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.
Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thought, Speech and Action

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“This is the thing which Hashem has commanded” (30:2).

What is the Torah conveying to us with this phrase? The second Article of Faith outlined by the Rambam in his introduction to Perek Cheilek is that the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu is fundamentally different from that of all the prophets preceding and succeeding him. Moshe Rabbeinu came the closest possible to "seeing" Hashem, as it were, and for this reason we received the Torah from him. "This is the thing" refers to the aspaklaria me’irah (clear vision) which Moshe Rabbeinu, alone among all the prophets, had the privilege of experiencing.


“He shall not break (yachel; literally, desecrate) his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (30:3)

Speech is the most important attribute of the human being, which distinguishes him from the animals. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh comments that if someone sanctifies his speech and refrains from speaking profane words, Hashem helps him and will act on the basis of “all that proceeds out of his mouth” by fulfilling all his wishes.
The Ohr Hachaim adds that nothing matches the sanctity of Torah, and a mouth that utters words of Torah becomes sanctified like a kli shoreis (vessel in the Bais Hamikdosh). A person living with the awareness of the power of speech, and who has sanctified this most important organ, will not contemplate profaning it with forbidden speech such as lashon hara and leitzonus. This also gives us some insight into how the blessings uttered by the mouths of great personalities, who have spent their lives sanctifying their speech organ, can have such a powerful effect.


“And Hashem will forgive her” (30:6).

Rashi quotes the Gemara (Nazir 23a) which states that this refers to a woman who made a vow to become a nazir and whose husband heard the vow and annulled it without her knowledge. She then transgressed her vow by drinking wine or coming into contact with a dead person. This woman requires forgiveness, even though, in reality, her vow had been annulled. The Gemara (Kiddushin 81b) says that Rabi Akiva cried when he reached this posuk, saying that if the Torah says that someone who intends to eat pork and inadvertently eats kosher meat requires atonement, then if someone intends to eat pork and in fact does so, how much more so does he require atonement.
The Torah on several occasions talks about atonement for inadvertent transgressions. What, then, was it about this posuk that moved Rabi Akiva to tears? Anyone committing a sin, aside from the damage caused by transgressing the word of Hashem, also sins through his very thoughts and desires to commit a sin, which in and of themselves are considered to be a great sin requiring forgiveness. The person who inadvertently ate kosher meat did not perform any sinful action, but still requires atonement for his evil intention to eat chazir.
Hence, as part of his atonement, it is not sufficient for him to just undertake not to eat any more chazir. Rather, he must uproot his desire to sin altogether to the point that he no longer feels any such desire. Just like a person instinctively fears fire and is afraid to even approach it, so should a person feel towards committing a sin or even coming close to doing so.


“He shall bear her iniquity” (30:16).

This refers to the opposite situation, in which a husband apparently annulled his wife's vow after having upheld it. He only tells his wife about the annulment, which in reality had no effect. The wife then acts as if her vow had actually been annulled. The posuk tells us that the husband bears complete responsibility for his wife's inadvertent sins committed as a result of his deceit. The Sifri adds that this teaches us that anyone who causes another person to stumble receives the punishment for that other person's actions.
Conversely, if someone assists or is instrumental in the performance of another person's mitzvos, it is considered as if he himself performed those mitzvos, and he has a share in their reward. This is yet another incentive for getting involved in outreach work.

Similarly, a person is judged every year on the day of his death. Although a person is judged immediately after he dies, this process is repeated on an annual basis. If the deceased caused other people to sin during his lifetime, he is judged every year for those actions and their ramifications since he has died. If he caused others to perform mitzvos and good deeds during his lifetime, his soul becomes elevated through his annual judgment due to all the actions performed in the meantime by those people, and by others as a result in a never-ending chain of events. The yahrtzeit of a tzaddik is considered to be a festive occasion (hilulah), because the assumption is that he only had a positive influence on other people when still alive, and we celebrate the further elevation of his soul due to all the actions performed since his death.


“Avenge the Bnei Yisroel of the Midiantes…arm yourselves with men” (Rashi: tzaddikim)from among you for the war” (31:2-3).

Although it was Moav that had caused the Jews to sin and Midian had merely provided advice, Moav had been motivated by a desire for immorality, as opposed to Midian, which believed wholeheartedly in the cause of desecrating the holiness of Hashem's nation and driving a wedge between them and Hashem.
The Brisker Rov zt”l opposed the cooperation between Agudas Yisroel and the Mizrachi in a United Religious Front for the purpose of the Knesset elections. He argued that since the Mizrachi espoused joint activity with irreligious or even antireligious elements, and due to its at best lukewarm attitude to Torah learning and the observance of certain mitzvos, any cooperation with that movement was out of the question. It was one thing to transgress, but quite another to have a policy advocating transgressions.

Rashi cites the Medrash Tanchumah that only tzaddikim were chosen to fight this war. This teaches us that when people seek to permit and justify immorality as a matter of principle, it is incumbent on any Torah-observant Jew to fight Hashem's war peacefully against those who wish to transgress His will. This applies to the legalization of immorality and, even more so, to protesting those who promote immorality and declare their pride in being immoral in the Palace of the King.


“A thousand of every tribe” (31:6).

The Medrash says that none of the tzaddikim who were sent to the war against Midian put on his tefillin shel rosh before his tefillin shel yad. The tefillin shel rosh symbolize the dedication of our minds to Hashem, whereas the tefillin shel yad symbolize our service of Hashem through active mitzvos. Moshe Rabbeinu was not interested in philosophers with a tenuous connection to Torah observance.
We, too, must keep the mitzvos because Hashem commanded us to, even if we do not comprehend the reasons for them. Only once we have become punctilious about our mitzvah observance should we start delving into their profound reasons and endeavor to develop our devotion to Hashem through those mitzvos.
For this reason, too, someone who puts on only a tefillin shel yad has fulfilled the mitzvah of tefillin, but someone puts on only a tefillin shel rosh has not. The emphasis is always on naaseh¸ the active unquestioning performance of mitzvos, before nishma, intellectualizing, and even before emotional devotion.
Moshe Rabbeinu wanted only first-rate tzaddikim who would perform the Divine commandment of avenging ourselves against Midian, without wondering about the ethical justification for destroying the men, women and boys of a whole nation. He wanted people who subjugated their intellect to the Divine will.


“To make atonement for our souls before Hashem” (31:50).

The Seforno states that this refers to atonement for not having protested those who sinned with Baal Peor. This seems difficult, since the Gemara (Shabbos 64a) states clearly that they had sinful thoughts which required atonement and were not only held responsible for failing to protest the sins of others.
However, there is no contradiction. If someone does not protest the sinful actions of others, it is a sign that he does not consider those actions to be so terrible. Such a person will also be likely to have sinful thoughts to perform those very same actions. Thus, the explanations of the Gemara and the Seforno in fact complement each other. In our day, it is incumbent upon us to protest vigorously any breaches of immorality leading to sinful thoughts, such as immodest clothing or the various media through which people can access the worst types of material.


“We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle” (32:16).

The members of the tribes of Gad and Reuven are criticized by the Medrash for being overly concerned with their money and property. “Who knows what will happen during the many years of conquests and settling the country?” they figured. Lacking sufficient bitachon, they wanted "cash" here and now. They preferred to make do with the territory on the other side of the Yardein, fearing the uncertainty of the future, and even though these territories did not have the spiritual advantages of Eretz Yisroel, they willingly waived the share that they were destined to receive in Eretz Yisroel.

Although this mentality may make perfect business sense, they were supposed to live on a higher level than that. If Hashem had promised them a portion in Eretz Yisroel, they should not have given that up due to unfounded fears about the future. Living in the present can be a sign of bitachon, but only if we do so because we trust in Hashem to provide for our needs in the future. If living in the present is accompanied by worry about the future, then that is the opposite of bitachon.


“And Moshe gave to the children of Gad and the children of Reuven and to half the tribe of Menashe” (32:33)./span>

The Moshav Zekeinim asks why Moshe gave the territory to half the tribe of Menashe, even though they did not request it. He answers that the land on the other side of the Yardein was very large and the tribes of Gad and Reuven did not require all of it. Menashe was the tribe chosen to inherit this territory together with the other two tribes because their forefather, Yosef, had caused his brothers to tear their clothes (Bereishis 44:13), and therefore Menashe's inheritance was split into two parts.

This teaches us the depths of Divine justice. Even though Yosef acted legitimately towards his brothers, nevertheless, since he was the source of their distress, he was punished for all future generations by having his tribe divided. By the nature of things, there would be a lot of interaction between the two parts of the tribe of Menashe. They would be unified socially and emotionally despite the natural separation of the Jordan River. Thus, this punishment served as an antidote to Yosef’s original sin, which stemmed from a lack of brotherly love.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Shailos UTeshuvos

With Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rosh Av Bais Din of Yerushalyim


The Gemara in Maseches Sotah (2a) states that 40 days before a baby is fully formed, a Heavenly voice proclaims that the daughter of ploni will marry ploni. From Chazal it appears as if everything has already has been arranged in Shomayim (heaven) and there isn't much room for human intervention. Where is the place for tefillos and histadlus?

"Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven" (Brachos 33a)

The Rambam explains that "everything" refers to minhag ha'olam, the way of the world, and "fear of Heaven" includes human action. This implies that when trying to accomplish something in this world, a person must take the normal measures that are followed.

In order to strengthen this understanding, the Rambam poses the following question: The Torah exempts a man from the army during the first year of his marriage, "lest he die in battle and another person take her as a wife." If all marriages are "made in Heaven" then why should one consider such possibilities?

The Rambam derives from here that the announcement of "bas ploni leploni" is a special reward that some people are given. It does not apply in every situation, and in many cases the zivug is decided based on a person's merits and actions. Therefore, a person must daven and make the normal hishtadlus, and should not merely wait for the Heavenly proclamation to transpire (response of Rambam 436 and commentary on Avos 4:22)


We all know that the Al-mighty single-handedly runs and guides the world according to His will. Yet, with the spiritual downfall prevalent in today's society, it is often difficult to see His Hand in action. If we look at life superficially, we might not recognize that the Al-mighty is behind it all.

There is one area left in the world in which His intervention is clear. When it comes to shidduchim there is no doubt that the Al-mighty alone is in charge. For example, at times, boys and girls who have everything going for them have difficulty finding their zivuggim, while others who do not have their qualities get engaged right away.

"A person does not have any portion in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu until he knows that everything is miraculous and that there is no such thing as nature." (Ramban, end of Parshas Bo) If so, what makes the area of shidduchim different than anything else? Since it is still recognizable that the Al-mighty controls this area of our lives we have more of an obligation to recognize it and turn to Him as our only Source of hope.


Rav Sternbuch once asked the Chazon Ish what the most important quality to look for in a wife is. The Chazon Ish replied that if she is a bas Torah, the main thing to look for in a spouse is flexibility. If someone is flexible then they will be able to settle whatever issues come up afterwards.

Rav Sternbuch relates another incident in which a bachur asked the Chazon Ish about marrying a certain girl. She came from an affluent family and wanted someone who would learn and also work, but was willing to sacrifice and take a boy who was only learning Torah. Should he pursue this shidduch further?

The Chazon Ish replied that he should definitely not consider it. Marrying a ben Torah is the greatest privilege possible, and therefore he should find a girl who appreciates this and does not view it as a sacrifice. The boy married a much simpler girl and today is a well-known talmid chacham.


Living amongst non-Jews has taken its toll on the Jewish people. Their influence has caused us to take on some of their practices which contradict the ways of the Torah. The secular world is rooted in non-Torah philosophies, and the area of dating has been especially hard hit from these influences.

Some people maintain that they cannot get married until they feel a very strong attraction for the person that they are dating. They meet for months on end until they are convinced that t they are ready to get married. Sometimes, at the end of this drawn out dating period, they will finally find some reason not to get engaged and the shidduch will be off.

Generally, people are only hurting themselves by following this practice. People hope that in the course of the dating, they will weed out all of the potential problems that could come up in marriage. At times, the opposite is true, if they had gotten married, most of these problems would be overlooked.

We must be aware that love before marriage is not a Torah concept. If the couple gets along ell, they can build a Torah home together and in most cases can finish off the shidduch and get engaged. This was the way that Jewish homes have always been built.