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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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Followers

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, June 14, 2012

Types of Emuno


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


Pride of Bnei Torah
           
Let them cause a razor to pass over all their flesh (8:7). Rashi: Since they [the leviyim] were submitted in atonement for the firstborn who had practiced idolatry [when they worshipped the golden calf], which is called sacrifices to the dead - and one afflicted with tzaora’as is considered dead - they required shaving like those afflicted with tzaora’as

It is difficult to understand why the Leviyim had to be shaved, and not the firstborn, and, in any case, we also do not find anywhere that idol worshippers are shaved.

A metzora who speaks loshon horo is sent out of the camp and shaved so that he will become repulsive and other people will keep a distance from him. That way he will learn to bridle his speech and refrain from speaking loshon horo in the future. Similarly, the Leviyim had to shave their hair in order to look different from the rest of the nation. Since they were the recipients of ma’asros and other gifts some members of the nation are likely to consider them to be "parasites" living off other people. By shaving their heads the Leviyim are given the message that they must be willing to endure humiliation like a metzora, and must not let this affect their pride at being servants of Hashem who are responsible for the nation’s continued existence against all the odds.

Nowadays, as the Rambam tells us, anyone who dedicates his life to Torah acquires the status of a ben Levi, and they too must have the confidence and positive pride to be able to swim against the tide of public opinion, and against warped ideologies and materialism. Only daas Torah guides their actions, regardless of the reactions of people around them.

Moving and stationary Torah

When the oron travelled, Moshe said: "Rise up Hashem, and let Your enemies be scattered; and let those who hate You flee before You (10:35) 
And when it rested, he said: Return, Hashem, to the tens of thousands of the families of Yisroel (10:36) 

The gemoro (Shabbos 116a) says that these two pessukim constitute two separate parashiyos in their own right, and for this reason two inverted nuns appear before and after them, so that they must be conveying a message of fundamental importance.

It is only when the oron, i.e. the Torah, travels, only when it is being disseminated to distant quarters, to all Jews around the globe, that the Jewish nation is worthy of defeating its enemies and having them flee before them. It is only when bnei Torah are concerned not only for themselves, but for the whole nation, that we are saved from misfortunes. It turns out that outreach is a recipe not only for spiritual growth, but also for our physical survival.

However, for the shechino to remain with us, we must ensure that the oron rests, i.e. that the Torah remains concentrated in and focused on its main abode, the Yeshivos and Kollelim.  Without them the nation has no hope of surviving.

indivisible Torah
      
      This was the form of the menorah: hammered work of gold, from its base to its flower it was hammered work (8:7)

The menorah was chiseled from one whole unit rather than being made piece by piece and then connected together. Since the menorah is a symbol of the Torah this may be taken as a reference to its indivisibility. Just like a soldier does not have any discretion to decide which orders to obey, so too the soldiers of Hashem cannot pick and choose between different types of mitzvos, because they all have the same divine source.

The entire menorah, including its base and flowers, were part of the chiseled unit. This indicates that hidur mitzvah, the beautification of mitzvos by observing them in accordance with all their details and embellishments, are part and parcel of the performance of the mitzvah itself.

Early retirement
   
         From the age of fifty he shall retire from the service of the work, and do no more work (8:25). Rashi: the work of carrying on the shoulders; however, he can return to [the work of] locking the gates, singing, and loading the wagons

Why does Rashi refer to the work of locking the gates, and not opening them? We can understand this on the basis of the statement by the Chofetz Chaim zt”l , who said that anyone who has reached the age of 50 has to slacken his interest in worldly matters to some extent, and to prepare himself for the world which is completely good. In addition to "locking" neila also means “closing”. Hence, Rashi’s reference to locking the gates may be taken as an allusion to the work required to be intensified as we reach the age of 50 and enter the closing stage of our lives.

Chesed
      
      He shall minister with his brethren [literally: he shall serve his brethren] in the Tent of Meeting to keep the charge, but he shall not perform the service (8:26)

Sometimes a person’s main task in this world is to serve his brethren by performing charitable deeds and the like. A charity overseer once told Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l that he had decided to resign from his position and dedicate his life to learning Torah. So far from expressing his delight, Rav Sonnenfeld responded that the gemara says that a levi with the job of singing, who instead serves as a gatekeeper, is subject to death by the hands of heaven (Masseches Arachin 11b).

Just like the work of the leviyim was divided between gatekeepers, guards and singers, so too some people are required to dedicate their entire lives to Torah, whereas others are supposed put a greater emphasis on other aspects of avodas Hashem. The main thing is that everybody's intention should be to perform the will of our Father in Heaven. Rav Sonnenfeld told this person that he must continue with his current activities.  

Yisro
        
    And you shall be to us (instead of) eyes (10:31). Rashi: you shall enlighten us [with your guidance].

We would have thought that the generation of the wilderness had no shortage of zekeinim to enlighten and guide them. Why did they need Yisro?

One possibility is that righteous proselytes and baalei teshuva who cleave to Hashem following their intellectual searches are in a better position to teach the rest of the nation about intellectual faith and serving Hashem with our intellect than those who have been educated from childhood to follow in the path of Hashem and who have become accustomed to it. This may be what chazal had in mind when they stated that baalei teshuva are superior to tzaddikim.

Similarly, nowadays we find that many of those involved in outreach are themselves baalei teshuva originally, and this is only natural because they are best qualified to engage in these activities.

Rav Sternbuch heard an alternative explanation from the late Satmarer Rebbe, Rav Yoel zt”l. Yisro grew up amongst non-Jews, and had been one of Paroh’s advisers. He was therefore very conversant with the outlook and mentality of the erev rav, which were now having such a negative influence on the Jews and giving them so much trouble and he was therefore best qualified to advise the nation about how to deal with them.

Simple Faith
     

      Not so is My servant Moshe; he is faithful in all My house (12:7).
        
    Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest of the prophets, remained faithful “in all My house”, i.e. in all matters relating to avodas Hashem he maintained pure and simple faith performing mitzvos without seeking to comprehend them with his intellect. Similarly, the Baal Shem Tov zt”l would say that after everything he had attained, he wished to serve Hashem with simple faith.
          
      The Chosid Yaavetz, who was born in Spain and was forced to leave during the Expulsion in 1492, wrote that during the period of the Inquisition the Jewish philosophers were the first to convert or to become Marranoes, whereas the non-intellectual population, imbued with simple faith, refused to succumb. The philosophers just used their philosophical knowledge to rationalize their actions. Whilst there is room for a philosophical appreciation of Hashem’s existence, for example in the context of outreach work as we have just seen, experience shows that simple emuno is the higher level to strive for.


Vanquishing Evil


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


Yichus

Take a census of the sons of Gershon, of them too, following their fathers' houses, according to their families (4:21)

The fathers' houses must be according to their families, i.e. someone with an illustrious ancestry must live up to the greatness of his ancestors. Yichus imposes obligations and should primarily inspire us to become aware of our own inherent potential greatness and of the ramifications of failing to realize it.

The Shlo Hakodosh comments that the possuk towards the end of the tochocho in Bechukosay “then will I remember My covenant with Yaakov, and also My covenant with Yitzchok, and also My covenant with Avrohom will I remember” is not a reference to the merit of our forefathers, but, on the contrary, a reminder of our failure to emulate their deeds, which resulted in the calamities foretold in that parsha.

AVODO

From the age of thirty years and upward until the age of fifty years, who are fit to perform the service for the service (laavod es avodas avodo) (4:47)

How are we to understand the phrase avodas avodo? Superficially, someone who carries the poles of the oron does not seem to be performing a divine service of obvious importance, but in reality this act is suffused with major kedusho, because any act enabling an avoda to be performed is itself an act of avodo.
In the same vein, we see with the poro adumo that atonement is achieved even by means of something as seemingly insignificant as the ashes of the cow, because any object used to perform the will of Hashem per se acquires fundamental significance.

Unintentional sins

When a man or woman commits any of the sins against man to act treacherously against Hashem (5:6)

Even sins committed inadvertently are considered to be treacherous acts which stain the soul and require atonement. The Vilna Gaon explains that this is because Hashem arranges events in such a manner that a person will commit an inadvertent act because his soul has already been damaged due to an intentional sin committed previously, even in a different area. Had he not committed the previous sin, Hashem would have saved him from the current unintentional pitfall.

MINUS

Then the kohen shall write these curses on a scroll and erase it in the bitter water (5:23)

The medrash says if it is permitted to erase the name of Hashem for the sake of making peace between husband and wife, all the more so is it permitted to erase books by minim (people who deny the fundamental articles of faith) even if they contain the names of Hashem, because they create hostility towards the Creator.

The din of the soto is a novelty, because, normally speaking, a woman does not become forbidden to her husband merely because she secluded herself with another person, and it is only because of the severe impact that immorality has on the sanctity of the nation that a special gezeiras hakosuv makes the soto forbidden until she drinks the bitter water even though it is very likely that she did not commit actual adultery.

Similarly, books written by minim must be destroyed even at the expense of erasing the divine name, and even though there does not appear to be any obvious fault with the contents, because the danger of minus is very great, especially when it is wrapped up in various garbs of supposed kedusha. Only gedolei yisroel, using their unsullied and unbiased judgment, are in a position to decide what we must keep a distance from and we must obey their rulings.

Minus includes publications such as newspapers (even nominally religious ones) which convey the impression that the world is run by politicians or the laws of nature, rather than by Hashem, and scientific works written by minim, even if they contain no manifest minus.

The effect of nezirus

And after this, the nozir may drink wine (6:20)

Once the nozir has completed all the actions annulling his status as a nozir it seems obvious that he reverts to his former status and may once again drink wine, so this phrase seems superfluous.

The Avnei Nezer suggests that we might have thought that since the nozir initially took a vow to abstain altogether from wine because he realized the detrimental effects which his addiction to wine was having on him, he should continue his period of total abstention, even after he stops being a nozir. The possuk therefore emphasizes that the experience of keeping the halochos of nezirus with all the associated humiliation, is sufficient to wean him from this weakness and he may now drink wine – within halachik boundaries - without hesitation.

Dependency on torah

This is how you shall bless the bnei yisroel (6:23)

Hashem decided that we need the blessings of the kohanim for the sake of both our spiritual and our material welfare. At the time of the Beis Hamikdosh the kohanim represented the elite of the nation, the talmidei chachomim. Since the churbon the nation has become dependent, in addition, on the merits afforded by talmidei chachomim and bnei Torah as a whole.

At a time of sundry internal and external problems the issue that seems to evoke the greatest consensus amongst politicians in Eretz Yisroel is the drafting of yeshiva bochurim to the army. How tragic it is that they do not realize the extent of their folly. Without Torah there can be no question of any continued survival in this country. They may attribute their supposed achievements to the strength of their own handiwork, the skill and power of the army etc., but that is all a mere delusion.

TWO TYPES OF PEACE

 May Hashem… protect you [Sifri: from the evil inclination] … and grant you peace (6:24-26)

A person who is dominated by his evil inclination and subjugated to his desires can enjoy no peace. This brocho of peace at the end of the birkas kohanim is a blessing for protection from the yetzer horo and freedom from the captivity of the desires with which it seeks to allure us.

The Baal Haturim (parashas Toldos 25:25) notes that Eisov has the same gematria as sholom. The Avnei Nezer explains that there are two ways of attaining peace. Eisov achieved peace by not engaging in any battles whatsoever with the evil inclination, with the result that it did not bother chasing him at all, and they concluded a bogus "peace pact".

The righteous, on the other hand, achieve genuine peace only after incessant battles with the yetzer horo. Although even the righteous cannot vanquish the evil inclination in this world, and in fact their ever-increasing greatness is dependent on their battles with it, the blessing of the kohen is that the righteous should be successful in these battles to such an extent that by using the power of their good inclination they are completely victorious in one area, so that they can move on to another areas, thus increasing their nekudas habechira (see Michtav Mi’eliyohu) perpetually.

Unique contributions

One nosi each day, one nosi each day, shall present his offering for the dedication of the altar (7:11)

The Torah is usually very sparse with its words. Numerous details of halocho such as hilchos Shabbos are encapsulated in a few words. Why, then, in the parashas henesi’im are the korbonos of each nosi repeated in such great detail?

If we picture a minyan davening shmone eisre in mincha together everyone appears to be performing the same act. Everyone is saying the same words. However, in shomayim each person's mincha bears no resemblance whatsoever to his neighbour’s. One person may be praying with total concentration following years of avoda dedicated to controlling his thoughts, whereas the next person may still be struggling unsuccessfully with his level of concentration. A third person may not even be struggling, but merely mouthing the words.

The nesi’im were obviously all men of immense stature, but even they were not clones of each other. Each one had a unique personality and contribution to make to the avoda of the korbonos. By describing their korbonos at such great length, the Torah is teaching us that it is each person's input into the external act of a mitzvah which constitutes its main component. The joy and dedication accompanying mitzvos are the elements which elevate them to superior levels in the upper worlds and completely change their effect and how they are viewed in shomayim.