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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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Followers

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, June 23, 2011

Utilizing Anavah Properly

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


Swimming against the Tide

"Let them cause a razor to pass over all their flesh"

Rashi cites Rav Moshe Hadarshan who says that the Leviyim had to undergo this procedure to atone for the firstborn who had engaged in idol worship, which is called "sacrifices of the dead," and since a metzora is termed a dead person, the Leviyim were required to be shaved just like a metzora. However, according to this explanation, it is difficult to understand why the Leviyim, and not the firstborn, had to be shaved, and, in any case, we also do not find anywhere that idol worshippers are shaved.
A metzorah who speaks lashon hara is sent out of the camp and shaved so that he will become repulsive and other people will keep a distance from him. That way, he will learn to bridle his speech and refrain from speaking lashon hara in the future. Similarly, the Leviyim had to shave their hair in order to look different from the rest of the nation. Since they were the recipients of ma'asros (tithes), some members of the nation are likely to consider them to be "parasites," who are living off other people. By shaving their heads, the Leviyim are given the message that they must be willing to endure humiliation like a metzora and that they must not let this affect their pride at being soldiers in Hashem's army.
Nowadays, as the Rambam tells us, anyone who dedicates his life to Torah acquires the status of a ben Levi and they too must have the confidence and positive pride to be able to swim against the tide of public opinion, and against warped ideologies and materialism. Only daas Torah guides their actions, regardless of the reactions of people around them. Happy is the lot of those fortunate enough to come close to Hashem.

Moving and Stationary Torah

"When the Aron traveled, Moshe said 'Rise up, Hashem and let Your enemies be scattered, and let them who hate You flee before You'" (10:35)
"And when it rested, he said, 'Return Hashem, to the tens of thousands of the families of Yisrael" (10:36)


The Gemara (Shabbos 116a) says that these two pesukim constitute two separate parshiyos in their own right, and for this reason, two inverted Nuns appear before and after them, so these pesukim must be conveying a message of fundamental importance.
It is only when the Aron, i.e. the Torah, travels, only when it is being disseminated to distant quarters and learned around the globe, that the Jewish nation is worthy of defeating its enemies and having them flee before them. Swimming against the tide does not entail a rejection of those who are swimming with the tide. On the contrary, it is only when bnei Torah are concerned not only for themselves, but for the whole nation, that we are saved from misfortunes. It turns out that outreach is a recipe not only for spiritual growth, but also for our physical survival.
However, for the Shechinah to remain with us, we must ensure that the Aron rests, i.e. that the Torah remains concentrated in and focused on its main abode, the yeshivos and kollelim. Without them, the nation has no hope of surviving.

The Levels of Anavah

"And Aharon did so" (8:3). Rashi (quoting the Sifri): "This is to Aharon's credit, to teach us that he did not change."

One interpretation of this Medrash is that most people have ups and downs in their avodas Hashem, but Aharon did not change, and every time he went up to light the neiros, it was with the same degree of joy and enthusiasm for performing Hashem's will which he had the first time he performed this mitzvah.
However, the Sifri can also be taken as expressing another point. IN principle, even a zar (non-Kohen) may light the Menorah, but iin the desert only Aharon was privileged to light it. Aharon did not understand why he was different from the kohanim gedolim of future generations in that only he enjoyed this exclusive privilege. Even though this seemed strange to him, he did not ask any questions, but simply accepted it as a Divine decree. In his humility, it did not occur to him that he was on a higher level than future kohanim gedolim. The pasuk is praising him for not deviating from the Divine command, even though he did not comprehend it.
Once, when Rav Akiva Eiger arrived in Warsaw as a guest, he noticed a crowd around him walking together. He assumed that they were on the way to a funeral, and so he joined in the crowd in order o participate in the mitzvah of accompanying a meis. Since so many people had gathered for the occasion he wanted to know more about the meis who was being accorded such great respect, and so he asked the person next to him who it was. He was astonished to be told that the crowd was actually honoring him, and after that he endeavored to remain incognito.
There are two types of genuine anavah. One is when people are aware of their positive deeds but do not take credit for them, knowing that they are due to G-d given strengths and talents. They are not interested in the honor bestowed upon them by others, because they do not feel worthy of being honored or praised. Other people, like Rav Akiva Eiger are not even aware of having performed anything out of the ordinary entitling them to be honored. Moshe Rabbeinu was the ultimate embodiment of this higher type of anavah. As the Torah testifies in this week's parsha, "The man Moshe was more humble than any man on the face of the earth. (12:3) When Hashem tried to convince Moshe to agree to lead the nation out of Egypt, Moshe responded by saying, "Send by the hand of him whom You will send," which the Medrash explains to mean "There is no person in the world not more suited than I for this mission." Moshe Rabbeinu only saw the positive qualities in others and totally disregarded his own.
Some people have such a low opinion of others, and denigrate them in their minds to such an extent, that they feel no interest in being honored or praised by them. This is not humility, but conceit disguised as humility. Another type of false humility is when we denigrate our own capabilities. This type of humility is discussed in the next section.

Understanding the Sin of the Mis'onenim

"And the mixed multitude that was among them lusted" (11:4)

The commentators have difficulty understanding this incident. How could people who witnessed Maamad har Sinai and all the other miracles in the desert seek to distance themselves from Hashem? Adie from that, they were about to enter Eretz Yisrael, and there they would surely not be lacking any meat take as spoils.
The whole lifestyle of the nation in the desert was a supernatural one, without any physical actions. The monn was spiritual food, and even though it contained various tastes and was filling, it was not accompanied by the usual gastronomic pleasures o normal food. The Bnei Yisrael thought that they were not on a high enough level to be worthy of spiritual food, all the more so since they were about to enter Eretz Yisrael, the Palace of the King, where much more was expected of them. They knew that those who benefit from miracles are expected to live up to higher standards, and they preferred to live an ordinary lifestyle, in which they we not dependent on spiritual food or other miracles requiring them to live on very high levels.
Their mistake was that Hashem does not expect His creations, and not even the Bnei Yisrael, to be perfect angelic beings. Although it was true that they were expected to meet very high spiritual standards, they should have had more confidence in their ability to do so. The sin of the meraglim stemmed from the same flaw. They did not feel worthy of conquering the country through miracles and wanted to see if it could be done naturally. They suffered from a false type of humility, seeing themselves as insignificant "grasshoppers". These two terrible sins and their consequences demonstrate how important it is not to belittle our own G-d given capabilities.

Awaiting the Redemption

"And the people did not travel until Miriam was brought in again" (12:15)

Rashi cites the Sifri that she was accorded this honor by Hashem as a reward for having waited for Moshe, when he was thrown into the Nile. On the face of it, anyone would have done the same out of pure curiosity, so why did she deserve this reward?
The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) says that one of the questions we will be asked when the time comes for our Heavenly judgment is whether we "expected the redemption. "Rav Yechezkel Abramsky zt"l explained that it does not say that we will be asked whether we "expected" it. Great people, like the Chofetz Chaim did indeed "expect" the redemption at any time, and they lived their lives accordingly. Here, too, Miriam was utterly convinced that Moshe would be saved, and she merely waited to see how Hashem would guide events to bring about this result, and in the merit of her emunah, the whole nation waited for her. We too, must strive to reach such a level of emunah regarding the future redemption, so that we will be able to respond confidently that we did "expect the redemption."
Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ask the Raavad: Birkas HaTorah

Question: The minhag in our shul is to stay up Shavuos night and learn, and daven at neitz afterwards. In the morning, it is often diffi cult to fi nd someone to make Birkas HaTorah. How much does one have to sleep at night in order to recite Birkas HaTorah in the morning? Also, if I sleep 3 to 5 hours during the day after tefi llah, do I have to make Birkas HaTorah when I wake up?
Thank you.
A. Brochin

Answer: The custom is to find someone who slept Shavuos night to recite the brachos for everyone who did not sleep. It is preferable to fi nd someone who had a proper sleep Shavuos night. In regards to your second question, the custom is that people do not recite Birkas HaTorah after sleeping during the day. However, there are many opinions, including that of the Vilna Gaon, obligating one to recite Birkas HaTorah again after a significant daytime sleep. In the words of the Mishnah Berurah (47:28), someone will not lose out if he follows these opinions and makes Birkas HaTorah on Shavuos morning after his daytime sleep.

TORAH, TORAH, TORAH

Other than eating cheesecake and other fine foods, Shavuos has no official mitzvos of the day. Much of Klal Yisroel has adopted the custom of the Bais Yosef to study Torah the entire night. While this is certainly praiseworthy for anyone who can do so, staying up all night creates a number of problems regarding Birkas HaTorah, the blessings recited on Torah learning.

According to some opinions, Birkas HaTorah is a birkas hamitzvah, blessings recited on the mitzvah of learning Torah. Like other brachos recited on mitzvos, if there is a significant interruption, one must recite the blessing again. On normal days, when we sleep the whole night, we recite Birkas HaTorah each morning on the mitzvah of Torah learning.

Others understand that Birkas HaTorah is a birkas hashevach, a blessing praising Hashem for giving us the Torah. Like other brachos of praise, it is recited once a day and is not said again even if there is a significant interruption. Every morning, after a new day has passed, we praise Hashem for giving us the Torah with Birkas HaTorah. Reciting Bikras HaTorah on Shavuos morning after learning the whole night depends on these two understanding. If Birkas HaTorah is a birkas hamitzvah, an interruption of sleep is needed and someone who stayed up cannot recite this blessing. However, if Birkas HaTorah is a birkas hashevach, then on Shavuos morning one can say Birkas HaTorah again.


PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

The Shulchan Aruch (47:11) cites both of these opinions. Although the primary halachah is that sleep interrupts Birkas HaTorah, the Shulchan Aruch concludes that the custom is like the second understanding and that one does not repeat Birkas HaTorah if he slept during the day. This ruling has a number of important ramifications for Shavuos morning.

According to the first opinion that sleeping obligates one in a new bracha, if one did not sleep the whole night of Shavuos, he cannot recite Birkas HaTorah in the morning. The second opinion, which connects the obligation to recite Birkas HaTorah to the new day, would require Birkas HaTorah in the morning. In deference to the fi rst understanding, someone who stayed up Shavuos night does not recite Birkas HaTorah, and we try to find someone who slept Shavuos night to recite these brachos.

This brings us to the second problem that we face on Shavuos morning: Who will recite Birkas HaTorah for everyone in shul? Sometimes it is difficult to find someone who slept the whole night, and instead, someone who only slept a short time will recite Birkas HaTorah for everyone. He might have just put his head down on a shtender in the bais medrash or rested lying down for a short time with his clothes on.

Putting one’s head down on a shtender or a short nap with one’s clothes on does not constitute a significant interruption. Depending on the circumstances, this may not be sufficient to say Birkas HaTorah again. Rav Sternbuch rules that one should find someone who slept properly to recite Birkas HaTorah. Even after we have found someone who slept the whole night to recite Birkas HaTorah, we still have a third problem to deal with. Generally, after staying up the whole night, one will have to go to sleep after the tefillos. According to the opinions that sleep
Saturday, June 4, 2011

Past and Present Royalty

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Wilderness

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai in the Ohel Moed.”

The Torah mentions that we received the Torah in the wilderness, outside Eretz Yisroel and at Har Sinai, which was not even a mountain, but only a small hill, in order to emphasize that we have to keep the Torah anywhere and at any time. Non-believers throughout the generations have attempted to induce us to remove the yoke of Torah by advancing various arguments. When most of the nation lived outside Eretz Yisroel, the argument went that the Torah was meant to be kept mainly or even exclusively in Eretz Yisrael. Zionist secularists, on the other hand, argued that the Torah was fine for chutz la’aretz, because it was needed to prevent national assimilation, but now that we have our own state, we have no more need for such antiquated things. In truth, by virtue of the Torah, Hashem’s Presence will dwell
anywhere,if we only let it, just like it did in the Ohel Moed in the wilderness.

The location of the wilderness also teaches us that we must live our lives as if we are dwelling in a wilderness and not let ourselves be affected by the conduct or mores of our environment. In fact, the Rambam says that in an extreme situation, where we are unable to overcome the pressure of the environment, we are obliged to literally move to the desert in order to escape pernicious influences.


Evolution


“And they declared their pedigrees after their families, by their fathers’ houses.” Yalkut Shimoni: “The Jewish nation only merited to receive the Torah because of their pedigree.”

It seems very surprising that this is a reason why we deserved to receive the Torah.
However, the Medrash relating a fundamental difference between us and the other nations. It is a truism of Western culture that civilization progresses with time. Not only science, but even man’s moral dignity, is deemed to improve with each generation. Since belief in evolution has become an inextricable component of Western secular dogma, such an assumption is inevitable. It would be inconceivable for a descendant of monkeys to have anything other than contempt for former generations. By the same token, someone with such a mindset could not imagine that something 3,000 years old has anything of value to offer.

Rav Sternbuch once gave a talk in South Africa to some leading academics. When he
started ridiculing the theory of evolution, there was a veritable uproar from the audience, and even the Jewish attendees could not believe that anyone claiming to be enlightened could dare express such «heretical» views and impugn the cornerstone of modern science. How tragic that intelligent people still cling to this theory, which is responsible for many of the depravities of modern times. In reality, our moral preeminence is dependent on maintaining our connection with all generations going back to Maamad Har Sinai and to the avos hakedoshim. We see from the Medrash above that we only received the Torah in the first place because of our pedigree, i.e., our physical and moral connection to our forefathers, and each generation since then recognizes the moral superiority of its royal ancestors, strives to emulate them, and endeavors to reach their elevated levels.


Uniqueness of every Jew

“By a head count.”

Rashi says that the poll took place by means of coins, but other meforshim disagree
and state that a head count did indeed take place. Although it is forbidden to count the Jewish nation, even for the sake of a mitzvah, and Dovid Hamelech was punished for doing so, these commentators are of the opinion that this particular poll was permitted in order to demonstrate that the number revealed by this census was identical to the number that was arrived at six months prior thereto, even though some people must have died and been born during the interim period.

This teaches us the significance of each individual for the completeness of the nation as a whole. Where the poll itself constitutes a mitzvah in that it emphasizes the virtue of each individual, it is a mitzvah to perform the poll through a head count specifically. Hashem cherishes each and every individual Jew and each mitzvah he or she performs. We must endeavor to utilize our full potential and be cognizant of how our actions can create or, chas veshalom, destroy worlds. This is also the reason behind the mitzvah of being mesameiach chosson vekallah. For a whole week, the groom is treated like a king in order to inculcate the message that he is not just another number in the statistics of married couples aiming to build a new home. Each couple makes its own unique contribution to the nation and is therefore indeed of royal significance.


SHEVET LEVI

The tribe of Levi is so elevated that it was not even included in the same census as the rest of the nation. Just like every Jew is as precious as royalty and his privileged status goes hand-in-hand with increased obligations towards his fellow man and towards Hashem, so are the members of shevet Levi expected to fulfill their obligations with even greater force and punctiliousness in return for their prominent status. As the Rambam points out, anyone who dedicates his life to Torah and to running every aspect of his life in accordance with the demanding dictates of a ben Torah has the opportunity of acquiring the special royal status associated with shevet Levi.

The males of all the tribes were counted from age 20 and upwards, but the members of
shevet Levi were different. As soon as a boy was 30 days old, at which age it is presumed that he will stay alive, they were already included in the count. As with any royalty, the next generation has to be inducted into their obligations from an early age and be taught that they are obligated to serve in Hashem’s army. Similarly, anyone who wants his son to grow up to be a ben Torah must start educating him from the earliest possible age and instill the message that being a ben Torah calls for a great degree of self-sacrifice and dedication.

Shevet Levi was the smallest tribe. This teaches all future generations to consider only quality and not quantity. Bnei Torah, too, must realize that even if their way of life or opinions run counter to the majority view, this is, if anything, a sign that they are on the right path, since the majority view and daas Torah are, for the most part, incompatible.


Innocent by lack of Association

At the time of the Eigel, shevet Levi demonstrated supreme dedication. The whole nation witnessed a golden calf, which had been created seemingly out of nothing, miraculously talking and eating. Nevertheless, only 3,000 actually worshipped it and had to be killed for their sin. When Moshe Rabbeimu declared, “Mi laShem eilai,” most of the nation was reluctant to take up his call, because they felt that the miracles accompanying the golden calf had led the sinners astray, and only shevet Levi separated themselves from the rest of the nation, having no hesitation in killing even relatives. Due to this act of dissociation, shevet Levi was counted in a totally separate census, as mentioned above.

During the time of the spies, too, shevet Levi was the only tribe which did not send a representative, because they had complete trust in Hashem and did not feel any need to investigate the country. All the other tribes were punished, because they failed to protest the statements made by their representatives, who acted as their agents. Only shevet Levi was spared the punishment of all male members more than 20 years old having to die before entering Eretz Yisroel. All this serves as a lesson for future generations that when faced with a choice between maintaining “peace” with erring brethren for the sake of “unity” and completely dissociating ourselves from them, we know which route to take, both for the sake of the nation
as a whole and for the sake of our own future.


Life mission

The descendants of the three sons of Levi were each assigned their own unique tasks,
which were not interchangeable. For example, someone who was meant to sing could
not decide that he was better suited to guarding the Aron. During the times of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l, there was a mashgiach who told him that he felt it was time to move on to do something else, but Rav Yosef Chaim responded that it would not be a good idea, and he should continue with his current position, as that was his mission in life. Each of us has our own unique shoresh haneshama and potential, and Hashem determines whether we have met it. If we have been given children, it is our duty, in our capacity as parents or teachers, to help them maximize their specific potential. Once we are adults, we must do this on our own. Furthermore,
each tribe makes its own unique contribution to the nation, and regardless of the specific role given to each of us, we must never forget that we are all part of a royal team.