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

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.”


“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.


“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.