Blog Archive

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, February 25, 2011

Ask the Raavad: Shailos uteshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Question: If a military conflict arises involving Israel against the Palestinians or other Arab nations, what should we daven for?

Answer: During these turbulent times, one should daven for peace in all areas, both between Jews and non-Jews and between Jews and Jews, for there is no utensil that holds Divine blessing like peace.

Question: May one wear a gold watch, or wear a plastic cover on one’s hat, in a public domain where there is no eruv?

Answer: According to the understanding of many Rishonim, most cities today have the status of a public domain, and one should be stringent. However, in a place where it is questionable if it has the status of a public domain, one may act leniently, as long as the custom is not to be stringent. In order to understand these rulings, we need to investigate the background issues behind these two questions.

Societal Change

Society is in a constant state of change. The world we live in and the way people act today is very different that it was in the times of Chazal. The poskim encapsulated this idea when they wrote, “Every question depends on the time and the place.”

Two striking examples of this concept regard the halachos of carrying on Shabbos. In the times of Chazal, it was commonplace for women to take off their jewelry and show it to their friends. Based on this, Chazal decreed that a woman should not wear jewelry, lest she come to carry it in a public domain.

Today, most women do not take off their jewelry in the middle of the street and show it to others. Such an action would probably be considered strange. Based on this factor, the Rama rules that today woman may wear jewelry in a public domain.

Some Rishonim define a public domain based on whether the streets are 16 amos wide, while others require that a public domain must also have 600,000 people (Biur Halacha 34:7). While in the times of the Gemara many of the streets were narrow, and many towns were small, today many streets are wide and the populations of cities are large. Let us try and understand how these factors affect our two questions.

Gold Watches and Bracelets

Today, many men and women wear a gold or decorative watch as a type of jewelry. Based on this, the great gaon and tzaddik, Rav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, compares a watch to a bracelet, which is permitted to wear on one’s arm. (Shulchan Aruch 303:15). Rav Dushinsky ruled that although it is praiseworthy not to wear a watch in a public domain on Shabbos, l’halacha it is permitted.

If we take a closer look at this issue, there is a strong argument to forbid wearing a watch on Shabbos. Since the primary purpose of the watch is to know the time and not to wear as an ornament, it is not clear that we can give a watch the status of a piece of jewelry or a garment. The Biur Halacha sees this as a reason to be stringent regarding watches (301:11)

Rav Moshe Feinistein (Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:111) adopted the more stringent stand and forbade wearing a watch in a public domain. Since the reason to forbid wearing a watch is because it is not solely for looks, this halachah applies to men as well as women. However, since women wear jewelry for decorative purposes, they may be more lenient in regards to wearing other items such as rings and bracelets in a public domain on Shabbos.

A Hat on a Hat

Although it is forbidden to carry anything on Shabbos, it is permitted to wear clothing that befits one’s body. Since one’s body requires these garments, they are considered subordinate to one’s body, and one is not considered to be carrying them. In this vein, the Ramam (301:36) permits one to wear a hat on top of another hat, i.e. a larger hat on top of a kipah, since the larger hat protects one’s body more than the smaller one.

While the hat cover may not be considered subordinate to one’s body, since it is made specifically for the hat, it is possible to view it as part of the garment. According to this understand, just like one is allowed to wear the hat, one could wear the cover as well. Some poskim take the more lenient understanding.

On the other hand, it is forbidden to wear a garment that is being worn for itzulei tinuf, i.e. to protect one’s clothing from dirt. Clothing such as this does not protect one’s body, and it is therefore considered carrying to wear it. A hat cover does not protect more of the body than the hat and should be considered itsulei tinuf, and both the Chazon Ish and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:108-110) adopted this stringent opinion.

The Bottom Line

Following the above discussion, we may conclude as follows. Since the poskim dispute whether one may wear a watch or hat cover, in a place where the streets are 16 amos wide, and there are not 600,000 people, one should be stringent not to wear them. However, in a place where one of these factors is not present and it is questionable if it has the status of a public domain, one may act leniently regarding these issues.

It is important to add that Chazal have told us that in a place where the minhag is to be stringent, it is forbidden to be lenient in public, and the permissibility of wearing a watch and a hat cover is affected by the custom of each place. If one lives in a community where the accepted practice is not to wear these items, then one may not do so. Since determining these guidelines is extremely complex, each person should consult with his personal rov to clarify the halachic status of the place where he lives.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bogus Conversions in the Israeli Army come to an End!!!!!!

Rabbis reach deal on IDF conversions

In order to prevent haredi protests, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef says convert who did not intend on observing mitzvot while undergoing conversion process will not be recognized as a Jew

Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, authorized a number of senior rabbis on Sunday to add clarifications on his behalf to his controversial ruling which legitimized conversions performed in the Israel Defense Forces.

The addition is said to be accepted by leaders of the Eda Haredit movement, including head of the Lithuanian Orthodox faction Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who are expected to call off the mass protest against Rabbi Yosef planned for Wednesday.

According to the compromise – brokered by former Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri – Rabbi Yosef added a restriction to his ruling, stating that a convert who did not really intend on adopting a religious lifestyle while undergoing the conversion process would not be recognized as a Jew.

The compromise offers the Ashkenazi rabbis a way out from their aggressive and uncompromising statements in the past few days, while sparing an embarrassing mass protest against Rabbi Yosef and Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, without any of the parties reneging on their original stances.

The converts, however, are in for greater difficulties following the agreement. The Ashkenazi haredi marriage registrars are expected to give them a hard time, trying to prove in any way possible that they did not really intend to observe mitzvot.

The Sephardic rabbis, Yosef's students, will argue that this can be proved only in very rare cases and that adopting a secular lifestyle – even shortly after the conversion process is completed – does not necessarily prove that the convert acted in a deceitful manner.

Sources close to Rabbi Yosef stressed that he was not reneging on his original ruling, just emphasizing it, and that his halachic stand is well known and has been published on various occasions in the past.

Deri to the rescue?

Former Minister Deri delved deeply into the matter on Thursday night. He formed a team of three senior haredi Sephardic rabbis – Rabbi Shalom Cohen, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz and Rabbi Moshe Tzedaka – who conducted the negotiations between the parties.

At first some of them appeared before the Eda Haredit court and Rabbi Elyashiv, and then presented the bones of contention to Rabbi Yosef, as raised in their meetings with the Ashkenazi rabbis.

On Sunday, after a meeting at his home with the mediating rabbis, Yosef authorized them to deliver the clarification of his ruling to leaders of the Eda Haredit movement, which represents a large section of the Ashkenazi Orthodox community.

Eda Haredit leader Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, who met with Rabbi Yosef's representatives along with Interior Minister Eli Yishai, said he accepted the solution to the crisis and that the protest would be officially canceled.
Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ask the Raavad: Shailos U’teshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Question: What is the controversy regarding conversion in Eretz Yisrael all about?

Answer: One of the most sensitive aspects of the Jewish religion is the area of geirus, conversion. Hashem gets great satisfaction when a righteous convert gives up everything in his previous life to join the Jewish people. However, Divine anger is stirred up when a non-Jew tries to join Klal Yisrael without any intention of keeping mitzvos.

During recent years, a million Russians have entered Eretz Yisrael, many of them non-Jews. In order to facilitate making these new immigrants Jewish, the government, together with the army and the rabbanut, set up a special bais din. Thousands have already converted, and tens of thousands are waiting to be accepted as Jews.

In truth, there is absolutely no validity to these bogus conversions. One of the most important parts of conversion is kabbolas mitzvos, accepting all of the 613 mitzvos upon oneself. We have investigated this situation thoroughly, and the vast majority of these new converts have no interest in keeping mitzvos and are only converting to gain rights as citizens of Israel. Furthermore, many of the so-called rabbis who are teaching these converts are Reform or completely non-religious and are teaching them kefirah (heresy).

Some of the religious rabbonim, backing these conversions cite the Rambam who states, “If bais din did not check the sincerity of a convert, or they did not inform him of the mitzvos and their punishments, and he nonetheless undergoes milah (circumcision) and tevilah (going to the mikveh) in front of three novice dayanim (rabbinical court judges), since he underwent milah and tevilah, we treat him as if he is no longer a non-Jew, until we can clarify his true intentions. Even if he reverts completely back to his non-Jewish ways, we treat him as a Yisrael mumar (a Jewish heretic) (Issurei Biah 13).”

At first glance, the words of the Rambam imply that as long as someone underwent milah and tevilah, we treat him like a Jew, even though we do not know if he accepted mitzvos upon himself.

In truth, anyone who explains the Rambam like this is guilty of megaleh ponim baTorah shelo kehilchasah, teaching warped explanations of Torah that are not the halachah. The Rambam is clearly referring to a person who is sincerely interested in converting for the sake of keeping mitzvos. Since the bais din involved was not made up of expert dayanim, they were not aware how one must thoroughly check the intentions of a convert before accepting him into the fold.

However, when bais din realizes from the outset that a candidate is not interested in accepting mitzvos upon himself, it is one hundred percent clear that even if tevilah and milah were performed, this person does not become even a safeik (doubtful) Jew. In regards to converts, the Torah writes, “Mishpat”, which teaches us that conversion requires the authorization of a bais din that the conversion is sincere and that everything has been done according to halachah. The Rambam is merely stating that if a novice bais din forgot to check this issue, if they initially validated his sincerity, we must assume that he may be Jewish.

What is taking place with these false conversions is a churban (travesty). It is literally defiling the sanctity of the Jewish people. Since the time of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, the Jewish people have not experienced such a disaster. We are approaching a time when one Jew will not be able to marry another lest his family came from these phony conversions.

Today, the Jewish people in Israel are in great danger from the Arabs who surround us on all sides, and we are in desperate need of mercy from Above. Chazal tell us that the Shechinah rests on the Jewish people when we ensure that the lineage of the Jewish people is maintained. These improper converts are driving the Divine Presence away from us and banishing our source of protection from us.

Chazal have already told us that we will be plagued with tragedies if we are flippant in our acceptance of converts (Yevamos 109b). The Gemara at the end of Maseches Kiddushin states that if we stand by quietly while such conversions take place, the Shechinah will depart from us and we will become susceptible to the attacks of the enemies around us.

In the near future, there will be a large demonstration in Yerushalayim against what is taking place. Jews living abroad should not think that they are absolved of their obligation to protest this atrocity because they are not living in Israel. If Hashem’s anger is enflamed by what is taking place, the entire Jewish nation is in danger of falling prey to the hand of the nations around us.

Anyone who is quiet during this time should worry that he is included in what Chazal said: “Cursed is the one who does not lift up this Torah”. On the other hand, anyone who takes actions to prevent these false conversions will be blessed and is deserving of great praise for their actions. We should strengthen the hands of all those who are involved with stopping these conversions, for the future of the Jewish people hinges on their actions.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Expressing Humility

Humble Measurements

All the measurements of the Aron, which contained the Torah, were half measurements (amosayim vocheitzei etc). This teaches us that limud haTorah requires ceaseless toil, and we must never be satisfied with the efforts invested in our learning, but must always aspire to reach ever greater levels. For this reason, the ultimate title awarded to any Jew is to be a talmid chochom (a Torah scholar) and not a chochom, since even someone who ahs acquired and absorbed much Torah must consider himself to be only a talmid of a chochom and not an actual chochom.

Humility is an essential trait for attaining any genuine madreigah (level) in Torah, and this may also be seen from the fact that the Aron, although surrounded by gold, was made of word. To the outside world, a talmid chochom must act the part of a chochom. His behavior must be impeccable and he must insist on kavod haTorah in the conduct of others. However, within himself, he must be like “wood” – utterly, humble and not claiming any credit for himself.

Give in order to Get

All the meforshim wonder about the Torah’s phraseology at the beginning of Parshas Terumah. Why does it say, “that they take for Me an offering”, instead of “that they give an offering to Me”? This teaches us that a person must be aware that whenever he gives away “his” possessions, he is not parting with anything belonging to himself, but is only transferring an object actually due to the recipient. For example, when we make a donation to an oni (a poor person) who is entitled to our maser kesafim (giving a 1/10 of our money to charity), we will be blessed in return with manifold blessings.

A donor must recognize that his donation is, in truth, the means for receiving blessings from Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Similarly, the Yisrael who gives matnos kehunah (those gifts given to the Kohen), is in turn, blessed by the kohanim: “So shall they put My name upon the Bnei Yisrael, and I will bless them”. Therefore, so far from patting one’s shoulder for his generosity, a person who parts with his property due to an obligation prescribed by the Torah should be grateful for the opportunities presented to him to receive Hashem’s bounty in this way.

Educational Priorities

Chazal tell us that the two faces of the Keruvim were in the form of a young boy and a young girl. This teaches us that when the Kohen gadol goes into the Kodesh Hakodoshim (Holy of Holies) in the midst of his lofty thoughts, he must humbly remember to invest major efforts into the education of his children, including even his young children.

When the Brisker Rov zt”l was the rov of Brisk, he was very particular about the education of his children and put a lot of effort into investigating what they were doing, who their friends were, and so on. Some members of the community looked askance at his preoccupation with his children’s education and told him that, as the rabbi of the city, it was his duty first and foremost to invest more time in meeting the city’s many requirements. The Brisker Rov responded that the education of those children was more important to him than anything else in the world, and if they felt that this constituted an obstacle to the proper fulfillment of his rabbinical duties, he would be willing to resign his position.

Elevating the Mundane

In the Mishkan and the Bais Hamikdash, the mizbeiach (altar) was in the middle, with the Menorah to the south and the Shulchan (table) to the north. The Shulchan has to face the mizbeiach to demonstrate that we must eat lesheim Shomayim, to preserve our health in order to be able to serve Hashem properly. Similarly, we dip bread in salt every meal. Although there are reason al pi Kabbolah for this practice, we can understand it on a plain level too. Salt, on its own, is not considered a delicacy for most people, but when used to season other food, it becomes an essential component. So too, if we consume food merely in order to satisfy our appetite, it is not a worthy act per se, but if we eat with the requisite intentions, the food becomes an elevated vehicle for serving Hashem.

External Trappings

The light of the Menorah symbolizes the light of the Torah. The posuk says, “Its knobs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it”. The Chasam Sofer sees this as an indication that the Torah is all-encompassing and does not need to be supplemented by knowledge from any external sources. At various stages of our history, some people felt the need to incorporate philosophy or other branches of non-Jewish wisdom into the Torah. This happened, for example, in Spain and Germany. In truth, however, anyone willing to dedicate himself exclusively to Torah will find even a “button” – i.e. external mundane wisdom – to be an integral part of the Torah itself, and will feel no need to have recourse to foreign sources to “supplement” the Torah.

Islamic Stirrings

This past week, we saw the movement which started in Tunisia spread to our most populous neighbor, Egypt, and even to Jordan. What started as a popular uprising has all the makings of becoming a veritable earthquake. The Zohar says that in the period leading up to the coming of Moshiach, the descendants of Yishmael will enjoy enormous power in the merit of the mitzvah of milah. Unfortunately, many of his descendants display immense dedication to their religion, and we must demonstrate at least as much mesirus nefesh in all aspects of Yiddishkeit.

We saw before that even in the Kodesh Hakodoshim, the Kohen Gadol was not to remain exclusively immersed in other worldly thoughts. The bells on his me’il cautioned him against any thoughts of his own righteousness in the holiest place. They served as a wake-up call to remind him not to remain silent in the face of any breaches against the Torah but rather to voice his vigorous protest against them.

When circumstances call for such protests, there is no place for either self-righteousness or humility. As for the so-called political situation, we are totally dependent on Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Based on a natural analysis of current events, there is no room for optimism at all and we may feel that we will inevitably be forced to endure calamities the likes of which we have not experienced since becoming a nation. However, if we come to the realization that salvation lies only with Hashem, and if we do whatever the Torah requires of us to stand up for kevod Shomayim (honoring the Kingdom of Heaven) Hashem will surely help us.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ask the Raavad: Shailos Uteshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch

The teshuvos are transcribed by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis. Questions for Rav Sternbuch may be sent to Rabbi Travis at

Question: How is one to react when he is saved miraculously from a matzav sakana (a life-threatening event)?

Answer: I experienced a chain of miracles last week, when I was saved a number of times from the hands of Arabs. Last Shabbos I recited Birkas Hagomel (the blessing for being saved from a dangerous situation) and made a seudos hoda’ah (a meal of thanksgiving)

Relating Miracles

The Zohar writes, “Hashem has great pleasure when Jews speak about the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim (the coming out of Egypt) on Pesach night. Hashem gathers all of the melachim (angels) in the Heavens so that they can listen to the recitation of these miracles. These angels praise Hashem for all of these miracles, and praise the righteousness of the Jewish people who celebrate the miracles that Hashem performed for them.

“Similarly, when an individual has a personal miracle, he should praise Hashem for the Providence he experienced. What benefit does Hashem receive from hearing about the miracles that He, Himself performed? One must nonetheless relate these miracles for these words ascend to the Heavens, and Hashem gathers all of the malachim to listen. When the heavenly assembly hears this story, they all praise Hashem, and there is great honor to Hashem both above and bellow” (Zohar, Parshas Bo)

The answer is that whenever we experience miracles, there is always a possibility to attribute it to tevah, natural circumstances. When we experience miracles and we relate the story and admit that everything was Hashem’s Hand and nothing was a result of our own intelligence or coincidence, Hashem gets great pleasure that we rely solely on Him and nothing else. Even though angels generally have sufficient reason to prosecute us, when we speak about miracles, the tables turn and the malachim extol the praise of the Jewish people.

Saved from a Lynch

Last week, the 22nd of Shevat 5771, was the second yahrtzeit (anniversary of the death) of Rav Sternbuch’s wife. One of the rov’s sons and three of his grandsons were driving Rav Sternbuch to the bais hakevoros (graveyard) on Har Hazeisim (Mount of Olives). The GPS misdirected them and before they knew it, they were in an Arab village.

A group of Arabs started to hurl bricks at the car. One of the bricks broke the window and injured the driver. Although he was bleeding and crying in pain, the driver continued to drive and escape from the crowd.

A band of bloodthirsty Arabs ran after the car, but the injured driver kept going. He swerved onto a side road and managed to get away from the mob of Arabs. However, at that point, they had absolutely no idea where they were.

He continued to drive for about fifteen minutes until they came to an Arab garage. People there warned them that this was a dangerous place for them to be, but they decided that they were going to stop there and try to get help. They called the Israeli police, but the police told them that unless they could offer some identifying signs, they could not help them.

There was a small straw hut nearby, and an Arab came out and offered to help them. He invited them to his home for a drink, but Rav Sternbuch and his family refused and instead they asked this Arab if he could give them directions. The Sternbuchs got in touch with the police, and the Arab instructed the officers how to get to the place where they were situated.

Rav Sternbuch and his family waited for about twenty minutes, and finally the police arrived. Rav Sternbuch was then taken away in a police car back to Israeli territory. Eventually, Rav Sternbuch made it to the cemetery to say tefilllos (prayers) for the yahrtzeit and for the miraculous rescue from the hands of death.

Staying Strong Under Fire

Rav Sternbuch related that when the Arabs started to throw bricks at the car he did not even realize that anything unusual was taking place. He was so engrossed in learning that he did not notice what was happening. Only after they sped away from the Arab mob did Rav Sternbuch realize that they were under attack.

During the entire experience, Rav Sternbucvh was confident that he would get out alive. Klal Yisrael is in great need of rabbonim today to give p’sak halach and direction to the Jewish people, so Rav sternbuch understood that Hashem would take care of him and protect him from all danger.

Rav Sternbuch related that during the entire episode, he did not feel the slightest bit of fear. During World War II, Rav Sternbuch’s rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Shneider, ingrained into their minds, “Every bomb and bullet has an address”. If Hashem has not destined one’s demise, it will not take place.

Rav Sternbuch added that during World War II, England was bombarded with rockets by the Nazis. Many people fled to bomb shelters, but Rav Shneider stayed in the bais medrash learning. Rav sternbuch followed the rosh yeshivah’s example and continued to learn in the bais medrash during the attacks.

Thanking Hashem

On the Shabbos after the resuce from the Arabs, Rav Sternbuch recited Birkas Hagomel (the blessing for being saved from a dangerous situation). Afterward, he hosted a seudas hodo’ah at his home. Rav Sternbuch fulfilled the words of the Zohar by speaking about the miracles that had transpired.

After relating the miraculous rescue stories, Rav Sternbuch explained the deeper meaning of the Birkas Hagomel blessing. We say, “Who performs kindness for those who are chayavim (obligated). Who did good for me”. Why do we refer to ourselves as chayavim and why do we finish off the bracha by repeating that Hashem “has done good for me”?

Everyone has transgressions and can be considered chayav. At times, Hashem punishes us for these sins by putting us in situations of danger and then miraculously rescuing us. This is what we mean when we say “Who performs kindness for those who are chaavim”.

Although we survive the experience, the necessity for a miracle causes us to lose from our merit. How do we regain the merit that we lost? By reciting the story and the Hashgacha (Divine Providence) of what took place, we regain what was taken away.

After entering a situation of danger, we might have doubts about Hashem’s kindness toward us. For this reason, we conclude the blessing with, “Who did good for me”. We admit that Hashem’s kindness is perfect and that everything that took place was only as a result of our actions.

The Medrash in Parshas Tzav says that when one brings a korban todah (a thanksgiving sacrifice), he offers Hashem honor on top of honor. The first honor is attributing one’s salvation completely to Hashem. However, one adds even more honor to Hashem’s Name if he also admits that he was deserving of that punishment and thanks Hashem for both chastising and rescuing him.

Sanctifying Hashem’s Name

Rav Sternbuch’s son, Rav Asher concluded the seudos hodayah with the following thoughts.

It is not by chance that these great miracles happened on the yahrtzeit of Rav Sternbuch’s late wife, Rebbetzin Yaffa Sternbuch. It was in her great merit that the rov was able to have a great impact on the Jewish people (see introduction to A Voice in the Darkness)

One brazen individual made the following remark. Perhaps Rav Sternbuch was attacked by Arabs because of the rov’s protest against the abominable parades in Yerushalyim, desecration of gravesites, conversion without a full acceptance of mitzvos, and other issues which Rav Sternbuch considers to be an affront to Hashem’s honor. Maybe these protests had stirred up Divine wrath against the rov, chas veshalm (G-d forbid).

Rav Sternbuch replied that he was sure that he was saved from the hands of death because of his great concertn with Hashem’s honor. Hashem allowed him the opportunity to once again sanctify the Divine Name through the miracles that took place and the great calmness that Rav Sternbuch had in reacting to them.

The seudas hodayah concluded with singing and rejoicing over the miraculous rescue. Rav sternbuch gave a bracha that just as he had been miraculously saved from the hands of enemies, so too, the entire Jewish people would be redeemed speedily, and we should soon witness the coming of the Moshiach, who will extricate us from the hands of all of our enemies. May it be Hashem’s will that this event should be a harbinger for the speedy redemption quickly in our days.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Rav Sternbuch on Parshas Mishpatim

Beauty of the Jewish Home

Some people are extremely particular about kashrus. They spend a lot of money to ensure that mitzvos are observed behidur rav, and they are also provided the best education for their children, but their business affairs are not in line with Torah standards. After describing kabolas hatorah (the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai), the Torah immediately delineates the laws pertaining to interpersonal relationships. Similarly, Pirkei Avos, which deals exclusively with ethics, starts with Moshe kibel Torah misinai (Moses received the Torah from Mount Sinai). This teaches us that bein adom lechaveiro matters constitute an integral and vital part of the Torah, which must be observed that least as much as other parts of the Torah.

Taking a look at this week’s parsha it is conspicuous how the Torah’s laws differ fundamentally from man-made laws. In most legal systems a thief is liable to a fine or possibly imprisonment. By contrast, the Torah is mainly concerned with restitution of the stolen object, to such an extent that the thief eve has to sell himself in order to obtain money for repayment purposes. During his period of “slavery” the eved ivri’s master is obliged to provide him with all the necessary comforts, and the eved is exposed to the beauty of a Torah way of life. This serves as a powerful lesson for anyone involved in kiruv (Jewish outreach) about how important it is to emphasize the beauty of family life in a Torah home.

Paternal Connections

The posuk talks about someone who smites his father or mother and about a person who curses his father or mother, but in between it refers to someone who steals a man, and sells him. Why did the Torah not put the prohibition against smiting a parent in juxtaposition to the prohibition of cursing a parent? On the face of it, these two similar prohibitions belong together. The Torah is telling us about the origins of this extreme case of a son cursing his father. In the absence of a close connection between a father and son, the father’s influence over his child will decline, and the son will be exposed to outsiders seeking to convince him that his father belongs to the old generation and has no understanding of today’s needs. The boy’s heart will be “stolen”; he will start calling his father names, and will eventually curse him. IF we make it our priority to nurture a genuine connection with our children, then even if they go through difficult periods, they will never want to sever that bond with their parents.

Majority Rules?

The story is told that the King asked Rav Yonasan Eibshutz why the Jews are so adamant in adhering to their religion when their own law prescribes following the majority, and the majority of humanity does not follow the Jewish faith. Rav Yonasan responded that in a situation of doubt the majority is indeed decisive, but in the absence of doubt there is no need to apply the majority principle, and as Jews we do not harbor any doubts about our faith. This teaches u that a true believer is only one who faith is not subject to any doubts.

Angelic Empathy?

The Rambam asks why in this week’s parasha the bnei yisroel agreed to be guided by malachim (angels) whereas after the chet haegel (sin of the golden calf), they begged not to be led by them. Before the chet haegel, when they were still on a high madreigo (level), surrounded on all sides by the anonei hakavod (clouds of glory) they did not mind angels being involved in leading them, but after they sinned, they wanted only Hashem Himself to lead them, because they felt that angels could not understand how anyone could sin against the Creator, and they would not serve as good defense counsel, since as far as angels are concerned any transgression against the Creator warrants immediate and sever punishment.

Rhyme or Reason

Rashi brings down that in addition to mitzvos such as kibud av v’em (honoring parents) and shabbos, we were also taught the halachos of para aduma (the red heifer) at Moro. It is easy to see the necessity for having to be taught hilchos shabbos, with which we were totally unfamiliar up to that point, but what reason could there be for our having to be taught the halachos of para aduma at such an early stage? This was meant to teach us that just like these halachos are incomprehensible, since the same object which is metaher temeim (purifying the impure) is also metame tehorim (impurifying the pure), so too is the whole Torah incomprehensible. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that we can gain a complete understanding of even apparently rational commandments such as honoring one’s parents, because there are thousands of reasons for everything in the Torah, which are beyond our understanding. When the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim provided reasons for commandments he did not mean to suggest that these were ultimate or absolute reasons, but only one of multitude of reasons. The more we delve into the profundity and complexity of the Torah, the more we realize how much we do not understand.

Unwanted Snare

“They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me, for you will serve their gods, for they will be a snare unto you”. Unfortunately this pasuk is of great topical relvance. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate with the approval of the Shas party, is bring in non-Jewish idol worshippers from Ethiopia who claim descent from the avos hakedoshim (patriarchs) but do not keep any mitzvos. Furthermore, many thousands of non-Jewish Russian immigrants are already present in the country, and now, to add insult to injury, certain parties are eager to validate “army conversions”, and declare non-Jews to be Jews. Accepting ol malchus shamayim (the yoke of heaven) is a prerequisite for the validity of any conversion. If a genuine convert subsequently become lax in mitzvah observance, he becomes a mumar (heretic) like any other born Jew acting the same way, but these thousands of soldiers did not even pretend ab initio that they wanted to observe any halaochos. We do not distinguish between Ashkenazim and Sefardim, but are only interested in the Torah. However, anyone who validates such “conversions” will indeed cause a schism, G-d forbid, between those who recognize them for marriage purposes and those who do not (i.e. all the poskim in Eretz Yisrael: see the announcement published last week).

Rav Sternbuch Shlita was miraculously saved from a fury of an Arab mob last Thursday, and benshed gomel (the prayer for being saved by a miracle) on Shabbos. At the Kiddush on Shabbos after davening, his son said that one impudent fellow had suggested that this incident happened because of the Rav’s protests against the conversion scandal. The Rav responded that he believes he was saved in the merit of these protests.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ask the Raavad – Shailos Uteshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Question: Is it permitted to eat food that was touched by someone who did not wash their hands (negel vasser)in the morning?

Answer: The halachah is that one may eat the food after first washing it three times under the faucet, although the Vilna Gaon was stringent never to eat the food.

One Purim, the Vilna Gaon received an exquisite mishloach manos, consisting of choice apples and lemons. Rav Zalman of Volozin (brother of Rav Chaim of Volozhin) was at the table of the Gaon that Purim and dozed off during the meal. While he was sleeping, his hands touched some of the fruit in the basket.

When the Gaon saw what happened, he immediately ordered the apples and lemons to be chopped into small pieces and thrown into the toilet. He world not even permit the fruit to be sold to a non-Jew, lest he sell them afterwards to a Jew. The Vilna Gaon believed that food touched before one washes his hands presents the greatest spiritual danger (Tosefes Ma’ashe Rav 25).

As far as the halachah lemaaseh, the Mishnah Berurah (4:14) cites the Chaye Adam (2:2) who permits eating food that a Jew touched in the morning before washing his hands. Before consuming that food, it should be washed off three times. If we look deeper into this issue, we will see that eating food which has been touched with unwashed hands is far from a simple issue.

What is the Chayei Adam’s proof to permit eating food touched before washing one’s hands?

The Bais Yosef forbids doing shechitah using a reed, because amongst other reasons, the reed may be impure. He writes that according to this explanation, if one unknowingly performed shechitah with a reed, the meat would be permitted.

The proof that the Chaye Adam cites is far from conclusive. The tumah that is on a reed as a result of one touching it is not nearly as powerful as that which rests on a person’s hands in the morning. Although the halachah states clearly that washing three times take this impurity off of one’s hands in the morning, it is far from simple that washing three times will take it off of food.

Chazal imply that the tumah that rests on one’s hands in the morning is more stringent and cannot be compared to other impurities. “If a person touches his eyes, nose, mouth, ears, or other orfices of his body in the morning before washing his hands, he should cut off his hands so that this should repeat itself. Touching these parts of his body can make him blind and deaf, and bring on other sicknesses. (Shabbos 108b)

The Zohar (cited by the Bais Yosef, Orach Chaim 4) also stresses that this impurity is more stringent than others. “When the neshama leaves a person’s body, a spirit of impurity envelops a person’s body…the water that one uses to remove this impurity is spiritually dangerous and can cause great harm.” From the words of the Zohar, we see how destructive this impurity is.

The Rishonim also stress the great danger inherent in this impurity. In Hilchos Yom Kippur, the Bahag writes, “Shivta is the name of the spirit which rests on a person’s hands at night. Eating food that a person touched before washing his hands causes great spiritual danger.” When defining shivta, the Aruch cites the words of the Bahag as the halachah.

The Pri Megaidm emphasizes the severity of eating food which was touched with impure hands. “Eating such food is dangerous and we follow the principle that danger is more stringent than other prohibitions” (Mishbetzos Zaham 4:7) The Shelah (cited in Ketzos Hashulchan 2:7) adds that eating these food causes one’s heart to become impure and that this will eventually lead a person to do aveiros (sins).

Based on the above, some seforim suggest that one should wash their children’s hands even at a very young age. Although l’halacha one only needs to be stringent from the age of chinuch (education), some extremely righteous individuals start washing their children’s hands from the time of their bris milah (circumcision).

Despite all the danger that such food poses, there is a way to understand why the halachah and minhag are so lenient. The Rama writes (2:7) that if one washed his hands in the morning without a utensil, the impurity will also be taken off. Since most people wash their hands upon waking up in the morning, one can rely on this washing together with the washing of the food to eat the food that was touched.

Another reason to be lenient regarding this halachah is based on the famous incident with Rav Avrohom ben Avrohom, was born to a family of gentile aristocracy yet decided to relinquish his status and become a righteous convert. His family, who was very devout in their religious beliefs, ordered him to renounce his Jewish faith or be burned at the stake. Rav Avrohom refused to compromise and chose to die al Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name).

On the day that Rav Avrohom was executed, a great fire came out of the Me’oras Hamachpeilah in Chevron, where the avos (patriarchs) are buried. The Vilna Gaon explained that Rav Avrohom’s act of dying while sanctifying Hashem’s name caused the forces of impurity to be reduced drastically and, as a result, the tumah that rests on one’s hands every morning upon awakening was also weakened (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as cited in Ishei Yisroel (2:17). Nonetheless, regarding food touched by someone who did not perform netilas yodayim beforehand, the Vilna Gaon ruled that even after the incident of Rav Avrohom ben Avrohom, one should not eat the food.

In conclusion, a person should take whatever precaution he can not to eat food that was touched before netilas yodayim. If the food was touched, tit should be washed under the tap three separate times.

Guarding the purity of the food that is placed in one’s body ensure that a person will be spared from the spiritual harm that it could cause (taken from Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:1)