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.
Friday, July 6, 2012

We cannot know better than Hashem

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Submitting to the will of Hashem

Send men that that they may spy out the land of Canaan (13:2) Rashi: Why is the section dealing with the spies juxtaposed to the section dealing with Miriam? Because she was punished for matters of slander, for speaking against her brother, and these wicked people witnessed it, but did not learn their lesson.

The medrash quoted by Rashi seems difficult to understand, since the spies spoke slanderously about a country, not about a person.

In fact, the main thrust of their argument was that although Eretz Yisroel was a wonderful country, the nation was not on a high enough level to live there in a natural fashion, and, as for living miraculously, it would be difficult to maintain a consistently high level of conduct that would make the nation worthy of direct constant divine protection. They therefore concluded that it would not be worthwhile to conquer the country, notwithstanding its superior qualities.

Similarly, Miriam had the highest respect and was in awe of Moshe Rabbeinu, but she felt that even though her brother had come as close as possible to becoming an angelic being, since he was after all human, and the ultimate greatness of a human being is to sanctify his physical aspects rather than negate them, he should not have separated altogether from his wife.

The mistake made both by Miriam and the meraglim was that they should have submitted themselves totally to the will of Hashem, and disregarded any theories of their own that contradicted that express Will, however reasonable they might seem.

Fighting for our principles

And Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun Yehoshua (13:16). Rashi: He prayed on his behalf, “May Hashem save you from the counsel of the spies”.

The Targum Yonoson says that it was when Moshe saw his modesty that he called Hoshea Yehoshua. What is the connection between Yehoshua’s modesty and Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayers stemming from his fear that Yehoshua would be influenced by the counsel of the spies?

Moshe Rabbeinu realized that someone with excessive modesty is likely to reach a compromise with those who seek to go against the Will of Hashem. He therefore changed Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua in the hope that this would grant him the required fortitude to fight the majority view of the meragalim.

This teaches us that even though we must be aware that the results of our actions depend on Hashem, it is His desire that we should do whatever is within our power to stand up for Torah principles, and when we have to fight for such principles, we have to shed any inappropriate modesty.

Relying on Hashem

And the people wept on that night (14:1)

This episode is difficult to understand. How could the entire congregation have said, "If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this desert. Why does Hashem bring us to this land to fall by the sword etc.”?

Although they were gedolei yisroel the meraglim did not trust in Hashem's promises and wanted to live a natural existence. When we distance ourselves from Hashem, he distances Himself from us, leaving us to our own devices. The more we trust Hashem, the more does He protect us: “He who trusts in Hashem is surrounded by mercy”.

On the national level, if we live with the realization that Hashem rules the world down to the last detail, we will merit siyata dishmaya, but if we think that everything is dependent on natural causes, that siyata dishmaya will be removed. On the personal level, chazal tell us that were it not for Hashem's assistance, we would not be able to withstand our daily struggles with the evil inclination. It is only when our fortitude is coupled with an awareness of the indispensability of divine assistance that we can vanquish the yetzer horo.

Miraculous bread

But you shall not rebel against Hashem, and you should not fear the people of that land for they are [as] our bread (14:9)

Why did Yehoshua and Kolev choose to use the simile of bread?

The “bread” in the wilderness was mon, and Yehoshua and Kolev were telling the nation that just as their basic sustenance came in the form of a miracle, so too Hashem would surely allow them to enter Eretz Yisroel with miracles, and they must not be disheartened by the statements made by the meraglim.

Palace of the King

They arose early in the morning and ascended to the mountain top, saying, "We are ready to go up to the place of which Hashem spoke, for we have sinned” (14:40)

On the face of it, the ma’apilim who tried to forcibly enter Eretz Yisroel merely intended to rectify the sin of the mergalim. Why, then, were they killed by the amoleikim and the Canaanites who came down and smote them?

Their mistake lay in thinking that Hashem had given us Eretz Yisroel for the sake of ruling over it, whereas in reality Hashem wanted us to enter the country which enjoys special divine providence only if we would be imbued with complete faith and emuno. The ma’apilim felt that the overriding priority was for us to have our own country at all costs. Moshe warned them: "Why do you transgress the word of Hashem? It will not succeed”, but they would not listen. We had to spend another forty years in the desert before reaching the level required to live in the Palace of the King.

Those of us fortunate enough to live here must never lose sight of the elevated behavior which we are expected to maintain in this country, which Hashem cares for, and Whose eyes are always upon it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.

Heretical thoughts

And if you should err and not fulfill all these commandments (15:22)

Rashi brings that the transgression involved is that of idolatry. The parsha goes on to enumerate that first a korbon olo has to be brought, followed by a korbon chatos. Normally a chatos precedes an olo. Why is the order different here?

A korbon olo atones for sinful thoughts, and the general rule is that a thought is not considered a sinful act requiring atonement. Idolatry, however, is different. It is considered so severe that even an idolatrous thought is deemed to be the equivalent of a punishable act (see Maseches Kiddushin 39b). Therefore, for all other aveiros a chatos is brought before an olo, since a chatos atones for actions, but in the case of avodo zoro since sinful thoughts are already sins in and of themselves so that an olo has to be brought first to atone for them, and only then a chatos to atone for the additional sin of physical acts of avodo zoro.

This teaches us how careful we have to be to avoid any material containing heretical ideas, which are so prevalent nowadays.

Sinning for the sake of heaven

They found a man gathering sticks on Shabbos (15:32)

Chazal tell us that Zlofchod’s motives were leshem shomayim. He was willing to die in order to demonstrate to the rest of the nation that even though they were due to die in the desert anyway following the sin of the meraglim, they still had to keep the whole Torah. Due to his worthy motive, his name is omitted from the parasha, unlike the megadef. However, Zlofchod did not consult with Moshe Rabbeinu, and was punishable by death like any other mechalel Shabbos. So-called zealousness that goes against the halocho or daas Torah is sinful, irrespective of any worthy motives.

Holiness not a prerequisite for commencing observance
   You shall remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them, and you shall not go after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray… and you shall be holy to Hashem (15:39-40)

On the personal level, the possuk tells us not to go after our hearts and eyes, and only then to be "holy to Hashem". Holiness cannot be attained unless we first divest ourselves of heretical thoughts and immoral behavior and thoughts.

On the other hand, for those engaging in outreach the correct approach is to first encourage the not-yet observant to observe practical mitzvos, even if they still suffer from a lack of emuno and kedusho, and then instruct them to improve in those areas until they eventually become "holy". For this reason, the Torah first says "and you shall remember the commandments of Hashem, and perform them”, and only then "and you shall not go after your hearts and your eyes", and finally: “and you shall be holy to Hashem”.