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, January 26, 2012

Tumah and Kedushah

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“I revealed Myself to Avrohom, to Yitzchok, and to Yaakov as Keil Shakai, but My Name Hashem [Adnus] I did not make known to them” (6:3).

The name Shakai refers to Hashem's restriction of His greatness in this world which enables us to recognize Him. Kabbalistic and Chassidic books discuss the concept of tzimtzum at great length, but for us it is sufficient to know that neither mortal beings nor even angels can comprehend Hashem's greatness. Even our forefathers, who attained supreme levels, were only capable of grasping the Creator’s greatness on the basis of what He, in his wisdom, allows a human being to understand.

Moshe Rabbeinu, with whom Hashem spoke peh el peh, had the merit of communicating with Hashem and recognizing Him on a level that was less clouded by tzimtzum. Hashem taught Moshe that the main aspect of Hashem's greatness is to be found in the Sheim Havaya, which teaches us that He wishes to suppress His anger and conduct the world with the trait of mercy. Of course, not even Moshe Rabbeinu could truly understand Hashem's greatness, but whatever he did comprehend, on the basis of the middos taught to him by Hashem, surpassed the levels of understanding attained by our forefathers.


“You will know that I am Hashem (Sheim Adnus), your G-d (Elokeichem), Who is bringing you out from under the burdens of Egypt” (6:7).

When we were still suffering in Egypt, we only felt the trait of din (justice), but after having been taken out and made into a nation by Hashem, we realized that even whilst we were still subject to the middas hadin (Elokim), it was actually intermingled with great rachamim (Sheim Adnus).

The experience of the unprecedented cruelty inflicted on us during the churban at the hands of the Germans, supposedly the most cultured of nations, demonstrated that any nation would behave in this way were it not for Hashem's constant chessed and Providence, which bridle their intentions. When we do our best to keep the Torah and the mitzvos, and behave with mutual responsibility to try to ensure that every member of Hashem's nation observes the mitzvos, Hashem ensures our peaceful existence in golus both overseas and here in Eretz Yisroel.

We cannot fathom the ways of Hashem, nor are we able to perceive how even His actions which do not appear so are in truth manifestations of mercy and loving-kindness, but this will become clear on the future day of judgment. However, one thing we do know is that those who suffer during the period of chevlei Moshiach (birth pangs preceding the coming of Moshiach) enjoy a special existence in the afterlife.


“Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon, commanding them regarding the Bnei Yisroel and Paroh, king of Egypt” (6:12). Rashi: “To treat him with respect when speaking to him.”

When Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin zt”l was accused of kidnapping a child and brought to court for a hearing to discuss his fate, he refused to look at the judge’s face, since the Gemara says that it is forbidden to look at the face of a wicked person. The people present in the courtroom begged him not to behave in this way, since this could incur the wrath of the judge, but he refused, saying that no harm could befall him by following the instructions of Chazal. The judge was so impressed by the conduct of the accused rabbi who would not compromise on his principles even at the risk of receiving the death penalty that he realized that he would not have been capable of committing such a crime, and he released Rav Yehoshua Leib on condition that he leave the country immediately, which he did, heading straight for Eretz Yisroel, where he spent the rest of his life.

If this is the proper way to behave towards a wicked person, why did Hashem Himself command Moshe and Aharon to treat Paroh with the respect due to a monarch?

Whenever Hashem "deviates" from the course of nature and performs revealed miracles, He wishes to diminish from the extent of the deviation. If Paroh would have become angry by the failure to accord him proper respect, he would have become incensed against the whole nation, and would have reasoned to himself that they deserved to be humiliated and persecuted because their leaders lacked basic manners, and he had every right to hate them for it. As a consequence, Hashem would have had to increase the miracles, and that was something He wanted to avoid.

The real reason for the intensified persecutions against the Jews in Egypt was their increased assimilation into Egyptian society and their unwillingness to remain isolated from it in Goshen. Hashem showed us in Egypt that drawing closer to the non-Jews only has the effect of driving a greater wedge between them and us and increasing their hatred of us. The increased hatred and persecution had no real connection with the conversations that took place between Moshe and Aharon and Paroh and the demands made of him.


“The sorcerers of Egypt also did likewise with their magic art” (7:11).

The chartumim managed to turn a stick into a snake and water into blood using kishuf. We do not encounter the ability to perform such actions either before or after this generation of Yetzias Mitzrayim. How was it possible?

During periods of hester ponim (Hashem hiding His face from us, as it were), our challenge is to see through the veneer of nature and recognize that Hashem runs it, but when revealed miracles are prevalent and exceptional holy individuals such as Moshe and Aharon are in our midst, Hashem grants great powers to the forces of tumah in order to maintain the required balance of free choice. We can then either choose to be misled by such forces or contemplate the actions and writings of the righteous individuals of the generation who explain the difference between the forces of holiness and those of tumah, whose only goals are to fulfill the desires of their hearts.

The Rambam writes in his commentary on the Mishnah that there are no sheidim (loosely translated as "demons"), and the Vilna Gaon takes him to task for that statement, arguing that the accursed philosophy which he studied misled him. However, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt"l says in Emes LeYaakov that the Rambam’s statement is indeed correct with respect to his generation, and all the more so with regard to succeeding generations.

In the time of Chazal, when miracles were still commonplace and the forces of kedushah were still strong, sheidim did indeed exist - and the Rambam did not wish to deny this - because the forces of kedushah had to be counterbalanced by corresponding forces of tumah, but in the Rambam’s time, the hester ponim was already so strong that there was no longer any need for such forces. However, various contemporary sects alleged that they made use of such forces in an attempt to destroy our faith. It was these attempts which the Rambam was fighting against.


“So that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the earth” (8:18).

The first idol worshippers and philosophers throughout the generations argued that although Hashem did create the world, He does not get involved with events on earth. In Egypt, this fallacy was put to rest for good.

The Kiddush we recite on Friday night is not only a declaration that Hashem is Creator of the world (zeicher lemaaseh bereishis), but also that He controls it with individual Divine Providence and is intensely involved in our world (zeicher leYetzias Mitzrayim). By recollecting the Egyptian experiences, we reinforce our belief in Hashgachah Protis, and by refraining from work on Shabbos we demonstrate our belief that Hashem's Providence showers us with enough sustenance if we work only for six days, and whatever has been set aside for us will reach us irrespective of when or how much we work.


“And Moshe said to him, ‘When I leave the city, I will spread my hands [in prayer] to Hashem.’” (9:29). Rashi: “But within the city he would not pray because it was full of idols.”

Why did Moshe only leave the city during the seventh plague of hail? The posuk says, “He who feared the word of Hashem among Paroh's servants made his...livestock flee into the houses" (9:20). The livestock in question, flocks of sheep and goats, were worshipped by the Egyptians as avodah zara (see 8:22), and now that they had been taken into people’s homes, this was the first occasion on which these objects of idol worship were situated within the municipal boundaries. During all the previous plagues, they were still located outside the city, and so there had been no impediment to Moshe’s praying inside the city.

Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest of all prophets, had to leave the city and would not have had his prayers accepted had he been in close proximity to this tumah in the form of avodah zara, even though he himself had no contact or connection with it, and even though the actual owners of the flock presumably also did not worship them as idols, since the Torah emphasizes that it was only those who feared the word of Hashem who made their livestock flee into their houses.

This is really an eye-opener and teaches us that if we want our prayers to be accepted, we must remove any material containing tumahi, such as heretical or anti-Torah views and immorality, from our homes. Even if such printed, electronic or digital material is not read or accessed, the very fact that they are situated in our homes creates a barrier between us and Hashem. If, in addition, we also strive to work on our character traits and, for example, eschew anger, which is itself a form of tumah, our homes will serve as appropriate environments for absorbing sanctity and allow us to instill genuine Torah values in our children, thus ensuring our own happiness.