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.
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Yiras Shomayim in Elul

By Rav Moshe Shternbuch


“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.


"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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


“…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.