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, May 27, 2011

Revealed and Concealed Torah

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Walking with Hashem

“If you walk in My statutes.” Rashi: “You
must toil in Torah.”

Some people behave differently when they are at home or in shul than they do in the workplace or when travelling. Our observance of the mitzvos should be identical, irrespective of time, place or circumstance. What we put into our mouths or utter with our speech organs, and what we focus our eyes on should not be determined by the environment we happen to be in. A Yid is expected to maintain the same standards of kashrus, tznius and honesty everywhere even when out “walking.”

Moreover, we must not distinguish between different types of mitzvos and decide on the basis of our own judgment - as opposed to clear halachic guidelines - which mitzvos take priority over others. For this reason, the posuk focuses on chukim (statutes) to teach us that, ultimately, all mitzvos are G-d-given decrees, even those whose rationales seem obvious to our human comprehension. Since we are not privy to the concealed reasons and effects of mitzvos, we cannot treat one mitzvah more lightly than another.

“Walking” also refers to a unique human characteristic. Unlike angels who are completely static spiritually speaking, human beings are in a constant state of motion. Every day, we either come closer to Hashem or become further removed from Him. As the Chazon Ish zt”l pointed out, just like physical weeds grow on their own without any special effort, so too will negative middos sprout up and accumulate, unless we take positive steps to prevent this from happening. Only if we actively toil in Torah and avodas hamiddos can we prevent a downward spiral in our spiritual state.

Quality of our learning

Rav Sternbuch’s rosh yeshiva, Rav Schneider zt”l, expounded Rashi literally: Even when you are walking, you must toil in Torah by thinking and talking about what you have been learning. This is the true sign of a ben Torah. Rav Schneider felt that this was such an important aspect in the conduct of a ben Torah that he would personally make sure that his students were talking in learning even when eating and on the way to their dormitories.

“…and keep My commandments.”

The Torah does not refer here to mere observance of the written rules (kiyum),
but to a type of observance which knows no limits (shmirah), in which fences and safeguards are always being added to ensure optimum compliance. The more a person toils in Torah to the best of his abilities, the more is expected of him in terms of punctilious mitzvah observance, since intense and continuous Torah study elevates a person to higher intellectual and spiritual levels. Such a person lives with the awareness that the Torah is the greatest treasure, which must be safeguarded in any possible way.

Content of our learning

“But if you will not listen to Me.” Rashi: “To toil in Torah.”

How does a refusal to “listen to Me” allude to insufficient toiling in Torah? We may take this as a reference to the contemporary situation, where yeshiva bochurim exempt themselves from genuinely toiling in the whole Torah, preferring instead the easier and more immediately stimulating path of being mefalpel (engaging in in-depth analysis) of sevaros (theories). In this way, they hope to acquire the name of a lamdan (analytical scholar). Intellectual enjoyment in Torah learning is a positive thing, but such bochurim are not listening to Hashem and learning his Torah because they have been commanded to do so and in order to fulfill His will, but solely for their own intellectual enjoyment, and Torah study not for His sake makes you forget that He gave us the Torah and commanded us to delve therein. Such studies can, chas veshalom, lead to a churban (destruction).

Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l was once privileged to hear the Chofetz Chaim zt”l expound Chapter 31 of Mishlei ( Aishes Chayil) on Shabbos. When he reached the posuk of “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land,” the Chofetz Chaim stopped and translated it into Yiddish. He explained that the Aishes Chayil is the Torah, and her husband is the talmidei chachomim. In this world, talmidei chachomim can pretend to be erudite Torah scholars, and when asked about a Gemara or a Tosafos they will recall a Ketzos or Nesivos (or an Avnei Miluim in Seder Noshim), but when they reach the Heavenly court, the talmidei chachomim of the generation will be asked to recite what they have learnt, masechta after masechta, and it will be revealed who the real talmidei chachomim are. This is “the husband known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (according to this interpretation a reference to the Mesivta Derakia). The Chofetz Chaim went on to talk excitedly about yeshiva bochurim who are not completely conversant even in two sedorim of Gemara. What, he concluded, will they say when they stand in judgment before the Almighty?

Eternity of Torah

“And I will bring the land into desolation.” Rashi: This is a favor for the Jewish nation, in that their enemies will not enjoy their country, which will remain desolate for its inhabitants.”

The statement of Chazal constitutes testimony to the eternity of the Torah. As already noted by the Ramban (on posuk 16), it is an historical fact that mighty nations have ruled this country, and many have competed to conquer it, but even after succeeding in that, they never invested funds into rebuilding it, notwithstanding the fact that the members of the various religions also consider Eretz Yisroel to be their holy country. Not even the church,
with its vast financial resources, opened its coffers to build up the Holy Land. Nor did this situation change in the many centuries since the Ramban.

There are many other testimonies to the eternity of the Torah. For example, the Torah
states unequivocally that with the exception of the camel and two types of rabbits, every animal that chews its cud also has cloven hooves, and that every animal that has cloven hooves also chews its cud except the pig. In the past thousand years or so, many countries have been discovered, and they are inhabited by animals whose existence scientists were not even aware of, yet no animal has been discovered with only one of the signs of a kosher animal other than the pig, the camel, and the two types of rabbits mentioned by the Torah. However, we believe in the truth of the Torah and do not feel the need to search for such proofs. On the other hand, they are not sufficient to convince our wayward brethren who choose to go after their hearts’ desires rather than acknowledge the truth.

Pride leads to security

“And I will make you fruitful and multiply you.” Rashi: “Walking tall.” (Also see the Rashi at the end of posuk 26:13).

If we keep the Torah and mitzvos properly and with pride, Hashem will make us “walk
tall” in the eyes of the nations, and make it apparent to all that we are the Am Hashem. Nationalists would have us believe that national pride consists of practicing the non-Jewish values espoused by them and “standing up” to the nations of the world. Doing so, they are convinced, will result in our security and prosperity. Liberals, on the other hand, argue that by adopting enlightened universal values, the rest of the world will respect us and let us live in peace. Both camps are puzzled that after so many decades of independence, anti- Jewish hatred, even from supposedly friendly countries, only seems to increase, and instead of drawing conclusions about their outlook or way of life, they seek to attribute the worrying situation to tenuous factors, such as faulty public relations.

The Torah is telling us that both our physical and spiritual well-being depend precisely on not adopting non-Jewish values antithetical to the Torah. If we, as a nation, were to be proud of the Torah and mitzvos and observed them as befits the Am Hashem, not only would the security situation improve dramatically to the point that it would no longer be an issue at all, but the nations’ loathing of us would turn into genuine respect. They would become more than receptive to our moral message and we would finally become an effective light unto the nations.

Concealed rewards

“And I will give your rains in their season.”

The Rishonim ask why the Torah does not explicitly mention the spiritual rewards and
punishments of the World to Come. (See the Kli Yokor on 26:12 who sets out seven different answers suggested by the Rishonim.) If the Torah would have specified the severe long-term spiritual ramifications of not keeping the Torah properly, this would have increased the claim against those who nevertheless fail to take note of the severity of sinning to such an extent as to endanger the very existence of the nation. For this reason, Hashem, in His mercy, wanted to conceal the main reward and punishment awaiting us. Moreover, this way, the reward of those who keep His Word even without knowing the full extent of the reward awaiting them will be incalculably greater than any reward that would have been their due had they known all the details of the rewards and punishments in the afterlife.

Lag Ba'Omer: The Concealed Torah

The Ibn Ezra in Parshas Ha'azinu, says that matters relating in the World to Come are so profound that they cannot be comprehended by most people because material beings finds it difficult to grasp spiritual concepts, and for this reason the Torah concealed these profound matters from the masses.
Similarly, until Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the conealed part of the Torah was only studied by exceptional individuals in every generation. After Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Toras Hanistar (concealed Torah) became more revealed. On Lag Ba'Omer, we do not "celebrate" his death, but rather the illumination produced by the Toras Hanistar revealed to the world by him in the same way that we celebrate the Toras Hanigleh (revealed Torah) on Shavuos. Of course, not everyone is worthy of studying Toras Hasod in depth (and if one lacks sufficient Torah knowledge and requisite character traits, such study can only be harmful), but all of us must at least be aware of the consequences of our actions in the upper worlds, for the good and for the bad, and that those worlds are in fact determined by our actions (see e.g.Nefesh Hachayim). Internalizing this reality properly is awe-inspiring and should affect our conduct immensely.

The Vilna Gaon zt"l said that anyone who denies the concealed Torah also denies the revealed Torah. In the time of the Chasam Sofer zt"l, someone publicly ridiculed the chocmas hanistar. The Chasam Sofer said that if someone denies the secret aspect of the Torah in an open ("revealed") manner, it is a sign that he secretly denies also the revealed Torah.
We are awaiting the day - may it be very imminent - when all of the concealed aspects of the Torah will become revealed to everyone.