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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, May 19, 2011


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Torah min Hashomayim

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai.” Rashi quotes the following Medrash: “Why is Shmittah juxtaposed to Har Sinai? After all, all the mitzvos were stated on Sinai. This teaches us that just as all the general and specific rules of Shmittah were stated at Sinai, so too were all other general specific rules [of the Torah] stated at Sinai.”

It seems strange that the Torah makes this point with respect to a mitzvah which only applies in Eretz Yisroel, only when the Bais Hamikdosh is standing, and even then only once every seven years. We would have expected a more universal mitzvah to be chosen as a paradigm for the whole Torah. The mitzvah of Shmittah contains an explicit promise from Hashem that if we observe it, the produce of the sixth year will be sufficient for two years, and in a Yovel year for three years. Moshe Rabbeinu would not have dared to make such a promise unless he had heard it from Hashem, and just like the mitzvah of Shmittah could not have been fabricated by him, so too all the other mitzvos were conveyed to Moshe at Sinai directly by Hashem. Thus, the mitzvah of Shmittah is proof of Torah min haShomayim.

Hashgacha protis

On another level, Shmittah teaches us a basic article of faith, since observing it requires absolute dedication. A farmer whose livelihood is totally dependent on his field suddenly renounces his ownership altogether and retains no more right to his produce than anyone else. He is prohibited from working the field and is expected to trust Hashem absolutely that this is His will and for his benefit. Acting in this manner, he is saved from various misfortunes. Such a person puts into practice the abstract belief that events in this world are the result of Hashgacha Protis (Divine Providence) and not our actions. The Medrash is telling us that this fundamental principle was taught at Sinai, the smallest of mountains, which symbolizes
Hashem’s “humility” in agreeing to dwell with us when He showers each and every person with personal and unique Providence. Although this message is clearly a universal one not limited in place or time, Shmittah only applies in Eretz Yisroel, which enjoys special Providence “from the beginning of the year to the end,” and in this country we are obligated to prove our faith to ourselves and others even more, especially when wayward brethren would have us believe in kochi ve’otzem yod , in the strength of our own actions. It is in a situation where we are imbibing the sanctity of this country and of the Bais Hamikdosh, when Hashem’s Presence is so manifest, that we are commanded to observe the mitzvah of Shmittah, so that Hashem’s bounty may be showered on His holy nation in the holy country.


We are currently counting the days of the Omer. This serves to connect us to Kabbolas HaTorah and to prepare us for it. Similarly, each year, bais din declared with much publicity where the forthcoming year was in the Shmittah and Yovel cycles. This focus on Shmittah served to inculcate the message that our sustenance is only dependent on the blessing of Hashem. Each weekday, too, revolves around Shabbos: “Six days you shall work and complete all your labor, and on the seventh day is Shabbos for Hashem, your G-d.” There is no commandment to work on weekdays, but the Torah is telling us to be aware of the sanctity of Shabbos, which is reminiscent of the World to Come, on weekdays too. If we live with the constant awareness that Hashem sustains us constantly, just as He does on Shabbos¸ then the otherworldly sanctity of Shabbos will flow over to the rest of the week and we will enjoy a taste of such sanctity even in our mundane actions. Some non-Jews have claimed that the reason for Shmittah is to give the soil a chance to rejuvenate and thus produce better-quality produce. Whether or not there is an element of truth in this contention in agricultural terms, we know the real reason behind this mitzvah.

The Torah connects Shmittah to Shabbos: “The land shall keep a Shabbos to Hashem.” Non-Jews or irreligious Jews assume that it is a day of rest, since this is the only concept they are familiar with. In reality, however, although this may be a pleasant side effect of Shabbos, it is actually an ois, and both Shabbos and Shmittah are signs reminding us that Hashem created the world and continues to rule it with Hashgachah Protis.

Putting it into practice

So much for the theory. What about the practice? Clearly, much depends on the level we have attained in our avodas Hashem. Just after the Second World War, Rav Sternbuch met a Holocaust survivor who told him that when he was in a concentration camp, they were starved, yet they still were expected to work like slaves in the constant fear of imminent death should their state of health fail to satisfy their taskmasters. They had no beards or peyos, and this particular survivor
had no access to tefillin, but he still made a point of davening before starting work every day. Once, he overheard one fellow inmate tell another that he was incapable of saying the bracha of “Who has taken care of all my needs,” because he felt that this did not reflect the reality of his situation. However, the other Yid, who was apparently a talmid chochom, did not accept this, reasoning that everything Hashem does is for the good. Hashem is merely testing our fortitude, said the talmid chochom, and eventually He will award us a high position with the ministering angels. He then proceeded to make the bracha and the other Yid answered, “Amein.” The survivor whom Rav Sternbuch met noted how awe-inspired he had been to witness such a faithful soldier of Hashem’s army. The Alshich Hakadosh comments on the posuk, “And those who seek Hashem will lack no good,” that it does not say that they will possess everything good, but only that they will be not be lacking anything, because the righteous do not desire material possessions which have no substance, and they do not feel a lack of them. That talmid chochom in the concentration camp showed that it is possible to feel this even in the most extreme circumstances.

In a similar vein, it is related that the Alshich once gave a drasha in which he said
that someone who dedicates his time entirely to avodas Hashem will not have to worry at all about making a living, because Hashem will take care of it. A simple coachman was greatly affected by the statement and resolved to try it out. He immediately stopped working, went to the bais medrash, and said Tehillim all day. After only several days, he found a golden treasure trove. The students of the Alshich were amazed and asked him the following question: “We are also busy with Torah and prayer, so why have we not merited such Divine assistance?” The Alshich replied that the Yid had simple faith and believed absolutely that Hashem would take care of his needs. He did not have the slightest doubt in his heart, and he therefore enjoyed corresponding Hashgachah without any effort on his part. “Your level of bitachon¸” concluded the Alshich, “is not so high. You are still testing Hashem as to whether He will provide you with all your needs. Such bitachon is not sufficient to exempt you from making hishtadlus (human effort).” This point is evident from Parshas Behar.

The Torah says, “And you shall sow in the eighth year.” Lest we think that after enjoying the miracle of Shmittah, Hashem will continue to send us what we need while we sit by idly, we are taught that we are still subject to the curse of “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” The Medrash states that even the monn could not be eaten without making the effort of walking to receive it. Most of us are not on the level of the talmid chochom in the camps or the devout coachman. How much hishtadlus, then, are we expected to make? Rav Sternbuch’s mother asked Rav Elchonon
Wasserman zt”l this question when she was a young widow faced with bringing up nine children. He told her that she must make at least minimal hishtadlus in accordance with her circumstances, which also required her to educate her children. He added that the main aspect of bitachon is to realize that there is no “chapping” (grabbing). Whatever is set aside for us will reach us, irrespective of our actions. If we spend a lot of time and effort making a living, we may see returns in the short term, but this might come at the expense of our health, long life, nachas from our children, and so on in the longer term. If we do no more than absolutely necessary, we will not gain one cent less than we would by making more hishtadlus. For this reason, the prohibition against dishonest business dealings appears in the middle of the parsha of Shmittah. The person who has observed Shmittah has seen with his own eyes that Hashem is perfectly capable of seeing to all his needs without any effort on his part at all. Such a person knows that success does not depend on his talents, business acumen, or slyness. Even when required to make hishtadlus from the eighth year onwards, he will be scrupulous in his business dealings, knowing
that his earnings are predetermined and bear no relation to the extent of his efforts.

Temporary residents

“For you are strangers and settlers with me.” Toras Kohanim: “If you are strangers with Me in this world, you will be settlers with Me in the next world, but whoever is a settler in this world will be a stranger in the next world.”

As we said, although the mitzvah of Shmittah only applies in Eretz Yisroel, it is of universal significance. It teaches us not to rely on our strengths or possessions, as do the nations of the world, which only have one world. A Yid lives with the awareness that he is a temporary resident in this world and is only concerned with preparing his soul for eternal life in the next world.One time, a tourist from America visited the Chofetz Chaim zt”l in his house. He was amazed at the lack of furniture in the Chofetz Chaim’s home and expressed amazement that the leader of the Jewish nation lived in such conditions. The Chofetz Chaim asked his guest why he had not taken any furniture with him. He responded that he did not need any, because he is only a passing tourist and had fit everything he needed for the journey in his suitcase. The Chofetz Chaim responded, “I am also only a passing tourist in this world and what I have here is more than enough.” The Chofetz Chaim would say (based on a Zohar) that some people imagine that the world belongs to them and that they will live forever. Rav Sternbuch recalls how Rav Elya Lopian zt”l would chant the Toras Kohanim quoted above in the special tune used by the baalei mussar¸ and this had a deep effect on his listeners. Living our lives in accordance with this fundamental saying of Chazal should both protect us from sinning and inspire us to perform actions conducive to acquiring permanent residence status in the next world.