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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, August 30, 2012

Preparing for the diagnosis


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Judges and policemEn

“You shall set up for yourself judges and officers in all your gates (16:18)

We must erect gates to control all our limbs, such as our eyes, ears and mouths, and ensure that they are subjected to the scrutiny of “judges” (our minds) whose job it is to decide whether a certain action is appropriate, for example, whether it is worthwhile to hear or speak a certain thing. Once we have done so our limbs act like police officers and enforce this “judgment”.

Beware oF externals

“You shall not plant for yourself an asheirah, [or] any tree, near the altar of Hashem (16:21)

Chazal say that someone who appoints an unworthy dayan, it is as if he has planted an asheirah. (Masseches Avodo Zoro 52b). Why is this compared to the act of planting an asheirah?

Other types of avodo zoro, such as a stone or the sun, are static, but an asheirah is a type of tree, which grows. Similarly, incorrect judgments issued by an unworthy dayan have both immediate negative consequences and also cause long-term damage, which constitute a stumbling block for the public.

Furthermore, the asheirah, as a tree, was planted for beauty, and may have been further embellished subsequently, like the tree used by non-Jews on their holiday. This teaches us that when it comes to appointing a dayan or rav we should not look at external trappings, such as expertise in secular knowledge or academic titles, but only at his Torah knowledge and yiras shomayim.

Spiritual vitality

“And you shall not set up for yourself a monument, which Hashem, your G-d hates (16:22)

The word "monument" also means "gravestone". A person who performs mitzvos by rote may be compared to a gravestone. We must maintain our spiritual vitality by endeavoring to constantly elevating our levels of avodas Hashem. This possuk warns us to avoid a situation where our davening, learning, or other mitzvos are not accompanied by any devotion or emotion.

Zoken mamre

“And you shall abolish evil… and all the people shall listen and fear (17:12-13)

Rav Yecheskel Sarna zt”l commented on the possuk: “Do not be too righteous… do not be too wicked” (Kohelles 7:16-17) that on the face of it, we would think that it is worse to be too wicked than too righteous, but in reality someone who is too righteous is worse, because he is less likely to do teshuva, since he may not even be aware of his need to do teshuva.

Chazal tell us that the zoken mamre is a major talmid chachom who is likely to mislead people with his rulings running counter to the views of the members of the Sanhedrin, and that is why he has to be publicly executed during a regel so that the message of the paramount of the Sanhedrin can receive the greatest possible publicity.

Torah interpretations

“He shall write for himself two copies of this Torah on a scroll out of that which is before the kohanim the leviyim (17:18)

The King had a sefer torah, which he carries on him at all times, in addition to the Sefer Torah, which every Jew possessed, to remind him to observe all the mitzvos meticulously.

Many non-practicing Jews as well as non-Jews study and believe in the Torah, interpreting it at will in a way that conforms to their false views. The possuk therefore warns the King that he must only accept the interpretation of the kohanim, who represented the talmidei chachomim during the time of the Beis Hamikdosh, because only they, who served Hashem faithfully, know the true interpretation of the Torah.

False MOshiach

“A prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me, Hashem, your G-d will set up for you, to him you shall hearken (18:15)

In the days of Rav Chaim Volozhiner zt”l there was a person who managed to convince some Jews that he would soon reveal himself as moshiach. Rumors of his imminent revelation and an ensuing mass emigration of the entire Jewish population from his town spread to the mayor. Fearing for the fate of all the taxes owed by the Jews, he enacted a regulation forbidding any Jew from leaving the town at any time. This legislation naturally caused major chaos.

The mayor then decided to visit the greatest local rabbi, Rav Chaim, to ask him what the rumors were all about. Rav Chaim responded by asking the mayor whether he believed this fellow was moshiach, and he responded in the negative. Rav Chaim told him that he also thought the whole thing was nonsense since our Torah says that the real moshiach the whole world will believe in without any exceptions, since it says, "you shall hearken to him”. This is not a commandment, but an indication that there will not be anybody who will doubt the true moshiach, and that is not the case with this person. The mayor was convinced by Rav Chaim’s explanation, and immediately revoked the decree forbidding the Jews from leaving the town.

Utilizing the Siyata Dishmaya of elul

“Be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d (18:13)

One screw missing in a rocket sent to space may affect the functionality of the whole system. Similarly, we have to act with completeness and wholeheartedness in our avodas Hashem. We cannot "cut corners" by being lax in our observation of certain mitzvos or compromising here and there.

“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine”. During Elul we must increase our awareness that our relationship with Hashem depends on our own spiritual status, and is a reflection of it. According to the Vilna Gaon zt”l  the main din on Rosh Hashono, of which we are apprehensive, is not the one which decides our material fate, our health, financial status, and, in fact, our very lives. That judgment can be overturned through teshuva, tefillo and tzedoko.

What we must be most concerned about in the current period is the annual analysis of our spiritual status undertaken by Hashem every Rosh Hashono. This may be compared to the medical diagnosis pronounced by a renowned professor who states his opinion on the physical reality of the patient as he sees it. Similarly, on Rosh Hashono Hashem makes a "diagnosis" of the state of everybody's neshomo. This is not a judgment, which can be tempered by mercy, but rather the expression of a spiritual reality.

People of the stature of the Arizal could detect such a reality even with their physical eyes. Although this reality cannot be tempered by mercy, it can be changed in the weeks of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashono. On Rosh Chodesh Elul, we are sent a summons telling us that we are to appear before the Creator in one month’s time, and that we have 30 days during which we can change our spiritual reality for the better.

It is a sobering thought, to say the least, that someone may be keeping all the mitzvos, and yet be spiritually dead if he is observing them completely by rote; in fact he may already be in the status known as koreis. Our task in the days remaining before Rosh Hashono is to inject vitality and enthusiasm into our avodas Hashem with joy and gratitude for the opportunity we have to utilize the special siyata dishmaya of this period to rejuvenate our neshomos.


LOOKING AT OURSELVES


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


Looking at ourselves

“See, I set before you today day a blessing and a curse" (11:26).

Re’eh – “See” is in the singular: the possuk is addressing each individual, telling them not to look around to see what level others are on, and thus find solace in the fact that they are on a higher level than those around them. Instead, we should look only at ourselves to determine whether we are fulfilling our own specific potential.

Sometimes a person feels satisfied after learning for several hours, even though his specific talents and constitution allow him to learn more than his friend who learns as much as him but is endowed with less talents or stamina. We should only compare ourselves to those around us whose level of avodas Hashem surpasses ours.

I ­- you must be aware that Hashem is the Creator, who runs the world, and life and death, and good and bad in general, are dependent on his Will.

Set before you ­ - in the present tense: we should not feel as if the Torah was given to us thousands of years ago in the wilderness, but as if it is being given to us here and now.

Todaydo not tell yourself that yesterday I exhausted myself learning, I gave a lot of Tzedaka and performed other mitzvahs, today I need to relax a bit, and tomorrow I will get back to my routine. Instead, our task each day is to determine how we can best fulfill the will of Hashem during the coming day. Sometimes this will indeed consist in resting or relaxing, but we have to be honest with ourselves. If we are fully aware that each and every day presents unique and irreplaceable opportunities for grabbing more Torah and mitzvos and acquiring eternal life, any urge to rest will be more likely to stem from a proper desire to strengthen ourselves for our avodas Hashem than from mere laziness.

Mitzvos

“The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of Hashem” (11:27)

According to the plain meaning, this phrase teaches us that the believing person who keeps the mitzvos feels content. He accepts everything that happens to him as the Will of Hashem, and is blessed with peace of mind, unlike the person who does not keep mitzvahs, who becomes frustrated and disgruntled whenever things do not turn out the way he would like them to.

Furthermore, the very fact that we are serving Hashem and keeping mitzvos instead of leading an animalistic existence pursuing vanities is a blessing in and of itself, even without the expectation of any other recompense.

Meisis

“Neither shall you pity him, have mercy upon him, nor shield him” (13:9)
          
  Normally, in the Torah’s criminal law, we have to go out of our way to find something extenuating to save a defendant's life, but in the case of the meisis the opposite is the case: we do not look for any merits, nor give him the benefit of the doubt.

            The most dangerous type of meisis pretends to be religious, but secretly incites others towards heresy (not necessarily idle worship), because such people constitute a threat to the very existence of the Torah.

Kashrus

“You shall not eat any carcass… for you are a holy nation to Hashem” (14:21)

A member of a holy nation is concerned with maintaining the highest levels of kashrus, wherever one may find oneself, be it in a restaurant or a foreign business trip. The possuk warns us not to make do with declarations or kashrus certificates, which are of an insufficiently high standard.

TZEDOKO

“You shall not close your hand from your needy brother” (15:7)

The Vilna Gaon zt”l explains that when we clench our hands together all the fingers appear to be identical in size. Someone who gives the same amount of charity to every person who requests it, without examining the genuine requirements of the specific individual, is transgressing this admonition not to close one’s hand. We cannot assume that each potential recipient requires the same amount from us.

On the other hand, it is true that every applicant should receive something, and, in the merit of not turning anybody away, Hashem will reward us by not checking whether we are indeed "poor" and worthy when we ask Him for help.

“You shall surely give him” (15:10)

A person giving charity should feel as if he is becoming a partner with Hashem, and that the recipient is obtaining what is actually his. Someone who genuinely feels this will give always give tzedoko with joy, regardless of the amount with which he is parting.

Every man shall bring as much as he can afford, according to the blessing of Hashem, your G-d, which He has given you (16:17)
         
   Rav Sternbuch once knew a diamond merchant who admitted that during certain periods he earned almost one million dollars a month, but when Rav Sternbuch asked him for a donation he said that he was not earning so much at the moment because of an economic slump, and he refused to give anything. Rav Sternbuch responded that Hashem had paid him in advance on account, and instead of providing him with a living in dribs and drabs, He had paid him huge amounts in a short period from which he could live comfortably also in the future, so that he was now obliged to pay Hashem back by giving charity out of the funds he had received in advance - for now.

            The possuk here states that if someone has been the recipient of a blessing of Hashem “which He has given him”, i.e.  in the past,  he must continue to give as he did in the past, and not claim to be exempt from the commandment of giving tzedoko because he currently has no earnings. Anyone acting in this way would be showing disrespect and lack of gratitude for Hashem's kindness to him in the past.

SHEVET LEVI

“And you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, you… and the Levi who is within your cities, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are among you” (16:11)
         
   Since the Levi appears in this possuk before the stranger, the orphan and the widow, he would appear to be more important than them. Why is that so?

            When Rav Sternbuch was a boy in Rav Schneider’s yeshiva during World War II, there was nothing to eat, and the Rosh Yeshiva sent him to collect money. Some people gave some donations, but others refused, saying that the yeshiva bochurim should go out to work like everybody else and stop being batlonim (idle people).

            The Levi has no property of his own, and is totally dependent on presents from the rest of the nation. In the rotation of the 24 mishmoros a Levi worked in the Beis Hamikdosh for one day at a time twice a year, but he had to remain free and available for avodas Hashem the rest of the time. The Torah recognizes that people may not appreciate the importance of supporting levi’im (or full-time Torah learners as the Rambam points out), and therefore they take priority even over helpless people such as strangers orphans and widows, because both the spiritual and material existence of the nation depends on their continued undisturbed avodas Hashem