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 17, 2012

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.