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.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wishing everyone a nice Sukkos

As we come out of the High Holy days, we have made G-d king and received selichah (forgiveness) and caparah (atonement), we come to Sukkos, the time of great enjoyment! We go from our homes to our temporary huts exposing ourselves to the elements. We acknowledge that we are living in a temporary world and we read the book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes) on Shabbos.

King Solomon tells us many times throughout Koheles, that he has searched the world and found nothing as true as Torah! Everything else is temporary, Torah is truly everlasting!

We also put a white sheet in our sukkah reminding us of the Ananaei ha'Kavod (the clouds of Glory) and the Exodus from Egypt! The white cloth also represents the Tzel d'hemnusa (the shade of belief). What is this? This is the ability to see that only G-d runs the world! The Tzel has the ability to envelop us if we take its message to heart.

If we don't the Tzel (if we change the letters around) can make us into a leitz (a scoffer, mocker). How does this work? If we don't see G-d's hand in the world or acknwoledge that He runs the world, then in essence we are scoffers. There can be nothing worse than this because these type of people will not receive the Divine Presence in the next world.

It is all a matter where our reference point is. If we continue to strive and try to the best of our ability to bring G-d into our lives, that is what He wants. At the same time, as Rav Gedaliah Shore, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas said, all the holidays have their special spiritual influence. If we don't use that influence properly we don't get it back.

We should use these days to the best of our ability to bring G-d down to this world and help us reach our true potential.

Have a great holiday!
Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thank You: Expressing Gratitude through Parshas Bikkurim

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In the Beginning

“Bereshis – the world was created for the sake of bikkurim (the first fruits that are given to the Temple), which are called reishis” (the first ones).
While bikkurim is an important mitzvah, it is difficult to understand how it could justify the creation of the whole world. Wherein lies the great significance of this mitzvah?
The mitzvah entails separating the first fruits of a new crop, bringing them to the Bais Hamikdosh and then giving them to a kohein. As we give them, we recite Mikrah Bikkurim, thanking Hashem for the fruit. Mikrah Bikkurim concludes, “And now I have brought you the first fruit of the land that you have given me, Hashem...” (Devorim 26:10)
Herein lies the reason that the mitzvah of bikkurim justified creating the world, for it brings us to understand that the fruit, and all that we have, are, in fact, gifts from Above. Man’s natural tendency is to feel that after he toiled in any job, the fruits of his labor are the direct result of his hard work. Recognizing that the land and its produce are all a gift from Hashem is no easy task, and the mitzvah of bikkurim, together with Mikra Bikkurim, is a vehicle to help bring us to this recognition.

The Bad is also Good

We start the Mikrah Bikkurim with a brief account of how the Jewish people received Eretz Yisrael. In the course of this story, we mention how Lavan tried to wipe us out and how Paroh attempted to do the same. Seemingly, mentioning these ominous events from our history is out of place while performing the joyous mitzvah of bikkurim. What purpose does this serve?
Chazal tell us, “Just as a person must thank Hashem for the good, he must also feel grateful for the bad” (Brachos 54a). While thanking Hashem for an abundant crop is easy, recognizing His goodness when bad things happen is not so straightforward. Man’s natural tendency is to categorize what he sees as bad as the “dark side” and simply try to forget about it, brushing it under the rug.
When bringing bikkurim to Yerushalayim, we are at the height of joy over the new crop and all of the good that we received that year. This time is the perfect opportunity to recognize that this is only a small part of Hashem’s greater plan, and that every single thing He does is equally good. We grab the moment and channel our joy into seeing that everything that He does for us is good.

Giving to a Kohen

Bikkurim are one of the many presents that we give toa kohein in exchange for his service in the Bais Hamikdosh. At first glance, there is no connection between thanking Hashem and giving the kohanim this fruit. However, if we look deeper, we will see that giving to the kohein is also part of thanking Hashem.
Shevet Levi, which includes the kohanim, was set aside to be completely dedicated to Divine service. The Jewish people are given a partnership in their holy work through the mitzvos of termos, maaserous, and all of the other gifts that the Torah obligates us to give them. This way, even a Jew who is busy all day with his work has a chance to connect to the Torah and avodah of the kohanim.
Because the kohanim are the ones who bless the people, we can recognize that the blessings we receive are a direct result of the gifts we give to them. This is a further expression of our realization that the fruit did not come from our own toil, but rather that the blessing of the kohanim, together with our partnership in their Torah and avodah, were the true cause of our success.
This is why we address the kohen by saying, “Hashem Elokecha” (Devorim 26:3), saying “your G-d” and not “my G-d.” In doing so, we express humility and recognition that the special service of the kohanim is what brought our success. Wording our thanks in this way helps guard us from the feeling of kochi ve’otzem yodi, that it was our own strength and wisdom that brought our success.
On another level, a person cannot properly enjoy Hashem’s goodness if he keeps it all for himself. Only by sharing with others can one really feel true joy. For this reason, we conclude the Mikrah Bikkurim by saying, “We rejoiced in all of Your goodness that You gave us and the Levi...” (Devorim 26:3)

Lifting up the Torah

After Parshas Bikkurim, the Torah describes the blessings and curses that the Jewish people would receive on Har Grizim and Har Eival. The Torah concludes the list of curses with “Cursed is the person who does not raise up the Torah” (Devorim 27:26). What is the deeper meaning of this verse and how does it relate to Parshas Bikkurim?
Parshas Bikkurim taught us that the way to thank Hashem for all of His goodness is to give to the kohanim, who are dedicated to His service. Yet, even if a person is entirely dedicated to serving Hashem, he is still missing a crucial part of his Divine service, and has not fulfilled his obligation unless he “lifts up the Torah.” The Ramban quotes the Yerushalmi:
“Can the Torah really fall that it needs to be raised up?...Even if a person learned, taught, kept, and performed all of the mitzvos of the Torah, and was a complete tzaddik, if he had the ability to protect it from the resha’im (evil ones) who try to destroy the Torah and he did not, this person is still included in the Torah’s injunction, ‘Cursed is the person who did not lift up the Torah.’”
On one hand, the Torah has reached new heights today. There are many yeshivos and Torah institutions, and Torah is being learned by many people with great fervor. This is certainly a great kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s Name).
At the same time, the number of those trying to uproot the Torah is also at an all-time high. From all sides, misled Jews are attempting to destroy the sanctity of the Torah and Klal Ysirael and knock the Torah down. It is incumbent on gedolei Yisrael and anyone who has the power to thwart these individuals to do what they can to lift up the Torah in the face of such threatening and dangerous behavior.
One might feel a sense of despair when looking at the great numbers that the anti-Torah camp has on their side, and the extent to which they have managed to distort Torah values. In truth, our outlook should be just the opposite. Our greatest hope lies in the time when the situation reaches rock-bottom.
Rav Yisrael Salanter left Vilna and traveled to Paris to take the position of rov. When asked what prompted him to make such a move, he replied, “In Vilna, they are in the middle of their fall, and there is little that can be done to prevent it. However in Paris, they have already reached the end, and bringing them back to teshuvah will be much easier”.
In our days, the world has reach such spiritual deprivation that Jews are coming back to Torah en masse. Bringing our brethren back to Judaism and lifting up the Torah are certainly within our grasp. As we approach the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah, when we will be judged regarding what we did to help Klal Yisrael, every Jew should ask himself what he has done to raise up the Torah and what more he can do from here on. It’s never too late.
Saturday, September 11, 2010

Evil Children: Lessons in Chinuch from the Ben Sorer Umoreh and Amaleik

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Death Penalty

Punishment by death is generally reserved for the most severe transgressions in the Torah. In fact, the requirements to be killed for any aveirah (transgression) are so numerous that if a bais din (rabbinical court) carried out such a sentence even once in seventy years, they were accused of having blood on their hands. The death penalty was reserved for the most heinous transgressions and was meant to create a feeling of fear amongst the Jewish people to help them stay clear of these and similar acts.
In Parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah commands us to kill a thirteen-year-old child who has indulged in certain physical pleasures and has met all of the rest of the requirements to classify him as a ben sorer umoreh. Even though he just crossed the threshold into adulthood, we consider his actions so serious that the Torah instructs us to stone this young child publicly. This is the harshest of all death penalties and is generally reserved only for the most serious transgressions.
In connection to Amaleik, the Torah writes taht we should completely rid the world of any trace of them: men, women and children. Amaleik’s evil is so deep-rooted that even newborn babies who never had a chance to sin are included in this commandment of annihilation. Wherein lies the seriousness of the transgressions of the ben sorer umoreh and Amaleik that the Torah instructs us to kill these children and what can we learn from this to take with us into the upcoming Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah.

Following one’s Heart’s Desires “If a family has a rebellious child...” Devarim 21:18)

Chazal (the Rabbis) describe many conditions for a child to become a ben sorer umoreh, including that he must steal a certain amount of meat and wine, at a specific age, in a three-to-six month time span, and quite a number of other detailed specifications. The requirements are so numerous and complicated that Chazal tell us that there never was a ben sorer umoreh and that there will never be one. Why, then, did the Torah spend so much time telling us these seemingly irrelevant halachos?
Modern-day psychology proposes the best way to raise one’s children is to give them whatever they want. They propose that this type of open relationship with one’s family is a sign of complete love – that one is ready to do anything for them. After experiencing such warmth and caring, one’s children will certainly respond positively.
In the parsha of ben sorer umoreh, the Torah shows us the fallacy of such thinking. A child raised with absolutely no limits will almost inevitably become steeped in his desires. Once a person attaches himself to the pleasures of this world, it is extremely difficult to separate himself from them, and he is then in grave danger.
The Ibn Ezra adds that this addiction to physical gratification borders on apikorsis (heresy). This individual’s desires will slowly take control over his life until he is unable to live without them. Once he has gotten to that stage, he will resort to any means to fulfill them and eventually deny Hashem and His Torah.
In writing the parsha of ben sorer umoreh, the Torah is warning us to protect our children from becoming immersed in worldly desires. While parents should not deprive their children, going to the opposite extreme will plant within them a nature that could eventually lead them to deny Hashem. In fact, the Torah punishes the ben sorer umoreh with the harshest death penalty of sekilah, stoning.
“Educate children according to their ways, and then when they grow older, they will not depart from it” (Proverbs). A child brought up properly according to the ways of the Torah will follow this chinuch (education) throughout his life and continue to cling to the ways of the Torah of his own volition. As a parent, knowing when to say yes and when to say no is a crucial part of making sure that children stay far away from the lifestyle of the ben sorer umoreh and close to the pleasant ways that the Torah dictates.

Forgetting the Torah

The Talmud Yerushalmi writes that, among other maladies, the ben sorer umoreh will forget his Torah. After the Ibn Ezra reveals to us that this child has reached a level bordering on apikorsis, one would think that not remembering Torah would be the least of our concerns. Why does the Yershalmi make a special point of this?
The Yerushalmi is teaching us a crucial point about the ben sorer umoreh. Had his Torah made a stronger impact on his life, he would not have been pulled after his heart’s desires. Forgetting his Torah allowed him to fall to the lowly level that he did, as we can see from the following story.
The famed Rav Yozel of Novardok was once called to a town to talk to a child who had strayed from Torah. Rav Yozel spoke with this boy for two hours, conveying to him the fallacy of his ways. However, even after their conversation no major change took place in this boy, and it seemed as if he was exactly the same as before.
Rav Yozel explained that while no outer change could be seen, this boy was in fact, a different person. He would no longer have as much pleasure from the aveiros (sins) that he committed. There was thus hope that he would return to the fold.
When telling us that the ben sorer umoreh forgot his learning, the Yerushalmi is revealing to us that this child has already gone past this stage. Had he at least remembered some of the Torah that he learned, there would be hope that he could control his desires and perhaps be brought back. After he forgets his learning, there is nothing keeping his desires in check, so the Torah tells us to kill him in his innocence, before he commits more serous transgressions, which would be inevitable under these circumstances.

Einstein’s Theory Revisited

“They (Amaleik) did not fear Elokim” (25:18)
While the ben sorer umoreh was completely immersed in physical pelasures, Amaleik’s evil lies in a different realm. Amaleik is considered evil incarnate. Therefore, the Torah commands us to eliminate every trace of Amaleik from this world.
When describing Amaleik, the Torah adds that they are not yirei Elokeim, they do not fear the Almighty. After relating to us how innately and entirely bad Amaleik is, it seems self-evident that they do not possess the elevated attribute of Divine awe. What is the Torah coming to tell us?
Amaleik’s philosophy of life was to believe only that which could be proven scientifically. Anything they were not able to quantify according to natural law, they just wrote off as happenstance. Therefore, all of the miracles that Hashem performed, both in Mitzrayim (Egypt) and in leaving Mitzrayim, had zero affect on them.
Since Hashem wants a world where free choice is given to man, by definition His existence cannot be scientifically proven. Once a person has discounted His reality and thrown off the yoke of yiras Elokim, he is free to do anything he wants. This world outlook, that of Amaleik, is the greatest source of tumah (impurity) in the world.
In recent times, Amaleik’s philosophy was expressed by Albert Einstein. His scientific research led him to the conclusion hat it is impossible that the world came about through chance and there must be a Higher Power in the world. Yet, since this could not be established scientifically, he did not consider it a significant enough factor to change his life.
The Torah describes Amaleik as lacking yiras Elokim for this is the source of their evil in the world. Only after firmly planting Divine fear in one’s heart can a person accept the full yoke of Hashem. In today’s world, Amaleik’s outlook is stronger than ever, and a Jew must be on constant guard to avoid being pulled in from their “scientifically proven” claims.
The evils of the ben sorer and of Amaleik are the roots of the most serious transgressions that man can commit, so much so that the Torah needed to emphasize the grave nature of these attributes. The Torah does so by meting out unusually harsh punishments form them and commanding the death of the thirteen-year-old children and even the young infants of Amaleik.
Lest we be tempted to think that giving our children everything they desire and letting them be exposed to very mode of thought is being kind to them, the Torah exposes the dangerous, fundamental flaw of this ideology. Were we to give our children free range in this way, we would be uprooting all spirituality from them, and in essence, killing them in this world and the next. As we prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah, we should analyze our own actions and how we deal with our families, and make sure that we are free from any traces of ben sorer umoreh and Amaleik in our personal lives.