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.
View my complete profile


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, December 31, 2010

A Recipe for Salvation

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

We are in the midst of the period referred to as “Shovevim Tat”, the parshiyos of Shemos through Tetzaveh. During these weeks, we relive the redemption of Yetzias Mitzrayim (the coming out of Egypt). The Arizal (Rav Isaac Luria) explains that this is a special time for teshuvah and experiencing national and personal salvations.

Retaining Separation

At the beginning of Sefer Shemos, the Torah tells us that a new king arose in Mitzrayim (Shemos 1:8). Chazal explain that it was the same Paro, but he renewed his original decree. What was the essence of this original decree and how did he renew it now?
When Yaakov and his family originally came to Egypt, Paroh decreed that they should live amongst them and integrate into the comfortable life in Mitzrayim. Yaakov recognized that living among the Mitzrayim would eventually lead to assimilating into their culture. He refused Paroh’s offer and successfully got around this original decree.
After Yaakov and the shevatim (tribes) died, Paroh renewed his offer, and without the leadership of Yaakov Avinu, the Jewish people followed Paroh’s instructions. They began to integrate into Egyptian culture and slowly drifted away from the Torah. This aroused Divine wrath and caused the Jewish enslavement by the Egyptians.
Living amongst non-Jewish cultures, we face the same challenges today that Klal Yisrael had in Mitzrayim. If we choose to disregard their enticements and cling to the ways of the Torah, then we will find favor in Hashem’s eyes and be spared from harsh punishment. However, if we are drawn after the ways of the non-Jews, we, too, will evoke Hashem’s anger.

Fearing Hashem

The Torah stresses that Yocheved and Miriam feared Hashem and saved the Jewish people. Seemingly, this was not the greatest aspect of their actions. By refusing to listen to Paroh’s orders to kill Jewish babies, they single-handedly saved the entire Jewish people and should have been given more credit for their actions.
The Torah comes to tell us that they did not save the Jewish people merely because of emotional pain of killing infants. They recognized the chillul Hashem involved in killing so many Jews. Because they acted out of concern for Hashem’s honor, they were rewarded with Botei Kehunah and Botei Leviah, to be the progenitors of Kohanim and Leviim.
One of the primary requirements to see salvation is fear of Hashem. We should follow in the ways of Yocheved and Miriam, who acted purely out of fear of the Almighty, if we live with fear of the Almighty, we will constantly see His Hand.


One would think that the harsh decrees against the Jewish people in Mitrayim would stop them from marrying. Yet, despite the law to kill all newborn babies, the Jewish people continued to wed. In this way, the perpetuated Klal Yisrael and paved the way for the redemption.
Rav Yechiel Weinber, the Sridei Aish, related that during the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto, two rabbonim remained. Even though they were all slated to be exterminated, they decided that they would marry off as many of their children as they could beforehand. Parents could at least feel that they had done everything they could for their children’s future.
Every day, the rabbonim performed many weddings. Even though conditions in the ghetto were cramped and there was no food, they did not let this break their spirit. The rabbonim once remarked, “The Germans can take away this world from us, but they cannot take away the next”.
In our day, conditions are much easier, and we do not have to give up our lives to fulfill mitzvos. We must, nonetheless, learn from the strong will of those who went through the Holocaust. If we put all of our energy into fulfilling the mitzvos, Hashem will respond tour efforts and bring about the redemption.

Hoping vs. Waiting

Miriam placed her brother Moshe in a small reed basket and into the waters of the Nile, then waited to see what would happen to him. Chazal tell us that because Miriam waited to see what would happen to her brother, she received great reward when the Jewish people later waited for her for seven days while she recovered from tzoraas in the desert.
Seemingly, Miriam’s act was not excessively praiseworthy. Anyone would have waited out of care and curiosity to see whether her sibling would live and what would transpire. Why was she deserving of such reward for this?
Some people hope for Divine salvation, and others wait for it. The difference between the two is that waiting implies complete clarity that the redemption will come, while hoping suggests some level of doubt regarding this issue. The greatness of Miriam’s act was that she waited for her brother’s salvation and had complete trust in Hashem that it would take place.
Rav Sternbuch relates that during World War II, his mother was convinced that after such atrocious killings had taken place, Moshiach would soon arrive. She decided that she would save her best dress and all of her jewelry for the day that Moshiach arrived. Even after the war ended and Moshiach did not come, she continued to set aside her best dress and jewelry for the day that he would come.

Avoiding Theft

Prayer is a major catalyst for salvation, and theft and dishonesty are reasons why one’s prayers are not accepted. Although G-d hears the cries of all who turn to Him, He is only close to those who live lives of truth. Rabbeinu Bechaya (Kad hakemach, “Emunah”) explains that only those who maintain a life of honesty and integrity can hope to have their prayers answered.
Generally, it is impossible for any shepherd to prevent his animals from grazing in pastures that belong to others, unless he takes the necessary precautions. For this reason, herdsmen are generally labeled as thieves and Chazal call them “rasha, wicked” (Bava Metzia 5b). This label disqualifies them from serving as witnesses, as the Torah says, “Do not join forces with a wicked person to be a corrupt witness” (Shemos 23:1).
Moshe Rabbeinu was meticulous about grazing his sheep only on uninhabited desert lands where none of the pasture area was privately owned. This practice demonstrated his trait of absolute integrity, which is a fundamental necessity for someone in a leadership role. The Medrash (Yalkur Shemoni, Shemos 169) says that it was because of the honesty that Moshe Rabbeinu displayed while tending his flock that he eventually merited to become the leader of the Jewish people.

Oratory Skills

The Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu has speech problems (kevad peh) and language problems (kevad lashon). The Ran (Drashos) explains that Hashem did not want the Jewish people to think that it was because of the powerful oratory skills of Moshe Rabbeinu that we were freed from Mitzrayim. Rather, it was only because of the Almighty’s grace.
During World War II, Winston Churchill valiantly led the English people through the war. Even in their darkest hour, he would exclaim, “We can take it!” and boosted the morale of his people. As long as he was leading the country, the English felt that they were invincible.
The Jewish people have a different set of standards. We know that one of the conditions for personal and national redemption is recognition that salvation can only come through Hashem and that thinking that our own wisdom or that of our leaders plays a part only hinders this process. We must realize with complete clarity that “ein od milvado”, everything come from His Hand alone.

Riding Donkeys

Chazal tell us that the donkey that Moshe Rabbeinu rode on was the very same one that Avroham Avinu traveled on to the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac). This is also the same donkey that Moshiach will arrive on. What is the connection between these three events and why must they all ride on a donkey?
A donkey is the archetype animal representing a beast that lacks all intelligence and is completely reliant on its master, going only where he directs it. Jews are meant to learn from the donkey vis-à-vis our relationship with the Almighty. At times, we are meant to nullify all understanding and follow Hashem’s will without second thought.
First, Hashem told Avroham Avinu that Yitzchok would be the heir to his life-long work of bringing recognition of Hashem into the world. Afterward, the Almighty seemed to contradict His original promise by commanding Avrohom to offer Yitzchok as a sacrifice. Without a second thought, Avrohom Avinu boarded his donkey and hurried to fulfill the Divine order.
Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu to return to Mitzrayim to spearhead the redemption of Klal Yisrael. Even though some of Moshe Rabbeinu’s enemies had died, he still had many enemies remaining there. Nonetheless, Moshe Rabbeinu and his family got on a donkey and traveled to Mitzrayim.
In our time, we face a similar paradox. If we think logically about our present situation, there is no reason why the redemption should come. Previous generations were more righteous than we are and yet he did not come during their days. Why should Moshiach come now?
Although it may not seem logical, Hashem has promised us that whether we are worthy or not, the final redemption will come. In this respect, we must make ourselves like donkeys and disregard all arguments to the contrary, just as Avrohom Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu put all reasoning to the side to fulfill the Almighty’s will. If we follow their example, we will merit to witness the coming Moshiach very soon.
Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ephraim and Menashe

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Subliminal Messages

Why, Chazal ask, is Parshaas Vayechi a parsha stumah, a closed parsha? They answer that the way the parsha is written parallels what happened to the Jewish people after Yaakov’s petirah (death). As soon as he passed away, the eyes and heart of the Jewish people were closed as a result of the subjugation that started at that time.
Chazal’s words are difficult to comprehend. Mitzrayim only enslaved the Jewish people after all of the shevatim (tribes) died. Why, then, do they date the start of the enslavement right after the passing of Yaakov?
From the words of Chazal, we see a critical life principle. Enslavement is not limited to physical subjugation and torture. A nation can be mentally enslaved by the culture it is surrounded by as well.
As long as the Jewish people were under the guidance of Yaakov Avinu, they were able to overcome the powerful influences of Mitrayim pulling them away from Torah. With Yaakov’s passing, they no longer had the constant direction to help avoid spiritual harm. As a result, they were pulled into an immediate mental subjugation by the culture around them.

Israel at War

The dangers we experienced in Mitzrayim are no less pertinent today. Internet, newspapers, advertising, and the myriad other media messages that bombard us shape our way of thinking and acting. Only a strong connection to Torah and Gedolim (Great Rabbis) can sensitize us to guard ourselves from these dangers. We must be careful to do whatever we can to protect our families and ourselves from being subtly pulled in by anti-Torah messages that they relay.
Rav Sternbuch was once traveling with one of the top Israeli army officers. The officer commented to the rov, “I understand that you need about three thousand yeshiva students to be exempt from the army. We need teachers and rabbis for the next generation. But why do you possibly need tens of thousands of exemptions?
Rav sternbuch replied, “In times of peace, the army drafts every seventeen-year-old. After three years, most of them leave and are periodically called up on reserve. Only a small percentage of the best soldiers stay full-time in the army.
“In times of war, the roles are different. Every able-bodied person must join the army in order to properly defend the country. There is no room to differentiate between soldiers.
“However, today, the world has been contaminated with false ideologies. Youth are told to follow their hearts’ desires, and to do whatever they want. The Torah world is fighting a war, and therefore, as many students as possible must remain in yeshiva so they can learn how to defend themselves against these attacks”.
“Apparently, the officer did not get the message. He replied to Rav Sternbuch that in order for Israel to be victorious in their military operations, they need every able-bodied soldier. If so many students are in yeshiva, how would Israel be able to win wars?
Rav Sternbuch replied that a Jewish army is meant to rely on the Almighty. All of the rules of the army must be guided solely by the dictates of Torah and not by the whims of the generals. Sinners were told to go home and only the righteous soldiers were permitted to fight.
Rav Sternbuch concluded that he was convinced that the miraculous victories of the Israeli army were not due to the fighting ability of the soldiers, but rather the merit of thousands of students learning Torah influenced the victories taking place. IF the army tries to reduce the number of talmidim (students) learning Torah, they will no longer see such miraculous outcomes.

Educational Priorities

When blessing Ephraim and Menashe, Yaakov put Ephraim, the younger son of Yosef, before Menashe. The Torah emphasizes this switch, implying that all future generations should learn from this. What is the deeper message of this story?
Ephraim and Menashe were both tzaddikim as we can see from the fact that they received the status of shevatim. Ephraim was completely immersed in Torah, while Menashe helped his father, Yosef, with governmental affairs. Both fulfilled their respective jobs flawlessly.
Shlomo Hamelech teaches us that “each child must be educated according to his way”. While certain strengths push one toward being an Ephraim, others tend more to being a Menashe. Parents must know their children inside and out and try to help each one decide which path of life he should follow.
But blessing Ephraim before Menashe, Yaakov taught us a critical lesson for all generations. When it comes to educating our children, first priority should be to try to direct them to becoming Ephraims. This way, the Jewish people will have Torah leaders who can direct them in future generations.
The Targum of Yonason ben Uziel writes that the blessing to be like Ephraim starts from the time of bris milah (circumcision). We fulfill his words when we say, “Just as the child came to his bris, he should come to Torah, chupah and maasim tovim” (good deeds). At the tender age of eight days, we already express that our first priority is to direct our children to Torah.
If we see that a child’s strengths do not tend themselves to becoming an Ephraim, then a different course should be followed. We should do everything we can to make sure that he will be righteous as Menashe. If we follow this route of chinuch (education), we will see true Jewish nachas from our children.
The Lubliner Rov had a yeshiva of 400 bochurim (students). He once commented, “the goal of my yeshiva is to produce one talmid who will be a gaon in Torah,and 399 others who will know what a gaon is. If he understands what torah is, he will always actively learn and support Torah”.
Whether a person chooses the route of Ephraim or Menashe, true success in life depends on recognizing that one’s life should be guided by the light of Torah. Let us do everything in our power to guide our children in this direction.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blaming Torah

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Who’s to Blame?

Last week, Israel experienced the worst fire in the history of the country. The blaze took numerous lives, caused an enormous amount of damage, and left many Jews homeless. As in any such situation, it could be expected that the government would try to point the finger of blame at someone in order to absolve themselves.
Someone directly involved with the job of extinguishing fires would be the most likely choice to be the scapegoat. It took a number of days until the blaze was put out, and seemingly, a competent fire-fighting system should have been able to deal with the situation quicker. But this was not the target here. Who, then, did the government choose to pin the blame on for this tragedy?
In a discussion in the Israeli Knesset, some of the representatives came to the following decision: Last year, the government allocated money to help yeshivos, and had this funding been used to purchase fire-extinguishing equipment, the blaze would have been put out much earlier. Therefore, they concluded that the blame for the fire rests on the shoulders of the yeshiva students.
As absurd and illogical as this argument sounds, there are many people in Israel who share this sentiment. As soon as some crisis takes place in the country, the finger of responsibility is pointed at those learning Torah. How can we understand this deep-rooted hatred some have of their own religion?
Torah is the mainstay of Klal Yisrael, and it is what elevates us above every other nation of the world. Those who keep Torah are able to sanctify every aspect of their existence and live a life of holiness. When the Jewish people live according to the elevated standards that the Torah lays down, we become a light unto the nations.
Jews who forsake the Torah understand that those who learn and keep the Torah are a threat to their way of life. They try whatever they can to uproot Torah from the Jewish people, and will even go so far as to blame the catastrophe of last week’s fire on those learning Torah in yeshivos. Let us try to gain a deeper understanding of Torah’s central role in the existence of the Jewish people and what we can do to strengthen it in our times.

Small Talk

After Yosef revealed himself as their brother, the shevatim went from Mitzrayim back to Canaan to bring their father, Yaakov, to Mitzrayim. Certainly, there was plenty for them to discuss regarding the sale of Yosef and all that had transpired since then. There was no reason to believe that they would have trouble finding what to talk about during the journey home.
Yet, as they left, Yosef warned them, “Al tirgezu baderech – Don’t get into fights on the way”. Yosef was not referring to physical brawls. Rather, he instructed them not to get into deep, intricate halachic discussions, for that could cause them harm on the road. They should choose lighter topics so that they would not run into danger.
The Brisker Rav pointed out that Yosef did not think for a second that they would involve themselves with small talk. The issue was only what topics in Torah they should discuss. Torah is meant to be discussed at all times, whether one is at home or traveling.
IN order for Torah to have a full impact on us, we must involve ourselves with Torah as much as possible. Especially when a person is traveling and has “free time”, he should make sure that has a sefer to learn from or a shiur to listen to. Using all of our available time to study Torah is the secret to constant growth in Torah learning.

Temporary Resident

Yaakov realized that he must go down to Mitzrayim to fulfill the decree of Hashem and to see Yosef before leaving this world. However, even when he came to Mitrayim, Yaakov did not settle down. He only dwelled their temporarily during his final years.
Throughout Yaakov Avinu’s life, he never settled down. Yaakov always felt that he was merely traveling through this world. The only thing that mattered to him was his growth in Torah learning and Divine service.
Every Jew who is involved with Torah learning is meant to share Yaakov Avinu’s attitude. We can gain deeper insight about this way of life from a story involving a wealthy individual from overseas who visited the house of the Chofetz Chaim in Poland. The guest asked his host why his home was so bare of furniture and comforts.
The Chofetz Chaim replied by asking his guest where all of his furniture was. The traveler answered that he was just passing through and, naturally, had left most of his belongings at home. The Chofetz Chaim responded, “I am also just passing through this world on the way back to my real home, and I also do not want to overburden myself with belongings on my travels”.

Wagon Wheels

When Yaakov initially heard that Yosef was still alive, he did not believe the story. Even after the shevatim described in detail what transpired, he was still doubtful. Only when Yaakov saw the wagon wheels, which Yosef has sent as a sign that he remembered that they had studied the halachos of eglah arufah together before he departed did Yaakov accept their story.
Egypt was the center of moral degradation in the ancient world. It is understandable that when Yaakov realized that his own son Yosef had been in Mitzrayim, he would start to worry. Yosef Hatzaddik who left him may have become corrupted after spending so many years in such a morally decrepit environment.
The sign that Yosef sent gave Yaakov double relief. In addition to verifying that he was alive, it showed Yaakov that he was still actively involved in Torah. For Yaakov Avinu, this was the sign that despite the religiously antagonistic environment around him, Yosef was truly still alive.

Opening Yeshivos

How could Yaakov make sure that his family had a chance of surviving the licentious lifestyle of Egypt? Before sending his family down to Mitzrayim, Yaakov Avinu sent Yehudah ahead to open a yeshiva. In doing so, Yehudah paved the way for Klal Yisrael to come down to Egypt.
The Jewish people are unlike any other nation of the world, for our existence is directly connected to the level at which we learn and keep the Torah. If we cling to the pleasant ways of Torah, then we will flourish and see success like no other nation has ever experienced. Abandoning the Torah causes the exact opposite results.
When the Jewish people experience crises such as the fire that took place here so recently, we must first analyze our level of learning and observing the Torah. Strengthening ourselves in these areas will improve our relationship with Hashem and cause tribulations such as this to disappear. If we attribute what took place to natural means, we throw ourselves into even greater danger.

Coming Up

When Klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim, it was clear that this was an act of Hashem’s Hand and that we had no part in it. Chazal tell us that during Golus Bavel, anyone who left Bavel to go to Eretz Yisrael transgressed. So, too, in every golus, it is Hashem alone Who brings us out.
Even in our days, having returned to Eretz Yisrael, the golus continues. When this last long and bitter exile finally comes to an end, the Almighty Himself will take us out of our suffering. Only when Hashem decides to end golus will it officially be over.
Until that day, the only protection that we can truly rely on is the merit of Torah. Our limud haTorah gives the Almighty true pleasure in this world and allows us to continue finding favor in His eyes. We cannot possibly fathom the protective power that our Torah learning has.

Ben Gurion’s Error

When the sTate of Israel was formed, the government wanted to draft every able-bodied male into the army. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer and the other gedolim of the time protested vehemently. They argued that there had to be some bochurim sitting in yeshivos and studying Torah.
Ben Gurion initially refused their request but eventually he agreed. He assumed that those learning Torah would soon be museum pieces and this antiquated custom would die out. For the interim period, Ben Guion granted them their exemption.
Meanwhile, the yeshivos flourished and, eventually, one thousand yeshiva students became twenty-five thousand. Ben Gurion was shocked by what transpired, for he was sure that yeshiva students were destined to disappear. He was recorded as saying that the only mistake he made in his life was to exempt the yeshiva students from the army.
Chazal tell us that one of the conditions necessary for Moshiach to come is that “chochmas sofrim yisrach – Torah must be putrid in the eyes of people”. As we get closer and closer to this auspicious day, the hatred of Torah grows stronger and stronger. The Israeli government grabs any opportunity to blame yeshiva students for everything that goes wrong in the country.
While the government tried to pin the blame for the fire on yeshiva bochurim, in truth, yeshiva students’ learning is what protect the country and prevents many more tragedies from taking place. During these difficult days prior to the arrival of Moshiach, we must strengthen ourselves in Torah and gemilus chassodim (acts of loving-kindness). This way, we will be prepared for the great revelations that will take place may they happen speedily in our days.
Friday, December 17, 2010

Behind the Fire

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Reacting to Tragedies

During the life of the Chofetz Chaim, a great tragedy took place in Europe. The Chofetz Chaim wanted to declare a day of fasting and prayer, and he called on the great gaon, Rav Chaim Brisker, to support this undertaking. However, Rav Chaim explained that the call of the Chofetz Chaim was too early.
Rav Chaim said that in order to properly rectify this issue, we must first identify the source of the problem. After we have discovered why we are receiving such harsh Divine punishment, then we can try to fix the problem. Only after the issues have been dealt with is a day of fasting and prayer appropriate.
This past weekend, a fire raged through Haifa. Many were killed, more injured, and the amount of overall damage that was caused rendered the catastrophe even greater. Let us look into what took place now, along with how it fits in with other events of the past two years, and try to understand the deeper message that Hashem is relaying to us.

The Only Source of Power

Perhaps the biggest chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) in the modern wourld is the gaavah, the haughtiness, that exists in Israel. During Israel’s short history, the country has fought and won many wars, each one accompanied by open miracles. Yet, each time, almost all of the leaders of the government and army denied Divine involvement and gave full credit to their own expertise.
Two years ago, the Israeli army went into Gaza, with the goal of knocking out the infrastructure of Hamas and thus helping stop the bombings and terror. Although open miracles took place during this time and there were few casualties, Barak and other government officials denied that their victory was in any way connected to Hashem. Once again, they flexed their gaavah and credited their success to their own military prowess.
For the past two years, there has been relative quiet, and Hashem has given us some time to forget about what took place in Gaza. However, the fire this past weekend seems to have been a direct shot at the Israeli gaavah. Israel was forced into a position where they had to admit that they have no control and that everything is in the Hands of the Almighty.
This fire was so bad that Israeli equipment and know-how were not sufficient to extinguish it. AS a result, Turkey had to be called upon for help to put out the blaze. There could be no greater to Israel’s inflated ego than to be humbled into turning to Turkey, their enemy for aid.
Before Moshiach comes every Jew must come to the recognition that Hashem is the Single Power guiding the world. Actions taken by individuals or nations are merely manifestations of His will, and they have no effect on the outcome of world history. Chazal reveal that in order for the final redemption to take place, “We must believe that we have nothing to rely on except for our Father in Heaven” (Sotah 49b)
The great blaze that took place this past weekend showed Israel that only Hashem wields control and that there is absolutely no place for haughtiness. If every Jew is able to internalize this message and recognize that there is no other source of power, Moshiach will come immediately. However, if we categorize what happened as a natural event, the message will get louder and stronger, and chas veshalom (G-d forbid), we would be in danger of experiencing demonstrations such as this fire on an even greater scale, if one dares imagine.
Recognizing that Hashem alone wields power is no easy task. Man naturally feels kochi ve’otzem yodi, that success comes through his own strength. Let us try to understand how we can bring ourselves closer to this recognition of the truth.

Humility Pays

Yosef is the paradigm of the above outlook that one must maintain his humility at all times. After he spent a number of years in jail in Mitzrayim, Paroh called upon him to interpret his dream. This was Yosef’s opportunity to free himself, and one would think that he would take this chance to show himself in the best light.
Yet, when Paroh asked Yosef if he interprets dreams, Yosef emphatically replied that this power is only in Hashem’s jurisdiction. If the Almighty wished, He would reveal to Yosef the meaning of Paroh’s dream. Nothing was in his hands.
People appreciate humility, and the best thing a person can do to find factor in the eyes of others is to stay clear of haughtiness. For this reason, Yosef found favor in the eyes of others and was successful in all that he did. In his famous Igeres (literally letter), the Ramban emphasizes the importance of humility and adds that a person should not even take credit for his wisdom, for it is not his.

Complete Trust

Chazal attribute the verse “Happy is the person who believes in Hashem” to Yosef. Yet, at the same time, Yosef was punished for two years after asking the steward to mention him to Paroh. How can we understand this?
Hashem aided Yosef throughout his stay in Mitzrayim. The Divine Hand was so strong in Yosef’s life that the Torah testifies that everything he did was successful. Even Potifar recognized that Yosef’s success was from above.
After experiencing such open assistance, Yosef should not have turned to the steward for assistance. He should have continued to put his faith solely in Hashem. Yosef’s act showed a certain amount of yi’ush (giving up) and because of that, he needed another two years in prison to strengthen his faith.
When Rav Sternbuch was a child, Rav Elchonon Wasserman was a regular guest at his family’s home in England. About seventy years ago, Rav Sternbuch’s father passed away. Rav Elchonon was sensitive to the feelings of the widow and orphans and was careful to still visit and spend time with the family.
During one such visit, Rav Sternbuch’s mother asked Rav Elchonon the following question: With her husband’s passing, the entire burden of supporting the family fell on her, yet at the same time, she had to take care of herself and her nine children. Both of these were full-time jobs. How could she be expected to do both and at the same time maintain her bitachon (belief and faith in G-d)?
Rav Elchonon responded, “First we must recognize that this world is only a preparation for the World to Come. This world is fleeting, while the next world will be our permanent existence. We must make acquiring a place in the World to Come our primary focus.
“After we have recognized what our goal in life is, we must realize that we can’t grab anything that’s not ours and if we try to take more money than is coming to us, we will be forced to pay it back in problems with our health, children, or some other area of our finances. Hashem has already decreed exactly how much you and your family will receive. Take as much time as you need to raise your children, and rely that the Almighty will grant you all of your needs in the remaining few hours”.
When we are suffering in the area of finances, health, or grappling with any other problem, the natural reaction is to panic. We must first recognize that the purpose of our lives is to serve Hashem. After this, we will be able to recognize that Hashem is in complete control and has designed this situation to help us recognize His Hand in our personal lives.

Avoiding Negative Influences

At the beginning of the famine, Yaakov and his household still had food. Yaakov asks his children, “Why are you making yourself appear as you do?” What were Yaakov’s intentions in this question?
The Ramban explains that although Yaakov still had food, Eisav’s and Yishmoel’s families did not. They needed to go to Mitrayim in order to purchase sustenance. However, if they knew that Yaakov’s family had food, they might stop in for a few days.
Yaakov understood that such a visit could have a negative influence on his family. Therefore, he told his children to go to Mitzrayim to purchase food. This way, Eiasav and Yishmoel would think that they were also in need and would not come to their home.
Distancing children from negative influences is a critical issue in their chinuch (education). A child who does not yet have the ability to discern between right and wrong can be harmed if he is exposed to anti-Torah philosophies. Rav Chaim Brisker would keep tabs on who his children spoke to and what was said to them.

The Drought Continues

As the fire was blazing through Haifa, the drought continued throughout Israel. While drought was once the cause of death, today this is not the case. The Chazon Ish said that lack of rain tells us that Hashem is upset with us and wants us to change our ways.
We have seen that fire and water, two of the most basic elements in the world, are out of our control. Both of these circumstances tell us the same message: we must humble ourselves before Hashem. He is the lone Source of strength.
Chazal tell us that before Moshiach comes, there will be chevlei Moshiach, the “birth pangs” of this event. The purpose of these tribulations is singular. They are all directed at getting us to recognize that we have no personal power and that He alone is the Force that directs us.
We have discussed humility, complete trust in Hashem, and avoiding influences that are spiritually harmful. Hashem has brought about these tzaros to influence us to work on these three issues. If we do not take this to heart, these destructive events took place for naught.
Hashem wants to bring the geulah (redemption) today, and He is calling out to us to make it happen. If we internalize the message of the fire and the drought and elevate ourselves to a complete recognition that He alone wields power, the redemption will come immediately. Let’s not let this opportunity slip through our fingers.
Thursday, December 9, 2010

Refusing Compromise

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

The Best of Both Worlds

Rashi tells us that Yaakov Avinu sent actual malachim to speak with Eisav. Seeing an angel is no small feat, and only someone on a very high spiritual level can merit this. Why was Eisav worthy of such a revelation?
In truth, Eisav was a complete believer in Hashem, and he was aware that there is reward for good deeds and punishment for transgression. While he was around his father, Yitzchok, Eisav acted like a tzaddik and asked him the most complex and intricate questions in halachah. However, Eisav was drawn after the pleasures of this world, and he rationalized his evil ways through receiving himself in the moment that everything would somehow be fine in the end.
Today, the temptations of the world are stronger than ever. Without constant vanguard over ourselves and our families, we can easily be pulled into the same erroneous thinking that influenced Eisav’s life philosophy. When it comes to religious issues, we must keep in mind that there is no room for compromise and that keeping Hashem’s Torah overrides all other considerations.

Honoring Parents

Before meeting up with Eisav, Yaakov prepared himself with prayer and presents. If that would not work, Yaakov was ready to go to war with his brother. Although Yaakov was certainly more righteous than his brother, he feared that Eisav’s fulfillment of the mitzvah of honoring his father could override Yaakov’s own merit.
Although Yaakov certainly had the merit of going in the ways of Yitzvhok and Avrohom, there was a reason that he might not benefit from this regarding the particular situation with Eisav. During the twenty years that Yaakov was away from his parents, he did not fulfill the mitzvah of honoring his parents. This lapse could effectively take away his zechus avos.
Eisav, on the other hand, excelled in the mitzvah of honoring his parents. He even kept a special set of clothes in which to serve his father.
We might think that Yaakov was exempt of his obligation to honor his parents during his twenty-year stint by Lavan. After Chazal tell us that he was punished for this, we must assume that he was not freed from his responsibility. Even under these circumstances, Yaakov should have made special efforts to try and fulfill this mitzvah.
Many of us have busy schedules, and the more we are involved with activities, the harder it is to give our parents our full attention. Who was more busy and righteous than Yaakov Avinu? Yet, he did not escape punishment for his absence from Yitzvhok and Rifkah. When it comes to the mitzvah of kibbud av ve’eim, we may not compromise, and even if it is difficult, we must do everything we can to honor them.

Out of our Hands

Upon encountering Eisav, Yaakov tells him that he had lived with Lavan. Chazal tell us that the Hebrew world for “I lived”, garti, is spelled with the same letters as the number taryag, 613. This was a hint to Eisav that, even while Yaakov lived with the evil Lavan, he still kept all of the mitzvos.
Was it necessary for Yaakov to tell this to Eisav? Yaakov wanted his brother to know that although he was willing to make large financial sacrifices, there was one issue that he would not compromise on. When it came to mitzvos, Yaakov was not prepared to budge an inch.
A group of doctors once met in Kovna to discuss various issues of the time. One of the topis that came up was spitting during chalitzah (if a woman’s husband dies and she has no kids, she has to marry the husband’s brother, called yibum, if she does not then she has to go through the process of chalitzah). They felt that it was unbecoming and should be abolished from the ceremony.
The group went to the Kovna Rav, Rav Avrohom Shapira, and asked him about the possibility of changing chalitzah. He asked them if, before they dealt with that issue they could help him out with something that was bothering him. Since they were doctors, perhaps they could tell him a cure to death.
Surprised by the rov’s request, they replied that medicine had not found a cure for death and that this certainly was not in their hands. Rav Shapira said, “So, too, the Torah is not in our hands. The Almighty established that chalitzah is done by spitting and we have no ability to change this”.

My Brother Eisav

Yaakov Avinu asks Hashem to save him from his “brother Eisav”. We can understand why we need protection from Eisav when he acts against us, but why did Yaakov request that the Almighty protect us even when Eisav is acting as our brother?
When the Jewish people are persecuted, it is clear that Eisav is our enemy. However, when the non-Jews treat us as equals in order to pull us away from Torah, the flight is much more subtle. In such cases, we require much more Divine assistance.
When the State of Israel was formed, the Satmar Rov told the Chazon Ish that he was afraid there were Zionists who would persecute the religious Jews. The Chazon Ish replied that Hashem would protect us from evil intentions. He was much more worried about the “candies” they want to give us to lure us away from Torah.
The nisyonos (tests) in Israel today are very difficult. If we let the government carry out their intentions, they will destroy the entire Torah framework that exists in the Holy Land. We must turn to Hashem to help protect us from their influence.

Dinah in a Box

Before meeting Eisav, Yaakov Avinu hid Dinah from him putting her in a box. Yaakov was afraid that when Eisav saw Dinah, he would want to marry her. Despite his good intentions. Chazal tell us that Yaakov was punished for hiding her.
Yaakov’s behavior stemmed from his refusal to compromise his beliefs and seemingly was completely justified. Furthermore, Eisav was over 100 years old and Dinah was a young girl. Why was Yaakov punished for his actions?
Rav Eliyahu Desler explains that although Yaakov’s actions were both justified and correct, he should have had more compassion for his brother. We can compare this to a person who sees someone drowning, but he himself does not know how to swim. The onlooker does not have to risk his own life to save him, but he should at least feel bad that the other person is dying.
So too, Yaakov was right in hiding Dinah from Eisav. Yet, at the same time, he should have felt bad that he could not do something to bring his own twin brother back to the right path. For his lack of concern, Yaakov was punished when Dinah was abducted.
From this incident with Dinah, we see an important lesson in compromise. Even when a person sticks to his principles, he should not let this dull his emotions. We must act in the way the Torah directs us, while at the same time feeling for the suffering of others.

Fighting Angels

The Torah tells us that the night before His encounter with Eisav, Yaakov fought with an angel the whole night. As dawn approached, the malach (angel) asked Yaakov to free him so that he could return to the heavens to sing shirah. What was the special song that the angel had to rush back to sing that morning?
The Tchebiner Rov explains that the malach that Yaakov fought was none other than the Sotan himself. He tries to influence us to sin and at times succeeds. Converng Yaakov, the Soton fought very hard but was unable to influence Yaakov to compromise even an iota.
The Soton’s job is to get us to sin, and success brings him great joy. Yet there is something that causes him even more joy. If he puts up a good fight and through that battle we are able to reach even higher levels of serving Hashem, the Soton has an even greater accomplishment and is even more happy.
The Zohar writes that the injury in the gid hanosheh (sinew) is a sign that the Soton will try and knock out the tomchei Torah, those people who contribute funds to the upkeep of Torah. Today, the world financial scene is difficult. Torah has take a hit, and the Soton continues to battle. We must try and continue to do whatever is in our ability to strengthen Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael and the rest of the world.
The dawn of world history is approaching, and the personal battle of every Jew is becoming more difficult daily. During this time of darkness, we must refuse any compromise that draws us away from Torah and persevere in the struggle that Yaakov started. The degree to which we relentlessly cling to the Torah is the amount of light that we will merit to see when the redemption comes.