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.
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.