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.
View my complete profile


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.
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.