Search

Loading...

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.
View my complete profile

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.
Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Protection of the Sukkah

As we get ready for the holiday of Sukkos, we go from the High Holidays of judgment (Rosh Hashanah) and atonement (Yom Kippur) all squeaky clean from doing Teshuvah into our temporary dwelling (the sukkah)

The Sukkah is representative of the Annanei Ha'Kavod (the clouds of glory) that followed the Jewish people into the desert and took care of all their needs. .There was no need for new clothes, shoes...everything was done for them. So when we sit in the sukkah we should be thinking of all of G-d's protection and Divine mercy.

At the same time, on Shabbos Chol Hamoed, we read the book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes) and read King Solomon's words of how he has seen the world. After being king of the Jewish people and checking out all the wisdom of the world, he tells us that there is no other greater wisdom than the Torah and that everything else is considered vanity.

The problem is that we sometimes look at this world as the ultimate without realizing that it is temporary, a antechamber for the world-to-come. As king David tells us in Psalms, most of us will be in this world for 70 years, if we have more strength or are given it 80 years. .The question is what we do with those years!

Are we living in this world for the sake of this world only or are we trying to elevate ourselves in this world and preparing for the true world in the afterlife! King Solomon warns us in Koheles that this world is all vanity and we must take stock in that because nothing here lasts forever.

As we concluded the Yom Kippur service, after a day of fasting and prayer, we declare that G-d is one and unique in the world (Shema Yisrael) and we say that Hashem is Elokim (that G-d is the True Judge over the world). That is where we want to be and what we want to strive for, to make G-d our king and try and live up to the ideals of the Torah.

Sukkos is about understanding that this world is temporary and that our goal is to make G-d king in our lives everyday through the performance of mitzvos and doing acts of loving kindness!
Thursday, September 13, 2012

Preparing for Rosh Hashanah


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Gratitude

”And it will be, when you come into the land” (26:1); “Perform this mitzvah since because of it you shall enter the country”(Masseches Kiddushin 37b)

Why is the performance of the mitzvah of bikkurim specifically credited with granting us the right to enter Eretz Yisroel?

Rashi (on 26:3) connects bikkurim to the trait of gratitude, because when offering them the person expresses gratitude to Hashem and acknowledges that everything is from Him. Similarly, our right to Eretz Yisroel is contingent upon feeling gratitude for having been granted the eretz hakodesh.

On Rosh Hashono we tend to focus on the future, wondering which events will transpire during the coming year. However, we should also be thinking about the past year, and feeling gratitude for all the chesed which Hashem has bestowed upon us.

We always read the tochocho just before Rosh Hashono, and pray “tichle shono vekileloseho” (“Farewell to the year and its curses”). What does this mean? Surely the tochocho and its messages will remain just as relevant in the coming year! When we rebel against Hashem, we may deserve to be punished, and yet we look back at the year which has elapsed and feel gratitude that the tochocho has nevertheless not been fulfilled; this gratitude in turn facilitates and catalyzes the teshuvo process, because instead of feeling despondency about the state of our avodas Hashem we remind ourselves that just as Hashem has spared us from the worst punishment until now, he will continue to shower us with His mercy if we only invest all our efforts into doing genuine teshuva and coronating Him on Rosh Hashono.

MERCY FOR MORTALS

“Look down from Your holy dwelling, from the heavens, and bless Your people Yisroel” (26:15)

We ask Hashem to look down on the deeds committed by all the nations and compare those to the performance of the Jewish nation. We request such a comparison, because that way we will achieve a much better "score", making us worthy of being the recipients of Hashem's continued bounty, than we would if we were to be judged only by virtue of our own actions.

Alternatively, although tzaddikim of our generation, who have been taken from us and have joined the pamalia shel ma’alo (celestial retinue) are familiar with the specific trials of our generation, and are in a position to serve as our defense counsel, heavenly beings such as angels, who have no idea of the tribulations experienced by mortals that lead them to sin, are incapable of interceding on our behalf, and, on the contrary, are only familiar with the middo of din, (character trait of Divine judgment) which requires us to be destroyed due to all our acts of rebellion against Hashem. Hence, we ask Hashem to look down from His holy dwelling and cleanse us Himself by activating the middos of chesed and rachamim, and pay no regard to the arguments advanced by the angels.

Upholding the torah

“Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah” (27:26)

The Ramban cites a Yerushalmi that even someone who has learned, taught and observed the mitzvos, but is in a position to uphold the Torah, and fails to do so, is covered by this curse.

This means that rabbonim who are able to stem the tide of secularization and heresy will not be spared from this curse, however much Torah they have spread to those who are already observant. Conversely, the reward of those who refuse to make peace with the status quo, who fight against anti-religious incitement and engage in activities that strengthen their spiritually weak brethren, is increased manifold, and they will enjoy the blessings set aside for those who uphold the words of the Torah.

Reward in this world

“And all these blessings will come upon you and cleave to you, if you obey Hashem, your G-d” (28:2)

In general, there is no reward in this world for the mitzvos, which we perform. However, one of the exceptions to this rule is the reward set aside for those who observe stringencies, which act as fences protecting the actual halocho. Although it is important to know the distinctions between strict halocho and stringencies, those who do consciously go beyond the call of duty, will be rewarded in kind: Hashem will go beyond the strict rule, and reward such persons already in this world.

Looking to the top

“And you will be only at the top, and you will not be at the bottom” (28:13)

This possuk seems to incorporate a superfluous repetition: is it not obvious that someone at the top will not be at the bottom?

The Or Sameach explains that a person must realize and feel the vacuousness of this world and that the whole purpose of his creation was only for the sake of the next world, the only location where it is possible to obtain eternal reward. A person's thoughts should "be only at the top”, lest he dwell upon and limit his goals and ambitions to this "bottom" ephemeral world.

JOY

“Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with happiness and with gladness of heart” (28:47)

The Arizal writes that this sin is considered so severe, and one that calls for all the punishments enumerated in the parsha, because the greater a person's joy when performing mitzvos and his enthusiasm to fulfill the will of his Father in Heaven, the greater is the esteem with which his avoda is held in the eyes of the Creator, since it serves as an indication of the depth of his love and fear of Hashem pulsating in his heart; by contrast, those who serve Hashem by rote and mere habit distance themselves from Hashem, and their punishment is correspondingly great.

The Arizal himself is said to have commented that he had merited great insights into the kabbolo because of the joy with which he observed mitzvos. Moreover, the Chasam Sofer notes that the "ministering angel of forgetfulness" have no dominion over the Torah learnt by those who serve Hashem with joy.

Learning WiTH DEVOTION

“Yet until this day Hashem has not given you a heart to know eyes to see and ears to hear” (29:3)

Although the home of intelligence is the mind, this possuk nevertheless refers to the heart, because a person will only be deemed worthy of attaining true comprehension of the Torah if he does not approach it like some secular discipline studied at University. He must rather work on his emotions and develop a strong desire to understand the Word and Will of Hashem, and the source of such a desire is the heart. That is the recipe for success in his learning.

For this reason we ask for divine assistance in acquiring an intense desire to learn Torah every day in ahava rabbo: "fill our hearts with the ability to understand and comprehend, to listen, learn and teach”. This request is especially apt at this time of year since three times a day in the amido in birkas hashivenu we emphasize the link between coming closer to Hashem’s Torah and doing teshuvo: “Cause us to return, Our Father, to Your Torah; draw us near, Our King, to your service, and bring us back in perfect repentance to Your presence”.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Just a few short days left until Rosh Hashanah

Believe it or not, the holiday of Rosh Hashanah is coming this Sunday night. Are we ready for the big judgment? Where are we today? How do I compare to last year? What does G-d expect from me?

As the sun begins to set upon the end of this year, shouldn't we try to make the most of the last days of this year? This is the time to find those mitzvos and try to make the final run to JUDGMENT DAY!!!

Although it is an awesome and auspicious time, we desperately want to get a good judgment. The thing to keep in mind is that G-d wants to see our effort, to see that we want to change and actually change. Really, is that true? Sounds like Yom Kippur to me!

Rosh Hashanah is about making G-d king. That is the theme of the day. How do I do that? Don't I have an obligation to do that every day of the year? Yes, ok let's see how it's done.

During the year, we make blessing, keep shabbos, the festivals...question is when I make a blessing, do I have proper intention when saying it "Blessed are You G-d King of the Universe..." The beginning of the blessing doesn't change but the theme is the same...what I eat...makes me aware that G-d runs the world.

Not just on Rosh Hashanah, but for the entire year as well. I keep shabbos, because G-d rested on Shabbos, so I also "rest" on shabbos. When I make kiddush Friday night, we say in remembrance of G-d creating the world. Kingship, Absolute Sovereignty over the entire creation.

So if that is what we should be thinking about during the rest of the year, why do I need a special day to make G-d king? Rosh Hashanah represents G-d creating the world...Sound familiar...Kingship, Sovereignty...

When we look at Musaf in the morning and we go through the veres of Malchuyot (kingship) Zichronos (G-d's remembrances) and Shofaros describe the theme of the day. When we look at Zichronos we see G-d's remembrance of the Jewish people and remembrances of all actions that every happened, past, present, and future. Theme: Kingship... Sovereignty...

As we prepare for this awesome day, remember when we dip the apple in the honey, have our festivals...we must remember why we are all doing this: to remember that G-d is King, this is why we need this special day.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Prayer: What is Kevanah?

What is Kevanah? It is not just focus or concentration, which are the most popular translations of the word. It also means preparedness, or direction, as in the sense of the word, kiven, which means "to aim."

The need for Kevanah in prayer is obvious; what is more perplexing is the seeming interchangeability between having intention in your mind and intention in your heart.

Both of them are vital. Aside from the obvious intellectual efforts one must put into the effort of having intention in one's thoughts, it is also crucial to enlist one's emotional strengths, the intention of the heart in addressing one's Creator. Only by the fusion of these two aspects of man can one be considered to have truly paved to his Creator. Rav Chaim Shmelevitz explains that this is because intellectual knowledge of Whom we are addressing is by itself not enough to move us to action. Only by adding emotional involvement can we be moved to press ourselves into action on the commitments we make in prayer.

King Solomon teaches us this lesson Proverbs (24:30-32). He relates how even after having passed by the field of a lazy man, and having observed clearly the overrun growth and broken walls testifying to the owner's lack of care, still he was unmoved emotionally intil he focused his heart on what he saw. Only then did he feel in his heart the overwhelming destruction wrought by the field owners indifference. Only then could King Solomon say "I learned the lesson," well enough for it to effect a genuine change in his very self.

To further enhance this concept of kevanah we can note what HaRav Shlomo Wolbe writes in his Alei Shor II. he teaches us that by proximity to one's Creator is the one single powerful force that, by definition effects change in a person. Clearly, then, if a person has not changed during prayer he has not come close to his Creator. Emotional attention is vital to sucesss in prayer.

Kevana is something that we strive to have. We have to try to the best of our ability to keep our minds clear in prayer and focus on what we are doing. The idea is at that time, you are standing in front of the King and after 120 years, we will have to give an accounting of our actions. Imagine when G-d will "remind" us of our actions and thoughts when we were praying to Him!!


How do we get the most out of Elul

It is just a few short weeks away, the ultimate judgment day, Rosh Hashanah. We have been hearing the shofar be blown every day for the last two weeks to "wake us up from our slumber" as the Rambam tells us. The question is are we ready for the day of judgement and are we getting the most out of the month of Elul?

We know that Rosh Hashanah comes before Yom Kippur, the day of the atonement, but the question is why? Isn't it better for us to have our spiritual state wiped clean before our future fate is determined?

Rosh Hashanah has to come first. Through the awesome spirit of strict judgment of that day, we are able to perceive that Hashem is truly the undisputed ruler of the entire universe. Only after we have achieved this level of recognition are we worthy of being purified on Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah is the Yom Tov (festival) of kingship, recognizing that everything that happens in our lives is in His hands alone. When we think about the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the odds that a person could receive a judgement involving much trial and suffering in the upcoming year are not remote. Yet we find that many people are relaxed before the day of judgment, assuming that if things went okay last year they will stay okay in the following year. This complacency comes from the fact that they do not grasp the full extent of the judgment. In addition, if we want the outcome of our judgment to be positive, we should first recognize that every aspect of our destiny is entirely in Hashem's hands.

Elul is a time of tremendous Divine favor and for this reason, the mazel of this month is a besulah (a virgin). Every bride looks forward to her married life as a fresh start, full of promise. We can live out the month of Elul with a similar sense of hope and anticipation.

The famed Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria) offers an allegorical explanation for the verse "and she cries for her father and mother for a month," referring to the eshes yefas to'ar, a captive woman that one marries after a war. The father represents Hashem, and the mother represents the Jewish people. During the year, we abandon our father and mother to pursue our heart's worldly desires. During Elul we have an entire month to focus on rebuilding these fundamental relationships and to regain our original level of closeness.

On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem judges us "as we are at that moment." Our judgement on that day will reflect any changes that we have brought about in ourselves during Elul, no matter how small they may be. Let us seize this precious opportunity to ensure that we will be inscribed immediately into the book of life, health and prosperity.




The Battle against the Yetzer Harah


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


Lifelong battle

If you go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem your G-d will deliver it into your hands, and you take its captives (21:10)

The Zohar says that our main enemy is the evil inclination, and if we make a point of waging battle against it, Hashem will deliver it into our hands. Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l always said that if we remain inactive the evil inclination will succeed, and we can only hope to overcome it by engaging in combat tactics.

If we fail to do teshuva Hashem takes our Torah, mitzvos and prayers, and holds them "captive" until we have achieved complete teshuva. Only when that happens are we re-credited for all those good deeds.

However, the plain meaning of these pesukim requires some explanation. Some people imagine that the Torah prefers that the soldier make a "deal" with the yetzer horo, rather than give in to it completely, since it would be difficult to overcome it altogether in a situation of war. It is forbidden to countenance such an explanation, because Chazal have told us that this yetzer can always be overcome by means of proper Torah study. Furthermore, the type of war in question is a milchemes reshus in which only the most righteous participate. Why would such people be faced with a nisoyon of the eshes yefas to’ar?

The Or Hachayim on this section hints at the real explanation, which is offered by the mekubolim. The possuk says that the soldier "desires" her. This cheshek refers to an unnatural urge, and one that is untypical for a person of this caliber, even in the circumstances of a war. His task is to overcome it. If he still feels the same urge even after the captive has made herself repulsive, and even after relations with her on a one-time basis, it may be a divine sign that the unnatural urge has spiritual roots and this woman is meant to be brought within the Jewish fold. Thereafter, if he wants to continue to live with her, he has to convert her first.

Sechel and middos  

If a man has a wayward and rebellious son (21:18)

The Ibn Ezra says that a ben sorer umoreh is punishable by sekiloh because since his sole goal in this world is to pursue the pleasures of food and drink he has acquired the status of an apikores. Why does such a person deserve the extreme appellation of an apikores?

A person who conducts himself in a completely unbridled manner without any desire to achieve closeness to the Creator is presumed to eventually become a robber, and is already currently considered to be an apikores (heretic) because he has two disadvantages. Firstly, he does not believe that he will be held to account for his actions before Hashem, and secondly, his actions of stealing from his father and being a glutton indicate that his character traits are also corrupt. Someone with only bad character traits and correct views can overcome his corrupt nature with some intellectual effort, and someone with some positive character traits can utilize those to improve his behavior, but a ben sorer umoreh, who has neither advantage, has no hope.

DOmestic harmony

His father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city (21:19)

The gemara says that if the father comes without the mother their son does not acquire the status of a sorer umoreh. This halocho seems puzzling at first sight, but there is a deep psychological insight behind it. If the father comes without his wife for such a crucial matter it is probably because they are quarrelling and therefore the son's immoral behavior must be attributed to the unsettling environment in the home, and is not due to his fault.

 Harmony between parents is absolutely crucial in the domestic arena, and, at the very least, there should these be no disagreement or arguments chas vesholom in front of the children. This is an elementary and indispensable obligation on the part of all parents. In any case, it would not be appropriate to subject such a son to the death penalty in the expectation of future wrongdoing, because the external cause of his current behavior – his parents’ lack of harmony - may disappear, and in its wake, his unacceptable behavior.

Protesting injustice

The girl, because she did not cry out in the city (22:24)
         
   The Torah deems silence in a situation where one could have protested to be the equivalent of consent. The Chidushei Harim proves from this possuk that anyone who is in a position to raise a protest about a sin or injustice that needs to be rectified, and fails to do so, is held responsible for his failure to act, and is deemed to agree and be an accomplice to the crime that is being committed. This is an important principle to bear in mind in our generation, which unfortunately does not lack breaches of Torah laws or principles, which may not be overlooked.

Lack of consistency

Because they did not greet you with bread and water on the way, when you left Egypt (23:5)
        
    The Dubna Magid zt”l says that the Moabites claimed that they did not have the financial means to provide us with bread and water, but Hashem will show them how they managed to come up with money for all sorts of other purposes. Similarly, in our future judgment, when we will be asked why we did not learn more, and we will respond that we were too busy making a living, we will be shown how we managed to find the time to engage in all sorts of superfluous activities, and upon being questioned why we did not give more charity and we will respond that we did not possess the wherewithal to do so, we will be shown how we spent our money on many unnecessary things. 

Amolek

And he did not fear God (25:18)

Since Amolek is the source of all tumo in the world, it seems strange that the possuk would choose to focus specifically on this deficiency of a lack of yiras shomayim. This shows the depths to which someone without fear of Hashem can reach, as the possuk says, “Surely the fear of G-d is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake”.
            
In recent generations we have witnessed the unprecedented phenomenon of Jews who not only lack yiras shomayim but even deny the very existence of a Creator, claiming that everything we experience can be attributed to nature. This is the outlook preached by Amolek. However, such a phenomenon should not surprise us, since Rav Moshe Kordovero zt”l already said that in the generation before moshiach some members of the Jewish nation will adopt aspects of Amolek. We are enjoined to love our fellow Jews, but not those who actively incite others to adopt this philosophy of Amolek.

FOCUSSING on the positive

You shall not despise an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land (23:8)

This commandment teaches us the extent to which we must feel gratitude even towards those who have caused us so much harm and suffering. Although the Egyptians behaved with such unspeakable cruelty during the time that they hosted us, their negative traits did not necessarily pass down to their descendants, and we are forbidden to despise them, due to the fact that even at the time they served as our hosts.
If we make a point in our daily lives of dwelling only on the positive aspects of those with whom we come into contact, instead of concentrating on any negative ones, Hashem will repay us in kind and will concentrate exclusively on our positive thoughts, speech and actions, and they will protect us from, and counterbalance the effect of, our negative points.