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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 5, 2011


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


You shall be holy

We tend to associate the concept of holiness with exceptional tzadikim, and yet Hashem commands the whole nation to be holy. Although there are indeed different levels of holiness, it is within the reach of every Jew to attain complete holiness simply by keeping all the mitzvos properly. Every brocho contains the wording “who has sanctified us with His commandments". Someone who is careful not to speak loshon horo, or idle talk, and observes the halochos of ono’oh (overcharging) and ribbis (charging with interest) and so on becomes holy merely by virtue of his punctilious observance of halocho with joy and enthusiasm.

The Ramban in his famous comments about being a novol birshus hatorah (a depraved person acting within the letter of halocho) adopts another approach, according to which kedoshim tiyu is a directive enjoining us not to indulge in physical desires. We are to make ruchniyus the main focus of our lives, and utilize physical pleasures only in as much as necessary for the well-being of our souls. Kedusho according to this view consists in adopting safeguards to ensure that our actions remain not just within the letter but also within the spirit of the Torah.


For I Hashem Your G-d am holy.

Medrash Raba: “You shall be holy”, I would have thought like Myself therefore it says, “for I am holy", My sanctity is greater than your sanctity.
On one level, Hashem is telling us that we should not make the mistake of abstaining altogether from material matters in an attempt to emulate Hashem who is completely spiritual, because we have been commanded to attain sanctity as human beings who must eat and drink and satisfy our genuine material requirements. Our physical essence must be elevated, not negated.

As a corollary, unlike ”spiritual” recluses such as monks, who consider a withdrawal from society and self-denial to be prerequisites for a spiritual existence, the Jewish nation is told to “be holy" (in the plural) by living together in society, and not like Me, Who is alone, and lest you think that everyone should lead their own individual existence it says “for I am a holy", although I possess absolute unity and am alone, you, the Jews, become sanctified collectively, in one unified society, in which each individual, doing the will of the Creator, makes his own unique contribution.

Furthermore, we are being warned against the theory that by drawing closer to or cooperating with transgressors we are emulating Hashem who is close to all his creations. It therefore says “for I am a holy", my sanctity remains unaffected by my proximity to even the worst sinner, but the sanctity of both individuals and the nation as a whole is likely to be gravely prejudiced by contacts with transgressors. Hence, such contacts must only take place following consultation with the gedolim.
The main aspect of kedusha consists in erecting fences to ensure observance of both interpersonal commandments and mitzvos bein odom lamomok. The Torah proceeds to enumerate various examples.


Every man shall fear his mother and his father, and you shall keep my shabossos

Just like one must fear Hashem and His judgment ("You shall fear Hashem your God”) so to person must always fear that he is not performing this fundamental mitzvah adequately. The Ksav Sofer says that a “man” (i.e. adult), who has left his parents’ house might imagine that he must now dedicate himself totally to his own family. The Torah therefore warns him that his obligations to his parents remain unchanged.

Moreover, even after our parents are no longer alive, we are still able to and must honor them every time we perform a mitzvah. The Zohar (parshas yisro) states that mitzvos performed by children greatly elevate their parents’ souls in the upper worlds. It is due to the vital importance of the mitzvah of kibud ove voem that it appears in juxtaposition to the mitzvah of shabbos, which is equal in importance to all the mitzvos put together. They say about Rav Alexander Ziskind, author of the Yesod Veshoresh Hoavodo, that before performing any mitzvah he would say that he is doing it for the sake of the mitzvah and for the sake of his departed parents.


Do not turn to the idols, nor make for yourselves molten gods (literally: “gods with masks”)

Even if someone does not actually serve an idol, but only begins to turn towards one, he violates a negative prohibition, and the gemoro in Shabbas (149a) derives from this possuk that even looking at idols is forbidden midoraiso. Reading heretical books by non-Jewish authors on topics such as philosophy and physics, is even worse than looking at idols, and anyone doing so surely transgresses this prohibition, and damages the sanctity of his mind and thoughts. Even works which at first sight appear not to clash with a Torah outlook must be shunned, since more often than not they will turn out to be “gods with masks”, i.e. seemingly harmless material concealing views denying the existence of a Creator or other heresy.

Hidden idols have also been especially prevalent in the last 200 years or so in the form of various ideological movements, which have sprung up starting from the Enlightenment, with the stated aim of improving society and other lofty goals. These include the haskolo, communism and Zionism. As Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l pointed out, these movements in reality constitute idol worship. Unfortunately, many Jews, including religious ones, believed that salvation would come from these movements and joined them. As diverse as they were, one element they had in common was their anti-religious and heretical nature. Such idol worship, which proclaims lofty goals, but conceals its true nature, is especially dangerous, and is covered by the prohibition in this possuk against gods with masks.


You shall leave them for the poor and shall not steal

The Tiferes Shlomo says that the mitzvah of giving to the poor and the stranger appears in juxtaposition to the provision against stealing, because some people amass their wealth dishonestly, and then donate to charity liberally in the hope of finding atonement for their actions. The Torah therefore warns us that stealing is forbidden, irrespective of the motive for doing so and of what transpires with the stolen money. No amount of charity can make such money kosher.


You shall not steal, nor shall you deal falsely, or lie to each other

The Torah expects us to be especially careful in monetary matters, where there are many potential pitfalls. Failing to disclose any deficiency in a sold object, even to a non-Jew, constitutes geneivas daas, not to mention overstating the supposed market value of the object. The halochos of gezel, ono’oh and ribbis are manifold and complex, and it is incumbent on rabbonim to ensure that their congregants are well versed in them.

A rav once came to Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l and told him that he wanted to abandon the rabbinate due to the great responsibilities weighing on his shoulders, and that he had chosen to become a businessman instead. Rav Yisroel responded that the responsibilities of a businessman were even greater, since he was likely to chas vesholom transgress many prohibitions. Moreover, achieving atonement for interpersonal sins is more difficult than for sins bein odom lomokom.


You shall not hate your brother in your shall love your fellow man as yourself

The Semak comments that the provision against hating one’s brother in our heart primarily means acting in a friendly manner towards him on the outside, but hating him in our hearts. This is a common phenomenon, and in reality the Torah obligated to us to behave in the opposite manner. We should make it clear to transgressors that we reject their behavior, but inside our hearts we must only pity them and feel no hatred whatsoever.

When someone asked the Satmarer Rebbe, Rav Yoel zt”l why he did not act towards his wayward brethren the same way as Avrohom Ovinu did towards the inhabitants of Sdom and Amora, he replied that the Torah does not tell us how he spoke to the inhabitants themselves, but only about his entreaties to Hashem on their behalf. Similarly, he told the questioner, you only hear what I tell transgressors, but you do not hear my supplications to Hashem to have mercy on them and show them the proper path.

Furthermore, the Chazon Ish stated that the commandment to hate someone whom we have seen committing a sin (Pesochim 113b) only applies after we have rebuked such a person properly and he has not accepted the rebuke, and since in our generation we are unable to rebuke properly, this commandment does not apply nowadays.
Rashi brings the medrash that Rabbi Akiva said that the commandment to love our fellow man as ourselves is a major rule of the whole Torah. This means that by merely loving our fellow Jew we have not fulfilled the obligation referred to in the possuk, unless it also leads to the love of Hashem, whom we have an even greater reason to love, since He sustains us throughout our lives, and showers us with so many favors. This love leads to a desire on our part to requite Hashem for His kindness and to come closer to him by observing all the mitzvos bein odom lomokom. Thus, this possuk is a major rule because it results in the performance of the entire Torah, both interpersonal mitzvos and mitzvos bein odom lomokom.


You shall observe My shabossos and have reverence for My mikdosh

It is for forbidden for a tome or zar to enter Har Habyis even bizman haze (today). Special precautions must be taken to ensure that we do not transgress this prohibition. The Re’em lists having a fear of Shabbos as one of the miztvos, and he learns it from the juxtaposition of the two mitzvos in this possuk. Just like we have to be careful to maintain its sanctity of the mikdosh, because the shechino resides there and because Hashem commanded us to observe the sanctity, so too must we take all precautions not to transgress any melochos Shabbos.

The Rambam states that the rationale for muktze on Shabbos is to accord an atmosphere of kedusha to the holiest day so that even if we are only engaging in activities permitted according to melochos deoraiso we will still be reminded that this day is different, and we must be careful to avoid any melochos. The Tumim says that anyone who does not study hilchos Shabbos over and over again will inevitably transgress melochos inadvertently due to lack of knowledge.

Behaving appropriately in shul is part of the obligation to have a moroh mikdosh. (fear of the Temple) The Imrei Emes said that the Sephardi communities were almost completely untouched during the Holocaust, because their reverence for botei keneisiyos resembled the reverence of the Beis Hamikdosh. This reverence found expression, inter alia, in complete absence of talking during davening. The massacres of Tach Vetat (1648-49), which were considered unprecedented until the Holocaust in their severity, were also attributed to the failure to accord sufficient respect to the sanctity of the botei keneisiyos, which is the closest institution to the Beis Hamikdosh in our times.


You shall rise up before the aged man, and honor the face of the old man, and you shall fear your G-d

The irreligious have respect for modernity and what they consider to be progress, and consequently have little patience for the older generation. With us it is the opposite. Older people are closer to Har Sinai and to the gedolim of former generations. By honoring them we increase our yiras shomayim.
The Zohar interprets the obligation to rise up before the aged man as an admonition to rise up and repent before old age sets in. We should relate to the pleasures of this world with the outlook of an old person who has acquired wisdom and already experienced the vanities this world has to offer. This way we will reach the conclusion in good time that it is worthwhile to invest all our energy only in Torah and mitzvos.


... so that the land to which I bring you to dwell therein, should not vomit you out

The Torah is telling us that if we keep the Torah properly, and do not tolerate any immorality in our midst, the inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel will not be spewed out. However, at the end of parashas acharei mos, the wording of the possuk is as follows: “that the land shall not vomit you out also, when you defile it”. We would have expected the reverse: if we defile the land, then we can expect it to spew us out.

The possuk is in fact telling us that if we fail to protest acts of immorality in our midst, those same transgressors against whom we fail to take action will not be spewed out of the country, and there can be no greater punishment than having to share the Palace of the King with sinners, especially those guilty of znus. We have not sufficiently protested the influx of non-Jews from various nations to this country to live here permanently, and this can have a terrible effect on the moral fabric of our society. Maintaining any degree of kedusho in such conditions can be extremely challenging.

There can be no greater blessing than dwelling in the holiest country without sinners. Let us pray that the day is close when this blessing will be fulfilled and we will have the privilege of living with the permanent protection of Hashem in a society where all human beings recognize Him and live their lives in accordance His will.