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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.
Friday, October 29, 2010

Sarah’s Deeds

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Ladies First

“And Avrohom pitched his tent...” (Bereishis 12:8)
Rashi notes that although the Torah writes ohalo, his tent, we read ohala, her tent. Avrohom made sure to pitch Sarah’s tent before his own. Was this just another example of Avohom’s Avinu’s attribute of chesed or is there something more fundamental we can learn from Avrohom’s actions?
Men have an important role in Klal Yisrael. They study and teach Torah and make sure to perpetuate the unbroken chain of Torah from generation to generation. Because of this privilege, men recite the blessing of “Shelo asani isha – Who did not make me a woman,” every morning.
Women have an equally important role in maintaining Klal Yisrael, for they provide the atmosphere, foundation and warmth of every Jewish home. While men pass down the content of Har Sinai by teaching Torah, a woman’s job is to pass down the experience of Torah to her family. Thus we find that when Hashem gave the Torah tot he Jewish people, He said “Say this to Bais Yaakov (females), and relate this to Bnei Yisrael (males),” mentioning the women before men.
While Avrohom influenced the men to come close to Hashem, Sarah dedicated herself to teaching women. Avrohom understood that when it comes to setting up a home, a woman’s role is primary. He expressed this by pitching Sarah’s tent first, allowing her to start influencing the women around her without delay.

The Fury of a Priest

We have previously discussed the bracha of Shelo asani isha – Who did not make me a woman. This bracha signifies the extra responsibility that men have vis-à-vis the mitzvah of Torah study. It in no way undermines the crucial role that women play in Jewish society.
In the same light, we can understand the blessing of “Shelo asani goy – Who did not make a member of the other nations of the world,” Chazal did not mean to belittle non-Jews, rather they wished to express thanks for the additional mitzvos that we have that the other nations were not given. We feel great joy for the privilege that we were chosen by the Almighty to keep His Torah and draw closer to the King.
Rav Sternbuch relates that a priest in England once got hold of an English translation of the siddur. When he saw the blessing of “Shelo asani goy – Who did not make me a member of the other nations of the world,” he was furious. The priest’s anger was ignited, and the Jewish community in England was in grave danger of the percussions of his fury.
Luckily, the rov in his neighborhood understood the real meaning of this bracha and explained it to the priest. When the priest heard that the Jewish people were thanking the Almighty for all of the additional restrictions and commandments placed on them, he was pacified. In fact after hearing how many of the pleasures that he indulged in were forbidden by the Torah, he said that he was thankful that he had not been made a Jew!

Remaining Pure

“...and you shall be bracha (Bereishis 12:2)”
The Torah attributes this attribute of bracha to Avrohom Avinu. Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that the word “bracha,” blessing, shares the same root as “bereichah,” a spring of water. A bereichah has the ability to purify those who are impure and who immerse themselves in it. So, too, Avrohom Avinu could purify others by bringing them closer to Hashem.
In addition to cleansing others, a spring has another property. Even if an impure item touches a bereichah, the water remains pure. Although Avrohom was involved with uplifting many different types of people, maintaining his own purity was essential.
Sarah was an equal partner in Avrohom’s work and was able to influence the women. While Avrohom was busy working in “frontline” kiruv, Sarah brought women to her tent and showed them the inner beauty of a Jewish home. By focusing on the unique roles that a man and a woman have in serving Hashem, they were able to bring many people under the wings of Divine service.
Avrohom’s and Sarah’s actions should be lessons to us and for all future generations. From Avrohom’s pitching of Sarah’s tent first, we should earn that women’s education should be given top priority, and that the continuation of Jewish homes centers on teaching our daughters. And from Avrohom’s and Sarah’s work in influencing other, we should be inspired to follow in their footsteps – but not at the expense of our spiritual or physical well-being; we should not let it get to the point of ragging ourselves down as a result.

An Evil Eye

“And Sarah afflicted her (Hagar), and she ran away” (Bereishis 15:8)
Soon after Hagar married Avrohom, she was already expecting a child. When Hagar saw how quickly she merited to conceive, while Sarah had been waiting so many years, she began to doubt Sarah’s righteousness. Eventually, Sarah ordered Avrohom to send Hagar away from their home.
Chazal tell us that Sarah also put an ayin harah, an evil eye, on Hagar, and that this caused her to have a miscarriage. Sarah was righteous and would not do anything out of spite or revenge. How can we understand the exchange between Sarah and Hagar?
In order to grasp this section of the Torah, we must first understand the deeper meaning of an evil eye. Ayin hara, comes when a person “sticks out” because of his misbehavior or misdeeds. Once this happens, others focus their eyes on him, and the sublime powers of the eyes have the ability to harm him.
As long as a person acts properly and keeps the Torah, ayin hara cannot have any effect. Only when someone deviates from the pleasant ways of Torah by acting in an ostentatious way or via some other transgression can the effects of ayin harah be felt. Hagar acted improperly, so she became the recipient of ayin harah.

Wedding Gowns

When a woman deviates from the modest ways of Sarah Imeinu and breaches the boundaries of tznius, she becomes especially susceptible to ayin harah. Rav Sternbuch related the follwoing incident to show some of the problems that such ayin harah can cause.
About sixty years ago, a wedding was planned in England. The guest began to arrive at the hall, but neither side of the family turned up. Everybody wondered what had happened to the chosson and kallah and their relatives.
Eventually it became clear that there was a fight between the families. Until this issue was resolved, the wedding could not take place. Only after much deliberation was the issue settled and the ceremony could go on.
What had happened? The mother of the kallah had traveled to Paris and spent 5,000 pounds sterling (at the time a small fortune) to purchase the most up-to-date and expensive dress available. She told all of her guests that on the eve of the wedding, she would be the center of the party with her top-of-the-line fashion.
Right before the wedding, she heard that the mother of the chosson had bought the same exact dress for less than half the price. She could not deal with the embarrassment that her very own machateinister (mother of the Chosson) would be wearing the same dress, after she had boasted to all of her friends about her dress. Luckily, the two of them were able to come to terms and the wedding could go on.
Although she may have meant well, this woman’s need to be the center of attention almost caused the cancellation of her daughter’s wedding! From Sarah we learn that the true beauty of a woman is her modesty. Trying to be the center of attention just invites ayin harah.
Sarah’s actions, involving kiruv, tnius and all of her other positive qualities, enabled her to be the matriarch of the Jewish people. In our generation, when Jews are so far from Torah and the world is so distanced from tznius, we should try to learn from Sarah’s refined conduct. If we do so, we will sanctify Hashem’s Name and spare ourselves and our families from ayin aharah and the potential damage and disasters that often come with it.
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Acting out of Love

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

“Noach was perfect in His days...” (Bereishis 6:9). Some understand this as praise: certainly if Noach were in the generation of Avrohom Avinu, he would have been even greater. However, some understand that this statement is to Noach’s disrepute. Had Noach lived in the time of Avrohom Avinu, he would not have been considered anything. (Rashi)

Acts of Love

Rashi’s words are difficult for us to swallow. The Torah calls Noach a tzaddik (righteous) and he was single-handedly responsible for saving the entire world. How is it possible that such a righteous individual “would not have considered anything” in the times of Avrohom Avinu?
Although Noach believed in Hashem, it was only on an intellectual level. The proof is that even after 120 years of building the teivah (ark), once it actually started to rain, Noach did not want to go in. Only when there remained no other choice did he board.
Avrohom Avinu loved Hashem. He recognized his nothingness vis-à-vis the Almighty and he had no sense of his own separate self. His only desire was to get closer and closer to Hashem, and Hashem calls him “My beloved” (Yeshayah 41:8)
While an intellectual recognition of the Almighty is important, when a person’s back is to the wall, only strong feelings of love can pull one through. The Chossid Yaavetz writes that during the Spanish Inquisition, many of the Jewish philosophers renounced their religion under pressure. Only those who had a strong sense of inner faith held true to these values and were willing to sacrifice their own lives and those of their families for the sake of their beliefs.
Because Avrohom Avinu loved Hashem, he was able to stand up to all of the trials that Hashem sent him. Noach’s faith was only intellectual, so he was in constant danger of failing the challenges that he was up against, and only through consistent support from Hashem was he able to overcome these tests. For this reason, according to that opinion, Noach is considered nothing in comparison to Avrohom Avinu.

In Defense of the World

Chazal highlight another difference between Avrohom Avinu and Noach. The Zohar calls the flood “thee waters of Noach” because Noach did not daven to Hashem to stop the deluge. Avrohom Avinu, on the other hand, did not give up so easily and prayed even for the salvation of Sedom.
Avrohom Avinu understood that someone who loves Hashem loves His creations and will do whatever he can to help them. Every minute of Avrohom’s day was dedicated to this principle. He was always involved with chessed and helping others recognize Hashem’s kindness in the world.
In order to help Noach learn this crucial principle, Hashem put him in charge of every living creature in the world. Noach spent a whole year taking care of the people and animals in the teivah. In doing so, Hashem hoped that he would become more focused on the needs of others, thereby fixing the transgression of not having davened for the salvation of the world.
The Chovos Halevavos, in Shaar Ahavas Hashem, writes that someone who helps others gets a part in every mitzvah they perform. Therefore, the highest level a person can reach while in seclusion pales in comparison to what he can achieve when he is helping others. The Torah wants us to be actively involved with the world, not to behave like monks secluded in a monastery on a mountaintop.

Kiruv Rechokim

Why didn’t Noach take a more active role in trying to bring the world to rep
entance? In his commentary on Rashi, the Mizrachi explains that Noach feared that the evil people around him would influence him negatively. He preferred to remain secluded rather than risk the chances of being drawn after them.
Avrohom Avinu, on the other hand, was not afraid that his convictions would be weakened by others. He influenced the entire world to recognize the Almighty, while his own belief remained steadfast. This, too, came from the intense love that he had for Hashem.
The lessons we take from Noach and Avrohom Avinu are crucial for us today. Although kiruv rechokim (teaching non-religious Jews about their priceless heritage) is an important mitzvah, one must be wary of the outside influences that could pull a person away from Torah. Only a firm connection to Torah and a strong love of Hashem can save a person from these dangers.

Into the Fire

Avrohom Avinu’s love of Hashem was so strong that he held steadfast to his beliefs even in the face of opposition from the entire rest of the world. Nimrod threatened to throw him into a furnace if he did not renounce his beliefs in Hashem, and when Avrohom refused, Nimrod tried to kill him. The Almighty miraculously saved him.
Chazal tell us that Avrohom Avinu endured ten tests of his faith. Surprisingly, while the Torah goes on at great length speaking about the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac), this test, wherein he put his very life on the line, is not listed as one of the them. One would think that the willingness to sacrifice his life would be on par with the Akeidah.
In truth to give up one’s own life may not be an act of greatness. A person may be motivated by a momentary spur of religious passion, without considering the broader ramifications of his act. Even in our days, we see that Arabs are willing to die en masse for the “holy cause” of reclaiming the Land of Israel.
On the other hand, sacrificing Yitzchok meant contradicting everything that Avrohom had espoused until now. He was the lone voice at the time who spoke out publicly against human sacrifice – and now it would appear to the world as if he is giving in and doing just that, completely undermining any impact he may have made with his previous protests.
Furthermore, by killing Yitzchok, Avrohom would be destroying the only hope that he had to continue his teachings, especially since Hashem Himself, promised that it was through Yitzchok, and Yitzchok alone, that his lineage would be perpetuated. Even though Avrohom could not intellectually reconcile the chasm and seeming contradiction between Hashem’s promise and His current instructions, he enthusiastically went ahead to fulfill what he had been asked. This was a true act of love, and much greater than giving up his own life.

Floods of Fire

Hashem promises us that He will never bring another deluge of water onto the entire world. The Medrash states that although the world will never again be destroyed by water, it will be engulfed with fire. This refers to the apikorsis (heresy) that will exist in the days prior to the coming of Moshiach.
In current times, we see more and more that we are standing in the times that the Medrash describes. This past week, a professor who works with the Israeli Ministry suggested that the description of the creation of the world as it appears face value in Parshas Bereshis might, in fact be the true account of how the world was created. This means that all of the current science textbooks are inaccurate.
The professor’s statement caused such a huge uproar amongst the Israeli intelligentsia that it disrupted learning in the Hebrew University. Finally, the head of the university wrote a letter to the Minister of Education to fire this professor. His request was accepted, and he was removed from his position.
We can compare last week’s events to that which we find by Haman, who initiated the destruction of all of the Jewish people because Mordechai would not bow down to him .Why id he get so upset because of a simple statement from one person? What difference does it make if one person disagrees with their world outlook?
The answer is that the truth hurts. These people would rather believe that their ancestors were monkeys that that they were created by the Hands of the Almighty and that they are obligated to listen to what He says. Therefore, even the smallest notion that they were intentionally created causes them great vexation.

Coming Close to the End

On every day of Sukkos, we recite Hoshanos during Shacharis. In one of the Hoshanos, we mention, “Three hours, Hoshanah.” What does this phrase refer to?
Rav Yeshoua Leib Diskin explains that all of the history of the world is likened to a short time periosd. As we approach the coming of Moshiach, the final day is drawing to a close. During this period, the world fills up with apikorsis, and it is more difficult to see Hashem’s Presence in the world.
We are currently in the last three hours of the final day. The world is filled with people denying Hashem’s existence, and the darkness is growing stronger daily. Only by following Avrohom Avinu’s example and developing a strong sense of inner love for the Almighty will we have a chance of remaining strong in the this time of darkness.
Friday, October 15, 2010

Getting Started

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Protecting our Lives

“Jealousy, physical desire, and honor remove a person from this world” (Pirkei Avos 4:21)
Chazal tell us that there are three attributes that have the ability to seep into one’s life to the point where they threaten a person’s very existence in this world. We must always be on the lookout for infiltration of these drives to protect ourselves from their influence and make sure they do not destroy us.
“I created the yeitzer harah (evil inclination) and I created the Torah as a cure” (Kiddushin 30b)
On our own, we have no chance of winning this battle, for the evil inclination is stronger than us and his powers wax every day. Chazal revealed to us that our only hope is to study and practice the Torah, for only then do we have a chance to overcome the schemes of the yeitzer harah.
“Anyone who learns the parsha every week will have increased days and years” (Brachos 8a)
Hashem gives us a special injection of Torah each week to help protect us from the life-threatening strategies of the yeitzer harah. As we start the Chumash again, afresh, the Torah gives us special insight into dealing with the yeitzer harah.

Fleeing from Honor

“And Hashem made two great lights, the great light to rule the day and the smaller light to rule the night and the stars as well” (Bereishis 1:16)
The discrepancy in this verse is glaring. The Torah tells us that Hashem made two great lights, yet when describing them, only one is described as great. How can we understand this sudden shift?
Rashi cites the Gemara that describes how, originally, the sun and moon were the same size. After their creation, they got into an argument over which one should rule the sky, and Hashem decided to shrink the moon. However, He fixed the stars in the sky to be a consolation to the moon.
The Rashbah explains that the sun refers to the non-Jews and the moon refers to the Jewish people. Klal Yisrael claimed that they should have honor in this world, and Hashem told them that their place in the next world. Just as the moon was shrunk, so too, the Jewish people are shrunken and removed from excessive positions of honor in this world.
As a consolation to Klal Yisrael, Hashem filled the universe with stars. Gazing at the vast expanse of the universe should bring everyone in the world to a state of awe over Hashem’s greatness. This prevents the other nations of the world from using their feelings of pride to overly subjugate the Jewish people in this world.
However, instead of using the stars and the great expanse of the universe to humble themselves, the nations of the world take an opposite approach. They claim that the universe was self-generated and that man developed afterward through an evolutionary process. The goal of their theories is to take Hashem out of the picture and remove any form of responsibility that recognition of His power obligates.
While the stars were created to be a consolation for the Jewish people in this way, they are meant to influence us as well. Even a Jew who is completely estranged from Torah observance should feel awe of Hashem’s Presence when looking up into the universe. For this reason, even a tinok shenishbah, a Jew who was captured and raised by non-Jews as an infant, must bring a sacrifice for his past misdeeds when he discovers his true identity.

Misplaced Honor

When Hashem shrunk the moon, He was giving us a powerful message for all generations. In this world, Jews must flee from honor. Any attempt to take credit away from Hashem by attributing to ourselves will result in dismal consequences.
Unfortunately, in our recent Jewish history, our leaders have not taken this message to heart. Especially regarding the State of Israel, they have tried almost everything to remove Hashem from any successes that we have seen. Instead, they have traveled the route of kochi ve’otzem yodi, believing that our own power is what ahs caused our victories, a philosophy completely antithetical to Torah belief.
When Israel was declared a state, some argued that there should be some mention of Hashem in the proclamation. Ben Gurion heard this and was furious, for he argued that their victories had not come as a result of Divine assistance, but rather from the strength of the army. In the end, he agreed to write, “With the help of Tzur Yisrael” (The Rock of Israel), for Ben Gurion claimed that this could also refer to the army.
Similarly, when composing the national anthem there were those who argued that Hashem should be mentioned. After all, He is found in the anthems of many other countries. Weitzman adamantly refused, and as a result, there is no mention of the Almighty in their Hatikvah.
Chazal tell us that Bilam and his students are exemplified by their craving for honor. They cannot bear to attribute their successes to any other power, for that eats away at their own egos, and therefore they take all credit for themselves. Bilam is the teacher of Ben Gurion, Weitzman, and all of the honor-hungry individuals who were involved in setting up the state of Israel.

In the Beginning

The importance of attributing all honor to Hashem can be seen from the opening words of the Torah; Bereishis bara Elokim. The foundation of Jewish belief is that there is a Creator of the universe and that we are subjugated to His will. The rest of the Torah is commentary on this concept.
Some people are plagued with questions like, “What existed before Creation?” or “Why didn’t Hashem create the world beforehand?” etc. etc. These types of doubts do not stem from thirst for understanding. Rather, they come from the haughtiness and from the false assumption that man is capable of grasping everything.
Religious Jews know that these types of questions should not shake our belief at all. When a person goes to a medical specialist, he does not start questioning his diagnoses, for he recognizes the person he is speaking to knows a thousand times more than he does in this field and therefore trust this analysis. The Almighty is the Creator of the world, and we must believe in Him with an infinitely greater trust than we would place in any doctor.
This the reason we start teaching children Chumash Vayikrah, which deals with the sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdosh, and only later do we study Bereishis with them. Korbanos (sacrifices) and other sections of Vayikrah are clearly of Divine origin and there is little room for doubt in the matter. After this philosophy has been deeply engrained in the minds of our children, only then do they study the creation of the world, a section more susceptible to question and doubt.
Hashem purposely created us in a way that we cannot grasp the answer to every question. This leaves us with free choice and the ability to choose to serve Hashem from our won will and not by force. The more we flee from honor by accepting that there are questions that exist that we cannot answer, the more we will fathom the true meaning of Torah and how it is meant to affect and improve our lives.

Giving in to Desire

“And Hashem turned to Hevel and his offering” (Bereishis 4:4)
Even after we overcome the obstacles that honor and pride place in our path, we still need to work on overcoming the physical desires that pus us. To some extent, this is more difficult than fleeing from honor, for we can often justify these desires and drives. The yeitzer harah guides us to believe that even things which are transgression are actually not so bad.
One argument that the evil inclination uses is that since we are generally doing a good job in most areas of our lives, the fact that we are transgressing in some areas is not so terrible. The Torah shows us the fallacy of such thought when it states that Hashem turned “to Hevel” and his minchah. The Almighty did not merely consdier “Hevel’s minchah,” i.e., what he was doing, but rather looked at Hevel as well, i.e. He takes the entire life of the person into consideration.
Based on this, we can understand what Chazal mean when they tell us that Hashem cannot be bribed. The Brisker Rov explains that we should not think that our mitzvos will cause Hashem to overlook the transgression we do. Hashem looks at the whole person, including all his acts, both his mitzvos and his transgressions.
One of the top pilots in the British Air force during World War II was a religious Jew, and during the war, he risked his life daily to kill the Nazis. The nature of his work kept him away from a Torah environment, and this took its toll on his mitzvah observance. Eventually, he ban smoking on Shabbos.
When is rov, the famed gaon Rav Chatzkel Abramsky, heard that he was smoking on Shabbos, he questioned him about his actions. Confidently, the man told him that he was not worried. He was doing so much to help the Jewish people that this bad habit would surely be overlooked.
Rav Abramsky told him that he was seriously mistaken. While it is true that Hashem gives credit for one’s actions, He takes into account everything about the person as well. In one book, all of his meritorious deeds were inscribed, while in the other one, all of his transgression would be written.

Jealousy

“If you do good, I can accept it, but if you do not do good, sin crouches by the door” (Bereishis 4:7)
After the Almighty refused to accept Kayin’s sacrifice, He made the above comment If Hashem did not find favor with Kayins’ offering, He should have simply said so outright. What deeper message was He conveying with the above statement?
Hashem was warning Kayin that even if he wants to act properly, he should be wary of doing so because of jealousy. In this vein, we can explain the verse: If you want to do good for the right reasons, then Hashem will accept your future offerings. However, if the cause of your vexation is the jealousy that Hashem accepted your brother’s sacrifice and not your own, then Hashem will never find favor with your korbanos.
As we start the Torah again, we must be aware of the three dangerous drives of honor, desire and jealousy, which can literally take us out of this world. If we are cognizant of them, we can recognize them in our daily lives and fight their influences. Learning the parsha each week and understanding the advice the Torah imparts to us to help us battle them is the best line of defense we can take.