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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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Followers

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.
Sunday, February 26, 2012

After the Dibros

By Rav Moshe sternbuch

AFTER THE DIBROS


Receiving the Aseres Hadibros was seemingly the climax of Kabbolas HaTorah. What could possible follow such a powerfully charged event as hearing Hashem speak to us at Har Sinai? Yet, the Torah continues with “Aileh hamishpatim,” describing numerous mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro. (between man and man)

What is the deeper message of the juxtaposition of these two parshiyos? While the Aseres Hadibros were clearly of Divine origin, one might question whether these laws of proper business conduct, damages and other interpersonal regulations are also from the Almighty. This is the reason why the parsha starts with the letter Vov, to show that all of these mitzvos were also given on Har Sinai.

While human nature is to get upset about damages that happen to us, the Zohar reveals the deeper meaning of these incidents. The Zohar writes: “These are the laws of gilgul, things that Hashem causes as retribution.”
When we are meant to be punished nfor a certain transgression, Hashem may be megalgel on us a different type of punishment in order to cleanse us of this sin.

Hearing these words of the Zohar should help us change our outlook when we suffer damages. If we keep in mind that this is meant to help take away punishment for our transgressions, we should have an easier time not feeling upset about what happened. While we have a right to collect any money that is coming to us, we should try and free ourselves of negative feelings that these incidents may foster within our hearts.

REHABILITATING CRIMINALS

In most parts of the world, the penal system has shown itself to be a complete failure. Sitting in jail with other convicts often has a negative impact on prisoners. After serving time, criminals come out with an even greater anger, and many return to a life of crime.

The Torah’s approach to criminal rehabilitation reveals the great sensitivity to others, even after they have fallen to great depths. Instead of being thrown in jail, convicts are placed into a Jewish home and taught how a Jew is meant to live an upright life. Such an experience changes their outlook
on life and will almost inevitably bring them to complete repentance.

The Torah directs us to display a heightened level of sensitivity to these criminals. If a person has only one pillow or bed, he must give it to these slaves rather than use it for himself or his family. Day after day in such a benevolent environment helps him see the beautiful ways of the Torah and will inspire him to choose such a lifestyle for himself.

TEMPERED SENSITIVITY

While adopting a heightened attitude of sensitivity towards eved ivri, we simultaneously want him to remember the reason for his punishment. If he is already married, we make him live with a shifcha Canaanis.

Forcing him to live together with a non- Jewish salve should infuse within his heart the base nature of his transgression. So too, if an eved ivri decides to stay with his master after his service is complete, we put an awl in his ear. What is the reason for this unusual punishment? Chazal want him to realize that he did not properly hear what Hashem said at Har Sinai: “You should be slaves to Me” and not accept other masters upon yourself.

The hole in his ear serves as a constant reminder that one is only meant to have one Master, Hashem. In today’s complex world, one’s occupation can become so much a part of his life that he might find that he is a slave to his work. We must try and hear the message that the Torah tells us regarding the nirtzah and guard ourselves from taking on masters other than Hashem.


CONVERTS, WIDOWS AND ORPHANS

When referring to the oppression of converts, the Torah adds, “Lo tilachtzeinu.” Rashi explains that this means that one should not steal from him. However, the Gemara in Maseches Bava Metzia (59b) implies that one should not try and collect from him if he does not have money.

If someone owes us money, we are allowed to ask him for it, and if he does not want to pay, we can take him to bais din. Even if there is only a doubt if one is obligated to pay us, we may summon the person to a din Torah to clarify the situation. This is all part of proper mishpat.

Lo tilachtzeinu comes to teach us that in the same set of circumstances, if we have a doubt whether a ger owes us money, we should not summon him to bais din. The Torah expects us to reach an elevated level of sensitivity and recognize the social and economic difficulties that converts face.

This heightened awareness is meant to translate itself in all forms of interaction with them. We must display a similar level of sensitivity
when relating to widows and orphans. In many cases, all of the individuals have no one to turn to for financial and emotional help and are very susceptible to the pain. We must recognize their vulnerability and exhibit a heightened level of sensitivity when dealing with them.

PROVIDING FOR THE POOR

The Torah directs us to lend money to the Jewish people and to provide for the poor of my nation. “Lending money to My nation” hints to dealing with public affairs of Klal Yisroel. Even whilst engaged in such activities, one should be sensitive to the needs of the impoverished and not forget to provide for the “poor of My nation.”

Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky once went to speak with the rov of a certain town. Rav Chaim asked him what he felt the responsibilities of a Jewish leader were. The rov replied that he had to teach Torah, make sure that the Talmud Torah functioned properly, and ensure that the kashrus, taharas hamishpacha and mikvaos were kept up to standard.

Rav Chaim Ozer was very happy to hear the response of this rov, yet he added that the rov should make sure that while he was busy with all of these important tasks, he should not forget one more: A rov must make sure that the impoverished of his city are provided for.

FOLLOWING THE MAJORITY

“You should follow the majority.”

The Torah is sensitive to the fact that one person is not always privy to the whole truth. For this reason, bais din and the Sanhedrin represent more than one opinion. The Yaavetz, Rav Yonason Eibshitz, was once asked that if the Torah tells us to follow the majority, then we should follow the religion of the other nations of the world who outnumber the Jewish people. Rav Eibshitz replied that while it is true that we follow the majority opinion, this is only when a situation of doubt exists. We are sure that the Torah is the only truth, so there is no significance to the majority opinion in that regard.

We follow a similar policy when it comes to daas Torah. Although many people in a community may have their own ideas of how things should be done, this should not be the deciding factor. The majority opinion should fall to the wayside in the face of the ruling of a rov.

FULL DAYS

“I will fill up the number of your days.”

The Torah promises a Jew who sticks to its elevated ways a full life. While there are those who are granted arichas yomim for clinging to the ways of the Torah, the Torah comes to deliver a deeper message. “A full life” means that a person uses every one of his days prudently to reach the highest level of Divine service that he can. In this vein, the Zohar writes that there is a special place in Shomayim for mara dechusbana, someone who takes an accounting of his deeds each day. Every morning, Rav Chaim Brisker would plan out what he had to do that day, and in the evening he would make an accounting of whether he accomplished what he had set out to do.

“Living a full life” has many implications. Each person must look into his own life and see what the Almighty asks of him. Adhering to the elevated level of sensitivity that the Torah shows us is definitely an important part of accomplishing this.
Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tangible Faith

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


MOSHE’S DISTRESS

“When (Vayehi) Paroh sent the people away” (13:17).

The Medrash states that vayehi is an expression of distress, and here Moshe was upset that he was taking the Jews out of the Egypt, but would not take them into Eretz Yisroel. However, Moshe had already been told before the onset of the plagues that he would witness what would be done to Paroh, and not that which will be inflicted on the kings of the seven nations (Sanhedrin 11a cited by Rashi at the end of Parshas Shemos). Why, then, did Moshe wait until now to express his distress?

The real reason why Moshe did not enter Eretz Yisroel was because Hashem makes greater demands there, and if Moshe would have had the merit of leading us into the country and subsequently would not have observed the mitzvos properly, we would not have been able to withstand the indictment against us. Hashem therefore saw to it that Moshe Rabbeinu would not lead us into the country.

Now that he had led the nation out of Egypt with open miracles, Moshe thought that they had become worthy of entering Eretz Yisroel under his leadership, but when he saw that Hashem wanted them to take the long way lest the people change their minds if they encountered war, Moshe realized that the Divine decree preventing him from entering Eretz Yisroel was final: the nation was not worthy of entering at this stage and he would indeed not have the opportunity of leading them into the country.

EFFORT-BASED REWARD

“Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him” (13:19).

The Gemara says in Maseches Sotah (12a): “Look how dear the mitzvos are for Moshe Rabbeinu, for while the whole nation was busy taking spoils [from the Egyptians], he was dealing with a mitzvah.” Why does the Gemara place such emphasis on Moshe’s set of priorities? This may be understood in light of the Zohar which says that the significance of a mitzvah and the reward for it increase manifold when we invest financial resources or forego financial reward for the sake of the mitzvah. Moshe gave up the opportunity of becoming rich easily and quickly for the sake of an important mitzvah.

In addition to being a famous gaon, the Bais Efraim, Rav Efraim Zalman Margulies zt”l, was also a very wealthy businessman. He told his wife that until 1 p.m. every day, he did not want to be disturbed by any business or other mundane matter. One morning, a merchant came to his house and told his wife that he needed to speak to her husband urgently for just a few moments in return for which her husband could make an easy profit of 10,000 rubles. The rov’s wife was under strict orders to make no exceptions to his learning routine in the mornings, and so she had to turn the person away. When the Bais Efraim heard about what had happened, he was delighted and he told his wife that a few minutes’ worth of Torah learning was surely worth at least 10,000 rubles, and he had now been granted the opportunity to demonstrate that.

Anyone who wants to succeed in his learning and receive all the myriad benefits associated with being koveia ittim laTorah must set aside fixed hours which are sacrosanct and not just spend time learning when he has nothing else to do, and those who are in full-time learning must be koveia ittim during times when they are not obliged to do so by their kollel.

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WICKED

“The camps did not approach each other that whole night” (14:20).

The Gemara says in Maseches Megillah (10b) that when the Jews crossed the sea and the angels came to sing before Hashem, Hashem complained to them that they were singing when His handiwork was drowning in the sea. If that is how we should be relating to wicked people such as the Egyptians, who persecuted us, why does the posuk state (Mishlei 11:10), "When the wicked perish, there is joy," and why does the Rambam (Avel 1:10) rule that we do not mourn the death of wicked people who harm the Jewish nation?

Objectively speaking, the mandatory joy at the downfall of the wicked must be accompanied by sorrow about a pure soul which has become so terribly sullied in this world, and that is what Hashem Himself, kevayachol, feels, and it is the level which Hashem expected from the angels when he interrupted their singing. Some exceptional gedolim also attain this level, but most of us are not expected to feel anything other than joy and relief when wicked people who cause us harm perish.

TANGIBLE FAITH

“The people believed in Hashem” (14:31).

The Zohar asks what this means, since the posuk already stated, "The people believed” (4:31), when they were still in Egypt. The answer given is that now they stood firm and saw the deliverance of Hashem (14:13). Who does this mean?

The Gemara (Maseches Chullin 11b) mentions a presumption that a person's legal father is also his biological father, because the majority of mothers are faithful. Rav Chaim Rabinowitz zt”l, the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva, noted that, in practice, a person’s conviction that his father is indeed his father is based on deep feelings and instinct and not merely on this majority.

Similarly, there are many intellectual proofs of Hashem's existence, and Avrohom Avinu attained his faith (emunah sichlis) through such proofs, but not until Krias Yam Suf did we attain emunah chushis, faith based on the same kind of emotional conviction with which a son recognizes his father. This type of emunah became potentially entrenched in the soul of every Yid for all future generations and can be accessed by anyone who makes an effort to do so.

PRAY FOR HEALTH

“If you vigilantly obey the voice of Hashem, your G-d, and do what is upright in His eyes, hearken to His commandments, and preserve all His statutes, then every sickness that I brought upon Egypt I will not bring upon you, for I am Hashem Who heals you” (15:26)

If Hashem is promising us that there will be no disease, why does He need to add that He will heal us?

One explanation is that physical diseases have a spiritual source, and here we are being promised that if we obey Hashem, we will not suffer the same physical diseases as the Egyptians did, because Hashem heals us in advance by taking away the spiritual sources of those diseases.

Alternatively, Hashem is telling us that if we fulfill His will, He will not impose punitive plagues on us as he did on the Egyptians, so that even when he smites us, the disease itself will heal us, because when a sick person realizes that the disease itself comes from Hashem, this strengthens him and makes him repent.

Rav Sternbuch’s rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l, told Rav Sternbuch that he still remembered how when he was young (some 130 years ago), the students of the students of the Vilna Gaon zt”l would visit the hospital every Friday to see how people were suffering from various diseases in order to increase their gratitude to Hashem for their health and to strengthen their desire to pray fervently to Hashem to be spared such suffering in the future.

ARROGANT ANAVAH

“What are we” (16:7).

Some people are considered to be humble because they do not run after honor, but if the reason they do not do so is because they denigrate others in their mind and do not feel any interest in being honored by them, then they are, in reality, guilty of gross arrogance. A genuine anav feels that he has no superior quality whatsoever. This was the trait possessed by Moshe Rabbeinu, who told Hashem in Parshas Shemos that whoever He decided to appoint as leader of the nation would be more qualified than him.

PEACE AND ZEALOTRY

“Aharon and Chur supported his hands, one of them on one side and one on the other side” (17:12)


Aharon, who pursued peace and increased harmony between people, is the symbol of ahavas Yisroel. Chur, on the other hand, who was stoned to death for his attempt to stop the sin of the Eigel, symbolizes the zealot. Just like the first battle against the physical Amaleik, the battle against the forces of the spiritual Amaleik, who deny Hashem's existence and claim that everything is nature, can only be won through a combination of prayer, ahavas Yisroel, and zealotry. Irrespective of who the opponent is, genuine zealotry is accompanied by prayer, love of peace and our fellow Jews, and complete subservience to halacha and to the gedolim.
Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wake-up calls and redemption

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


RESPONDING TO WAKE-UP CALLS

“And so that you may relate in the ears of your son and grandson how I made a mockery of the Egyptians” (10:2)

Paroh made himself into a laughingstock amongst the members of his own nation by shouting "Hashem is the righteous one and I and the nation are wicked” one moment, and then, as soon as the plague stopped declaring: "Who is Hashem that I should listen to him?"

Similarly, in times of distress we are quick to pray with great sincerity to Hashem making all sorts of vows if we are saved from our woes, and then, once they disappear, forgetting about the vows, or diluting them with various rationalizations. Even if we stick to our promises, we tend to go back to our daily routine as if nothing has happened, until the next misfortune strikes rachmono litzlon, (G-d forbid) and so on and so forth in a never-ending cycle.

The Torah tells us that we have a duty to tell our children about this fickleness on the part of Paroh and to stress to them the importance of making fundamental and lasting changes in our lives following divine wake-up calls, lest we become guilty of the same pattern of behavior as Paroh.

SONEI MATONOS YICHYE

“Speak, please [‘no’], in the ears of the people, and let each man borrow from his friend” (11:2). Rashi: “’no’ can only indicate pleading”.

Why did the yiden have to be implored to take gold and silver for free?

The Egyptians were actually keen for the Jews to take as much as they wanted, as long as they left them alone and put an end to their troubles, and after so many decades of unpaid for slavery they were more than entitled to take anything that took their fancy. However, as the wording of the possuk indicates, Hashem specifically wanted us to receive loans and not presents. Even though these loans were de facto gifts, since in the circumstances it was obvious that they would not be returned, had they taken the form of an outright gift some merit would have accrued to the Egyptians for having paid the Jews a salary for the slavery services, and Hashem wanted to prevent that and therefore begged Moshe that each man should borrow from his Egyptian neighbor.

DISCREDITING TORAH JEWRY - THEN AND NOW

“About the time of midnight” (11:4). Rashi: “About midnight, either [slightly] before or after, and he did not say ‘at midnight’ lest Paroh's stargazers make a mistake and say, ‘Moshe is a liar’!"

By this stage Moshe Rabbeinu had already overturned nature no less than nine times by means of the plagues throughout Egypt, and yet Moshe was still concerned that if the plague of the firstborn would appear to commence one moment before or after the designated time, Paroh would say triumphantly that Moshe was a liar and all the previous miracles were one big hoax. In the middle of all their anguish and the death of the firstborns, Moshe was worried that they would still not lose the opportunity of "discrediting" him and Hashem.

Deep inside, the wicked recognize the truth and the vacuousness of their idol worship and materialism. However, in order to grant legitimacy to their way of life, when faced with a holy righteous personality whose entire life is devoted to Hashem, they endeavor to find even a miniscule alleged defect in order to magnify it and declare that person and everything he stands for to be a lie.

It was the same with Homon. The possuk says “Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate". Given that all the other king's servants were bowing down to him, one would think that Homon would be totally unconcerned about the actions of an insignificant Jew, so what is the meaning of this possuk? Homon knew that all the obsequiousness demonstrated by the others was completely false, and that the only man of truth was Mordechai. Hence he was afraid of him, and felt that all the"honor" accorded to him was completely valueless as long as there was someone representing the truth. That was the cause of his fury, which led him to attempt to destroy the whole nation to whom Mordechai belonged. Following nine plagues, the Egyptians too had no doubts that Hashem controlled the world, and that all their idol worship was false. They were therefore likely to go out of their way to attempt to prove that Moshe was a liar.

Not much has changed since then. One person spits at a girl in Beit Shemesh, and thanks to an anti-religious journalist, this “sensational” news item becomes a top news story in the national and international media. Overnight all religious Jews become discredited. Anything of value that religious Jewry or the Torah has to offer suddenly become irrelevant because of this “earth shattering” event.

However, the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu felt the need to minimize the Egyptians’ ability to engage even in such completely irrational behavior, does demonstrate how vital it is for us to conduct ourselves as behooves the am hanivchar (chosen nation) in all areas of life and create a Kiddush Hashem in our dealings with Gentiles or not-yet-religious Jews lest we become the cause of rational criticism. No one in their right mind would spit at a young girl or engage in violence or other anti-Torah activity, but we must always remember that business ethics and other aspects of our interpersonal behavior are at least as important as mitzvos bein odom lamokom, (mitzvos between man and G-d) especially in an age of instant and worldwide communication.

TORAS ERETZ YISROEL

“This month shall be reckoned to you as the beginning of months” (12:2)

The Ramban says that the names of our months originated in the Babylonian exile, and we continued using them upon our return to Eretz Yisroel. Why did we continue using these non-Jewish names?

Zionists argued that the observance of the Torah was restricted to chutz looretz serving as a bulwark against assimilation, whereas here in our homeland we should forget our “galuti” past, and simply adopt nationalism. By contrast, the holy chachomim (rabbis) at the end of the Babylonian exile knew that the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh did not yet constitute the final redemption, and we would still have to undergo a further period of exile.

They therefore wanted to create a link between the period of exile and the period of our return to Eretz Yisroel, so that the masses should not think that now that we had returned to our homeland, anything had changed in terms of our connection to Torah, and all the takonos (decrees) enacted in Bovel, and, of course, subsequently, the Babylonian Talmud, are of central importance for all generations both in chutz lo’oretz and in Eretz Yisroel.

PRIVATE ACTS OF KIDDUSH HASHEM

“The blood will be for you as a sign on the houses” (12:13). Rashi: “’As a sign to you’ but not as a sign to others.

Blood signifies mesirus nefesh (dedication and self-sacrifice). This may be taken as an injunction to perform private acts of Kiddush Hashem within the confines of our own homes, to which no one is witness, which the Rambam talks about (Yesodei Hatorah 5:10). This takes place every time we overcome our evil inclination by refraining from sin, performing a mitzvah, or performing it with fervor, and when we set aside regular times for learning Torah and educating our children properly. In other words, the sign, which is situated outside as it were, should always be before us inside too, serving as a constant reminder of our duty to serve Hashem with dedication and to refrain from sinning.


RESPONDING TO THE ROSHO IN THE HAGODO

“When your children will ask you, ‘What is this service of yours’? You shall say, ‘It is the Pesach-offering to Hashem’” (12:26-27)

This is the question asked by the rosho in the hagodo. The rosho cannot grasp that divine worship can consist in eating and enjoying meat. He thinks that closeness to Hashem can only be attained by living the life of a monk and abstaining from all material pleasures.

We answer him that when we perform actions which give us material pressure in order to fulfill the will of Hashem they indeed constitute a lofty form of avodo. For us there is no dichotomy between serving Hashem and material pleasures.

The Hagodo concludes with a directive to "sharpen" the teeth of the rosho. With him eating is for his own personal pressure, and he only needs teeth in order to chew, whereas the chochom contemplates the wonders of Hashem when he is eating, so that his teeth are tools for elevating himself in his avodas Hashem. “And for this sake Hashem took us out of Egypt”: so that each movement of ours should be done for the sake of serving Him.


BECOMING WORTHY OF REDEMPTION

“There was total darkness in the entire land of Egypt” (10:22)

Rashi at the beginning of parashas Beshalach (13:18) says that 4/5 of the Jews died during the three days of darkness. Since 600,000 men left Egypt, this means that 2 million died during the plague of darkness, and this figure does not include women and children, so that an estimated 10 million people died altogether. The medrash says that Hashem saw that these people enjoyed wealth and honor and did not want to leave Egypt, and were therefore not worthy of being redeemed together with their brethren. They were killed during this plague in order to prevent a situation where the Egyptians would witness the majority of the nation they hated suffering the same fate as them.

However, how could so many yidden have failed to reach the required spiritual levels after having witnessed eight unprecedented supernatural plagues during which the wicked Egyptians received so much retribution? We would have thought that these must have made a profound impression on them.

As noted last week, it is a fundamental principle that in order to maintain our free choice the forces of kedusho have to be counterbalanced by a corresponding yetzer horo. In this case the evil inclination took the form of natural explanations that were produced to account for all the plagues, allowing people to be deluded into believing that people died "from natural causes" and not by way of divine punishment on account of their sins.

Chazal tell us that in the future and final redemption, we will experience miracles surpassing even those we experienced in Egypt. Hence, people assume that even completely wicked people will repent during that time. However, the Brisker Rov zt”l told Rav Sternbuch this is not the case, and only those who constantly contemplate the wonders of Hashem will be able to recognize that He is the Creator, because the evil inclination acts in tandem with the miracles, and it requires effort on our part to overcome it.

Since the end of the churbon in Europe, we have witnessed a long succession of miracles here in Eretz Yisroel. Our task is to constantly contemplate the greatness of Hashem and the kindness with which He showers us constantly both on the national and the personal level. If we do so, we will successfully resist any attempts to produce natural explanations and will perceive miracles for what they are. We will not require any wake-up calls from any of the seventy wolves that wish to destroy us or personal tragedies chas vesholom, and be deemed worthy of experiencing unprecedented miracles and redemption.