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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, September 22, 2011

Shailos uTeshovos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rosh Av Bais Din of Yersushalayim

Question: My nephew is getting bar mitzvah the week before Rosh Hashanah and I am planning to travel to Yerushalayim for the occasion. Meanwhile, because of the vote for the Palestinian state, many people have postponed their trips to Israel, and a number of the flights were canceled as a result. I do not feel that I should forgo my trip, but I would like to know what the rav feels.

Uncle Ben
Cincinnati Ohio

Answer: We have no way of knowing what the future holds in store for us, and if there will be tranquility or not. If you are not afraid of the situation, then you should come. If someone is worried about the situation, I cannot advise him to come to Israel or not.

Whoever comes, whether it is now or any other time, should realize that visiting Israel is not just a matter of taking a plane and traveling to a different country. Before coming here, especially to Yerushalayim, a person should elevate his relationship with Hashem, befitting for someone who is entering the palace of the King. In the times of the Bais Hamikdash (Temple), Jews would travel from all over Israel to Yerushalayim to fulfill the mitzvah of bikkurim (giving of the first fruits), and we can get a deeper understanding of the outlook we are meant to have while in Israel and Yerushalayim from studying the parsha.

Political Plans

The Sifri writes that as soon as we came into Eretz Yisrael, we accepted upon ourselves the mitzvah of bikkurim. Yet, the Gemara in Maseches Kiddushin (37a) tells us that the mitzvah of bikkurim only started fourteen years after we entered Eretz Yisrael. How can we resolve this seeming contradiction?

The mitzvah of bikkurim entailed giving the first fruit to Hashem. By giving over the first fruit, we show that, in truth, everything belongs to Him, and that our toil and production are for nought without the Almighty. Even though we were technically unable to fulfill bikkurim upon entering Eretz Yisrael, we were still able to have an affiliation with the philosophy behind the mitzvah beforehand.

During these days, people's eyes are on the UN and how their decision will affect the future of Klal Ysirael. Before coming to Eretz Yisrael, a person should internalize the message of bikkurim: that the Almighty controls everything and that there is no such thing as politics in Israel. Hashem's will is the sole determining factor behind the future of the country, and all other considerations are irrelevant.

Jewish Leaders

When a person brought the first fruit to the Bais Hamikdash, he gave it to the kohein and addressed him, saying, "Hashem Elokecha - Hashem your G-d". Seemingly, he should have said, "Hashem our G-d". Why did the person bringing bikkurim exclude himself from this proclamation?

During the time of the Bais Hamikdash, the kohanim received gifts so thatthey would be able to be free of financial obligations and thus spend all of their time involved in Torah study. Bikkurim and all of the other gifts we brought the kohen allowed us the privilege of having a share in their Divine service. Saying "Your G-d" was a way of expressing that through their avodah, the kohanim acquired a very high perception of Hashem, greater than the normal person was able to achieve.

In Eretz Yisrael, the percentage of people involved in full-time Torah study is higher than in other countries. Full-time Torah study produces true talmidei chachomim (Torah scholars) who are able to be leaders of the Jewish people. Before coming to Eretz Yisrael, on should internalize this reality and recognize its necessity.

Enemies of Israel

While giving bikkurim to the kohein, we performed the mitzvah of krias bikkurim, making a statement that encapsulated the history of Klal Ysirael. Amongst the events we mention is Arami oveid avi, that Lavan wanted to kill Yaakov Avinu and uproot the Jewish nation. Why is it significant that we mention this event?

In the Haggadah Shel Pesach we say, "In every generation the enemies of the Jewish people try and destroy us, yet every time Hashem protects us and extricates us from their clutches". Sometimes we see open miracles at other times we experienced hidden Providence and the Divine Hand is much more hidden. Internalizing these miracles brings us to a higher perception of His existence and helps strengthen yiras Shamayim (fear of Heaven)

Israel is a tiny country surrounded by many enemy nations. From a strategic point of view our situation might appear hopeless, especially if an enemy state is established within our borders. Before traveling to Eretz Yisrael, one should realize that history has taught us time and time again not to look at the superficial face of a situation, but to recognize that Hashem is protecting us at all times.

A Month of Days

Elul is called yerach yomim, literally a month of days. Every month of the year is made up of days. What is the reason that Elul is given this special title?

Every day of Elul has within it the power for a person to search deep within himself and make changes in his life. Especially if one is privileged to be in Eretz Yisrael, one has an extra advantage of additional siyata diShmaya (Heavenly help). Every day of Elul should be used to its fullest.

From Rosh Chodesh Elul until Simchas Torah, we say LeDovid Hashem Ori. Chazal tell us that ori, my light refers to Rosh Hashanah, and yishi, my redemption, refers to Yom Kippur. If we use the month of Elul properly, then we will merit to experience the light of Rosh Hashanah, and then ten days later to see redemption on Yom Kippur.
Saturday, September 17, 2011

PALE STINIAN STATEHOOD: A HARD KNOCK

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Question: Many significant events have taken place in the world over the past few years, and especially the last months, including natural disasters, such as earthquakes,hurricanes and tsunamis, in addition to political upheavals in Arab countries. Thousands of missiles have been shot at Israel, yet very few caused signifi cant damage. In a short time, the UN will be voting to establish a Palestinian state in Israel, which could legitimize many of the terror acts they commit, and Heaven forbid even worse. Can the Rov give me some insight into what is going on and what we should be doing about the situation?Thank you.
Dr. Binyamin Surovsky

Answer: Hashem is calling out to us to come back to Him. If we take heed of His calls, we will be privileged to see the final redemption quickly. However, if we do not listen, then we could see His wrath unleashed and, chas veshalom, a great disaster could take place.

NATURAL OR SUPERNATURAL

Over the past few years, we have seen many natural disasters and frequent open miracles. Countless missiles, which have the ability to cause mass destruction, have instead fallen into open areas. The Arabs admit that they are trying to destroy us, but the Almighty is not allowing them to do so. During World War II, when England was being bombarded with missiles, Rav Sternbuch’s rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Shneider,
repeated often that “Every bomb has an address.” Hashem sets up every missile for a specific reason. If it miraculously does not cause damage, the point of the missile is to wake us up from our slumber and bring us to a greater recognition of His existence and absolute power.

We might argue that since these occurrences are taking place so frequently, it is difficult to perceive them as Hashem’s Hand and miraculous. There is no basis for this claim. When the Almighty performs special acts of kindness for us, we are obligated to think about them and use them to elevate our Divine service. Both the religious and non-religious media admit that miracles are taking place daily.

Yet, there is a major defi ciency in the reporting of these events. None of them are telling us that we are meant to be changing our lives as a result of these occurrences. How can the media report that miracles are taking place, yet make no mention of the impact that these events are meant to have on our lives? What is the source of the lack of recognition of the seriousness of what is taking place around us? To answer these questions, we must study what the Torah writes about destroying the nation of Amaleik and see how it applies to our current situation.

AMALEIK

When commanding us to completely annihilate every trace of Amaleik, the Torah writes about this evil nation that “they did not fear Elokim” (Devorim 25:18). There are so many negative things to say about Amaleik. Why does the Torah focus on the fact that they did not fear Hashem, seemingly a
minor fault?

In truth, there is great depth in this description of Amaleik. The Torah reveals to us the root of Amaleik’s evil ways. Their total lack of Divine fear brought them to totally ignore all of the miracles that Hashem performed for the Jewish people and, in turn, wage war against the Almighty and His chosen nation.

We can see an example of Amaleik’s world outlook from a story involving Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg zt”l, one of the gedolim in Germany and author of the Seridei Aish. Rav Weinberg attended a meeting of secular non-Jewish and Jewish professors who got together to discuss the authorship of the Torah, and their conclusion was that while the Torah was far too complex to be man-made, they were not ready to attribute it to a Divine Source that they knew nothing about.

Like Amaleik, they refused to admit Hashem’s involvement in the world.If we can witness the natural disasters and miracles that are taking place today without making any change in our daily routine, we are also afflicted with a lack of yiras Elokim (fear of G-d).We should think about everything that happens and use these signals as an impetus to raise our perception and recognize Hashem more clearly in our personal lives. If we do not, we are showing that the influence of Amaleik has crept in our lives and caused us to be unresponsive to Hashem's actions done specifically for that purpose.

Arousing Divine Anger

What happens if we do not think about everything that is going on around us? What will be if we just live as if nothing extraordinary is taking place? The Medrash in Tehillim brings an analogy to answer this question.

A king once made an elaborate banquet. To his great dismay, no one turned up to the affair. As he awaited his guests alone in his grand dining room, the monarch was filled with anger and was ready to issue a harsh decree against his subjects.

The king was just about to act when a few beloved subjects turned up to his banquet. He was pacified and decided to forego his decree. Said the king, "Because you came, you saved everyone from punishment."

So too, though the many miracles that we have witnessed, we have been invited by the King and He awaits our presence. Yet, many people still fail to "show up" to see His Hand in all of the recent events that have taken place. Those loyal subjects of the King who do take the time and effort to think about what is transpiring give tremendous satisfaction to Hashem and can bring salvation to all of Klal Yisrael.

A Knock at the Door


"My beloved is knocking, saying,'Open up the door my sister, my love…"(Shir Hashirim 5:2) Everything that is taking place in the world today is a knock on the door from the Almighty. What will happen if we do not respond to these knocks on the door?

What would happen if an important person were to come and visit us and we would leave him outside knocking on the door? Surely there could be no greater insult to someone of stature than to ignore his calls. All the more so in regards to Hashem, Who is the King of kings.

All of the disasters, missiles, uprisings and the looming Palestinian statehood are Hashem's knocks on the door. If we take heed of His beckoning, then we will merit seeing the final redemption quickly. However, if we ignore His calls, the we could experience His full wrath, Rachmana litzlan (G-d forbid).

Now, during the remaining days of Elul and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah (ten days of repentance), is the time to think about our lives. If we make even the smallest changes, then we can expect the gray clouds that loom over us to dispel and that 5772will be a year of great blessing. Let us all take the time to answer these calls and to do teshuvah during this most auspicious time.
Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lessons of the Ben Sorer Umoreh

LIFELONG BATTLE

When you go forth to battle against your enemies, and Hashem your God delivers it into your hands (21:10)

Our main enemy is the evil inclination, and if we make a point of waging battle against it, Hashem will deliver him into our hands. Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l always said that if we remain inactive the evil inclination will succeed, and we can only hope to overcome it by engaging in combat tactics.

The possuk starts off in the plural (“enemies”) and immediately moves over to the singular ("it"). The evil inclination adopts various personalities. Sometimes it does not disguise its evil intentions, but at other times it dons the mask of righteousness in an attempt to confuse us. In either case, our job is to muster the willpower for a lifelong fight in which our main weapon is Torah learning (or tznius-modesty in the case of ladies).


MOTHERS ARE PILLARS

And would take her to you as a wife (21:11)

Rashi quotes the medrash that in the end the eshes yefas toar (the beautiful woman that a person during war takes as a wife) will give birth to a rebellious son. The woman in question was sent to the war for immoral purposes wearing alluring clothes.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the offspring of such a woman will become not only rebellious (sorer) but will also teach others (moreh) wayward ways. The mother is the mainstay of the Jewish home, who maintains its sanctity, and the spiritual success of her children depends on the degree of her internal and external tzenius.

DOMESTIC HARMONY

Then shall his father and his mother lay hold of him (21:19)

The gemara says that it the father comes without the mother their son does not acquire the status of a sorer umoreh. This is because if the father comes without his wife for such a crucial matter it is probably because they are quarrelling and therefore the son's immoral behavior must be attributed to the unsettling environment in the home, and is not due to his fault.


Harmony between parents is absolutely crucial in the domestic arena, and, at the very least, there should these be no disagreement or arguments chas vesholom in front of the children. In any case, it would not be appropriate to subject such a son to the death penalty in the expectation of future wrongdoing, because the external cause of his current behavior – his parents’ lack of harmony - may disappear, and in its wake, his unacceptable behavior.


This explanation also helps to resolve a discrepancy between this possuk and the one further on (22:16 in the parshas mozi shem ra) where Rashi quotes the Sifri that a woman does not testify before a beis din, because in the case of a potential ben sorer umoreh it is crucial for the beis din to hear what the mother has to say and gave an impression of the nature of the relationship between the parents, since they have to determine whether domestic harmony prevails between the father and mother, this being an essential prerequisite that has to be fulfilled before their son can be declared to be a ben sorer umoreh.


The Yerusahlmi says that the halochos of the ben sorer umoreh do not apply in Jerusalem. The commentators are puzzled about the reason for this. The atmosphere in Yerushalayim in the time of the beis hamikdosh was so suffused with purity and holiness that if someone still committed transgressions and gave in to the pull of his desires, there must have been something fundamentally wrong with the education he received at home. There must have been a lack of domestic harmony or some other serious educational problem, which the son cannot be blamed for. Moreover, in this situation too it cannot be said with any degree of certainty that the son will commit more serious transgressions in the future, because the intense local spiritual environment may have a salubrious effect on the child in the long term.


ALL IN THE SAME BOAT

And you shall eliminate evil from your midst, and all Yisroel shall hear and fear (21:21)

The Jewish nation is one unified body. All its members are in the same boat, and if one of them drills a hole at the bottom of it, he cannot defend himself by telling everybody else to mind their own business. Even a minor transgression committed by one Jew has an effect on the entire nation. It was said that if a Jew in Warsaw cuts off his beard his fellow-Jew in Berlin will be more likely to take the final step towards complete apostasy.


The Torah is telling us that if we eliminate evil from our midst by exercising capital punishment against one transgressor this will have a positive effect on the entire nation which will draw the appropriate conclusions. Of course, we are not aware exactly how our actions effect others, but the knowledge that they do have such an effect should serve as an additional deterrent to refrain from sinning and as an impetus to enhance the quantity and quality of our Torah and mitzvos.


SHAATNEZ WITH MITZVOS


You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seeds (22:9)Rav Chaim

Yosef Dovid Azulay zt”l, the Chido, suggests that this possuk may be taken as an admonition not to intermingle sinful elements with mitzvos. For instance, someone who speaks loshon horo or creates disputes with supposedly pure intentions is guilty of sowing a vineyard with two kinds of seeds in addition to the transgressions of loshon horo and causing machlokes (disagreements between people). Other examples are someone who learns with the intention of lording it over others or giving charity whilst embarrassing the recipient.


THE PROBLEM WITH INTEREST

You shall not lend to your brother upon interest, so that Hashem your God may bless you (23:21)

The Kli Yokor explains the rationale behind this prohibition. An ordinary business transaction entails a risk of loss as well as profit. Therefore, the believing businessman will always turn to Hashem to ask Him to make his business succeed so that he may support his family. An interest-bearing loan, on the other hand, usually entails no risk of loss whatsoever, and the lender will imagine that his fixed profit is a certainty and is in no need of divine assistance.


“He who trusts in Hashem is enveloped with mercy” (Tehillim 32:10), whereas he who deludes himself into thinking that he does not need Hashem’s assistance will not merit His blessings. Hence, this transaction is forbidden “so that Hashem your God may bless you” when you seek His support in your other business transactions.


THE MAZAL OF ELUL

When you lend to your neighbor any manner of loan (Rashi: a loan of no substance) (24:10)

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l explains Rashi’s enigmatic words on the basis of another Rashi in Shmos 22:24. Hashem tells the lender how much he owes Him, since his soul comes up to Me every night and after presenting an account of its deeds it is found to be lacking, and yet I still return it to you the following morning day after day. How much more so then should you have mercy on the borrower and not insist on your right to have the money returned. This is what Rashi is referring to in this possuk too. All the debts in the world are considered to be nothing compared to those which
a person owes Hashem in the eternal world.

A person who has parnosso or other worries weighing him down should tell himself that as serious as they seem, they are as nothing compared to what awaits him in the eternal world, and he would do well to invest his thoughts and energies into how to be saved from those genuine worries.

Elul is the time to think about these matters and to fight the evil inclination by intensifying our Torah learning (or reinforcing tznius in the case of ladies). The mazal of Elul, the month of mercy, is the besulo (maiden), symbolizing the rejuvenation we should aspire to achieve in our lives in preparation for the yomim noroim (High Holy days)
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Driving Without a License

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Question: My neighbors allow their teenage son to drive their car. I know that he does not have a driver’s license, and a number of times I have seen him in dangerous situations, in which he almost hit other cars. His parents have been told, but they do not seem overly concerned about the situation. I was thinking of calling the police, but I thought that this might be a problem in halacha. Can the rov clarify this issue for me?
A Concerned Neighbor

Answer: A person who is driving without the proper knowledge of how to do so is a threat to his own life and the lives of others. He has the halachic status of a rodef (a pursuer) and it is definitely permitted to call the police in regards to this situation. However, one should first do everything possible to stop him in other ways - e.g., speak to their rov or anyone else who they will listen to before turning to the authorities.

WHO IS A MOSER?


The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 388:12) states: “If someone causes pain to an individual, it is forbidden to report him to the non-Jewish authorities. However, if he causes pain to the tzibbur,(community) it is permitted to turn someone over to the non-Jewish authorities.” The Rama adds that this includes counterfeiters and anyone else who could cause damage to Klal Yisroel. One might argue that in many cases it is unclear if such a person will actually cause damage. Perhaps he will not be caught, and even if he is, perhaps he will not be prosecuted. Nonetheless, the chance that he can cause damage is sufficient reason to report such a case to the police.

In most cases, the person involved does not have intention to hurt others. Since he is acting unintentionally, perhaps this is reason to be lenient with him. The Vilna Gaon discounts any such arguments and writes that as long as the person involved could be a potential danger; he is given the status of a rodef and may be turned over to the authorities.


TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS
One must take great care before applying the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch lemaaseh.
Turning someone over to the non-Jewish authorities unjustly gives one the status of a moser and is a serious transgression.

One must definitely consult with a rov before taking such action. However, someone who has not taken driving lessons will generally not drive well. He is a hazard to everyone around him and could easily take someone else’s life. Such an individual is given the status of rodef and definitely fits in the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling of one who may be turned over to the authorities.

Before calling the police, one should first try and influence the person to take lessons and apply for a license. If he does not listen and he disregards your warnings, then you should try to get someone else involved whom he will listen to. If that does not work, then, for the benefit of Klal Yisroel, you have no choice but to call the police, even if there is a possibility that he will be put in jail as a result.


PURSUING JUSTICE

The Torah states, “Tzedek tzedek tirdof - You should pursue justice” (Devorim 16:20). Generally, the Torah is very careful not to write any extra words. What is the second word tirdof coming to tell us? Pursuing justice is not a simple act, and sometimes it has unpleasant ramifications. At other times, it might be difficult and may put one in a situation in which they are involved with complicated legal proceedings.

Yet, one should follow in Hashem’s ways and love justice, putting all their effort into insuring that tzedek, justice, is carried out, and continue to do so until full tzedek has been achieved.

There was once an individual who was worried that he would get a severe punishment for his many traffic violations. He went to Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky with the hope of getting a bracha to escape the
harsh punishment that he expected. Instead of getting sympathy, Rav Yaakov had sharp words of criticism and told him that he was, in truth, deserving of the harshest punishment!

During Elul, we prepare ourselves to stand before Hashem on the days of judgment between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. If we want to ensure that we will be written into the Book of Life, we should
make sure that we are doing everything in our power to protect the lives of other Jews. Although turning someone over to the police outwardly seems cruel, in truth it is considered an act of great mercy to
others.

Yiras Shomayim in Elul

By Rav Moshe Shternbuch

JUDGES AND POLICEMEN

“You shall make for yourself judges and officers in all your gates” (16:18)

We must erect gates to control all our limbs, such as our eyes, ears and mouths, and ensure that they are subjected to the scrutiny of “judges” (our minds) whose job it is to decide whether a certain action is appropriate. After that our minds act like police officers when they conduct an investigation of our actions at least once a day to determine whether they comply with the dictates of the Torah.


THE LIVING DEAD

"Upon the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is to die (literally: ‘the dead man’) be put to death” (17:6)

A person due to receive capital punishment is termed a dead man even before he has been executed, because Chazal tell us that the wicked are considered to be dead already during their lifetime. This also explains why even those who transgress the most severe Torah prohibitions remain seemingly alive and well even though they were inscribed in the “Books of Death" on Rosh Hashonah. Those "Books of Death" do not refer to the departure from this world, but rather to the spiritual status of the person. Only those who cleave to Hashem are alive in reality.

Hence, our fear of the Day of Judgment on Rosh Hashono is not only of death in the conventional sense but of spiritual death, in which a person's prayers are not accepted. The month of Elul is the time for increasing charity, Talmud Torah (learning Torah) and good deeds in order to make sure that we remain alive in every sense. Between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur we ask Hashem to "remember us for life", not any kind of life, but the type of life which the "King who desires life" and created life desires for us, and we should desire for ourselves.

Rav Shternbuch’s rov, Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l initially wanted to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel from Germany and not to England. However, when he went to the Jewish Agency to apply for a permit to enter Eretz Yisroel, he was told that these were reserved for young people who had the strength to build up the country, and not for old all people who merely came to die and be buried there. Rav Schneider responded that they were talking nonsense, because we want to go to live in Eretz Yisroel to sanctify the remainder of our lives, and every religious person who joins his brethren increases the sanctity and vitality of the Holy Land. You, on the other hand, concluded Rav Schneider, are sending young people to Eretz Yisroel, who are unfortunately already spiritually dead, to defile the country. Rav Schneider was then promptly escorted out the room unceremoniously. He eventually emigrated to England to head his famous Yeshiva in London.


SHIELDED ENVIRONMENTS

“The hands of the witnesses shall be the first upon him to put him to death… you shall remove you the evil from your midst” (17:7)

Rav Meir Simcha of Dwinsk zt”l, author of the Or Sameach, points out that it is specifically those who witnessed a crime who must be the ones to execute the death penalty on the transgressor, because by the very act of having witnessed the transgression they become desensitized to its enormity. This teaches us the importance of living in a place of Torah, where we are not exposed to forbidden sights and sounds, such as chillul Shabbos. Anyone not living in an ideal environment for whatever reason, who is not thus shielded, must remove the evil from his midst by constantly eradicating it from his heart and mind in order to minimize the effect it has on him.


JUDGES IN YERUSHALAYIM

“You shall arise, and get up to the place which Hashem your G-d shall choose” (17:8)

The Sanhedrin, home of the greatest talmidei chachomim, was situated in the lishkas hagozis inside the Beis Hamikdosh and in close proximity to the mizbeach hachizon (outer altar). Chazal tell us about the powerful effect of an aliya loregel (visit to Jerusalem and the Beis Hamikdosh on the three festivals) on the oleh loregel’s fear of Heaven, and we can well imagine the effect on the members of the Sanhedrin of being constantly so close to the avoda (service) in the Beis Hamikdosh.

Clearly dayonim are not merely judges engaging in the intellectual exercise of adjudicating between two parties or deciding issues of halocho. They cannot succeed in their job unless they are suffused with yiras shamayim (fear of heaven) and constantly praying to Hashem to save them from stumbling. This is no easy task, and the location of the Sanhedrin facilitated their challenging endeavor.


EXCESSIVE RIGHTEOUSNESS

“And the man who acts presumptuously in not listening…” (17:12)

Nullifying our own opinions and views in favor of gedolei Torah is one of the most fundamental principles in the Torah. By refusing to act in this manner the zoken mamrei undermines this principle tremendously. Since he is a talmid chachom of no small stature in his own right the severity of his sin is compounded, because he is likely to have followers, and even neutral observers will be tempted to follow his views in light of his status.

It says “Do not be excessively wicked, nor excessively righteous". Rav Yecheskel Sarna zt”l commented that to be excessively righteous is worse, because the transgressor will be convinced of his righteousness and will not easily repent. For this reason we have to keep our distance from such people.


FIGHTING THE YETZER HORO

“Only he shall not multiply horses for himself... for the purpose of multiplying horses (literally: "a horse")” (17:16)

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l notes that the possuk starts off in the plural and ends off in the singular. In the beginning the yetzer horo only succeeds in convincing a person to commit a transgression if the material "reward" for it is significant. Once the yetzer horo has enjoyed some success, and the sin has become habitual, he will no longer have to hold out such large bait, and even for one single horse will the king be willing to take the nation back to Egypt. If we do not remain steadfast in our battle with the yetzer horo from the outset, we will eventually concede defeat even for very little in return.


JEWISH KING

“He shall write for himself a Sefer Torah” (17:18)

Everybody has an obligation to write a sefer Torah, but the king has to have one with him all the time to serve as a constant reminder that he has more obligations than anyone else. Chazal tell us that talmidei chachomim are a class of royalty unto themselves, and therefore much more is expected of any talmid chachom or ben Torah: an act which is a minor misdemeanor for one person may be a very severe sin for a ben Torah.

The genuine concept of a Jewish king is that of a leader with supreme yiras shomayim who makes sure that the nation observes the Torah properly. Even though the Torah contains a commandment to set up a king, the nation was subsequently punished for demanding one, since what they had in mind was a political leader along the lines of the monarchs of their neighbors - something fundamentally different from the type of king envisaged by the Torah.


TORAH LEADS TO FEAR OF HEAVEN

“That he may learn to fear Hashem his G-d” (17:19)

As we saw before in reference to the Sanhedrin, Torah is not a mere academic or intellectual exercise, whose entire purpose is the attainment of knowledge. The real goal is to attain yiras shomayim, and the more Torah one learns, the more should one's character be refined. This point is brought out clearly in the prayer we say at the end of every weekday: "May He open our hearts with his Torah, and put into our hearts His love and His fear and to perform His will and serve Him with a complete heart". In other words, the Torah is only a tool for attaining love and fear of Hashem.

The king was commanded to read the Torah for his entire life for the purpose of maintaining and reinforcing his yiras shomayim. Anyone who learns Torah only for intellectual pleasure (a worthy goal indeed, but not the ultimate one), and not as a means of increasing his fear of Heaven, runs the risk of the Torah itself serving as a "drug of death", chas vesholom and leading him to the antithesis of yiras shomayim.


SETTING AN EXAMPLE

“…lest his brothers’ heart melts as his heart” (20:8)

The Torah exempted a fainthearted person from going out to war as this would lead to others losing their morale. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l connects this possuk with the gemoro (Yomo 86a) which states that Rav Yochonon said about himself that if he was seen in public walking four amos without Torah this would cause others to slacken in their learning too, thus causing a chilul Hashem. The fact that we can be the cause of a chilul Hashem even without intending this result at all should certainly cause us to reflect on the repercussions of our actions, some of which we may not be aware of at all.

If someone comes late to Shul or daydreams when he is meant to be davening or learning, in addition to the detrimental effect on his own spiritual level, this may often cause a general weakening in that of those around him. Elul is the time to increase our merits. Let us concentrate on improving those areas of our avodas Hashem that could do with some improvement. This may also be the impetus for others to do the same, thus increasing our merits even more through a kiddush shem shomayim (sanctification of the divine name) in this critical period leading up to the yomim noroim.
Saturday, September 3, 2011

Relating to Hashem as Our Father


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

BUSINESS ETHICS


“If you will hearken to the ‘insignificant’ commandments that a person tramples on with his heels” (7:12, as expounded by the Medrash Tanchumah cited by Rashi).


One of the prerequisites of genuine repentance is the realization that any sin constitutes a rebellion against the Creator. This realization is more difficult to come by in the case of sins, which appear to be comparatively insignificant, since a person tends to belittle the consequences of such sins. The Torah is telling us here that, in reality, there is no “scale of severity” when it comes to sins, and that if we relate to the Ribbono Shel Olom as a son does to his father, we will want to perform His Will through His mitzvos in all areas of our life irrespective of our perception of the severity of specific commandments.

On the plain level, the posuk is admonishing us to be particular about mitzvos related to monetary matters, which we do not always observe in as punctilious a manner as we should. Someone once told Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l that he was thinking of leaving the rabbinate to go into business, since there were so many pitfalls in his current occupation. Rav Yisroel responded that there were even more hazards involved in being a businessman, such as observing the prohibition against deceiving a non-Jew about the nature of merchandise, the intricate laws against charging or paying interest, and many other matters that apply in the day-to-day affairs of a businessman. And therefore, he advised, he should think very carefully before embarking on such a move.


ENSNAREMENTS

“Nor should you serve their gods, for that will be a snare for you” (7:16).


The choice of the term "snare" seems surprising. Surely we should refrain from serving idol worship simply because it is one of the major prohibitions. Why is it merely a “snare”?

In the times of Tanach, everybody was aware of the existence of a Supreme Being and Creator, but, as the Rambam explains, people thought that He was too lofty and far removed to be interested in the affairs of mortal beings and that instead, His handiwork, such as the sun, should be praised as intermediaries. This type of idol worship was superficially attractive and therefore the Torah warns us not to be ensnared by its allure.

Nowadays, we are unfortunately also not lacking people who would have us believe that they are acting for the sake of Heaven when trying to entice us to diverge from our outlook and way of life handed down from generation to generation. It is up to us to remain strong and not be lured by them.


BLESSING HASHEM FOR FOOD


“And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless (es) Hashem your G-d” (8:10).


We do not forget Hashem even when eating and we eat like human beings in order to have strength to serve Hashem, and not like animals, which fill their bellies in order to satisfy their hunger. Moreover, the phrase in this posuk may be compared to the one later on in the parsha, “You shall fear (es) Hashem your G-d” (10:20), from which Rabi Akiva derives: “es - to include talmidei chachomim.” Similarly, when we have enough food for sustenance, we must not forget talmidei chachomim who may not have even the bare minimum to eat.

FEAR OF HEAVEN

“What does Hashem your G-d require of you but to fear Hashem your G-d” (10:12).

The most important thing to Hashem is a person's fear of Heaven and fear of sin. Someone who performs the commandments not out of habit, but with the awareness that he is always in the presence of Hashem, and is in awe of Him, will not sin.

The Gemara (Brachos 33b) expresses surprise that the Torah designates the attainment of fear of Heaven as a small matter, and replies that for Moshe it was indeed a small matter. The meforshim ask the obvious question that this posuk is addressed to the whole nation and not only to Moshe.

The Dubna Maggid explains in the name of the Vilna Gaon that someone who is privileged to cleave to talmidei chachomim and spends much time in their presence will easily emulate their deeds and have no difficulty acquiring their fear of Heaven. A tzaddik suffuses his environment with his yiras Shomayim like a vessel bursting at the seams. Moshe Rabbeinu, too, as the leader of the nation, recognized the greatness of its members and realized that, due to their lofty levels, he was able to convey his own superior level of yiras Shomayim to them. Thus, he told them that they did not have to toil much, because they were close to him and therefore in a position to attain the required level of yiras Shomayim.


HAVING OUR WORK PERFORMED BY OTHERS

“That you may gather in your corn, and your wine and your oil” (11:14).

The Gemara (Brachos 35b) says that this posuk refers to a time when we do not fulfill the will of Hashem, because when we do, our work will be performed by others. However, the posuk preceding this one says, "And it shall come to pass, if you shall hearken diligently to my commandments etc." This sounds as if the promise contained in the following posuk envisages a situation in which we do fulfill the will of Hashem. How can this be reconciled with the Gemara?

There are two types of people who serve Hashem. Some serve Him out of fear or awe, the same way that a slave serves his master. It is this lower level that the above Gemara refers to as "not fulfilling the will of Hashem.” Only when we serve Hashem the same way as a son, who wishes to fulfill his father's every wish, are we considered to be "fulfilling the will of Hashem" completely and are deemed worthy of having our work performed by others.

PALACE OF THE KING

“And you shall put My words unto your heart and unto your soul” (11:18).

Rashi cites the Sifri which states that even after being exiled, we must still put on tefillin and affix mezuzos, so they will not be like new mitzvos to us when we return. They function like “indicators.” What is this coming to teach us? Surely our obligation to observe these mitzvos is not related to any specific place, and they are not merely “indicators” just because we no longer reside in Eretz Yisroel.

We find that Yaakov Avinu observed the prohibition against being married to two sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Due to the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel, the avos hakedoshim, when they were dwelling in the Palace of the King, felt the need to observe even mitzvos that they had not been commanded to observe. In chutz la’aretz, we keep the mitzvos because we have been commanded to do so by the Creator. That is what the Sifri means that they are “indicators.” In Eretz Yisroel, on the other hand, if we are worthy of sensing its holiness, we reach the level where we observe the mitzvos even without being commanded to do so, but rather because we feel the need to observe them in order to perfect ourselves with the luminosity afforded by the mitzvah.

When he was still a bochur, Rav Sternbuch went to see Rav Mordechai Pogromansky zt”l and told him that he was on the way to Eretz Yisroel. Rav Pogromansky asked Rav Sternbuch if he was ready to live there, since this requires one to live on a different level. For example, speaking lashon hara in Eretz Yisroel is not the same as speaking lashon hara in chutz la’aretz. Rav Pogromansky was in fact reluctant to agree to Rav Sternbuch’s going to live there at all, until he heard that the Chazon Ish zt”l had given his blessing for such a move. This should certainly serve as a stark reminder of the standards that must be maintained by those of us who live in Eretz Yisroel or even come for a visit.

Rav Pogromansky also warned Rav Sternbuch to be careful in Eretz Yisroel, since there were spiritual birth pangs of moshiach that had to be endured there, which would be followed by physical ones.


REJOICING IN HASHEM

“That your days may be multiplied” (11:21).

This posuk may be explained with the posuk in Mishlei (10:27) which states, “The fear of Hashem prolongs days, but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.” Since the days of the righteous are imbued with holiness and dedicated to keeping mitzvos and serving Hashem, each day is of incomparable significance and deserves to be counted as a day. The wicked, on the other hand, spend their time - at best - with vacuous matters, so that their days are not deemed to be “days” at all.

If we internalize the fact that Hashem is our Father, Who, in His great love for us, gave us the Torah and mitzvos in order to perfect ourselves, we will surely not squander our meager years here by pursuing wealth or other valueless worldly pursuits, but will rather focus on how to maximize whatever time has been allotted to us in order to realize the purpose of our existence, which is to keep the Torah and mitzvos in order to rejoice in Hashem and derive pleasure from the splendor of His Presence (Mesillas Yeshorim, Ch.1).