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.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Our relationship with the not-yet righteous

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“And Hashem appeared to him” (18:1).

Avrohom told Hashem to wait, so to speak, and ran to his guests to serve them (see Rashi on 18:3), reckoning that seeing to the needs of his guests was the most important thing to do at that moment.

They say about the Chofetz Chaim zt”l that when he invited poor people from Radin to eat at him on Friday night, he would leave out sholom aleichim because the angels could wait, whereas his guests were hungry and it was forbidden to keep them waiting. He would make Kiddush, wash, start the meal, and only then invite the angels into his house by singing sholom aleichim.

In the same vein, in the Mishna Bruro, Hilchos Sukko it says that on the first night of sukkos one must wait a while for the rain to stop before making kiddush and eating in the house, but if there are guests one should not wait at all, because each moment that the host does not feed his guests he is transgressing the prohibition of bal te’acher (delay)¸ and that overrides the obligation to wait for the rain to stop in order to make kiddush in the sukka.


“And gave it to the lad” (18:7). Rashi: this was Yishmoel, in order to train him to do mitzvos.

A parent’s job is not only to teach his child positive and negative commandments, but also how to perform chesed . Furthermore, Yishmoel, who was also on the third day after his bris at the age of 13, must also have been in pain, and Avrohom wanted to demonstrate to him that mitzvos, and specifically chesed, have to be performed even when it is difficult.

Perhaps this what is meant when it says: "For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of Hashem, to do righteousness and justice” (18:19). Hashem loved Avrohom for the righteousness and justice he performed with regard to actions which others belittled. Educating our children towards good middos, both by setting a personal example and by training them in practice, is the type of chinuch which Hashem loves.

Education can be such a powerful tool that the lessons taught can become ingrained second nature for life for those who benefit from it. A stark example of this is Lot who, despite his wickedness in every other respect, insisted on ensuring the security of guests whom he assumed to be Arabs, even at the cost of his daughters’ morality. This was due to the example set by Avrohom, the effect of which even all the subsequent evil acts committed by him could not erase.


“Maybe ten will be found there” (18:32).

Avrohom did not try to argue that the whole of Sdom should be saved in the merit of less than ten righteous people. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l explains that even though it says that sometimes a whole community can be saved in the merit of one righteous individual, the righteous people Avrohom was talking about were people whose actions were not completely wicked, and were thus “righteous” compared to the totally wicked population of Sdom. Even ten such people could not be found, and therefore the whole town was worthy of destruction.


“And Avrohom got up early in the morning” (19:27).

The gemara in Chulin (91a) says that a talmid chochom should not go out alone at night. Tosfos there (91b) explains that we learn this from the above possuk. Avrohom got up in the morning to pray for the people of Sdom, and did not pray for them at night, because then he would had to be accompanied by two of his servants, and since he did not want anybody to be present when he prayed for these people, he waited until the morning. The question is why did Avrohom not want anybody to be present?

Rav Sternbuch heard the following answer from the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel zt”l. It was imperative that the limud zechus (finding merit and pleading their cause) of the wicked people of Sdom should only be in the form of a private dialogue between Avrohom and Hashem. If it would be overheard by anybody, they would be likely to think that the actions of these wicked people were not so bad in reality.

Transgressors themselves must be rebuked in no uncertain terms, it is only when we will be pray to Hashem that we must ask Him to judge them favourably. Similarly, added the Satmar Rebbe, I mince no words when rebuking our wayward brethren, but when I pray to Hashem, I plead to Him to judge them favourably, after the terrible churbon in Europe, and the effect it had on many people. However, chas vesholom that anyone should be aware of my limud zechus.


“Listen to everything that Soro says to you” (21:12)

Avrohom argued that Yishmoel could be influenced for the good by Yitzchok, whereas Soro countered that the influence would be unilateral, so that only her son would be influenced for the worse by Yishmoel, whereas Yitzchok would not have a positive effect on Yishmoel. Hence, therefore he and his mother had to be driven away immediately. The Torah testifies that in this argument Soro was right.

This shows that the approach adopted by the Mizrachi, that we must attempt to influence the irreligious from within their own organisations, was doomed to failure from the outset. Fraternising with them will not influence them for the better, and will only dilute our own outlook and religiosity. The way to influence them is by intensifying our own conduct without compromises, not by direct contact with them, and certainly not on a regular basis.


“For now I know that you fear Hashem” (22:12)

When we mention the merit of our forefathers, the merit of Avrohom ovinu is emphasized more than that of Yitzchok. The Zohar says that Avrohom’s test was greater since his whole essence was that of chesed, and the commandment of the akeido appeared to be the very opposite; the essence of Yitzchok, on the other hand, was gevuro (self-control), so that his test was not as great.

Moreover, only Avrohom heard directly from Hashem that he would have descendants from Yitzchok, so that it was more difficult for him not to question Hashem about the contradiction between that promise and the commandment of the akeido.

Why was Avrohom’s act called the akeido, even though the act of binding Yitzchok appears to have been subsidiary to the seemingly more important act of putting him on the mizbeach? Yitzchok had asked his father to tie him him to make sure that he would not move and invalidate the shechito, so that this act proved that both of them desired to perform the mitzvah, and to perform it properly. For this reason, we ask Hashem to have mercy on us in the merit of the akeido¸ in particular on Rosh Hashanah, because Hashem deemed the desire of both Avrohom and Yitzchok to complete the shechito as if they had in fact done so. So too we ask Hashem to consider our genuine desire to improve our ways as if we have kept all the mitzvos properly, since the act of the akeido demonstrated the paramount importance of intentions in Hashem’s eyes.
Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Ultimate Sacrifice

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“Hashem said to Avram, "Go from your land” (12:1)

The act of walking itself as a mitzva.

The wife of the Vilna Gaon had a friend with whom she used to to collect and distribute charity funds. The two ladies made an agreement between them that the first one to pass away would appear in a dream to the surviving friend to relate to her what takes place at the Heavenly Court. The friend passed away first and indeed came to visit her in a dream. She told her that she was not at liberty to disclose the details of the Heavenly Court, but since she had made a vow to come and tell her what was going on, she received special permission to reveal one detail.

She reminded her about one time when they were distributing charity funds and they saw a certain needy person coming towards them on the other side of the street. The friend went on: "At that point you raised your finger and gestured to the needy person to cross the street to receive the donation”. Her friend told her in the dream that in Heaven part of her merit was deducted because she should have crossed the road herself to give him the money. The Vilna Gaon’s wife told her husband about the dream, and he instructed the Vilna chevra kadisha (burial society) to make a record of it.

Both Rav Shach zt”l and Dayan Abramsky zt”l told Rav Sternbuch that they had themselves seen the records of the chevra kadisha in Vilna, which stated that the Vilna Gaon had asked them to record this incident. Dayan Abramsky added that after he read this, often when donating money to charity he would do the mitzva himself and not through a messenger. For example, he would go to the post office to mail a check overseas instead of asking someone else to go there.


I will make you into a great nation (12.2). Rashi: "Hashem promised him children, wealth and fame”

Both Rashi and the Rambam (on Ovos 5:3) state that Hashem’s commandment to Avrohom to leave Choron for an unknown destination was one of the ten trials by which he was tested. Since Hashem promised him children, wealth and fame, why was this considered to be such a great test?

The Rambam writes (Hilchos Avodo Zoro 1:3) that Avrohom brought tens of thousands of people close to Hashem by disassociating them from idol worship. The rewards for these actions was very great, because Avrohom was credited for all the good deeds performed by these people, and now Hashem was telling him to leave all his students and work and depart to an unknown destination. He had no idea whether he would be as successful in his new place of residence, but instead of telling Hashem: "please let me stay here to continue my important work", he had pure and simple trust in Him and asked no questions, in the complete conviction that everything Hashem does is for the good.

The gemara says (Brochos 61b) that "with all your might" in parashas kriyas shma refers to someone whose material possessions are dearer to him than his body. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l comments on this that someone who sacrifices his spiritual welfare for the sake of Hashem is included in this category. For example, sometimes a person gives up a great career as a lamdan (a rabbinic scholar) for the sake of devoting his time and efforts to bringing others closer to Hashem.


And I will make your name great (ibid). Rashi: This is the basis of saying: "G-d of Yaakov."

One might think that the first berachah of Shemoneh Esrei should be concluded by mentioning all three ovos, the text therefore states ‘And you will be a blessing’, only with your mention is it concluded and not with them [Yitzchok and Yaakov]

Avrohom Ovinu excelled in the trait of chesed, and therefore Hashem performed acts of chesed for him in return, without deducting any of his merits. Hashem as it were put up a shield (mogen – cf. onochi mogen loch (15:1) "I will protect you”) around his merits to protect them and ensure that they remain intact, and He acts in the same way with any of Avrohom’s descendants who perform sufficient acts of chesed.

For this reason the first brocho in shmone esrei ends with "Who protects Avrohom”: we ask Hashem to shower us with His goodness even in this world in Avrohom’s merit, and at the same time to erect a shield around any merits that we have accumulated, so that they need not be used to “pay” for Hashem's kindness to us in this world at the cost of being rewarded for them in the next world.

Chesed is the basis of success in any of our endeavors, whether material or spiritual. As we saw above, it is performed not only with our physical actions and possessions but also by giving up our time for the sake of others in order to draw them closer to Judaism, and a yeshiva bochur performs as great a deed by giving up some of his time to teach weaker boys. It is a fundamental principle of yiddishkeit that we cannot hope to attain spiritual perfection solely by acquiring spiritual merits of our own without at the same time drawing others closer to Hashem.


He took him outside and said: "Look towards the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them." He then said to him: "So [numerous] will your descendants be" (15:5)

This cannot be understood literally, since there countless billions of stars, but currently only about 13 million Jews in the world.

The Rambam notes that the stars and planets are in fact spiritual beings (Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 3:9). Many of them are larger than our planet and yet to our eyes they appear as no more than tiny dots, and some are totally invisible to the naked eye. Similarly, each Jew is a world onto his own, and the entire heavenly firmament depends on his actions, for the good and for the bad. Every mitzva or aveiro has an effect on the upper worlds, which, in turn, affects all aspects of our life in this world.

Moreover, just like each star has its unique role to play (as it says: "you count the number of the stars and gives them all their names" - Tehillim 147:4), so too is each Jew provided with a unique soul and task to fulfill in this world. Each one of us is endowed with different strengths and destined to face different challenges. In order to fulfill our task in this world we would do well to stop comparing ourselves with others. We have no knowledge or control over other people’s unique abilities and trials or their internal world. Instead, we should concentrate on becoming familiar with our own unique strengths and utilizing them to the utmost.

When Rav Sternbuch was 13 years old on his very first day at Rav Schneider’s yeshiva, Rav Schneider zt”l, told the students that they had the ability to become as great as Reb Chaim Brisker. One boy objected that he was not capable of being a Reb Chaim Brisker, so what was he expected to do? Rav Schneider replied that if he would realize his potential to the fullest extent the way that Reb Chaim did, he will have fulfilled his duty in this world.


He will be a wild, uncivilized man. His hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand will be against him" (16:12)

The angel had just comforted Hogor by reassuring her that “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they cannot be counted because of their great number…Hashem has heard your prayer” . Why, then, did he go on to make the above statement, which was surely likely to have done anything but comfort the ancestor of such people?

When Hogor gave birth to a boy, she haughtily assumed that she was more righteous than Soroh. The angel was in fact coming to rebuke her by telling her that, on the one hand, you will have a multitude of descendants, but, on the other hand, his hands will rise up against his enemies and his enemies will avenge his evil actions.

In other words, the supposed blessing contained in the previous possuk was actually a disguised curse.

The angel was teaching her not to judge actions superficially, and not to become haughty just because she had had a child, and her mistress was still barren. The workings of heaven are impenetrable, and what seem to be blessings may turn out to be curses, and what seem to be curses may turn out to be good tidings in the long-term.
Saturday, November 5, 2011

Keeping the teivo afloat

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


"Noach was a righteous man” (6:9).

Rashi quotes the gemoro (Sanhedrin 108a) that some people interpret this phrase as a tribute to Noach, and in a generation of righteous people he would have been on an even higher level whereas others argue that it is derogatory, because in the generation of Avrohom he would not have been considered righteous. Since the Torah testifies that Hashem said: "For you I have seen righteous before me in this generation” (7:1) how can we understand the view which maintains that the phrase at the beginning of the parsha is derogatory contrary both to its plain meaning and the possuk below?

In truth, according to both opinions Noach was righteous because he withstood trials on a daily basis surrounded as he was everywhere only by wicked people, and this alone entitled him to be awarded the title of a righteous person, and if he would have had the opportunity to engage in avodas Hashem in a generation which did not require him to constantly withstand tests, he would have been even more righteous, whereas those who say that he would not have been considered to be a person of stature had he lived in the generation of Avrohom contend that although he was righteous in his generation specifically because he exercised tremendous dedication, determination and self-discipline by refraining from sinning in such a challenging environment, if he would not have had to face such challenges he may not have attained such high levels. It therefore turns out that both opinions praise Noach for his actual behavior during his lifetime.

The Arizal told his student Rav Chaim Vital zt”l that his neshomo was exceptionally pure, but he responded, "who am I compared to the Tannoim and Amoro’oim”? The Arizal replied that in a generation suffering from a proliferation of tum’o and the sitra achra, Hashem grants great rewards to those who overcome such circumstances, and for this reason he had attained such high levels.

Rav Dessler zt”l pointed out that Rav Yosef Karo zt”l , a contemporary of the Arizal, stated that there were 300 rabbonim in Zfas in his time who were worthy of being appointed to be members of the Sanhedrin in the time of the Beis Hamikdosh, and yet the Arizal still termed his generation as being filled with tum’o. What, then, concluded Rav Dessler are we to make of our generation with its immorality and the spiritual poison of its media? The reward of those who withstand these challenging surroundings must be even greater and Hashem is yearning for us to grab as many mitzvos as we can. Rav Dessler passed away in 1953. It is not difficult to imagine what he would say about our generation, and the further deterioration of moral values that has taken place since his time.

It is said about several great zaddikim who lived in times of various misfortunes of klal yisroel that they promised before they died that when they would get to heaven they would not rest until Hashem would bring the final redemption. After they passed away and Moshiach still did not come they came to someone in a dream and revealed to him that in the world to come things appear different and that they now realize that for now it is better for the nation that each individual should still have the opportunity to chap more merits for all eternity in a challenging environment rather than insisting on Moshiach coming, when we will no longer have such opportunities, because free choice as we know it will no longer exist.


“For all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” (6:12)
Rashi quotes the medrash that even animals mated with different species. This seems surprising since animals live by instinct and not by free choice, so why would they change their nature?

Before the mabul nature was not fixed and constant, but rather sensitive to the spiritual status of human behavior. Just like nowadays we have infectious diseases in which someone in the environment of a sick person can catch his disease, so too before the mabul human sins caused spiritual diseases which were "caught" by the animals.

The physical nature of creation was also different before the mabul. For this reason rabbomin who were told about findings of fossils in Madagascar or elsewehre were not perturbed. Firstly, the methods used to determine the age of these fossils is far from sound. Secondly, to cite these findings as proof that we are descendants of monkeys makes no scientific sense. Thirdly, scientists can have no way of measuring the age of creatures, which lived before the mabul, since their composition was fundamentally different from any post-diluvuian creatures.


“Make yourself an ark” (6:14)

The Zohar says in parshas Vayakhel that the teivas noach was not only for the generation of the mabul, but whereever there is heresy or an anti-religious environment we must flee and take refuge in the teivo.

The Alter of Novardok zt”l said that nowadays the street is full of tumoh and we are in need of a teivo.The Satmarer Rebbe zt”l once met the Chazon Ish zt”l and told him that in view of the Rambam which states that if a person finds himself in an environment full of wicked people he must run away and live in the desert (Hilchos Deos 6:1), since the streets nowadays were full of kefira (heresy) we should follow the Rambam's advice. The Chazon Ish responded that there was no need to do so, since the yeshivas, which are full of Torah and fear of Heaven were our "deserts", and there was no need to go any further than that.


“On the very same day ” (7:13)

Rashi brings the Sifri that Noach’s contemporaries threatened to kill Noach if he attempted to enter the ark. Although they believed that a deluge was imminent, they still refused to repent. Similarly, the Egyptians continued to chase the Jews who were in the sea, even after having already witnessed the miracle when the yam suf split. Miracles in and of themselves are not enough if they are not preceded by an intensified level of faith.

Rav Sternbuch was once at the Brisker Rov zt”l when an American visitor told the Brisker Rov that in America people were waiting for Moshaich to come. The Brisker Rov asked him whether people were preparing themselves for this great event. The visitor responded that moshiach should come already with or without our preparations. The Brisker Rov replied that this would not work. We must start the process of repentance and strengthening our faith now, so that we will be worthy of witnessing unprecedented miracles and welcoming moshiach.

On the topic of Americans awaiting moshiach, Rav Pardes zt”l, a rav in Chicago, told Rav Sternbuch about a meeting he had with the Chofetz Chaim zt”l where he asked him where he was from, and when Rav Pardes said that he was from America, the Chofetz Chaim asked him whether Jews in America were talking about and awaiting moshiach. Rav Pardes didn't know what to answer but decided to say “avade” – of course they are. When he heard this, the Chofetz Chaim went to a corner and started crying to Hashem as follows: It is one thing for us, who are suffering so much from poverty and other material problems to yearn for moshiach, but even our affluent brethren in America are yearning for him to come - how much longer must we wait?

As Hashem continues to shower us with more miracles in Eretz Yisroel where we are completely surrounded by hostile elements, our job is to strengthen our emuno so that we will be worthy of miracles of an unprecedented scale, may they come speedily.


“Come out of the ark” (8:17)

The Zohar contrasts Noach’s conduct with that of Moshe Rabbeinu, who asked Hashem to delete him from His Book rather than founding a new great nation. Noach too after having been told about the forthcoming mabul should have pleaded for his contemporaries to remain alive until they repent, instead of thinking only of himself and his family.

Hashem could have found another way to keep the animal world alive other than the ark, but it was a way for Noach to achieve atonement for his sinful conduct in the period leading up to the mabul. Hashem was telling Noach: “You wanted to live a solitary life, and did not care enough for your fellow men, now you will be forced to live for an extended period on your own with your family in ‘solitary confinement’ from the rest of the world. Moreover, you refused to act with kindness to your fellow men, now you will be forced to perform ceaseless acts of chesed for an entire year for all the animals”.

Since the period he was to spend inside the ark was a punishment to atone for his previous behaviour, Noach would not quickly leave it until commanded to do so, so that he could be sure that his sin had been forgiven.


“I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake ” (8:21)

The medrash says that Hashem promised that there would not be another mabul of water, but there would be one of fire, in other words prior to moshiach the world will be full of epikorsus. Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin zt”l would weep profusely at the end of the hoshana kel lemosho’os which says sholosh sho’os hoshano - which he understood to mean: Hashem, save us from the three hours before the coming of moshiach when the world will be full of heresy!

The Maharshal says at the end of the fourth chapter of Bovo Kamo that we are obligated to fight any distortions of the Torah with dedication. The Torah is a precious treasure given to us as a present which must be safeguarded with devotion. Moreover, the desert, or teivas noach of a mokom Torah, which the Chazon Ish referred to, only works if the Torah studied there is not distorted.
Everyone is entitled to voice their own personal opinion, but if a rav states as his daas Torah that it is permitted to release more than a thousand prisoners, including cruel murderers, in return for one captive soldier, citing a halachik principle, totally irrelevant in this context, that in a clash between a certainty and a doubtful scenario, the certainty prevails, then that is a distortion of the Torah.

The teiva is currently floating in a sea of heresy, but it is intact and will continue to survive. The only question is who will have the merit of remaining strong until the last moment when Hashem will reveal himself. We must pray that Hashem will save us so that we can remain within the teiva with the same dedication and determination exhibited by Noach until His Kingdom will be revealed for ever.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Celestial Lessons

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“In the beginning Hashem created” (1:1). Rashi: “…for the sake of the Jews, who are called the first-fruits (reishis) of the increase”. Medrash Rabbo (1:4): “The world was created in the merit of three things, in the merit of challo, maasros and bikurim”.

Why was the world created in the merit of these three specific mitzvos as opposed to any of the other 610 mitzvos? These mitzvos are all characterized by the separation of a small amount from a remaining large amount. What remains after the separation retains the status of chulin (lack of sanctity), whereas the separated matter acquires sacred status.

The same applies with regard to the purpose of the creation of the world. Hashem created the various nations so that the superior sanctity of the Jewish nation should be discernible by way of contrast to the remaining nations which are chulin.

The Jewish nation is called reishis, because they are different from the rest of the nations, and the remaining nations were only created for the sake of the Jewish nation. It thus turns out that the purpose of the creation of the world is for the kodesh to be discernible specifically by way of contrast to the chol.

The importance of this principle cannot be overestimated. Since the world was created in order for the Jews to perform mitzvos and act like a holy nation to distinguish them from the other nations, if they do not act in a sanctified manner and behave in the same way as the other nations chas vesholom, they are acting in contravention to the main purpose of creation.

Although chareidi society has b”H grown by leaps and bounds over the past few decades, due to the exposure to non-Jewish or non-Torah elements in our daily lives coupled with the abundance of unprecedented technological devices purveying all the cardinal sins, this has not always been accompanied by a qualitative growth.

In addition to ensuring that our homes bear no traces of any objectionable material or media, in this day and age parents cannot take anything for granted.

For example, the fact that their neighbor bears a famous name or is in full-time learning unfortunately does not automatically mean that their son or daughter should be friendly with their neighbor's children. It is the parent’s job to conduct a thorough examination with regard to the nature of any potential friend and what he or she may be exposed to. The spiritual future of both the child and the parent depends upon it.

The more that we maintain our sanctity by disassociating ourselves from any non-Jewish or non-Torah influences, the less will we have to endure during imminent chevlei moshiach (birth pangs preceding the coming of moshiach).


Connecting the final letters of the first three words in the Torah - Bereishis boro elokim - produces the word emess. (truth) In this way the Torah emphasizes that someone who is not careful to speak the truth damages Hashem’s Creation which was based on emess from the very outset.

The medrash relates that truth argued against the creation of man since he would be full of falsehood, as did peace on the grounds that he would be full of quarrels and disputes. Hashem's response was to throw truth to the ground, as it says "and He cast down truth to the ground”.

This means that the Torah, which is the absolute truth, claimed that man, who was to be a physical being, would not be capable of fathoming the depths of the Torah, and this would result in conflicting interpretations and disputes between people regarding the real meaning of the Torah. In response, Hashem threw the Torah to this physical world, i.e. He gave it to its inhabitants so that they would observe it to the best of their human understanding.

Hence, it is an halachik principle that the "the Torah is not in heaven", and the implementation of principles such as rov (going by the majority) or deciding various laws pertaining to doubtful situations on the basis of principles which may not reflect absolute heavenly truth is dearer in Hashem's eyes than the preservation of divine truth, since this was the mechanism from the very outset through which the Torah was meant to be observed by us.


“And Hashem divided the light from the darkness” (1:5)

Chazal tell us that prior to the creation of the sun Hashem created a special light but then stored it away for the righteous in the world to come. This seems to have been a special non-solar source of illumination, the intensity of which was dependent on the degree of righteousness of the recipient. Hashem decided to postpone the implementation of this regime until the world to come, perhaps because it would all but abolish free choice. What power would be left to the evil inclination to entice people to sin if the effects of transgressing would be so ubiquitously apparent?

In any case, those who fail to make the most of their time in this world by learning Torah and performing good deeds will not merit a large amount of luminosity in their future eternal existence. This thought should surely serve as an incentive to improve our avodas Hashem.


“Let us make man in our image” (1:26)

Hashem is speaking to the angels, who were created on the second day (see Targum Yonoson), since they had a personal interest, so to speak, in the creation of man, because the status of the upper worlds, including that of the angels, depends on the actions of man in this world. Of course, Hashem does not need to hear the opinions of any being, but wished to teach us that even people less important than us must be consulted concerning any matter in which they have a personal interest.

Alternatively, Hashem is addressing man himself. The essence of man is not his physical body but rather his divine image. By observing the Torah and performing the mitzvos properly man perfects himself and completes his own original creation on a daily basis. This act of creation on man's part is in emulation of the Creator.

If we could see our spiritual image, we would get a shock. The Arizal had the ability to discern a person's spiritual form and could perceive the effects of even seemingly insignificant transgressions, such as speaking between mayim acharonim and bentshing, on a person’s spiritual form.


“And Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (2:3)

The main purpose of Shabbos, the day of rest and sanctity is to serve as a source of blessing for the remaining six days, in which we are immersed in worldly matters and can easily lose sight of the fact that the eternal life is the only thing of paramount importance. Shabbos serves as a recurring reminder of the world to come, and symbolizes it. The six weekdays are only blessed by Shabbos if we do not become too immersed in our affairs during the week, and recognize that Shabbos is the source of any mundane success that we achieve and not the hishtadlus (efforts) we put into our work.


It is now considered beyond dispute that the heliocentric model of the universe advocated by Copernicus correctly reflects the reality created by Hashem. Jewish anti-religious elements attempted to use this theory of modern science to discredit various statements of Chazal and even of Dovid Hamelech, which seem to state clearly that the earth does not move, such as "Who establishes the earth upon its foundations, that it should not be moved forever" (Tehilim 104:5).

Scientists are at a loss to explain the phenomenon of the sun’s distance from the earth. If the sun were just a tiny bit further removed from our planet we would freeze to death, and if it would be slightly closer to us, temperatures would be much too high for any life to be feasible. It is this remarkable feature of Hashem's creation, the position of the earth vis-à-vis the sun, and not the static nature of the earth, which Dovid Hamelech is referring to in the above possuk.

The very existence of the sun and the stars and the whole science of astronomy point towards a Creator: see Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah, end of chapter 4. The Rambam also notes that the stars and planets are in fact spiritual beings (ibid, 3:9) (despite the Vilna Gaon’s admonition of the Rambam for his affinity for philosophy, the Rambam did in fact sometimes incorporate kabbalistic views into his writings).

However, although epikorsim (heretics) will clothe their views with an intellectual veneer, in reality the source of their outlook is negative character traits. Deep down they feel the emptiness of their lives, and seek to justify their licentious behavior by citing sundry intellectual “problems” they claim to have detected with regard to leading a religious lifestyle. Rav Yeshoshua Leib Diskin zt”l noted that heresy which denies the existence of Hashem, claiming that the only reality is nature, is so irrational that it can only be explained as a supernatural phenomenon created by Hashem. This explains how Amolek could have espoused such views after the unprecedented miracles of yetzias mitrayim, and how their modern-day counterparts explain the showering of numerous potentially lethal missiles on unpopulated areas as “miracles” which have nothing to do with Hashem.

This week’s parsha teaches us that the entire creation is the handiwork of Hashem Who supervises our lives with individual divine providence. We are totally dependent on Him, and must do our utmost acquire to acquire immunity to heretical views which are so pervasive in modern society, and to non-Jewish or anti-Torah views as a whole, and live with the awareness that we are constantly creating ourselves and continuing Hashem’s initial work of creation.