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 29, 2011

Lessons from Yosef’s conduct

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“It was at the end of two years” (41:1); Medrash Rabbo: ‘Happy is the man that has made Hashem his trust’, this is Yosef, ‘and has not turned to the arrogant’, because he said to the butler "remember me, and mention me", two years were added [to his prison sentence]”.

Why does the medrash first praise Yosef and then criticize him?

For an ordinary person there would have been nothing wrong in enlisting the help of the butler. In fact it would have been required hishtadlus. (to do our utmost with our own effort to reach a goal) However, for someone with an extremely high level of faith such as Yosef even this minimal effort was excessive. It was precisely because Yosef made Hashem his trust that he was held to account for not living up to his exceptionally high standards, and he had to stay in prison for two more years.

The Vilna Gaon zt”l also had a remarkably high level of faith and would not, for example, consult with doctors. However, once he went to visit a family member who was sick and rebuked him for having failed to call a doctor on the grounds that he was behaving like the Vilna Gaon himself, arguing that if that family member had exerted minimal efforts in all areas of his life, such as making a living, then it would indeed have been praiseworthy to rely totally on Hashem and not call a doctor, but otherwise such behavior was mere laziness and nothing short of a sin.


“What Hashem is about to do, He has told to Paroh” (41:25).

Throughout the parsha, we find Yosef mentioning Hashem's name repeatedly. This emphasis on his total subjugation to Hashem and his own impotence made a deep impression on Paroh and his servants, as they said (41:38) "Can another one like this be found, a man who has Hashem's spirit in him?”.

The words “be’ezras Hashem” (with the Help of G-d) must be on our lips constantly, both in order to internalize the message of our dependence on Hashem for ourselves, and in order to create a kiddush Hashem, as Yosef did. In truth, it is brought down in the name of the Kelmer Maggid zt”l that be’ezras Hashem implies that we are the active agents and Hashem is merely assisting us, so that a more appropriate phrase would be “birzos Hashem” (if Hashem wills it), which indicates that everything is dependent on Hashem's will, and we are merely performing His will. However, the minhag is not to be particular about use of this phrase.


“Now Paroh should seek a man of understanding and wisdom” (41:33).

Rav Elya Lopian zt”l asks why a man of exceptional wisdom and understanding was required for the purpose of gathering food during the good years. One would think that such a task calls for an organized, energetic and industrious person not specifically for an intelligent one.

He explains that during the years of plenty people do not appreciate the need for storing food for the lean years, and you need more than a macher to encourage the population to develop a feeling of hunger during a period of abundance. Only someone with outstanding prescience can fulfill such a task.

Similarly, as long as we are alive in this world we enjoy years of plenty in terms of our possibility to perform mitzvos as opposed to our situation in the World to Come, in which we experience "lean years", because we no longer have the opportunity of performing mitzvos and good deeds. Our task is to acquire the characteristics of a wise and understanding person with foresight who develops psychological strategies to enable him to live with the constant awareness of the need to utilize his time to the utmost and not disdain or postpone any opportunity to learn Torah or perform a mitzvah.


“They hurried him out of the dungeon, but he [first] shaved and changed his clothes” (41:14).

Yosef knew that since he was about to meet royalty he had to shave first. Instead of rushing to meet Paroh and use this opportunity of finally achieving freedom after 14 years in prison, he calmly acted in accordance with the mandates of halocho. Similarly, on the possuk, Yosef saw his brothers and he recognized them, but he acted like a stranger to them. He spoke harshly to them [42:7] Onkelos translates: “and he recognized them and contemplated what to say to them and [then] spoke to them harshly”. For Yosef questions of loshon horo or embarrassing people in public were no less halachik matters than the kashrus of a chicken. Obviously such matters involve greater emotional issues, but that is all the more reason to subject them to the directives of halocho.

Unfortunately, we tend to treat our speech rather lightly, and think nothing of the effect of our words. Often it does not even occur to us that there are halachik issues involved which we have to look into carefully before proceeding to open our mouths and utter potentially lethal words.

After thinking about it, Yosef reached the conclusion that he had to put his brothers in the same situation as they had been when they had sold him, in order to give them the opportunity to achieve complete repentance by behaving differently this time (the Rambam says that only in such situation does one achieve the title of baal teshuva). That is why he tested them to see how they would react to his incarceration of Binyomin, would they be willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their brothers welfare this time?


“Yosef named the first-born, Menasheh, "For G-d has made me forget all my trouble, and all that was in my father's house” (41:51).

We would have thought that his father's house should have been in his mind constantly, so why did Yosef not only praise Hashem for making him forget his father's house, but commemorate this fact in his son's name?

There is an enigmatic gemoro which states: "what should a person do who wants to live, let him kill himself” (Masseches Tomid 30a). The Brisker Rov zt”l explained this as follows: if a person is suffering emotionally from painful experiences in the past or present he must overcome his emotions ("kill" them) in order to live joyfully and productively in the present. The Brisker Rov himself had lost his wife and three children in the Holocaust and had to witness the anti-religious persecution in Eretz Yisroel in the years following the founding of the Jewish state. It was extremely difficult for anyone with emotion to live through those years. This gemoro addresses any of us suffering from painful past or present experiences and encourages us to refuse to succumb to feelings of despondency or despair.

We find that the same Amora Rabi Yochonon, who lost ten sons during his lifetime and comforted and inspired others with his heroic reaction to misfortune, stated that although he wanted to witness the coming of moshiach, he was unwilling to bear the birth pangs preceding his coming. How could it be that someone who had faced the death of ten of his own children with such fortitude would be afraid of this period? Rav Elya Lopian zt”l answers that Rabi Yochonon was an emotional person by nature, and he knew that he would not be able to endure the terrible chilul Hashem when so many of Hashem's nation would be slaughtered, and to subsequently have to witness the deeds of an anti-religious Jewish government in His country.

In a similar vein, the Sadigure Rebbe zt”l told Rav Sternbuch that when he went to see Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l to tell him that he was about to leave the country to go to live in Tel Aviv, Rav Elchonon responded that he himself had grave doubts as to whether his nature would allow him to live in an environment where he would be forced to witness chilul Shabbos by Jews in Eretz Yisroel.

Yosef knew through all those years in Egypt how much his father was suffering terribly, but instead of dwelling on that and on his own anguish at being forcibly separated from his home, he chose to overcome his feelings, knowing that he had to fulfill Paroh’s dream and bring all his family to Egypt, in order to start the beginning of the Egyptian exile that was to lead eventually to the giving of the Torah and the conquest of Eretz Yisroel. With this attitude he managed to lead the Egyptian nation successfully with wisdom. He would not let his spirits fall, and in gratitude to Hashem for this called his son Menashe in the hope that he would continue to be able to forget his father's house for the time being, and continue with his tasks until the opportunity would present itself to meet his father again.

On a related note, any baal teshuva who wants to succeed must first completely forget his past, and think only about the future and building up a Jewish home full of Torah, charity and good deeds, because thinking about past misdemeanors would make it very difficult for him to live joyfully in the present. Part of the mitzvah of teshuva consists in forgetting about the past and living exclusively in the present. Only subsequently, once he has become totally accustomed to living a Torah lifestyle, should he contemplate gradually atoning for past transgressions.