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, May 24, 2012

Remaining Strong in our Faith

 By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Growing in Torah

If you walk in My statutes (26:3) Rashi: “You shall toil in Torah."

Angels are static, but we are supposed to be constantly on the move. Each day something new should inspire us to reach ever higher levels of avodas Hashem. Only those who toil in the study of Torah can truly experience this. Its beauty and unfathomable depth enable our souls to grow correspondingly.

It is shuddering to think that this requirement of constant growth is one of the conditions for the fulfillment of the various rewards enumerated subsequently in the pessukim and therefore its absence can result in the fulfillment of the curses chas vesholom. It is incumbent upon us to endeavor to strengthen our dedication to Torah and thus increase kedusha in our lives on a daily basis.


And I will give your rains in their time” (26:4)

The Rishonim ask why the Torah does not explicitly mention the spiritual rewards and punishments of the World to Come. (See the Kli Yokor on 26:12 who summarizes seven different answers suggested by the Rishonim.)
         If the Torah would have specified the severe long-term spiritual ramifications of not keeping the Torah properly, this would have increased the claim against those who nevertheless fail to take note of the severity of sinning to such an extent as to endanger the very existence of the nation. For this reason, Hashem, in His mercy, wanted to conceal the main reward and punishment awaiting us. Moreover, this way, the reward of those who keep His Word even without knowing the full extent of the reward awaiting them will be incalculably greater than any reward that would have been their due had they known all the details of the rewards and punishments in the afterlife.
         For the same reason Tisha Be’av is called a moed after chatzos, because that was when the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed completely, and the punishment of sinners became less intense because there was no longer the same source of inspiration which was afforded to the nation by the Beis Hamikdosh.
         However, we can understand this issue through another approach. The Vilna Gaon zt”l was once sitting and learning when a wagon driver knocked on the door begging for food and complaining of the difficulties of making a living. After the unfortunate man had been fed by his host, he sighed: “Life is treating me very harshly in this world, but at least in the World to Come, I will have it good”. The Vilna Gaon did not agree and responded that if life is so difficult in this world, all the more so do we have to work hard to attain eternal life through the merit of toiling in Torah and mitzvos.
         In a similar incident it is related that a Jew once came to the house of Rav Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov zt”l at night, cold and hungry. Looking around the house he noticed that it was warm and beautiful. If you are receiving your reward in this world, asked the guest, what will be left for you in the World to Come? The Maggid of Zlotchov replied: "I work day and night to merit eternal life, because there is no reward for mitzvos in this world, since nothing here can compare to the eternal world”.         
      The physical rewards promised by the Torah for keeping the mitzvos cannot be anything more than a drop in the ocean, mere “tips” or hints of the genuine eternal reward awaiting us in the afterlife.


And if you treat Me as happenstance (keri), and you do not wish to listen to Me” (26:21)

Many people believe in Hashem, but their faith is defective, because they do not truly believe that there is none other than Him, and that only He runs the world with divine individual providence with regard to each and every act. We are surrounded by alien non-Jewish or anti-Torah attitudes which attribute events to nature, politics, or pure chance. It takes a constant reinforcement of our faith for us to realize that Hashem is the Boss, and that even though His ways may be concealed, nothing takes place without His will.

In the tochocho the word keri is mentioned no less than seven times in close proximity, four times as a description of our behavior, and three times as a corresponding punishment by Hashem. Clearly this issue of attributing events to happenstance is something we should be working on.


And they will then confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, in their treachery which they committed against Me” (26:40)
    We would have thought that a confession of one's own iniquity and the iniquity of one’s fathers is a worthy thing. Why does it appear in the middle of a list of sins?

          Some baalei teshuva, or potential ones, are under the mistaken impression that they cannot rid themselves of the shackles of their background. They reason that since their parents are not believing or observant Jews, they cannot be better than them. This is totally incorrect. Avrohom Ovinu’s father served idols, but this did not prevent him from recognizing Hashem using his own intellect. We too do not need to be scientists to grasp that if the sun was just a tiny bit closer to the Earth, we would all be scorched to death, and if it was a tiny bit further removed from us, we would will all freeze to death, and countless other such examples pointing towards a Creator.

          A person cannot become a complete baal teshuva until he takes responsibility for his own actions. The possuk here calls a person to account for blaming his own way of life and outlook on the iniquities of his father.


I will not despise them nor will I reject them to annihilate them, thereby breaking My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-d” (26:44)
        The Meshech Chochmo on this possuk argues that Jewish history in golus consists of recurring cycles in which periods of destruction that come in the wake of spiritual low points are, in turn, followed by new renaissances. For example, the terrible persecutions of Tach Ve-tat (the Chmelnitzki Massacres of 1648-1649), were eventually followed by the works of such luminaries as Rabi Akiva Eger, the Chasam Sofer and the Nesivos.

          Although published posthumously in the inter-war period, Rav Meir Simcha zt”l (1843-1926) wrote the Meshech Chochmo during his youth. He not only famously predicted the destruction that would be wrought when people think that Berlin is Yerushalayim, but also the explosion of Torah that would take place in the decades following the Holocaust since “such has been the path followed by the Jewish nation from the time it started its wanderings [the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh]”: periods of destruction followed by periods of renewal.

          The lesson to be derived for us in Eretz Yisroel is to be forever on our guard not to fawn to our erring brethren or to learn from their ways. Such conduct on our part will only cause us to be despised by them, and can lead chas vesholom to the need for Hashem to show us that “I am Hashem their G-d”. By this stage of our history we should already know better than to have to wait for signs of divine wrath before remaining strong and preserving our undiluted Torah heritage.


Then will I remember My covenant with Yaakov, and also My covenant with Yitzchok, and also My covenant with Avrohom will I remember” (26:44)
      Why is the merit of Yaakov mentioned last? If the merit of Yaakov, the elite amongst our forefathers, is not sufficient to help the nation, how can the merit of the other two ovos help?

          This teaches us that if in the final generation we do not emulate the trait which characterized Yaakov, namely the study of Torah, and are not worthy of being redeemed in his merit, nor do we possess the trait which characterized Yitzchok, total self-sacrifice and dedication, we can at least be saved in the merit of Avrohom, by emulating his middo of chesed, both in physical matters, and- as we saw last week - in spiritual matters.

          This is the reason why we conclude the first blessing of the shmone esrei with mogen Avrohom: Hashem in his mercy is willing to protect us, even if we only possess this trait of Avrohom, chesed, and in the period leading up to the redemption our main prayers and merits revolve around chesed.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012


 By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

• • • • •
Sanctity of Eretz Yisroel

“Speak to Bnei Yisroel and say to them, when you come to the land which I give to you” (25:2).
            For the inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel who are on an appropriate spiritual level, the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel has a greatly impact on the quality of their Torah and mitzvos. However, the relationship between us and Eretz Yisroel is a mutual one: the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel is not static, but rather increases in proportion to the quantity and quality of mitzvos which we perform within it. By using the present tense: "when you come to the land" instead of the future, "when you will come to the land", the possuk is telling us that the sanctity of this land is in a constant state of flux. Although it is inherently holy, the extent of its holiness depends on us.

Eternal investments

“You shall count for yourself seven sabbatical years, seven years, seven times and it shall be for you, the days (period) of the seven sabbatical years, forty-nine years” (25:8).
            The Dubna Maggid zt”l brings the parable of a person presented with 10,000 cents. At first, he is overjoyed at the amount of coins in his possession, but then someone points out to him that he has been blinded by the sight of all those coins, and that in reality his “fortune" amounts to no more than $100.
            Similarly, some people imagine that the world belongs to them and that they will live forever. Even a middle-aged person who thinks about his parents who lived into their 80s and 90s, or considers the current average life expectancy, and then calculates how many days, months, or even years he is likely to have left in this world, may not feel that concentrating his energies on things of eternal value is something of immediate importance. However, if he starts thinking in terms of seven-year shemita units, he will realize that even in the far from certain event that all his statistical predictions will materialize, he still does not have that many time units left, and it is indeed high time to think of making suitable investments to enhance the quality of his eternal abode.   

HOnesty pAys

“You shall not cheat one another, and you shall fear your G-d.” (25:17).
            This prohibition appears in the middle of the section on shmitta. The mitzva of shmitta is meant to reinforce our faith that Hashem runs the world and that our efforts are not the real cause of our livelihood. If a businessman dishonestly claims that his goods are of the best quality or the cheapest, he is displaying a lack of such faith. He may make an easy profit in the short-term, but it is likely to be at the expense of trouble in the future, such as financial losses, health issues etc.
            Even if the fraudster intends to use his gains for worthy purposes, the possuk warns him not to chap, and to always remain honest. That way he will be worthy of receiving Hashem’s enduring blessings.       
            This aspect of business is often hidden from the eyes of friends and acquaintances, who may even think that the culprit is the epitome of honesty. Therefore, the possuk stresses: “and you shall fear your G-d”: remember that you will have to account for all your deeds to your Creator.

Chesed in learning

“If your brother becomes impoverished and his means fail with you, then you shall uphold him” (25:35)
            This mitzvah essentially concerns charity for the poor, but many people are impoverished not necessarily in a financial sense; they may be downtrodden for personal reasons or because they are not succeeding in their learning, and in need of a kind word and encouragement.
            The Avnei Nezer zt”l asks how the Bnai Yisroel observed the mitzvos of tzdoko and chesed in the wilderness where everybody's material needs were met through the mon. He answers that they taught each other Torah and wisdom, and that imparting knowledge is at least as worthy as parting with one's money for the sake of charity. In fact, someone who teaches and encourages others with less knowledge or capabilities than himself is fulfilling both the mitzvah of helping out his impoverished brother and the positive commandment of tzedoko.
            When Rav Sternbuch was in Yeshiva his rov, Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l insisted on the brighter students spending time helping out younger or less capable talmidim. He argued Torah must be accompanied by chesed, and someone interested only in his own Torah would not enjoy success in learning in the long term.

Bitochon and HIshtadlus

“You shall not take from him interest or usury” (25:36)
            The Kli Yokor explains that usually in business a person prays to Hashem that he will succeed in his endeavors, because he is uncertain whether his deal will succeed, but if someone lends with interest his income is seemingly fixed and certain, and he is less likely to realize his dependence on Hashem. That is why this prohibition is stated in juxtaposition to the mitzvah of shemita, because the essence of shemita too to is inculcate the mitzvah of bitochon.                    
            According to the Vilna Gaon zt”l we are permitted to refrain from making any effort whatsoever to gain a living, if our level of bitochon justifies it. That is how the Vilna Goan himself acted in his own life and Rav Schneider told Rav Sternbuch that he still knew people in Vilna who were the students of the students of the Vilna Gaon, who had absolute bitochon and enjoyed corresponding hashgocho.  
            Even though we are unlikely to reach such spiritual heights, and in any case, the Chovos Halevovos states that even on the ideal plane a person must make at least minimal efforts for parnosso, the fact that such people existed so close to our own times should still serve as a source of inspiration for us.

Lesson of the Yovel

“He shall reckon with the one who bought him from the year which he was sold to him until the jubilee year” (25:50)
            At the beginning of the yovel cycle, the redemption fee which the slave has to pay to redeem himself is high, but it becomes reduced as the years come closer to the yovel year. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l used this phenomenon to explain how we can expect Moshiach to come if he did not appear in earlier generations, which were on a much higher level than ours.
            Hashem fixed a time for our redemption, and the early generations needed lots of merits to accelerate it. We, on the other hand, who are so close to the final chapter of golus are not required to “pay such a large fee" to merit redemption. Hashem does not expect us to do more than our utmost, based on our own abilities and circumstances, to merit eternal freedom. "And the ransomed of Hashem shall return, and come with singing to Tziyon, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads, they shall obtain gladness and enjoy, and sorrow and signing shall flee away” (Yeshaya 35:10).
Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Power of Prayer

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Divine justice

“After the death of two sons of Aharon, who brought an offering before Hashem and they died” (16:1). 
            Here the possuk makes it clear that Nodov and Avihu were punished for having entered the kodesh hakodoshim, but in parashas eikev it says “And at Aharon Hashem grew very angry to destroy him; I prayed for Aharon, too, at that time”. Chazal explain that possuk as follows: at the time of the chet hoeigel it was decreed that Aharon would be punished for his involvement in the chet through the death of all of his four sons, but Moshe Rabbeinu managed to mitigate the decree by means of his prayer, so that only two of his sons would die. The question though remains, did Nodov and Avihu die because of their own sin (whatever it was, depending on the different views in chazal) or because of their father’s sin?
            Sometimes a person may deserve to die, but his wife, children and students would suffer from his death. In a human court of law, if someone deserves to be handed down the death punishment, a judge or jury do not have discretion to consider the ramifications of the death penalty on the killed person’s family or friends. With us it says “The commandments of Hashem are true, they are righteous altogether” (Tehilim, 19:10). If those who are dependent on a person do not deserve to die, he remains alive for their sake.
            Similarly, the Brisker Rov zt”l asked what it means that Hashem is “full of lovingkindness and truth” (in the Thirteen Divine Attributes).  What sort of praise is it to state that Hashem does not lie? He answered that it means that His truth is just and fair towards all parties involved, something which a mortal system of justice is incapable of achieving.
            If Aharon would not have had a sin of his own to be held out against him, his sons would not have died despite their own sin, because their father would not have deserved to endure the suffering of losing his sons.
            On a related note, Rav Eliyohu Lopian zt”l told Rav Sternbuch several times that a person should engage in as many possible activities that benefit the public, so that even if he deserves to be punished, his punishment might be deferred because those who benefit from his activities do not deserve to be punished.

Fighting routine

“Speak to your brother Aharon that he not come at all times into the Holy…so that he not die, for in a cloud I shall appear on the Ark-cover”. (16:2). Rashi: “Because the revelation of My Shechinah is there, he should be careful not to accustom himself to enter”.
    The force of habit and routine weakens our ability to maintain a sense of excitement and awe, so that even Aharon Hakohen was forbidden to enter the kodesh hakodoshim at any time lest he become too accustomed to the intensity that pervaded it. Before entering he had to make sure that he felt an appropriate awareness of Hashem's presence there.

            Similarly, before praying we should endeavor to internalize the fact that we are about to pray before the King. “Hashem is close to all who call upon Him, to those who call upon Him in truth” (Tehilim, 145:18). Rav Eliyohu Lopian zt”l would note that since Hashem can read our thoughts they are equivalent to speech as far as Hashem is concerned, so if when we pray we are thinking of matters not connected to our current prayer, it is as if we are communicating in a garbled language with the Almighty. Hashem is close to those who call upon Him in truth, who seek closeness to Him and exclude extraneous thoughts as much as possible when they pray, thereby "speaking" in a language which He "understands".

            In general, our only hope of avoiding the tendency to perform mitzvos in a perfunctory manner is to treat each day as if we were born anew and approaching our avodas Hashem for the first time.

What To pray for

“No man shall be present in the Tent of Meeting when he comes in to atone” (16:17). 
     When the kohein godol was in the holiest place his thoughts were not meant to be concentrated exclusively on the requirements of his fellow men, but rather on the honor of Hashem and kiddush shem shomayim.

            The Chofetz Chaim zt”l offered a parable. There was once a King who wished to tour his kingdom to find out about the requirements of his subjects and do what he could to meet them. When he reached the Royal prison, each prisoner came with his own request. One asked for better food, the second one wanted more comfortable living accommodations, another one wanted to be allowed visitors more frequently and so on. The King agreed to each request. Finally, one prisoner said: "I would like to be released!” The King smiled broadly and said he agreed to this request too. Before he left he shouted at the remaining prisoners: "Fools, why did you not have the sense to make the same request?"

            We too pray for health, for a living, for nachas from our children and so on, instead of praying for the main thing: kvod shomayim (Heavenly honor) and an end to the golus. If we did so, all our other requests would automatically also be met.

Disregarding WHAT the Romans dO

“You shall not follow the practice of the Land of Egypt in which you have lived, nor shall you follow the practice of the Land of Cana’an, to which I am bringing you, and you shall not follow their statutes” (18:3). Rashi (on “and you shall not follow their statutes”): “This refers to their customs, matters which are [social] obligations for them, such as [attending] theaters and stadiums”
      Egypt was notorious for its immorality, so why does the possuk need to emphasize the practices of Cana’an too? Practicing immorality is one type of evil, but inciting others to become immoral is even worse. Rashi cites the Chazal about the practices of the Canaanites. Their theatres were places of levity in which immorality was rampant.

            Over the generations different societies have come up with various means of inciting others to stoop to their levels of behavior. When television started becoming widespread people had to be told about all the prohibitions someone who brought this device into his home would be transgressing and the ramifications of ignoring them. More recently the Internet has unfortunately succeeded in ensnaring victims in its venomous net. The possuk is warning us to beware of any anti-Torah “social obligations” which undermine the very fabric of Torah life.

            The Torah in this week’s parasha (20:15) commands us to kill an animal with which immorality has been practiced. The gemoro asks what the animal has done to deserve such punishment and answers that the animal is killed so that passers-by should not say this is the animal, which was responsible for so-and-so’s death by sekilo. We may wonder why it would be such a bad thing for the depraved person to be spoken about.

            The point is that when we see an object of sin it lessens the severity of the sin in our eyes, and can even increase our desire to commit it, especially when it comes to arayos regarding which Chazal tell us that no one has an inbuilt guardian (apotropos) to protect him in this area. The animal has to be killed in order to make sure that people will not see it.

            We are obligated to highlight the terrible repercussions of failing to do whatever we can to prevent us and our families from being exposed to forbidden material, but when someone is already sinning, the possuk in this week’s parasha (19:17) says, You shall certainly rebuke your friend, [but] you shall not bear a sin on his account. When we rebuke someone who is already sinning, instead of talking about the bitterness of their sin, it is more effective to convey to them the incomparably sweet and pleasant lifestyle experienced by those who follow the Torah's directives.

Parents and children

“You shall be holy… you shall fear your mother and father” (19:2-3). 
      Anti-Torah forces argue that the younger generation is wiser than its parents. Such propaganda can have terrible effects. Rav Sternbuch remembers hearing children in Eretz Yisroel more than 50 years ago referring to their parents as "chamorim” (donkeys). The Torah is warning us that it is not enough to honor our parents, but we have to fear them, always remembering that the Torah compared the honor we must accord to our parents with that which we accord to Hashem.

The yoke of heaven

“I have distinguished you from the nations to be Mine” (20:26). Rashi: Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariyoh says: From where do we know that a person should not say: "I am disgusted with pig meat, I do not want to wear kilayim", but rather he should say: "I desire it, but what can I do, my Father in Heaven has decreed upon me that I may not? The verse says: "And I have distinguished you from the nations to be mine," that your separation from them should be for My Name's sake -he separates himself from sin and accepts on himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven".
   This medrash may be taken as proof of the Maharal’s theory that even though the Jews had accepted the Torah voluntarily and said "na’ase venishmo”, Hashem had turned the mountain on top of them like a barrel, because keeping the commandments by coercion like servants is a higher level.
   As pleasant as they are, the mitzvos are first and foremost a yoke, and we are not free agents to desist from them. This acceptance of the yoke of mitzvos is a fundamental component of our faith, and is one reason why a person who performs mitzvos once he is commanded to do so is on a higher level than a person who performs them without being commanded. Those who lack the awareness of this yoke, even if they perform mitzvos, will not attain the same spiritual level or the same reward.

Different types of sanctity

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

• • • • •
High aspirations

“Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them, let him not defile himself with the dead among his people.” (21:1). 
            It seems surprising that kohanim are warned against coming into contact with corpses. After all, dealing with the dead is a great mitzvah; in fact it is a chesed shel emmes (a chesed whose recipient cannot return the favor). Furthermore, one would have thought that it would be beneficial to be reminded of human mortality, since this encourages a person to do teshuva before it is too late.
            There are two paths of avodas Hashem, which we can choose to follow. One possibility is to focus on man's lowliness compared to his Creator, and on how much our actions do not match our responsibilities towards Him. Conversely, we can focus on how Hashem craves out Torah and prayers and on how the upper worlds’ very existence is dependent on our actions.
            Part of the concept of kedusha entails an awareness of one’s own potential greatness, and at the beginning of last week’s parasha (kedoshim) every yid is enjoined to realize his inherent kedusha, but kohanim are expected to attain even higher levels of kedusha, and must therefore not be preoccupied with death, focusing instead on their lofty mission in this world.

Kiddush Hashem

“They shall be holy to their G-d and they shall not profane the Name of their G-d” (21:6). 
            On the face of it, the order of the possuk should be the reverse: not only should you not profane the Name of Hashem, but you should reach a higher level and become holy to Him.
            We can understand this in light of the Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah 5:11) who states that the greater and holier a person is, the greater the chilul Hashem if his behavior does not reflect his elevated status. Even if someone is in reality not so elevated, but people think that he is, and his behavior does not reflect their perception of him, he will be held to account for the chilul Hashem which his actions cause.   
            In this possuk the kohanim are being warned that they are holy and must therefore be especially careful to prevent any desecration of the Divine name. Nowadays every ben Torah has the status of a kohen and must endeavor to attain the appropriate levels of kedusha. However, irrespective of his actual spiritual level, he must at least be aware of his responsibility and make sure not to come late to davening or slacken in his learning, and to generally act in such a way that everyone praises him, loves him, and desires to emulate his deeds, so that way he will be sanctifying Hashem’s name.

When blood is not thicker than water

“For his father and mother he shall not become tomei” (21:11). 
            The Kotzker Rebbe zt”l suggests a rationale for the kohen godol’s prohibition to deal with the burial of his parents. He says that the kohen godol was the agent of the entire Jewish nation before Hashem, and as such every member of the nation is considered to be his "relative". He should not feel a closer connection to his blood relatives than to anybody else. This prohibition is therefore designed to remind him of his unique position and responsibilities.

Putting chumros on hold

“They shall be holy to their G-d… and they must be holy” (ibid). 
            Rav Shlomo Kluger zt”l explains this repetition of the commandment to be holy as follows: the main manifestation of kedusha is to be meticulous about observing all the positive and negative commandments. Our job is to utilize our time to the utmost, watch what comes out of our mouths etc. Only once we have attained this primary kedusha should we start adding praiseworthy chumras (see the gemoro in Moed Koton 5a on the possuk in this week’s parsha: “They shall keep my charge” 22:9), which is what the second “holy” in the possuk above refers to.

Sanctifying the physical

“Any man of the House of Israel… who will bring his offering to Hashem” (22:18). 
            The gemoro (Menochos 73b) learns from this possuk that non-Jews can bring voluntary sacrifices in the Beis Hamikdosh, but only a korbon olo, which is completely consumed on the mizbeach.
            The task of a person in this material world is to sanctify his physical needs and desires. One example of this is a korbon shlomim part of which is eaten by the person. If performed with the proper intention, that act of eating can be no less a holy endeavor then the act of sacrificing the remaining parts on the altar. However, the non-Jewish conception of serving G-d consists in self-denial and a total negation of this physical world. Hence, the only type of korbon they can relate to is one which is dedicated totally to Hashem with no admixture of anything physical.


“When you sacrifice a thanks-giving-offering to Hashem that it be favorably accepted for you, you shall sacrifice it [alternative translation: you shall sacrifice it of your own free will]” (22:29). 
            There was once a Rebbe who suffered tremendously during a prolonged illness. When he recovered he said, "Before my suffering started I would have given a million dollars to be spared them, but now that I have endured them, I would not give them up even for a billion dollars, since they have afforded me atonement for my sins”.
            We do not desire suffering, and in fact pray to be spared it (especially the type which affects our ability to learn Torah), but if it is decreed upon us, we must try to accept it lovingly because of the benefits associated with it. When a person brings a korbon todo after recovering from sickness, being released from prison etc. he should sacrifice it "of his own free will", i.e. not just because he is obliged to do so, and not only because he is grateful to Hashem for saving him from his distress, but also because he is happy to have endured the suffering.                  
            The Vilna Gaon zt”l once spoke to a group of students about the detailed punishments for aveiros. When he finished, he went to visit a student who was sick, and told him that whatever he had said in that speech did not apply to him, because his suffering had cleansed him from his sins.

The power of chazal

“You shall count for yourselves, from the day after the day of rest (“Shabbos”) from the day on which you will bring the omer wave-offering, seven complete weeks they shall be” (23:15). 
            Chazal knew through their handed-down tradition that “Shabbos” in this possuk refers to the Yom Tov of Pesach, but the Sadducees insisted on a literal interpretation, i.e. the Shabbos of Bereishis. Why did the Torah in fact choose to term Yom Tov as Shabbos here?
            The sanctity of Shabosos are fixed and not dependent on any human activity. Yomim Tovim, on the other hand, are fixed by the Beis Din. By calling the Yom Tov of Pesach “Shabbos” the possuk is putting Yom Tov on a par with Shabbos and emphasizing the power of Chazal whose rulings are no less valid than a Divine ruling made by Moshe Rabbenu mipi hagevuro, thus clarifying the false views held by groups such as the Sadducees who refused to accept the sanctity and authority of Chazal.
            This also sheds light on why the section in this week's parsha on yomim tovim is preceded by one possuk about Shabbos (23:3). This teaches us not to distinguish between our obligation to keep Shabbos, which has been fixed since the days of Creation, and our obligation to observe the Yomim Tovim, which are fixed on the basis of monthly rulings by the chachomim, everything being part of one indivisible Torah.
Monday, May 7, 2012

Overcoming Tum’oh

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


 Some people are under the mistaken impression that tzora’as is some type of contagious leprosy, and they interpret the requirement for the metzora to leave the camp as a precautionary measure to protect the health of his family and friends. In reality it is a spiritual ailment, a divine sign, which we are only privileged to experience when the whole nation is on an elevated level, and only in Eretz Yisroel when the Bais Hamikdosh is standing.

 For this reason a person must show the signs of tzora’as to a kohen and he only becomes tomei due to his sins, primarily loshon horo, once the kohen has declared him to be tomei. Clearly this whole process is not natural, but completely supernatural, otherwise why would a person's clothes or the walls of his house be affected by tzora’as? Even when the level of the nation is not elevated enough for us to experience the external signs of tzora’as with our current physical senses, they are still very much there, and the Shlo Hakodosh zt”l states that in the World to Come they will be evident for all to see unless we utilize our time in this world to rectify our deeds and cleanse our soul in order to return it to our Maker in the same unsullied state in which we received it. A person's home is like a miniature Bais Hamikdosh¸ and the words he speaks are absorbed by its atmosphere. Words of Torah and musar constantly augment the inherent kedusho of a Jewish home, whereas words of loshon horo create the form of tumo’h known as tzora’as. People from previous generations would find it inconceivable that using various previously unknown technological methods a person could make himself heard to his friend at the other end of the world. Similarly, we must realize that our words are not only captured, but also absorbed by the walls of our homes. In this vein too can we understand the Chazal (Megilla 29a) that the botei keneisiyos and botei medrash of Bovel will be transferred to Eretz Yisroel in the future. This is not referring to a physical relocation, but rather to the permanent sanctity created there over the generations as a result of the Torah and prayers absorbed in those places, a sanctity reminiscent of kedushas Eretz Yisroel, and which will be transferred to there in the future. The Vilna Gaon zt”l in his famous letter tells the female members of his family they should rather pray alone at home than go to shul, because it would be impossible for them not to hear some loshon horo there. Similarly, Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler zt”l told Rav Sternbuch that the women in Kelm never went to shul, because it would have been very difficult for them to keep away from women who spoke loshon horo. In previous generations the home was sanctified and only those who left its safe quarters would be exposed to this most serious sin, but nowadays this is no longer the case, and the only way to be saved from it is to remain strong and teach our families hilchos loshon horo and to emphasize the severity of this transgression and the tumoh it creates.


 The medrash says that after the Jews heard the section dealing with nego’im from Moshe Rabbenu they were afraid, and Moshe told them not to be afraid because these matters only applied to the nations of the world whereas they could eat and drink and be happy. This medrash seems puzzling. What reason can there be for being happy, and what does it mean that these matters only applied to gentiles? Tzora’as is a very severe punishment. To be declared tomei by the kohen and the ensuing public degradation must have been a very traumatic experience. For a Jew a more gentle reminder in the form of yisurim that do not entail such suffering is usually sufficient for him to mend his ways, and he can continue leading an ordinary life, eating and drinking and being happy. Only if these divine messages do not have the desired effect, does Hashem need to resort to the more drastic punishment of tzora’as. For others, on the other hand, the standard punishment is nego’im, or their equivalent, since their nature is such that only a more severe form of punishment will produce a change in their sinful lifestyles.

  CUSTOMIZED CURES “When a person has on his skin a burn from a fire (mischvas esh) and on the healthy flesh of the burnt part came a snow-white spot tinged with red or pure white spot” (13:24). Rashi: The signs of a burnt spot (michvo) and the signs of an inflammation (shchin) are the same; why did the Torah separate them? To tell you that they cannot be combined with each other: if inflammation the size of half a half-bean develops, and half a half-bean of burnt spot, they may not be judged as a whole half-bean. In other words, two types of nego’im do not combine for the purposes of creating tumoh based on the size of a gris. Shchin and michvo are two types of nego’im, and yet each one has to be rectified in its own specific manner. Shchin is a deep nega, which indicates internal corruption, and is thus a symbol of all corrupt character traits, whereas michvas esh, although less deep, sometimes causes great damage because it consumes without mercy. Its source lies in a person's trait of anger. This teaches us an important principle. Just like cures for nego’im differ from nega to nega, because each one stems from different sources, so too do the cures for negative character traits, such as anger and pride, differ, since they too have different foundations. Anger and pride, for example, may share some common origins, but they are far from identical, and their remedies must therefore be tailored to their specific sources in a person's character.

  OUTCASTS “This shall be the law (toras) of the metzorah” (14:2)

 Anyone who wants to become a ben Torah must be willing to be treated like an outcast (metzorah) and be derided for living an unproductive "parasitic” lifestyle, or pressurized to learn a trade by his own family, but if he remains strong he will merit the crown of Torah. The commentators struggle to explain the rationale for the commandment requiring the leviyim to shave their hair. However, the Torah is conveying the same message that they must be willing to endure humiliation like a metzora and not let this affect their pride at being soldiers in Hashem's army. Nowadays talmidei chachomim and those who dedicate their lives to Torah acquire the status of a ben levi (see the Rambam at the end of Shmita Veyovel) and they too must have the confidence and positive pride to be able to swim against the tide of public opinion or their own families, and against warped ideologies and materialism. Only daas Torah guides their actions, regardless of the reactions of others.

  RELATIVE EFFORTS “If he is poor and his means are not sufficient” (14:21)

 The type of sacrifice that was brought depended on a person's financial situation. For the poorest even a korbon mincho of flour and oil was sufficient. Hashem does not expect more from anybody than they are capable of giving. This does not apply only in the financial sense. In all areas of avodas Hashem we are only judged on the basis of our own specific talents and capabilities. For example, the reward of someone who overcomes an inborn restlessness or less-than-average intellectual ability to nevertheless apply himself to learning Torah, eventually becoming a talmid chochom, is much greater than that of someone with a perceptive mind and a temperament conducive to protracted periods of study, who only learns for a few hours a day.