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.
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.


“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.


Anonymous said...

Rabbi Coffman,when Honor is described as a part of yeitzer harah,it means actually arrogancy?Is this the right explanation?Could you please enlighten me?

Rabbi Chaim Coffman said...

If a person desires honor, it is part of the yetzer harah, Definitely true. We don't look for honor or are interested in it either. If a person learned lots of Torah and thought he was so great, the Mishna in Pirke Avos (Ethics of Our Fathers) tells us that this is what he was created for, to learn Torah, so don't think you were so great!