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, December 8, 2011

Eternal vs. Ephemeral

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“And Sarah died in Kiryas Arba” (23:2).

Rashi quotes the Medrash that Sarah’s soul departed after hearing that Yitzchok had almost been slaughtered. Why was she not relieved that in the end he did not die? Furthermore, since she was no less righteous than Avrohom, why would she not have been perfectly willing to give up her son at Hashem’s request?

Our forefathers and foremothers knew that they were the pillars and prototypes for all future generations of the Jewish nation, and that their own experiences would be replicated again and again in the lives of their descendants. When Sarah heard about the Akeidah, in which two righteous and holy individuals had to endure a terribly difficult trial, she realized that, in the future, even her most righteous descendants would also have to endure extremely challenging experiences, such as the many persecutions in fact endured by the nation over the succeeding millennia, and that not even the tears and supplications of the angels could avert these events (see Rashi on 27:1). She thus began to cry ceaselessly, wondering whether her descendants would be able to withstand such enormous tests, until her soul departed due to her great distress.

Alternatively, Sarah knew that she had been allotted 127 years to live, but she thought that since she had been given a son who had to be educated and guided, she would be allowed to remain alive for as long as necessary to complete that task. When she heard that her son had been willing to give up his life altogether to fulfill Hashem's commandment, she knew that she had fulfilled her task properly and was no longer needed.


“And Avrohom weighed out the silver for Efron” (23:16).

Efron in this posuk is spelled without a Vov. The Medrash applies the following posuk in Mishlei (28:22) to Efron: "He who has an evil which hastens after riches and does not know that want shall come upon him.” Efron did not realize that his attempt to overcharge Avrohom so much would result not only in the loss of the unlawful gain, but also in many other losses.

When Rav Sternbuch was a child, Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l once came to his family for a Shabbos meal. Rav Sternbuch's mother, who had been widowed with nine young children, asked Rav Wasserman the following: “I have to have trust in Hashem, but, on the other hand, I have to make a living to support my children, and doing that takes up a lot of my time. What am I supposed to do?”

Rav Elchonon responded that he could not tell her how much time to spend in her work, but one thing he could tell her was that there is no chapping (grabbing) in this world, and someone who imagines that by working harder he will earn more and be happier is only deluding himself. Even if he does in fact make money, he may end up losing it as well as his other possessions, his wife or children may suffer health problems, etc., so that it will turn out that his chapping got him nowhere. Whatever is meant to be his will become his in any case, and the main thing is to always bear in mind that we are on the way to eternal existence and have to prepare ourselves for that instead of trying to grab some illusory ephemeral benefits. Rav Elchonon concluded by telling Mrs. Sternbuch that she should do whatever she had to do to make a living, without forgetting that her main duties were always in spiritual matters, in leading a life of Torah, and in educating each child in the path of Torah day in and day out.

In a similar vein, the Alter of Novardok zt”l said that this world is like a restaurant, where the guests ask for all sorts of food and drink and receive whatever they want, but they are presented with a bill eventually. Similarly, in this world, everyone can partake of various permitted pleasures to their heart’s content, but, in the end, they will be presented with a large bill to pay.


“She ...will be the one whom you have determined for your servant, Yitzchok” (24:14).

Targum Yonason translates: "She will be the one who has been provided by mazel (fate) for your servant, Yitzchok.” On the other hand, the Rambam in Shemoneh Perakim (Ch.8) states that finding one's marriage partner depends on free choice, since it is a mitzvah like any other mitzvah. These two opinions seem to be contradictory. Do shidduchim depend on mazel or on free choice?

The Gemara in Maseches Sotah (2a) says that a first zivug (marriage partner) depends on mazel, whereas a second zivug depends on one’s deeds (see Rashi ibid.), and the Arizal explains that zivug here is not referring to first and second marriages, but rather to types of souls. Just like each star is unique and has its own function, so too each soul has its own unique role to play in the world and is endowed with special abilities. When a man and woman are both fulfilling the purpose of their neshamos to a sufficient extent, their souls are connected at the source of their mazel and their union is considered to be a zivug rishon.(first marriage partner)
Such a marriage is extremely rare nowadays, and most marriages have the status of a zivug sheini, which are dependent on deeds.

The Rambam is talking about a zivug sheini as defined by the Arizal. However, Avrohom wanted a zivug rishon for his son; in other words, a wife who fulfilled the purpose of her neshamah in her daily life as much as Yitzchok did. That explains the Targum Yonason’s reference to mazel. For this reason, too, Eliezer had kefitzas haderech, since he needed Divine proof that Rivkah was indeed the wife designated for Yitzchok on the basis of the source of their souls and mazel.


“Perhaps (ulay) the woman will not come back with me” (24:39).

Rashi cites the Medrash which notes that ulay here is written without a Vov and can therefore be read as eilay (for me). Eliezer had a daughter and was looking for an excuse for Avrohom to tell him that he is turning to him to allow his daughter to marry Yitzchok. The meforshim ask why, according to this Medrash, when the Torah relates the initial conversation between Avrohom and Eliezer (24:4), ulay is written with a Vov. Why did Eliezer at that stage not consider his daughter to be a suitable prospective wife for Yitzchok?

Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l explains that when Eliezer was actually speaking to Avrohom, even though deep inside he intended with this question to find an excuse for his daughter to marry Yitzchok, since he had a personal interest (negiah) in this matter, he was not aware of his subconscious motivation, and he thought that his sole intention really was to ask what he should do if the woman did not agree to go with him.

However, once he saw that he had found an appropriate spouse from a member of Avrohom’s family, as his master had requested, and he no longer had any personal interest in the outcome of his trip, he realized the truth and recognized his prior personal interest. It is this that the Torah is hinting at in leaving out the Vov. Now, when relating what had happened to Lavan, Eliezer retrospectively understood his underlying thoughts. Similarly, anyone with a personal interest does not recognize his emotional prejudice and is convinced that he is thinking and speaking the truth.

The late Gerer Rebbe, the Bais Yisroel zt”l offered an alternative explanation. Eliezer initially assumed that Avrohom was looking for a wife with good lineage for Yitzchok, and therefore, in his capacity as a slave, he did not entertain any false hope for his daughter. However, when he came and saw the quality of the prospective mechutan, Lavan, he changed his mind and thought that maybe he was worthy of becoming Yitzchok’s father-in-law after all!


R“Yitzchok had just come from the well [called] Lachai Ro'i” (24:62).

Rav Avrohom, the son of the Rambam, writes that Lachai Ro'i was a place where Yitzchok secluded himself and learned Torah, and, except when it was time to daven (see the next posuk: “Yitzchok went out to pray in the field towards evening”), nothing could disturb him, not even the need to see his new wife. He concludes that this should set an example for every ben Torah.
When Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l had a boy, his rov, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l, told him that there was no need for him to spend time travelling to his home, and he could just as well appoint someone else to be his shliach for his son’s bris.

Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l was asked why there are not as many people nowadays completely conversant in Shas as there were in previous generations. He responded that in his day in Volozhin, the concept of bein hazemanim was unknown. Bochurim learned throughout the year. For example, during Nissan, no one left the yeshiva until Erev Pesach. Moreover, the Netziv and Rav Chaim Volozhiner zt”l gave shiurim every day, including Fridays and Shabbosos. He added that in light of the relative decline in the amount of time spent learning, he was surprised that there were any talmidei chachomim of stature at all these days! As for chasunos, it was unheard of for bochurim to interrupt their learning to go to friends’ weddings. Rav Isser Zalman testified about himself that he only went to two weddings, one of which was his own.

Rav Isser Zalman passed away in 1953, and it cannot be stated that what used to be the norm in his younger years has become more prevalent since he was niftar. However, the examples set by individuals such as Rav Dov Schwartzman zt”l and Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel zt”l demonstrate that the conduct of previous generations cannot just be consigned to the history books as something which took place many generations ago and has no relevance to us.