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

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.