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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, November 26, 2010

Decision Making

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Holding up the Heavens


Yaakov falls asleep at the future sight of the Beis Hamikdosh. While he is sleeping, he is shown a ladder that rests on the ground but extends up tot the heavens. What was the deeper meaning of this revelation?
Even while a Jew has his feet on the ground, his actions have a ripple effect in the heavens. Every mitzvah that he does during his lifetime has a major affect o the upper worlds. Every Jew is, in essence, a ladder connecting this world to the next.
Yaakov faced constant challenges throughout his lifetime. The choice in these decisions affected not only himself, but the rest of the Jewish people as well. Yaakov successfully navigated these tests, and, as a result, he became the prototype “ladder” connecting this world to the heavens.
Yaakov’s decisions involved education, livelihood, marriage, and a number of other critical choices. These issues are just as important today, and the ability to choose correctly has major repercussions on the life of every Jew. Let us analyze Yaakov’s choices and see if we can apply his decision-making skills to our own lives.

Jewish Education

When Yaakov Avinu set off to Lavan’s home, he had ample funds to help him find a wife and start to build a home. However, on the way, Yaakov encountered Eisav’s son, Elifaz, whom Eisav had sent to kill Yaakov and only by relinquishing all of his money was he able to escape death. Yaakov Avinu understood that, as a result of this, he would now need to work to marry Rochel and Leah.
Yaakov knew that the time at Lavan’s would be fraught with difficult challenges and that before undertaking this endeavor, he would have to raise himself up spiritually. Therefore, before setting out to complete his journey, Yaakov went to learn in the yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver. Only after fourteen yeas of study there did he consider himself ready to deal with the crooked ways of Lavan.
Chazal tell us that during the fourteen years that Yaakov spent in yeshiva, he did not even once go to sleep. Yaakov surely slept, for it s impossible for a person to go more than three days without sleep. What this means, then, is that Yaakov did not deliberately go to sleep, but rather whenever he had no strength left, he collapsed in exhaustion. He was so driven that he did not ever choose to rest from his focused spiritual regimen.
Yaakov’s actions should set a precedent for deciding how to educate our families today. If our children want to enter a career in business, we might think that the most logical way to go about this is to get their work credentials as quickly as possible. We might be tempted to send them to business school at a young age.
From Yaakov we see that this is a mistake. Especially today, the business world is fraught with challenges both in halachah and haskafah. Someone who does not have a solid Torah education under his belt has little chance of overcoming these obstacles.

Appropriating Funds

Hashem gives each of us the money we require for our daily needs. We may feel that our funds are strained and that after all of our expenses have been taken care of, there is no money left for tzedakah. How can we make sure that we will fulfill this mitzvah properly?
“From all that I am given, I will tithe and give to You” (Genesis 28:22). Recognizing that a tenth of our money already belongs to Hashem, we will facilitate the decision to give it away. We are partners with the Alm-ghty in deciding who receives these funds.
We can compare giving maser to produce in Eretz Yisrael, which is forbidden to eat until one separates maser. We should keep in mind that money that has not been tithed, has the same status, and before giving tzedakah, we do not have permission to benefit from it. This recognition will make the decision to give tzedakah easier.
Just as there is an obligation to maser one’s money, there is a mitzvah to give a tenth of one’s time to the needs of the Jewish people. When Rav Sternbuch was a bochur, his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Shneider would make every student dedicate at least two hours a week to teaching other students. Rav Shneider called this avodas hakodesh, holy work, for this taught the talmidim the importance of giving oneself over to Klal Yisrael.
A person might think that if he gives up his time, he will lose out from his personal growth. The truth is just the opposite. Rav Shneider related that he say many bochurim whose success came as a direct result of their helping other, weaker students.

Underneath the Beauty

The Torah describes Rochel as “beautiful in face and form” (28:18) Shlomo Hamelech tells us “Beauty is false and charm is fleeting” and, seemingly, these factors would not be Yaakov’s first consideration when choosing a wife. Why does the Torah need to tell us about Roche’s appearance?
The Zohar explains that there are six parts of a person’s body that reveal the truth about a person’s personality. A person’s hair, forehead, face, eyes, lips and palms all contain signs of his spiritual level (Zohar, Yisro 78a). The Arizal was fluent in all six; people feared to stand before him lest he discover the truth about them.
If this was true about the Arizal it certainly applied to Yaakov Avinu. Rochel’s outer grace and charm was a sign of her true inner beauty. Yaakov immediately discerned this and was able to use this understanding to decide to marry her.

Making Sense

One would think that as soon as Yaakov Avinu received direct instructions from Hashem to leave Lavan’s, he would relay this information straight to Rochel and Leah. Yet, we find that Yaakov Avinu went through great effort to explain to his wives why leaving Eretz Yisrael was the most practically sound course of action. Why didn’t he just tell them that Hashem had commanded them to leave?
We can understand Yaakov Avniun’s actions basedon what the Rambam writes in Shemonah Perakijm. The Rambam explains that intellectual understanding is a higher level than only accepting something as a Divine command. Rational acceptance of something as the best course of action motivates a person to focus all of his energy toward carrying it out after this recognition has been reached.
A very gifted bochur once went to the Chazon Ish with the following question: He had been offered a shidduch from a very wealthy family of distinguished lineage. The girl was looking for a boy would learn for a few years and then go to work.
The bochur, on the other hand, was interested in dedicating himself for many years to becoming a talmid chochom. After some thought, the girl agreed to make the sacrifice and to agree to the boy’s conditions. The bochur asked the Chazon Ish if he should go ahead with the shidduch.
The Chazon Ish replied in the negative. If this girl felt that notwithstanding their financial stability she had to sacrifice by being married to a talmid chochom, she would not be able to give herself over for his learning. Only a girl who understood that it was a privilege to marry such a bochur would be able to compliment him in what he was doing.
The Chazon Ish added that a ben Torah should look for a wife who recognizes the great honor and privilege it is to be married to a real talmid chochom. A girl who recognizes this will cherish every minute that she has the opportunity to be part of such a relationship and will not even think of the practical difficulties this entails. Someone who looks at marrying a ben Torah as a sacrifice might easily become discouraged.
The boy heeded the Chazon Ish’s advice and broke off the shidduch. Instead he married a girl from a simpler, less wealthy family. With the help of his dedicated wife, today this bochur is a prominent talmid chochom in Eretz Yisrael.

Changing Angels

Wherever Yaakov traveled, he was accompanied by malachim. As he entered Eretz Yisrael, the angels who had been with him until then departed, and they were replaced by the malachim of Eretz Yisrael. Why was there a need for this changing of the guards?
The level of holiness that exists in Eretz Yisrael is much higher than that of any other place in the world. In order to maintain free choice, the yeitzer harah battles much more fiercely to cause the Jew in Eretz Yisrael to fall. Yaakov received special angels so that he would have extra help to make the difficult decisions that living in Eretz Yisrael requires us to face.
As we enter the final period before the coming of Moshiach, Amaleik is mustering up all of its strength to prevent the final revelation from taking place. A week does not pass during which the Israeli government or some other arm of Amaleik does not institute some new plan to remove any trace of Torah from the Jewish people. The tests that we are given and the decisions that we are forced to make are becoming more and more subtle.
Jews living inside and outside of Eretz Yisrael must make every effort to insure that Amaleik does not topple Torah in the Holy Land. Whatever this entails, we have difficult choices ahead of us to show that we are in truth, affiliated with Hashem and not Amaleik. During these days before Moshiach, we must turn our hearts toward the heavens and ask for Divine assistance to make the decisions that will bring the final redemption quickly.
Thursday, November 25, 2010

Raising Twins

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Yaakov and Eisav are perhaps two of the most divergent brothers we find in the Chumash. Certainly, bringing them up was no easy task. Let us look into their origins and chinuch (education) and see what lessons we can extract to help us raise our own children.

Tzaddik ben Tzaddik

Rashi explains that Hashem accepted the prayers of Yitzchok because he was the son of the righteous Avrohom Avinu, and, therefore, a tzaddik son of a tzaddik. Rifkah, on the other hand, did not have such illustrious lineage. Since here parents were evil, Hashem did not accept her tefillos (prayers).
At first glance, Rashi’s words are difficult to comprehend. Rifkah had to break away from her past and forge her own path in life. Seemingly, her accomplishment was even greater than that of Yitzchok and Hashem should have preferred her prayers to those of her husband. Let us take a deeper look.
Even though Yitzchok was the son of a tzaddik, he did not simply follow in his father’s footsteps. Avrohom excelled in the attribute of chessed, kindness, but Yitzchok forged his own path. He took a completely different route and served Hashem through gevurah, strict justice.
Rifkah’s separation from the evil ways of her family’s household was certainly praiseworthy. However, since Yitzchok also “broke away” from his father, he, too, had this accomplishment to his credit. In some ways, this was even harder than what Rifkah did, for it is even harder to innovate based on the lessons that he gained from his righteous father’s household and forge his own path in life.
Yitzchok had a double merit of having achieved individual greatness as well as having come from illustrious lineage. The synthesis of his righteous father together with his own individual greatness tilted the scales and gave him more merit than his wife Rifkah. For this reason, only his prayers were accepted.

Chavrusah with a Malach

Rashi writes that Rifkah experienced an unusual pregnancy. When she passed by a bais medrash, Yaakov was pulled by the holiness and kicked inside her womb to try and exit. If she be a house of idol worship, Eisav was drawn by the forces of evil to try and get there.
Chazal tell us that while a baby is inside his mother, he learns the entire Torah with an angel. Seemingly, there could be no better situation. What benefit did Yaakov find in the bais medrash that made him so drawn to leave?
We can understand Yaakov’s drive from the following incident with the Vilna Gaon. The Gaon was offered a malach (angel) to teach him Torah, yet he refused. The Gaon said that he did not to be spoon-fed by an angel, and he preferred the toil of learning Torah without the aid of a Divine emissary.
So, too, even though Yaakov Avinu was studying with a malach, he preferred the vibrant experience of a bais medrash. There he could acquire Torah through his own sweat and effort. For this reason, even while he was in his mother’s womb, Yaakov made an effort to leave.
In the same light, we can understand why Eisav threatened to kill Yaakov during the period of mourning for his father Yitzchok. Even though a mourner is permitted to study Torah, he cannot do so with the same depth that everyone else can. Only Torah learned with all of one’s energies and efforts has the ability to protect one from danger.

Nothing too Small

The Torah tells us that by selling the birthright, Eisav was mevazeh the bechorah (he scorned his birthright). Chazal tell us that on that very same day, Eisav committed the three cardinal transgressions of murder, idol worship and immorality. After we have already been told that Eisav was evil, what does it add to know that he also disgraced the privileges of his birthright?
We can understand this through another story about the Vilna Gaon. Before the famous righteous convert Avrohom ben Avrohom was killed, the Gaon went to visit him. The Gaon took with him fruit and whiskey in order to celebrate this great mitzvah of dying al Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name)
One of the guards in the prison was Jewish, and the Gaon asked him to make a bracha before he partook of the food. The guard told the Gaon that he was completely unobservant. What difference would it make if he recited a bracha or not?
The Gaon told the guard that he was mistaken. Hashem takes every detail of one’s life into consideration before meting out punishment. Even a person steeped in sin will not escape judgment on the smallest acts.
So, too, even after Eisav committed murder, worshiped idols and acted immorally, he would not be absolved for his other actions. He would still be held accountable for the relatively minor act of disgracing the bechorah.
Rav Yisroel Salanter had a son who drifted away from Torah observance and started to attend the university in Mamel, where they were living. Rav Yisroel asked his wife to take a position as the cook in the college. This way, at least their son would not be eating non-kosher food.

Believer or Not

Eisav is an extremely difficult personality to figure out. On one hand, he understood the value of Yaakov’s blessings and had a deep desire to acquire them. This implies that Eisav was a ma’amin,that he really believed in Hashem.
On the other hand, Chazal tell us that Eisav was a kofer, that he denied the fundamental principles of the Torah. From the way that Eisav’s personality and actions are described, this portrayal as a non-believer seems to be accurate. How can we reconcile these two descriptions?
In truth, Eisav, the son of the righteous Yitzchok, was a true believer in Hashem and the World to Come. However, Eisav had his own life philosophy. He felt that while one should certainly work hard to earn a portion in the World to Come, he should simultaneously enjoy this world as much as possible.
Yitzchok, Rifkah, Yaakov and others tried to influence Eisav with words of musar in order to redirect him onto the correct path in life. Eisav pretended that he was a non-believer so that others would give up hope on him and stop trying to influence him. While Eisav was a believer inside, he made himself appear as a non-believer on the outside so that he would be able to continue his erroneous way of life.

Playing Along


Chazal tell us that Eisav was constantly attempting to deceive Yitzchok. He would ask him intricate questions regarding tithing straw and salt, as well as other complicated halachic issues. This was all a ploy to build a false image of himself in his father’s eyes.
In truth, Yitzchok saw through this whole bluff, but went along with the charade. He knew that if he pushed Eisav away, the situation would worsen and there would be no chance to bring him back. For this reason, Yitzchok treated Eisav with great honor and respect.
We can see Yitzchok’s true intention from the way that the Torah describes Yitzchok’s interaction with Eisav. The Torah says that Yitzchok loved (veye’ehav_ Eisav, expressing that Yitzchok’s love for Eisav was only while he was around, so as not to distance him. When describing Rifkah’s love of Yaakov, the Torah writes oheves, i.e. that she loved him all the time, since Yaakov was worthy of her affection (Genesis 25:28).
Yitzchok’s plan bore fruit, for Chazal tell us that the Tanaim felt that the honor they afforded their parents paled compared to how Eisav dealt with Yitzchok. Eisav even had special clothes that he wore when he served his father. Yitzchok’s actions did accomplish something: at least Eisav behaved properly when he was around his father.

Blessings of Wealth

The Alter of Novardok compared this world to an expensive hotel. A person can order as much as he wants and seemingly does not have to pay a cent. Only at the end of his whole stay does he receive a bill charging him in full for everything he ordered.
So, too, a person can take whatever pleasures he desires from this world. However, he should remember that he will be charged. When he gets to the next world, a full accounting will be made.
Yitzchok wanted to give Yaakov the blessings for the World to Come, but not for this world. He felt that giving Yaakov brachos for this world would end up running up an expensive bill for him and this would detract from his reward in the World to Come. Therefore, the blessings for wealth he saved for Eisav, who was not destined for the next world in any case.
Rikah understood that a tzaddik also needs money to study Torah with peace of mind. She wanted Yaakov to get the blessing for this world and the next. Yet, she had to make sure that when Yaakov received the brochos, he would not take a loss for the next world.
How did she solve this problem? She had Yaakov come to Yitzchok as if he were Eisav. In this way, Yaakov would not receive these blessings in them merit of the fact that he was Yaakov, with all of his personal achievements. Instead, he would receive them as if he were merely a son of Yitzchok. Thus, these brachos would not be considered as part of Yaakov’s portion, and they would not take away from his reward in the next world.
Bringing up two sons as radically different as Yaakov and Eisav was certainly a great challenge for Yitzchok and Rifkah. Even if our children are not as diverse, everyone presents us with a great challenge of educating him or her according to his or her own unique personality. We can learn from the efforts of the avos and imahos how to make sure that our children will grow up to serve Hashem properly.

Finding One's Spouse

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

A matter of Trust

Yitzchok was the sole heir to all that Avroham Avinu had accomplished in his lifetime. Certainly, who his wife would be would have a major affect on the history of the Jewish people. One would think that Avrohom would view this task with the greatest severity and undertake this job himself.
In this light, Avrohom’s choice of Eliezer to find a spouse for Yitzchok is a little startling. Eliezer was an eved Canaani, a nation known for their corruption and dishonesty. How could Avrohom give over such an important task to Eliezer?
Eliezer was different from any other Canaani and Avrohom trusted him blindly. The proof to his integrity is that Avrohom wrote out a deed on all of his belongings and gave it to Eliezer to show Rifkah’s family. Just as Avrohom trusted Eliezer with all of his possessions he relied on him to find the proper wife for Yitzchok.
Some of us are very quick to trust otherws when it comes to information about our children’s future marriage partner or other religious matters. Yet, when it comes to depositing large sums of money by the same individuals, we will be far less trusting. The following incident sheds light on the connection between these two circumstances.
When Rav Sternbuch was n eighteen-year-old bochur, he had to spend some time in France. Rav Sternbuch did not speak a word of French and had difficulty in the station catching his return train. As a result, he missed it and had to spend Shabbos in France.
Rav Sternbuch went to a hotel and booked meals for Shabbos. However, before Shabbos, he went to speak to the great gaon and rosh yeshiva, Rav Mordechai Pogramansky. Rav Pogramansky asked the young Rav Sternbuch how he could trust the kashrus of the hotel, to which Rav Sternbuch replied that they had a reliable hechsher and a good reputation.
Rav Pogramansky told Rav Sternbuch, “Kashrus means checking for bugs and making sure that every other detail of the Shulchan Aruch is taken care of. Would you trust them with $5,000 (then a small fortune)? If you would not deposit $5,000 with them, then you certainly should not trust their kashrus, which is much more valuable!”
When it comes to shidduchim, kashrus and any other Torah issue, we should be careful whom we trust. A person should not blindly accept whatever anyone says. We should be just as careful with spiritual matters as we would be with our financial portfolios.

Remaining Inspired

As soon as Avrohom finished speaking, Eliezer set off to find a wife for Yitzchok. Rashi says that the miracle of kefitzas haderech (shortening of the road) transpired, and shortly after he left, Eliezer was already in Aram Naharayim. Why was it necessary for Hashem to perform a special miracle?
The Belzer Rov explains that Eliezer was a devout chossid of Avrohom Avinu. As such, he was willing to be moser nefesh, literally give over his life, for whatever Avrohom asked him. Avrohom knew that Eliezer would give his all to find the right shidduch for Ytizchok.
One cannot compare the level of elation that a person has right after speaking to his rebbe to a short time afterwards after the excitement has worn off. While Eliezer was looking for the right match, Hashem wanted him to maintain the same level of elation that he had when speaking to Avrohom. Therefore, as soon as Eliezer finished speaking to his master, Hashem made kefitzas haderech and he immediately started looking for Yitzchok’s spouse.
Hashem’s actions help us understand the proper way to go about looking for a shidduch. We should involve people who are excited about our children and will put all of their energies into helping us. They will go the extra mile for our sons and daughters, and the Torah considers this proper histadlus.

Inflexibility

When Eliezer went to look for a match for Yitzchok, he chose to make a test regarding the attribute of kindness. There are many qualities to consider when choosing a spouse. Why did Eliezer focus on this one?
Although chesed was certainly important, Eliezer was looking for another attribute as well. He wanted to see how gentle Rifkah was and whether she was an akshan, inflexible. He was hoping that this situation would bring out her true nature and he could see if she was flexible or not.
Rifkah passed her test with excellence. She offered to water all of Eliezer’s camels, a task which no akshan would even consider. In addition, she spoke in a pleasant and refined way, showing that she was a gentle person.
Rav Sternbuch once asked the Chazon Ish what one should look for in a spouse. The Chazon Ish replied that certainly fear of Heaven is critical. However, said the Chazon Ish, the most important thing to look for is that she should not be an akshan, i.e. that she is flexible.
Living with an akshan is extremely taxing, for this characteristic may cause a person to get angry over every minor issue. If one is flexible, then the couple can always come to terms and agree about how they should act. They will have true domestic tranquility and blessing will illuminate their household.

Listening to Elders

Chazal tell us that before Avrohom Avinu, there was no aging. A young person looked the same as someone much older. As a result, it was difficult to distinguish between youth and elders.
Avrohom Avinu asked that aging should be noticeable. This way it would be possible to honor individuals who had spent their life growing in their fear of Heaven and acquiring wisdom. Hashem responded and instituted the concept of aging.
When it comes to questions about shidduchim, or any other issue that may be important in our lives, the address to turn to is the gedolim of Klal Yisrael. Through their years of toiling in Torah and working on Yiras Shomayim, they have been granted the wisdom to guide us. We should recognize their greatness and make use of this valuable resource.
The secular world views older people as a burden to society. In fact, when Chaim Weitzman served as the prime minister of Israel, he encouraged youth to come and turned away the elderly. He saw the elderly as useless in his long-term goal of building the State of Israel.
When Rav Moshe Shneider, Rav Sternbuch’s rosh yeshiva, tried to get an entrance visa into Israel, the government told him that they did not need to let in old people who were merely going to die in the land. Rav Shneider replied to them that by abandoning the Torah, they were already dead in the land. He was the one who as alive and most fitting to live in Eretz Yisrael.

Good Days

Rashi tell us that when Sarah was 100, she was like 20 as far as her number of transgressions and when she was 20, she was like 7 In the purity of her beauty. Rashi concludes that all of Sarah’s days were “equally good.” What is the deeper meaning of this description?
Sarah did not have an easy life. Twice she was abducted by kings and she was a partner in many of the other trials of Avraham Avinu. Yet, during this time, she remained happy and was a faithful and dedicated wife to her husband.
Chazal tell us that no evil comes from Above. The Chofetz Chaim explains that, in truth, everything that Hashem does is good. Our level of perception is extremely limited and we do not understand what takes place.
Especially when it comes to shidduchim, a person can get extremely frustrated. Just when it looks like our child is about to go out or get engaged, some snag comes about and the shidduch is over. If we adopt Sarah’s positive world outlook and look for the good in every situation, all of our days will be “equal in goodness”.