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About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Saturday, May 14, 2011

Maintaining our Spiritual Vitality

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Choice of words

“Speak (emor) to the kohanim and speak (ve’amarta) to them.”

Rashi cites the Gemara in Maseches Yevamos (114a) which explains this seeming repetition in the posuk. One “speech” by Moshe was directed to the kohanim themselves, and the other one to their children. The tone and the phraseology adopted by Moshe Rabbeinu when addressing the children must have been different to those adopted by him when conveying the same points to their fathers. This precedent teaches us that educators and parents, as well as anyone wishing to influence another person, must be careful to address each listener on the basis of his specific age and temperament. Some people are influenced by soft words and straightforward messages, whereas others are more easily affected by a stricter tone of voice or a more analytical approach. There are no hard and fast rules. If we want to communicate successfully, we must first become aware of our listeners’ minds and emotional makeup.

External trappings

“They shall not make baldness on their head...they shall be holy unto Hashem.

Rav Yehudah Leib Diskin zt”l commented that non-Jewish priests have the custom to change their external appearance in order to stand out from “ordinary” people. They have to do so, because inside they have no superior qualities distinguishing them from anybody else.By contrast, the Torah commands the kohanim to acquire sanctity through their actions and righteousness, so that anyone in their presence will sense the sanctity emanating from their very being, without the need for external signs, such as shaving their heads and cutting their flesh. The same applies to tzaddikim of every generation. All their actions and their entire lifestyle proclaim their moral superiority, thus making external signs totally superfluous. We have to be careful not to judge a book by its cover. The greatness of great people is evident for all to see, without the need for any external trappings.

Tumas Meis - human superiority

The prohibition of tumas meis (the impurity of a dead body) is a decree of the Creator, Whose ultimate reason is concealed from mortals. However, the meforshim do offer an explanation based on our necessarily limited understanding. Most of man’s actions resemble those of animals. He eats, drinks, lives and dies like an animal. The only source of his superiority lies in the divine soul planted in him and the concomitant powers of speech and thought. Once the neshama leaves the body and returns to its original abode, the remaining body retains no value whatsoever. On the
contrary, it becomes permeated with tumah. Tumas meis teaches those who are still alive that they must utilize their neshamos while they can, since only a person whose heart and mind cleaves to Hashem through Torah and mitzvos is spiritually alive and superior to the animals. With this explanation, we can understand Rabi Shimon bar Yochai’s statement that since non-Jews are not called adam (man), their corpses do not emit tumah. In their case, no change of status takes place upon death, since even when their souls are still inside their bodies, they do not exhibit signs of spiritual vitality. Their death does not cause a perceptible change or herald a lack of special superiority enjoyed hitherto by their bodies. On the other hand, the corpse of a Jewish apikores (heretic) or mumar (a habitual sinner or even a complete apostate) does acquire tumah. A Jewish neshama retains its pristine quality irrespective of what it may have endured whilst present inside the body. Thus, when it leaves the body, the body’s status does change and emits tumah. This fact should make us shudder. There are many examples of people who have been successful at demonstrating to the irreligious where their souls have come from, what their purpose in life is, and that this world is only a corridor leading to eternal life. It is incumbent upon us to do everything in our power to ignite the divine nitzotz (spark) residing within every Jew, even complete apikorsim, while they are still alive. This is the highest form of chessed possible.


“He shall be cut off from people.”

The penalty for many transgressions in the Torah is kareis. Transgressors are cut off from Hashem and die early at the age of 50 or 60. However, we see many people who transgress the prohibitions against immorality, are mechalel shabbo (desecration of Shabbos), and do not even fast on Yom Kippur, yet they still live beyond the age of 50 or 60. We have to distinguish between the spiritual reality known as kareis, whereby the soul is cut off from its Divine source, and the punishment referred to by the posuk. The lives of people who are so steeped in sin that they repeatedly violate the most serious transgressions are devoid of any spiritual content. Only those who cleave to Hashem are alive today. We have seen that we must never give up on any Jew, but until these people undergo a transformation, they are spiritually dead for all intents and purposes already in this world, even if they live to a ripe old age. In fact, as Rav Saadya Gaon points out, staying alive for a longer time will only be to their detriment, since if they do not utilize the extra time granted to them, Hashem will reward them for any good deeds in this world and cut off their souls from eternal life in the next world. The punishment of kareis does not apply to such people, but rather to people who still maintain a connection to Hashem but have violated a transgression intentionally, which is punishable by kareis. There is a barometer to determine our spiritual state of health. If we feel no spiritual awakening in our avodas Hashem and never feel a yearning for closeness to Hashem,
not even during the Yomim Noraim, and we perform mitzvos completely by rote, we must be concerned that our neshamos are approaching, or chas veshalom have already reached, a state of kareis.


“And they brought the one who had cursed out of the camp and stoned him with stones. And the Bnei Yisroel did as Hashem commanded Moshe.”

In non-Jewish systems, the role of a public executioner is considered contemptible. This is because their laws are based on human ideas of justice, and, especially in modern times, people have found it difficult to reconcile the idea of killing another human being, however vile his actions, with the ethical norm proscribing murder. Here the Torah is emphasizing that the Bnei Yisroel performed this mitzvah with no compunction, the same way that they performed any other mitzvah commanded by Hashem. The Torah is not subject to ephemeral subjective values. (See this week’s Shailos Uteshuvos column for Rav Sternbuch’s comments on the demise of Osama bin Laden.)