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.
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.