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, July 26, 2012

Litmus Test for Leadership

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

power of speech

“Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Bnei Yiroel, saying, “This is the thing that Hashem has commanded (30:2).

Only in this section dealing with nedorim and in the one dealing with shechutei chutz (korbanos slaughtered outside the confines of the Bais Hamikdosh) does it say, “This is the thing.”

Generally speaking, Moshe Rabbeinu was taught the Torah by Hashem briefly, but he conveyed it to the heads of the shevotim in a much more detailed fashion. Only in these two sections did Moshe convey what he had been taught by Hashem to the heads of the shevotim in exactly the same concise manner in which he had heard it, and it was only the heads of the shevotim who explained the halachos of these two sections to the rest of the nation more elaborately.

Nedorim teach us about the immense power of speech. Through them, a person can prohibit certain actions on himself, giving them a force equivalent to an absolute Torah prohibition, which, in certain circumstances, he cannot retract. Similarly, by sanctifying an animal with his mouth, he becomes liable to koreis if he proceeds to profane his statement by slaughtering the animal outside the Bais Hamikdosh. In everyday life, too, life and death are in the power of the tongue.

By adding not even one word in his speech to the heads of the shevotim regarding these halochos pertaining to speech, Moshe Rabbeinu was emphasizing how careful we have to be not to speak more than necessary, and to use our ability to speak, which is the most important attribute that distinguishes us from the animals, wisely and with circumspection.

oaths to state the truth

The Sifri states that one should not take an oath even to confirm the truth, and that if one does so, it is tantamount to swearing about a lie. How are we to can understand this?

The posuk states, “You shall fear Hashem, your G-d, worship Him, and cleave to Him and swear by His Name” (Devorim 10:20). Only someone who fears Hashem and keeps his promises to serve Him properly can swear by His Name, since he can claim that just like I do not deceive Hashem, so will I not swear falsely now. However, since most of us do not keep our promises to Hashem to behave the way we should, and therefore cannot make such a claim, we should refrain from taking an oath even to declare the truth.

Fear of fire

“And Hashem will forgive her (30:6).

Rashi brings the Gemara (Nazir 23a) that this refers to a woman who made a vow to become a nozir and her husband heard the vow and annulled it without her knowledge. She then transgressed her vow by drinking wine or coming into contact with a dead person. This woman requires forgiveness, even though, in reality, her vow had been annulled. The Gemara (Kiddushin 81b) says that Rabi Akiva cried when he reached this posuk, saying that if the Torah says that someone who intends to eat pork and inadvertently eats kosher meat requires atonement, then if someone who intends to eat pork and in fact does so, how are much more so does he require atonement?

What point regarding intentional sins did Rabi Akiva become aware of?

Whenever someone commits a sin, aside from the damage caused by transgressing the word of Hashem, he also sins through his very thoughts and desires to commit a sin, which, in and of themselves, are considered to be a great sin requiring forgiveness. The person who inadvertently ate kosher meat did not perform any sinful act, but he still requires atonement for his evil intention to eat chazer.

Rabi Akiva began to realize that as part of our atonement for intentional sins too, it is not sufficient to just undertake to refrain from that sin in the future. Rather, we must aspire to uproot our desire to sin altogether to the point where we no longer feel any such desire. Just like a person instinctively fears fire and is afraid to even approach it, so should a person feel towards committing a sin or even coming close to doing so.

annual judgment

“He shall bear her iniquity (30:16).

This refers to the opposite situation, where a husband pretends to annul his wife's vow after having upheld it. He only tells his wife about the annulment, which in reality had no effect. The wife then acts as if her vow had actually been annulled. The posuk tells us that the husband bears complete responsibility for his wife's inadvertent sins committed as a result of his deceit.         The Sifri adds that this teaches us that anyone who causes another person to stumble receives the punishment for that other person's actions, bearing their iniquity as if they themselves had actually committed it.

All the more so if someone assists or is instrumental in the performance of another person's mitzvos. It is considered as if he himself performed those mitzvos, and he has a share in the reward for those actions. This is yet another incentive for getting involved in outreach work.

Similarly, a person is judged every year on the day of his death. Although a person is judged immediately after he dies, this process is repeated on an annual basis. If the deceased caused other people to sin during his lifetime, he is judged every year for those actions and their ramifications since he died. If he caused others to perform mitzvos and good deeds during his lifetime, his soul becomes elevated on his annual judgment due to all the actions performed in the meantime by those people, and by others as a result, in a never-ending chain of events. The yahrtzeit of a tzaddik is considered to be a festive occasion (hilula), because the assumption is that he only had a positive influence on other people while he was alive, and we celebrate the further elevation of his soul due to all the actions performed since his petirah.

Litmus test for Jewish leaders

“From the thousands of Yisroel one thousand was given over for each tribe, twelve thousand armed for battle (31:6). Rashi: “This indicates the virtues of Jewish shepherds [leaders] - how cherished they were by the Jews. Before they had heard of his death, it says, Just a little longer and they will stone me,’ but as soon as they heard that Moshe’s death was contingent upon the revenge against Midyan, they refused to go, until they were given over against their will.

The Satmar Rov, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l, asked two questions on this Sifri cited by Rashi. Firstly, it should say that this indicates the virtues of the Jews, not of their leaders. Secondly, how can the Medrash compare these two pesukim? “Just a little longer and they will stone me” refers to the statement by the Eirev Rav as opposed to the refusal by the people to hasten the death of Moshe.

The answer is that the sign of a true Jewish leader is when the wicked hate him, because he rebukes them for their deeds, and the righteous love him for his saintly character and loving rebuke. If the wicked praise him, that should make him worry about whether he is performing his job properly. Here, too, the Eirev Eav despised Moshe Rabbeinu so much that he was worried that they would stone him, but the majority of the nation loved and respected him so much that they were unwilling to hasten his demise by engaging Midyan in a battle. The fact that the wicked hated him indicated that he was doing what he had to well.

Action before intellect

“A thousand from each tribe (31:6).

The Medrash says that none of the tzaddikim who were sent to the war against Midyan put on their tefillin shel rosh before their tefillin shel yad. The tefillin shel rosh symbolizes the dedication of our minds to Hashem, whereas the tefillin shel yad symbolizes our service of Hashem through active mitzvos. Moshe Rabbeinu was not interested in philosophers with a tenuous connection to Torah observance.

We, too, must keep the mitzvos because Hashem commanded us to, even if we do not comprehend the reasons for them. Only once we have become punctilious about our mitzvah observance should we start delving into their profound reasons and endeavor to develop our devotion to Hashem through those mitzvos.

For this reason, too, someone who puts on only tefillin shel yad has fulfilled the mitzvah of tefillin, but someone who puts on only tefillin shel rosh has not fulfilled the mitzvah properly. The emphasis is always on naaseh¸ the active unquestioning performance of mitzvos before nishma, intellectualizing, and even before emotional devotion.

Moshe Rabbeinu wanted only first-rate tzaddikim who would perform the Divine commandment of avenging ourselves against Midyan, without wondering about the ethical justification for destroying the men, women and boys of a whole nation. He wanted people who subjugated their intellect to the Divine Will.

mitzvas yishuv Eretz Yisroel

“And you shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein (33:53).

The commandment to dwell in Eretz Yisroel is made conditional on driving out not only idolatrous inhabitants, but also idolatry. Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l was once asked why he did not call for all the Jews in the Diaspora to come and live in Eretz Yisroel in order to fulfill the important mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel.

He replied that we can learn from the precedent of the mitzvah of milah, which is not less important than mitzvas yishuv Eretz Yisroel. After all, it even overrides Shabbos, and yet if someone had two sons who died as a result of the performance of this mitzvah, the third son is not circumcised. Similarly, concluded Rav Sonnenfeld, unfortunately, many people suffer a spiritual death, which is worse than physical death, due to the heretical atmosphere prevalent in Eretz Yisroel, and so he cannot encourage people to come and live here, because a person is not obligated to expose himself to such a danger, and he must wait to fulfill this mitzvah until he is certain that no danger will be posed to his spiritual future or that of his family as a result of living here.

Positive environments

“Among the cities you shall give to the Levi’im shall be six cities of refuge (35:6).

The arei miklot, cities of refuge, were meant to be places where those who had unintentionally killed someone were forced to spend time away from their family and friends to determine what might have led to this terrible event, to reassess their spiritual status, and to repent. The cities populated by the Levi’im were the most appropriate ones to house the arei miklot, because the Levi’im, who dedicated their lives to serving Hashem and instructing others how to do so, were likely to have the best influence on the inadvertent murderers.

Similarly, baalei teshuvah should move away from their friends and former environment and relocate to places of Torah, where they can rejuvenate themselves spiritually. This process of rejuvenation is likely to be facilitated by absorbing all the positive things in their new surroundings.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

just reward

The midrash says: "Hashem said: Pinchos legitimately obtained his reward [of kehuno]”. How are we to understand this in the light of another Chazal which tells us that there is no reward in this world?

Since Torah and mitzvos have an eternal effect on the neshomo and on the upper worlds, it would not be appropriate to limit the reward for our deeds to this ephemeral world, and, therefore, in principle, our actions are rewarded only in the eternal World to Come. However, someone who goes beyond the strict letter of the halocho and performs actions, which he is not obligated to perform merely out of his great love of Hashem, is rewarded mido keneged mido (measure for measure), beyond the letter of the law, in this world too.

Pinchos was not obligated to kill Zimri and in the specific situation in which Pinchos found himself he was certainly not obligated to risk his life (the gemoro in Sanhedrin relates various miracles that took place which saved him). Hence, it was only fitting that Pinchos, who went far beyond the call of duty, should receive his reward also in this world. So too are we rewarded in this world whenever our actions are performed with extra love, devotion and dedication.

Compromise for the sake of Peace?
"I hereby give him My covenant of peace (25:12)
   The vov in the word sholom (peace) is cut short (ketuo), so that it reads shalem (complete, whole). Since “the ways of the Torah are pleasant and all its paths lead to peace”, observing the Torah must perforce also lead to peace. However, sometimes we must abandon the ways of peace in order to preserve the completeness of the Torah and the Jewish nation. Our secular and quasi-religious brethren often preach that we should be more lenient, to make life easier for them. If only we would be more flexible, they say, they would be more amenable towards leading a religious lifestyle, or at least towards meeting our requirements.

Our response is that the Torah is not a man-made system of legislation, which is ours to dispense with based on the whims of any particular generation. Genuine peace cannot be achieved by cutting short even one letter of the Torah. When the sheleimus (completeness) of the Torah is at stake, preserving it takes precedence over preserving peace. For example, if our erring brethren suggest "compromises" in the form of "only" so and so many boys that must be drafted to the army, it is not within our power to agree to such proposals.

Zealotry WITH LOVE

“Because he was zealous for his G-d and atoned for the bnei Yisroel” (25:13)

The conventional picture of a zealot is of someone who is cruel by nature and persecutes anyone with views that do not take his fancy or merely as an act of personal vengeance disguised as some holy endeavor. The genuine Torah zealot, by contrast, has no personal score to settle with anybody. In fact, he should have no personal interest whatsoever in the outcome of his actions. His sole desire is to increase peace in the world.

Pinchos risked his life in order to prevent a desecration of the Divine name. He was overflowing with love for his fellow Jews, and the possuk here is emphasizing that his seemingly cruel act aroused Divine mercy and atonement for the whole nation. Since he made peace between Hashem and his holy Nation, he was rewarded with a covenant of peace.

It says “his G-d” and not just “G-d”, because a person's closeness to Hashem depends on his level of avodas Hashem. The closer he wants to be to Hashem, the closer he actually becomes to Him. Thus, Pinchos attained his level of zealousness by virtue of his personal closeness to Hashem. 

Hidden enemies

“Harass the Midianites, and smite them” (25:17)

Chazal tell us that that we were not commanded to take vengeance on the Moabites, even though they also submitted their daughters to immorality, because they did so out of fear of the Jews, as opposed to the Midianites, who got involved in a quarrel in which they had no personal interest, and also for the sake of Ruth and Naama who were destined to issue from Moav.

However, although this explains why we were forbidden to wage war against Moav, it still seems surprising that we were not commanded to harass or hate them. Perhaps this was because the daughters of Moav did not commit their actions in secret, and did not conceal their intention to cause the Jews to sin, as opposed to the Midianites, who furtively advised the Moabites from a distance to lead the Jews astray through immorality. A hidden enemy who pretends to mean us no harm is far more dangerous than a declared enemy, who we know to keep a distance from, and that is why we were commanded to harass and smite the Midianites without mercy.

Feeling responsibility for the entire nation

“Korach's sons did not die” (26:11) Rashi: “They were originally involved in the conspiracy, but during the dispute they contemplated repentance; therefore, an elevated area was set apart for them in Gehinnom, and they stayed there”.

After having been involved in the dispute and contemplating repentance, they should have attempted to influence others to desist from the dispute. Instead, they made do with saving their own skin and avoiding punishment by breaking away from their previous sinful behavior. Since they did not feel a responsibility for the welfare and fate of all their fellow Jews, they did not merit to enter gan eden, which is designated for the entire nation.

If we feel mutual responsibility for the interests of all yiden when there is a rebellion against Hashem or His Torah, even in situations where our own interests are not endangered, we will obtain the commensurate recompense awarded to the entire nation, but if we are not concerned for the souls of our erring brethren, not only will we not share in such a reward, but we will also be forced to witness the punishment of the wicked, due to our failure to attempt to get them to desist from their wicked deeds.

On the other hand, not only were the sons of Korach spared from having to actually endure gehinnom due to their thoughts of repentance, but Shmuel, whose stature was equivalent to that of Moshe and Aharon, issued from them, and their songs for the honor of Heaven are also to be found in Tehilim. Clearly, then, their repentance was accepted by Hashem. This shows how precious even thoughts of repentance are in the eyes of Hashem, and the eternal rewards that await those who have them.

Spiritual heirs

If a man dies and has no son, you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter (27:8)

The gemoro (Masseches Bovo Basro 116a) derives from this possuk that whoever does not leave a son behind to inherit him Hashem becomes angry with him. If someone has not been fortunate enough to leave behind a son, what sin has he committed?

The inheritance referred to here is not a monetary or physical bequest, but rather that of a son who continues in the path of his father after his demise. If a person does not make the financial and emotional investments in the education of his children required to ensure the future transmission of the Torah and the values of our forefathers, he is held responsible for this failure.

In addition to physical sons, a person leaves his mark through students, or anyone on whom he has had a positive influence during his lifetime. Any time they continue on the path set out by the deceased they bring about the everlasting elevation of his neshomo so that he is amply rewarded for his efforts in this world.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s VISION

 “And when you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people” (27:13)

Moshe Rabbeinu had no desire to see Eretz Yisroel like a tourist. By this stage of his life he had become so pure and holy that his spiritual essence dominated his physical senses, and his sense of sight was no exception. Hashem was telling him that when he would ascend Mount Abarim he would perceive the spiritual characteristics and advantages of the holy country, which he was not permitted to enter in a way that no other flesh and blood could perceive, and even Moshe Rabbeinu was only in a position to perceive this at the time that he was about to depart from this world.

Jewish leaders

“And he took Yehoshua” (28:22). Rashi: He took him [by encouraging him] with words, and informed him of the reward in store for the leaders of Israel in the World to Come

A Rebbe once noted that the rewards awaiting Jewish leaders are limited to the World to Come, since in this world they often endure only suffering for their actions. Yehoshua had witnessed how the nation had treated Moshe Rabbeinu since he took them out of Egypt. Instead of being grateful for his selflessness to them to the extent of being ready to have his name is struck off from the Torah for their sake, they had accused him of stealing and even of adultery. Yehoshua knew that any leader of the Jewish nation could not expect any satisfaction in this world from his thankless task, and so Moshe had to encourage him by emphasizing the rewards awaiting him in the hereafter.

Lay leaders of the community and askonim too should not expect any gratitude or rewards for their actions in this world, but they will amply rewarded in the World to Come for all their deeds.
Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ask the Raavad

QA Responses to your halachic questions
from senior posek
Raavad of Yerushalayim
QA Your questions in hashkafah and machshavah

By Rabbi Daniel Travis based on divrei halacha heard from Rav Moshe Sternbuch, rosh av bais din of Yerushalayim. Questions may be sent to editor@yated. com and selected answers will be printed in this column. The answers given here are the general rule, but each case has its merits and drawbacks and must be referred
to a posek.

Question: I understand that any food that can be eaten raw does not present a problem of bishul akum. Today,
many people enjoy raw fish in the form of sushi. Does this mean that the prohibition of bishul akum does not apply to fish?

Another question I have is regarding the halacha of nechal al shulchan melachim, i.e., bishul akum only applies to a food that is served at a stately banquet. What if a food is cooked in a place where a food is in this category and then brought to a place where the food does not fit in this category? Does this remove the prohibition of bishul akum?
Asher Sebbag

Answer: In regard to your first question about cooking fish, the vast majority of fish is not used for
this purpose, so the fact that fish is used today for sushi does not remove the prohibition of bishul akum. If there is a fish whose majority use is for sushi, then the prohibition of bishul akum would not apply to it.

As far as your second question is concerned, if food is cooked by a non-Jew in a place where it is fit to be served at a stately banquet, then it is considered bishul akum and is prohibited. However, if that food is taken to a place where it
is not fit to be served at such an affair, since it is no longer considered to be oleh al shulchan melachim, it is permitted to be eaten.

The reason for this is that the prohibition of bishul akum is eating it, not cooking it, so it is permitted as long as one does not eat it in a place where it is oleh al Shulchan melachim.

Question: I am a working mother and have non-Jewish help in our home. I leave the house early in the morning and only return later in the afternoon, and I would like my non-Jewish help to cook lunch for my children. Is there anything I can do to avoid the problem of bishul akum?

Very grateful,
Lynn G.

Answer: The Rama (Yoreh Deah 113:7) mentions a number of ways that Ashkenazim can avoid the problem
of bishul akum. One way is for a Jew to participate in making the fire. In this vein, Rav Yisroel Salanter would go to the non- Jewish bakery and throw a cigarette into the fire.

Another option the Rama mentions is for the non-Jew to take from a fire started by a Jew. If you have a gas stove with a pilot light that a Jew lit, then every time you light the fire of the stove, it is as if you are taking from the
fire lit by the Jew. This makes it as if a Jew lit the fire. Some factories rely on a heter of putting the equipment on a timer that turns it on every day.

While this leniency is acceptable for a one-time use of an appliance, it cannot be relied upon on a daily basis, but rather one must reset the timer every day that he wishes to use it, and this way it is as if a Jew turned it on every day.
Some rabbonim, like Rav Eliyahu Falk, do not permit this method, for they do not consider this to be as if the Jew lit the fire.

Some factories have the mashgiach light the machinery every day via a cell phone. Since the mashgiach is restarting the equipment every day, this is an acceptable way to avoid the prohibition of bishul akum. Therefore, this is
considered an acceptable way to avoid bishul akum. The Rama mentions another heter of throwing a small piece of
wood into the oven. In this vein, some factories have a light bulb in the oven that adds a minute amount of heat to the oven. This is not an acceptable way to permit bishul akum, since a new action is not being performed each day.

Question: Does the prohibition of bishul akum apply to cooking or heating up food in a microwave oven?
Thank you.

Avraham Dovid Michael  Salasnik

Answer: The halacha of a microwave depends on whether we consider it to be like kavush, pickling,
which is not considered cooking, or like regular cooking. Since a microwave can cook food in a
similar and at times equal way as cooking on a fire, the prohibition of bishul akum applies.

Hashem takes care of the yeshivos

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Political success

Bolok the son of Zippor saw… Bolok the son of Zippor was king of Moav at that time (22:2-4)
Why does it not say straight away that Bolok was the king of Moav? He was not the king initially, but only became a monarch after he had started spreading propaganda about the danger posed by the Jews to his nation. Throughout history any anti-Jewish platform has been a sure recipe for political success. Similarly, today in Eretz Yisroel politicians vie with each other as to who can come up with the most venomous anti-chareidi policy.

Bilom’S Blessing

Whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed (22:6)
If Billom had the power to bless, why did Bolok not ask him to bless him for success in his attempts to wage war against the Jews, instead of asking him to take the circuitous path of cursing the nation so that they could not succeed?                       
The  urge of anti-Semites throughout history to witness the downfall and suffering of their (real or imagined) enemies was stronger than their concern for their own welfare. That was why Bolok preferred Bilom to curse the Jews rather than bless him.
        Alternatively, by natural standards, Moav had nothing to worry about, since they were situated in their own territory with a mighty army, as opposed to the Jews who were isolated in the wilderness, and Bolok’s only fear was from the Might of Hashem, who in His love for His nation would fight for them supernaturally. Hence, any blessings by Bilom for Bolok to succeed in his battles with the Jews would be totally futile, because Hashem was with them. Only by cursing them with his evil eye, and bringing out some defect in them, was there any chance that Bilom could succeed in his efforts for Hashem to take away His divine protection from His nation.

Avoiding blessings from the wicked

You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people because they are blessed (22:12). Rashi: He said to Him, “If so, I will curse them in my place.” He replied to him, “You shall not curse the people.” He said, “If so, I will bless them.” He replied, “They do not need your blessing, ‘for they are blessed.’” As the saying goes, “We say to the wasp, ‘Neither your honey, nor your sting.’”
    Why would Bilom, who hated the Jews so much, want to bless them?
The so-called blessings of the wicked are no less detrimental to us than their manifest curses, and no good can come from them. Bilom’s request from Hashem was that all the blessings of the Jews should come from him, because that would effectively ruin them as much as an outright curse from him. Hashem responded that he had no permission to bless the Jews, because they were themselves the source of all blessings, and had no need for any of his.
   During the Second World War, Rav Moshe Schneider’s yeshiva suffered terrible financial straits, but even when there was no bread to feed the boys, Rav Schneider refused offers from mechalalei Shabbos to come to the yeshiva’s rescue, arguing that in order to ensure its continued success, the funds supporting the yeshiva had to come only from pure sources. In a similar vein, Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l , said that the Volozhiner Yeshiva eventually closed down, because the people responsible for collecting funds for it had not been particular about the character of the donors, and this had affected the kedusha of the Yeshiva.


What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times (22:28). Rashi: He hinted to him, “You seek to uproot a nation which celebrates three festivals in a year”?         

Why did Hashem praise the Jews specifically for this mitzvah?

When the Jews performed the mitzvah of aliyo loregel three times a year, leaving their homes exposed to thieves and plunderers in reliance on the divine promise that "no one shall covet your country", that was the ultimate demonstration of faith in Hashem. It is this superior quality of faith which has sustained us each and every generation, and continues to sustain us, whenever anyone seeks to harm or destroy us.

Hashem was rebuking Bilom for attempting to uproot a nation with such steadfast faith, and telling him that no curse by any mortal could have an effect on a nation which placed its faith in Hashem so fearlessly.

Eternal Torah

It is a people (am) that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations (goyim) (23:9)

Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l hy“d was once in London collecting for his yeshiva.  During his speech in a shul he expounded that “goy” refers to a nation united by a common territory, like all the nations of the world, whereas “am” refers to a group of people with a common language, dress code or other customs, which, even though they do not have a common territory or state of their own, are still considered one nation.

Bilom was saying that the Jewish nation shall dwell alone, it does not need to be an “am”, because it differs from the rest of the world population in its religion and customs, and is therefore distinguished as a nation in its own right without having its own territory. Nor shall it be reckoned as a “goy”, because territory is not required in order to make it into a nation, and the reason we yearn to live in Eretz Yisroel is on account of its sanctity and the mitzvos which can only be observed there, but our national essence is not dependent on living there.

He continued to expand on this theme, even though his audience was becoming sparser by the minute, as the majority consisted of Zionists who walked out in protest. Rav Sternbuch recalls that by the time he had finished there was barely a minyan left. Rav Elchonon, who knew from experience about the likely response to his words of rebuke, and the consequent loss of donors, explained to his amazed questioners who remained behind that he felt it to be his duty to increase kvod shomayim (the Honor of Heaven) regardless of the consequences. Hashem has guaranteed the eternity of Torah and Torah learners, and He would surely find a way to support his yeshiva.
Here in Eretz Yisroel, not only our spiritual but our physical existence is dependent on the undisturbed functioning of the yeshivas and kolelim. Rav Sternbuch noted at a demonstration two weeks ago that as servants of Hashem, we have no authority to agree to any “compromises" regarding the issue of drafting yeshiva or kollel students, who make up the soldiers of Hashem’s army, and that their task at this time is to reinforce their Torah and yiroh.

the Segulo of Kerias Shma
And they were weeping at the entrance of the Ohel Moed (25:6)

The Targum Yonoson comments that the bnei Yisroel were saying Kriyas Shma. This teaches us about the great power of Kriyas Shma recited with devotion. At a time when the powers of tumoh represented by Bilom achieved some success in making inroads into the sanctity of the Jewish nation and lowering their superior level when the nosi of a tribe committed such a serious transgression, the nation decided to reinforce their kedusha by reciting Kriyas Shma.

When we recite Kriyas Shma properly in the mornings or evenings we inject holiness into all our limbs and destroy the mazikin (evil spirits), which have been created as a result of our sins. For this reason the gemoro (Masseches Berochos 12b) says that if it would not have been too much of a burden on the public, Chazal would have instituted the recital of parshas Bolok together with Kriyas Shma in order to remind us of the power of Kriyas Shma and the necessity of reciting it with the appropriate level of concentration. When we are meyached shmo properly the forces of kedusha are increased and the forces of tumo disappear on their own.

Tapping into previous generation

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Educational advice

Have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid (19:2)

A perfectly red unblemished cow is very difficult to come by, and can only be located after much effort. Clearly, obtaining tahara (purification) from tumas mes (the impurity of a dead body) was not meant to be an easy task. Similarly, anyone seeking to purify himself from his evil ways must realize that his goal can only be achieved after expending a lot of effort.

A cow, which had a yoke laid on it, was not qualified to serve as a poro adumo. (the red heifer) This teaches us that if the holy is intermingled with the secular this diminishes from the potency of the tahara, which is inherent in the holy component. From the outset all the objects and the actions surrounding the poro adumo had to be infused with complete kedusho.

If we want our children to grow up dedicated to serving Hashem and His Torah, we have to make a point of inculcating unadulterated Torah and yiras shomayim (fear of heaven) from the outset, without any secular components at all. That way our efforts to ensure that they acquire a love of Torah and mitzvos are likely to be crowned with success.

Why we wear yarmulkes

Any open vessel which has no seal fastened around it becomes unclean (19:15)

This possuk may be taken as a general instruction to "fasten" our openings. We must endeavor to maintain control over our mouths and thoughts, and make sure that we do not speak or even think things contrary to the Will of Hashem. In the absence of such control tumah will become embedded in our neshomos.

It is clear from the gemoro (Masseches Shabbos 156b) that the purpose of covering our heads is to increase yiras shomayim. Rav Shimon Sofer zt”l¸ the Rav of Krakow adds that head coverings on a Jewish boy or man teach him the lesson that he has to rein in his thoughts and control his imagination.

Interestingly, one of the first actions undertaken by the first generations of anti-religious maskilim, who rebelled against their religious upbringing, was to take off their yarmulkes. By doing so they demonstrated that their thoughts were no longer subjugated to any higher purpose, and certainly not to daas Torah and chazal.

Jewish mother

The congregation had no water (20:2) Rashi: From here we learn that all the forty years they had the well in Miriam’s merit.

The mon came down in the merit of Moshe Rabbeinu¸ and the anonei hakovod hovered above them in the merit of Aharon. Why did they require the merit of Miriam specifically for water, the most basic commodity of human existence?

The ideal Jewish mother is an akeres bayis, a housewife, the mainstay of the whole household, who is always next to her children, and raises them from the very first day. She lays the foundations for the continued existence of the Jewish home, be it in matters of tznius, kashrus, chesed¸ hospitality, and so on. It is within her power to maintain the purity of the home and to prevent foreign influences from infiltrating into it.

This is the lesson of Miriam’s well. The righteous women of each generation are the cornerstones of the nation, and they preserve the kedusha and tahara of their households. Miriam was the role model for Jewish women from her day to our own times, and the water which the whole nation enjoyed in her merit symbolized the basic and essential role of the Jewish mother.

Significance of each individual

The Canaanite king of Arad… took from them a captive (21:1) Rashi: It was only a single maidservant.

They were obligated to wage war for the sake of saving even one maidservant from the danger of assimilation. Every individual is indispensable, because all the upper worlds derive their sustenance from the avoda of each and every one of us in this world, and we cannot imagine the importance and preciousness of each yiddishe neshomo. This should inspire us not only to improve our own avodas Hashem, but also to do more to draw even one person closer to his Maker. Anyone who succeeds in doing so is to be envied.

Wells of TOrah and Yiroh

A well dug by princes, carved out by nobles of the people (21:18)

Targum Yonoson writes: “the well which was dug by the forefathers Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov… was dug by the heads of the nation Moshe and Aharon”. In other words, the leadership and avodo of Moshe and Aharon was based on the avodo of our holy forefathers, and without their preparation and efforts, the Jewish nation would not have merited what they did in the generation of Moshe and Aharon.

We mentioned above that that is not easy for a person to purify himself from his evil ways. On the other hand, we must it that if we persevere we can easily reach extremely high levels, since the generations preceding us have already dug wells consisting of water filled with Torah and yiras shomayim from which we can benefit. All we have to do is to tap into those potential treasure troves by means of our own avodo.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Respecting talmidei chachomim

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

pride and humility

The medrash says "What motivated Korach to make a dispute with Moshe Rabenu? He saw the section dealing with para adumo”. The commentators have difficulties understanding this medrash.

In the mitzvah of para adumo we are commanded to use the cedar tree, which symbolizes pride, and, by contrast, the hyssop, which symbolizes humility. The para adumo was metaher teme’im and metame tehorim. (it made those who were impure pure and made impure the ones that were pure) Pride is one of the most severe sins, but sometimes it is essential to utilize it. If a person, when first embarking on his avodas Hashem, tells himself that he is nothing, then that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, he must initially use the qualities of the cedar tree and strive for greatness. For example, Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l would point out to each of his students that they had great potential and inherent greatness. Only once a person has managed to realize some of his potential, should he start using the qualities of the hyssop, and remind himself of how far he still has to go to completely fulfill his potential.

Korach learnt from parshas para adumo that even someone who has not yet attained the superior levels of holy people should endeavor to attain them. Although the Rambam does say that everyone is obligated to strive to attain the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, Korach in his great desire to emulate Moshe and Aharon, thought that if he would only obtain a position similar to theirs, he would also be able to reach their high levels. His mistake lay in assuming that obtaining a high position is a prerequisite for greatness (see more on this below), and in failing to accept Hashem’s decree regarding the appointments of Moshe and Aharon.

Alternatively, Korach was hinting at the fact that the para adumo came to atone for the chet hoegel, (sin of the Golden Calf) and his argument was that since Aharon had still not achieved complete atonement for that sin, there was no reason why he should be more suitable for the kehuna than Korach.

Good intentions not enough

“And Doson and Avirom” (16:1). Rashi: He dressed them with cloaks made entirely of blue wool. They came and stood before Moshe and asked him, “Does a cloak made entirely of blue wool require tzizis, or is it exempt?” He replied, “It does require tzizis.” They began laughing at him saying, "Is it possible that by a cloak of another material, one string of blue wool exempts it, and this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself?”

The talis made entirely of techeles was an allusion to the argument that since the entire congregation was holy they did not need a leader. Although not every member of the nation might be on the level of Moshe and Aharon, their intentions were good, and Moshe and Aharon had no right to lord it over their coreligionists. Surely, they concluded, Moshe Rabenu was only interested in leadership for his own purposes. Moshe replied that even a tallis is made only of techeiles it was still not exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. In other words, good intentions are not enough, and the nation does need a leader.

The early Christians lehavdil also argued that a good heart and a person's intentions were the main qualities which Hashem is interested in, and therefore most of the divine commandments could and should be dispensed with. Similarly, one still comes across some not-yet observant Jews who defend their way of life by claiming that they have a "Jewish heart” and that is the main thing. In reality, of course, the Torah expects us to combine physical mitzvos with pure intentions, and both are indispensable.

The art of forgiveness

“Moshe heard and fell on his face (16:4). Rashi: because of the rebellion, for this was already their fourth offense. When they sinned with the calf, “Moshe pleaded”; in the episode of the complainers, “Moshe prayed”; with the spies, “Moshe said to Hashem, ‘But the Egyptians will hear…” , but now, at Korah’s rebellion, he became disheartened”.

The gemoro in Masseches Yomo (87a) relates the following episode. There was a butcher who offended Rav. On erev yom kippur that butcher did not come to Rav to ask his forgiveness, and so Rav decided to go to him to give him the opportunity to appease Rav. However, instead, the butcher told that him that he had nothing to say to him. After that he suffered a work accident and was killed.

This gemoro teaches us a big chiddush: someone who has offended another person must degrade himself and beg forgiveness from his victim. Rav surely forgave the butcher in his heart, but that was not enough. For that reason he went out of his way to give his "enemy" a chance to obtain forgiveness, but he lost that chance.

 Here too, Moshe made himself available and waited for Korach to seek his forgiveness. When he saw that this was not happening, he realized that this was a very problematic situation as far as Korach was concerned. Although he could ask Hashem once again to forgive Korach’s rebellion against Hashem, as he had done on three previous occasions, and he could also forgive Korach in his heart for the offence against himself, he knew that that would be not be enough until Korach himself would ask Moshe Rabbeinu for forgiveness. That was why Moshe fell on his face, not knowing what to do.

“Careers" in the TORAH world

“Is it but a small thing for you that Hashem has separated you from the congregation of Yisroel to draw you close to Him…” (16:9)
  Rav Yecheskel Abramsky zt”l used to apply this possuk to a ben Torah who dedicates his entire life to Torah. He said that someone who sits in the Beis Hamedrash and sanctifies himself through Torah, should not think in terms of obtaining a position in the Torah world. The best "position" a person can attain is to be a ben Torah and thereby cleave to Hashem. Accordingly, the possuk is saying the following: “Is the “position” of being a member of shevet levi, or a ben Torah, through which Hashem draws you close to Him, such a small thing, that you now also seek the kehuno. Why are you looking for a more important position than to be a member of shevet levi, or to be a ben Torah? You will not find any better position than that.”
      Hashem separated shevet levi, and every ben torah, from the rest of the congregation, and He has great expectations from them than from the rest of the nation. This position comes with responsibilities attached to it. Hashem wants a ben Torah to maintain sacrosanct learning schedules, get up on time, and not whenever he feels like it etc. If he accepts the yoke of Torah, Hashem will remove the yoke of making a living from him.

Disgracing talmidei chachomim

“If one man sins, shall You be angry with the whole congregation” (16:22)

If only Korach himself sinned, why was Hashem in fact angry with the whole congregation?

Their sin consisted in not protesting, or not protesting enough, the way Korach had publicly disgraced Moshe Rabbeinu with his accusations. Someone who witnesses the disgrace of a talmid chachom, and does not protest it, is considered an accomplice in the very severe sin of bisuy talmid chachom, which Hashem is very particular about.

Spicing our wealth

“It is like an eternal covenant of salt before the Lord” (18:19)

Just like salt spices food, so too do the matnos kehuno and all types of charity spice our possessions. When we give charity we prove that there is a purpose to our wealth. On the other hand, the assets of wealthy people who spend all their time aimlessly accumulating more and more possessions serve no purpose whatsoever. Only someone who observes the mitzvah of tzedoko properly, and dedicates a tenth of his assets to needy talmidei chachomim or other designations set out in the hilchos maaser kesofim, will be blessed and can live secure with the knowledge that his assets are serving a useful purpose.