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.
View my complete profile


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 22, 2011

Of Angels and Animals

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“Yaakov sent messengers ahead of him to Eisov” (32:4)

Chazal tell us that Yaakov sent 600,000 angels. These were beings that Yaakov himself had created as a result of all his Torah, mitzvos and good deeds. Every yid has to realize that each mitzvah performed by him creates an angel which acts as his defense counsel and whose importance and power depends on the concentration, dedication and joy with which his deeds are performed. The number of angels created by Yaakov may have been less than 600,000, but Chazal are referring to the way they appeared to Eisov on account of their intensity.

Why did this immense number of angels not make an impression on Eisov? Having been educated in the house of Yitzchok and Rivka, Eisov was entirely aware of the greatness of Hashem, of the superiority of holy people such as his brother, and of the effect of their actions, such as the angels, which he was witnessing: were it not so, he would not have longed for the blessings of his father so much. Therefore, even this impressive display of the results of spiritual greatness did not teach Eisov anything he did not know already, and was not sufficient to induce him to change his lifestyle: he simply preferred a way of life that catered to his desires in this world here and now, and his craving for material desires had almost completely clouded over his intellectual knowledge of the consequences of his actions.


“I lived as a stranger”. Rashi: "I have resided with the wicked Lovon and yet have kept the 613 commandments and have not learned from his wicked deeds” (32:5)

Why should this statement have moved the wicked Eisov? Yaakov thought that the source of Eisov’s hatred of him was his lust for worldly desires, and in the hope of encouraging him to change his dissolute lifestyle, he told him: “Look, I managed to remain observant in very unfavorable surroundings, and yet I still managed to acquire oxen, donkeys, sheep, servants and maidservants, so you see, it is possible to observe mitzvos and still amass possessions, you don't have to negate material things, but you can sanctify them, why then choose a life of uncontrolled license, which only leads to misery?” Since Yaakov’s intentions were to bring Eisov back to the fold, he also sent all those angels to reinforce the message that living a life of Torah and kedusho was worth it, but, as we saw, Eisov was too steeped in his desires and did not repent.

However, even someone as wicked as Eisov is affected by the sight of a tzaddik, and (at least according to Rabi Shimon: see Rashi on 33:4) when they met, Eisov cried because he was living the life of an animal in total contrast to his brother, who would be inheriting both this world and the next world, and even though they parted ways, and Eisov did not change his lifestyle, this encounter may have had had some positive effect on him in the long term too.

Rav Elya Lopian zt”l explained the possuk (33:5): “[Eisov] raised his eyes and saw the women and children. He said, ‘Who are these to you?’”as follows: “You are a spiritual person, what are you doing with so many wives, children and possessions?” Yaakov replied: “These are the children whom Hashem has graciously granted your servant”. In other words, “I possess nothing, I have been provided with all these gifts by Hashem as a guardian to hold in trust for the purpose of fulfilling His will”. We despise money knowing that it is ephemeral and without substance, because it does not accompany us to the next world. A Jew’s only possessions are his mitzvos, deeds and children who toil in Torah and follow in the steps of their holy ancestors.


“I acquired oxen, donkeys” (32:6)

A rebbe once visited the Brisker Rov zt”l when he was on vacation, and told him the following pshat: how did Yaakov in fact manage not to learn from Lovon’s wicked deeds? It was because he constantly lived with the awareness that Lovon, who was solely preoccupied with this world, was nothing but an ox and a donkey, and in that way Lovon had no influence over Yaakov. So too, concluded the rebbe, in Poland we made sure that we looked at the Zionists, the Bundists etc. in the same way to make sure that they had no influence over us. The Brisker Rov responded that the pshat is no good, but the vort is a good one!

In our generation too, when we live among people who cannot tolerate the growth of the Torah world, and preach to us to join the army, to go out to work, and to stop being parasitical etc, let us never lose sight of who we are dealing with: irrespective of whether their views and lifestyle stem from lack of education, ignorance or other factors, they unfortunately do not possess any more spirituality and are no less animalistic than their predecessors of previous generations.


“Yaakov was very frightened...I am unworthy of all the kindness and of all the faithfulness that you have done with Your servant” (32:8,11)

Yaakov was worried in case his sins should cause him to be delivered into the hands of Eisov (see Berochos 4a and Rashi on 32:11). This seems astonishing since Yaakov had received the following promise: “I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not forsake you until I have done that which I have spoken to you” (28:15). The answer is that Yaakov realized that all the bounty he had received from Hashem until then had been pure chesed, which he was not entitled to, and he was afraid that perhaps he would no longer be deemed worthy of continuing to be the recipient of such divine munificence.

The Torah is teaching us something of fundamental importance here. We in Eretz Yisroel witness the chasodim of Hashem on an ongoing daily basis. Our very existence here is becoming more miraculous by the day. However, despite our unprecedented low standing in the world, and the increasingly obvious enmity of neighboring countries, our erring brethren still put their faith in flesh and blood, our soldiers, modern technology or even the chesed of other nations. Our task is not to succumb to this outlook, and to live instead with a constant sense of gratitude for all the abundance which Hashem showers on us nationally and individually, and to endeavor to repay Him by fulfilling His will so that this astounding chesed may continue.


“For you have contended with G-d[ly beings] and with men, and you have won” (32:29)

At this stage Yaakov had not yet even met Eisov, so how can the possuk testify that he had contended with men and won? Anyone who successfully overcomes his evil inclination the way Yaakov ovinu managed to fight with and overcome the soton has subjected himself completely to Hashem and has already won the battle. He will have no problem overcoming people from now on, since Hashem will be with him. Therefore, he can be said to have already contended with men and won the battle in advance.


“He had committed an outrage against Yisrael to lie with a daughter of Yaakov. Such a thing should not be done” (34:7)

Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l was once traveling on a train from Brisk to Warsaw and Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg zt”l was in the same compartment when a Jewish fellow-traveller started pushing Rav Chaim until he almost fell. Rav Weinberg wanted to get this person to stop it but Rav Chaim told him not to. Once they reached Warsaw, and the Jewish fellow saw the great reception that awaited Chaim, he realized that he had been mistreating a great rabbinic personality. He begged Rav Chaim for forgiveness, but Rav Chaim responded that he would not forgive him, because the only reason he was asking for mechila was that he felt that he should not be treating a rabbi this way, whereas in reality no yid should endure such treatment from another yid, as it says, “He had committed an outrage against Yisrael to lie with a daughter of Yaakov”, and even if she had not been the daughter of the famous personality, “such a thing should not be done” to anyone regardless of their background or standing.

A similar incident happened to Rav Chaim’s father, the Bais Halevi zt”l who once travelled to Kamenitz, where he was not known and he did not wear any rabbinic garb that could have revealed his identity. It was very cold outside, and he knocked on the door of a Jewish guesthouse, asking the owner if he had a room to let. He said that he did not, but since the Bais Halevi had nowhere else to stay he begged him if he could not find accommodation for him anywhere at all, and so the man responded that he could stay in the basement downstairs. When the Bais Halevi switched on the light there to learn, his host told him to switch off the light since it was disturbing the other guests. After that there was suddenly big commotion upstairs. A rebbe had come to stay in this guesthouse, and when he saw the Bais Halevi he recognised him and asked him what the Brisker rov was doing there. Of course, the owner of the guesthouse almost fainted, and asked the Bais Halevi to forgive him. He responded that he would not, on the same grounds as Rav Chaim above, and told him that he must come to Brisk to stay at his house, which was always full of poor people and orphans etc. so that he could gain a greater empathy for the unfortunate. If he did so, he would forgive him.