modern world is also a Pinchos. He will be rewarded accordingly in this world and the next.
The parents of the Bais Yaakov girls of Emmanuel are examples of this type of mesirus nefesh to defend the honor of Torah in our own times. When faced with the decision to not listen to gedolei Torah and to harm the education of their daughters or to be incarcerated, they valiantly chose the latter. They are a lesson to all of us regarding how far a Jew must go when Divine honor is at stake.
Every Jew should try to follow Pinchos’ example and try to sanctify Hashem’s Name whenever the chance arises. We are living during the period right before the coming of Moshiach, when the darkness is very great. During this time, the opportunities for kiddush Hashem are vast and varied.