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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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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, April 5, 2012

Toiling in Torah

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


Limits of human comprehension

“He shall take out the ashes beyond the encampment” (6:4).

At the end of hilchos me’ilah, the Rambam discusses an important principle. He
notes that even inanimate objects such as wood, stone, dust and ashes can acquire sanctity, in which case someone who misappropriates them for some secular use commits a transgression. This teaches us not to assess the significance of mitzvos or aveiros on the basis of our own limited understanding. All positive and negative commandments
were decreed by the Creator and their true value and significance derives from this very fact alone. That is why sanctity can attach to even seemingly valueless objects and be subject to special mitzvos, even if our imperfect human comprehension finds this difficult to grasp.

Sharing TORAH

“A continual fire shall be lit on the altar…” (6:6).


Rashi cites the Gemara that this same light was the one that was used to light the
menorah. The light of the menorah symbolizes the light of Torah. The Torah of a talmid chochom is primarily located in his heart and mind, since he is meant to conceal his knowledge from others as much as possible. For this reason, the appropriate location to house the menorah was the innermost part of the Mishkon and Bais Hamikdosh, the Heichol.

However, Hashem clearly wants the talmid chochom to disseminate his knowledge
to others and let them benefit from the light of his Torah, and when he does so he enjoys special siyata diShmaya, (heavenly help) which, in turn, illuminates the Torah that he has internalized even more. The halacha cited by Rashi may be taken as a reference to this interplay between the talmid chochom’s own knowledge and its dissemination to others.

Importance of continuity

“…it shall not go out” (ibid.).

Chazal (Yerushalmi Yomo 4:6) tell us that even when the Bnei Yisroel were traveling,
the light of the mizbeiach was not extinguished. The fire’s existence was dependent
on complete continuity. Some people lower their moral or kashrus standards when traveling, and this posuk admonishes us to avoid such behavior.

Continuity and consistency are essential components for success in all areas of our
lives. For example, during bein hazemanim, yeshiva bochurim must be very careful not to slacken their study schedules any more than necessary to rejuvenate themselves for the following zeman. When the Chazon Ish zt”l was asked how much an avreich should learn during bein hazemanim, the response was that he should learn no less than eight hours a day, which is the amount of time a baal habayis (someone who works) is supposed to dedicate to Torah study each day according to the Rambam!

Eating as an Avodah

“Whatever remains from it shall be eaten by Aharon and his sons” (6:9).


The korban minchah did not have to be eaten by any specific kohein. By contrast, in
the case of a korban olah, the Torah specifically requires “the kohein who offers it as a sin offering” to eat it (6:19). How do we explain this difference between the two types of korbanos?

The Meshech Chochmah explains that the minim (early Christians) claimed that
animal sacrifices were cruel. Why should an animal have to be slaughtered just because a person sinned? In reality, the animal is fulfilling its purpose in this world and achieving a tikkun (purification), but in order to demonstrate that the kohein who slaughtered the animal is not guilty of sharing such heretical views, the Torah commanded that he specifically should be the one to eat it, whereas the korban minchah, which did not involve the danger of such theories, could be eaten by
any kohein.

Alternatively, the commentators (see Ramban at the beginning of Vayikra) explain
that a person should actually be shedding his own blood because of his sin, and by bringing a sacrifice he demonstrates that he is willing to give up his own soul for the sake of Hashem’s honor, with the blood of the animal serving as a substitute for his own. We know that the kohein eats the korban and the owner achieves atonement as a result.

This act of eating is no less an act of avodah than the previous acts constituting the avodos hakorbanos. By eating the flesh, the kohein is sublimating his physical desires for the sake of Hashem. It is therefore only appropriate that the same kohein who performs the zerikah, which, as the Ramban explains, symbolizes mesirus nefesh, should also eat that korban, since the act of eating represents a continuation of the same principle of dedicating everything we have, including our desires, to serve Hashem.

Habitual Mitzvos

“This is the offering of Aharon and his sons” (6:13).


Every kohein had to offer this minchas chinuch on the day of his inauguration, but
the kohein godol also had to offer a minchas chavitin every day. When a person is appointed to an important position, he initially feels great excitement and a sense of responsibility, but these feelings usually dissipate with time, as he becomes used to the new situation and it becomes routine. The kohein godol has to bring an offering every day in order to counteract this aspect of human nature. Each
day he must consider himself to have been reappointed to his position and to strengthen and dedicate himself completely to avodas Hashem.

Similarly, we tend to become more enthusiastic about mitzvos that occur at irregular
intervals, such as shofar or Arba Minim, than we do about those that occur on a daily
basis, such as tefillah and tefillin. We have to find techniques to maintain the same level of excitement and dedication that we felt when we first performed these mitzvos.

Remembering the past BUT focusing on the present

“He shall bring along with his thanksgiving offering unleavened loaves…with loaves of
leavened bread (7:12-13).


Each korban todah was accompanied by 30 loaves of matzoh and 10 loaves of chometz. The matzoh loaves symbolize the freedom from the misfortune endured by the person obligated to bring this offering and the chometz loaves symbolize the misfortune itself. Since it is no longer present, and a person tends to forget the extent of the danger he was in once the misfortune has passed, these ten loaves serve to remind
him of the extent of Hashem’s kindness.

However, the majority of the loaves are matzoh, because once the person has appropriately thanked Hashem in full cognizance of his past misfortune, and he has also drawn the necessary conclusions by changing his ways for the better, he should focus on his current positive situation and continue to improve his avodas Hashem.

CHUMROS

“You shall…keep the charge (mishmeres) of Hashem and you will not die” (8:35).

Mishmeres is a preventive measure, and all the gezeiros of Chazal serve as hedges to
protect the Torah. If we observe them, we “will not die,” because anyone who transgresses the words of the sages, who have set up these fences in order to increase Torah observance, deserves to die.

Similarly, chumros, when they do not stem from ignorance, and do not come at the expense of anyone else, are to be encouraged. In fact, it has been said that thanks to those of our ancestors who were stringent beyond the letter of the Shulchan Aruch, we have managed to observe the regulations of the Ahulchan Aruch itself. This applies with particular force on Pesach. The Zohar states that every chumrah that is adopted for the purpose of avoiding the severe prohibition of chometz may be compared
to an additional piece of jewelry that is added to a kallah on the day of her wedding.

Sacrificial substitutes

“This is the law for the burnt-offering, the meal-offering…” (7:37).



The Gemara in Maseches Menachos (110a) quotes a drashah by Reish Lokish on
this posuk that if one delves into the Torah, it is as if he has offered up a burnt-offering, a meal-offering, a sin-offering and a guilt-offering. Rava takes this a step further and says that anyone who delves into the Torah does not need any of these offerings at all.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l explains that according to Reish Lokish, the avodah of the korbanos is the best and preferred option, whereas the possibility of studying their laws is only second-best. Rava, on the other hand, argues that delving into Torah is more important lechatchilah than the act of bringing the sacrifices and makes them entirely superfluous.

In a similar vein, the Zohar praises those who toil in Torah, stating that their place is in tiferes and they are therefore more important than prophets, who only reach the levels of netzach and hod. He concludes that someone who toils in Torah does not need to bring sacrifices, because the Torah itself is the main tool for acquiring faith.

Doing our Bit

Bogus talmidei chachomim

“And He called to Moshe” (1:1).


Chazal comment that we learn from here that “any talmid chochom who does not have intelligence (daas), an animal’s carcass is superior to him.” The Medrash elaborates: “Look at Moshe, the wisest of sages, the father of all the prophets, who took the Jewish nation out of Egypt, and through whom many miracles took place and wondrous events on the Red Sea, and he went up to heaven and brought down the Torah from heaven and dealt with the work of the Mishkon, and yet he did not enter the innermost Tent of Meeting until Hashem called him, as it is written, ‘And He called out to him.’”

The talmid chochom referred to in this Medrash does not possess the humbleness
which characterized Moshe Rabbeinu. Chazal are teaching us that even someone
who has amassed a vast amount of Torah knowledge and acquired the reputation of a
talmid chochom in the eyes of others is not worthy of that title unless that knowledge is accompanied by appropriate humility. The greater a genuine talmid chochom is, the greater his awareness of his shortcomings. As he delves the unfathomable depths of the Torah, he becomes ever more aware of how much he does not know.

The stench emanating from a carcass testifies to its severe shortcomings and
warns others to keep a distance from it. By contrast, the arrogant talmid chochom does not possess the intelligence to realize that because of his Torah, the masses learn from his ways, and any deficiency in his character traits, the first and foremost one being arrogance, has a terrible impact on people who come into contact with him, thus desecrating the honor of the Torah and those who study it. For this reason, a carcass is superior to him, because its stench at least serves to deter others from acquiring its pernicious characteristics.

Who is a man?


“If a man among you will bring an offering” (1:2).


The Gemara comments on this: “You are called man (adam), but idol worshippers are
not called man” (Yevamos 61a). Rav Meir Schapiro zt”l explained that when one Jew
commits a crime, all his co-religionists are held collectively responsible for that individual’s sin, whereas when a non-Jew commits a crime, it does not occur to anybody to hold all the members of his nation responsible for his actions. For that reason, it says, “You are called man (adam, one man, in the singular)”: you are all like one unified body, as opposed to the nations, who are anoshim, many disparate people.

Rav Sternbuch suggested another explanation of this Gemara. When he was in
South Africa, he spoke to a large group of distinguished non-observant scientists and, at one stage, he spoke about the untenable and even absurd nature of the theory of evolution. The audience expressed disbelief that any intelligent, educated person could deny the validity of this theory. Rav Sternbuch responded by citing the above Gemara and observing that since non-Jewish scientists claim to be descendants of apes, they, by their own confession, cannot be considered “man,” but we claim to be the descendants of Adam Harishon, who was created by Hashem, and of Avrohom Avinu, and we are therefore worthy of the appellation “adam.”

SALT

“You shall salt all your meal-offerings with salt” (2:13).


The Torah commanded us to salt offerings. Since salt possesses the quality of extracting blood from flesh, and since prayers replace offerings, this teaches us that a person praying to Hashem must purify his mind and concentrate on excluding extraneous thoughts in order for his prayers to be acceptable.

Moreover, just like salt adds taste to meat, and only such meat is fit to be served
as a royal dish, so must mitzvos be performed with taste and fragrance, with enthusiasm and devotion, and not half-heartedly as if we were discharging some heavy
burden imposed on us.

Rulings of gedolei yisroel

“He shall put some of the blood on the corners of the altar which is before Hashem,
inside the Tent of Meeting” (4:18).


The Gemara ( Arachin 16a) says that the ketores, which was offered up in secret
inside the Heichal, atoned for the sin of lashon hara, which is spoken in secret.
Similarly, when the elders of the congregation err in a ruling, the blood of the offering must be offered inside the Heichal, because lay people are likely to start defaming the ziknei ha’eidah by unjustifiably finding fault with all their other rulings too. Following along the lines of the ketores, which atoned for lashon hara, this lashon hara, too, must be atoned for in secret by having blood sprinkled on the Paroches and on the internal Mizbei’ach.

This serves as a warning against vilifying the gedolei Yisroel of any generation
by criticizing or impugning their rulings. Those guilty of this type of lashon hara are committing an especially severe sin requiring special atonement in the Heichal.

Positive commandments

“If a person sins and transgresses one of the commandments (mitzvos) of Hashem that should not be done” (5:17).

The word mitzvos usually refers to positive commandments, but here the commandments
in question seem to be referring to negative commandments, since the posuk
is referring to acts which should not be done. How can we understand this?

The Gemara (Kiddushin 39b) says that someone who “sits and refrains from sinning
receives the same reward as someone who has performed a positive commandment.”
In other words, withstanding the temptation to commit a negative commandment
in and of itself constitutes a positive commandment equivalent to the performance
of a standard positive commandment and is therefore worthy of the same reward.
The greater the test and the discomfort suffered in overcoming the temptation, the
greater the reward and significance of the mitzvah performed.

In the same vein, the Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 5:10) writes that someone who
refrains from sinning not out of fear, or to receive honor, but because of the Creator, sanctifies the Divine Name. For this reason, the Torah uses the word “mitzvos” even when referring to prohibitions, because when we refrain from committing them, we are in fact performing a positive commandment.

According to another approach, the posuk is referring to people who sin on the
mistaken assumption that they are actually performing a mitzvah. This phenomenon
is very common in the area of lashon hara and machlokes, all supposedly for the sake
of Heaven. These imaginary “mitzvos” are of course nothing other than pure transgressions, but by referring to them as mitzvos, the Torah is alluding to the misconceptions entertained by these transgressors.

Repentance

“Based on the valuation as a guilt-offering” (5:18).

The Torah is more stringent with the offering for a certain sin, which only required
a female sheep or goat, than it is with that of a doubtful sin, which requires a more expensive ram to be offered.

The Rama in the name of Rabbeinu Yonah explains this apparent paradox with the
theory that a person feels greater regret for a certain sin he has committed than he does for one which he may not have committed at all. Recognizing the severity of a sin is the prerequisite for repentance, since in the absence of such recognition, not only will a person not be motivated to repent, but such repentance will not be commensurate with the severity of the sin, and therefore a person who is in doubt as to whether he has sinned is required to bring an offering worth two selo’im so that he will feel the severity of the sin and thereby defer the punishment of any suffering he would otherwise have had to endure.

Anyone who wishes to repent must contemplate the severity of each specific sin
which he has committed. The greater the sin, the greater the remorse he should feel.
If he acts in this way, his repentance will be accepted by the Creator.

Human input

“The sons of Aharon the kohein shall place a fire on the altar and they shall arrange
logs on the fire” (1:7). Rashi: “Even though the fire descends from Heaven, it is
a mitzvah to bring [some fire] by human efforts.”

The fire from heaven would not come down until a fire had been ignited by a
person. This teaches us a general principle that unless we do our bit, we cannot rely on Hashem to do His.

Rav Sternbuch was once in the presence of the Brisker Rov zt”l when a visitor from
America came into the room and bemoaned the terrible situation of the Jews. He concluded with confidence that surely Moshiach’s coming was very imminent and surely
the time had come for Hashem to redeem us. The Brisker Rov responded by asking
the visitor whether he had done everything he could to hasten the coming of Moshiach.
Had he intensified his Torah and prayer? Had he worked on his character traits?
It is all very well talking and speculating, but actions speak louder than words.
Hashem, in His kindness, lets us “pull the strings” in Heaven, and it is up to us to use our immense power to influence the course of events both in the public and the private sphere to the utmost. That is what Hashem desires and expects from us.