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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.
Saturday, October 27, 2012

Living for Others


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Types of greatness

“Noach was a righteous man” (6:9).

Rashi quotes the gemoro (Sanhedrin 108a) that some people interpret this phrase as a tribute to Noach, and in a generation of righteous people he would have been on an even higher level whereas others argue that it is derogatory, because in the generation of Avrohom he would not have been considered righteous. Since the Torah testifies again below that Hashem said: "For you I have seen righteous before me in this generation” (7:1) how can we understand the view which maintains that the phrase at the beginning of the parsha is derogatory contrary both to its plain meaning and that possuk  below?

In truth, according to both opinions Noach was righteous because he withstood trials on a daily basis surrounded as he was everywhere only by wicked people, and this alone entitled him to be awarded the title of a righteous person, and if he would have had the opportunity to engage in avodas Hashem in a generation which did not require him to constantly withstand tests, he would have been even more righteous, whereas those who say that he would not have been considered to be a person of stature had he lived in the generation of Avrohom contend that although he was righteous in his generation specifically because he exercised tremendous dedication, determination and self-discipline by refraining from sinning in such a challenging environment, if he would not have had to face such challenges he may not have attained such high levels. It therefore turns out that both opinions praise Noach for his actual behavior during his lifetime.

Moreover, according to the latter opinion, since Noach did not engage in chesed with his fellow human beings by beseeching Hashem to save them (see more on this below), he would not have been considered of any importance in the generation of Avrohom, who dedicated himself to the spiritual and material well-being of the members of his generation. We conclude the first brocho of the shmona esrei with mogen Avrohom, in order to emphasize the fundamental importance of this trait, and that when we excel in it, we are entitled to ask Hashem to reciprocate by activating His middo of chesed in our favor.

Outreach candidates

“Noach walked with Hashem” (ibid). Rashi: Noach required Hashem’s support to uphold him, but Avrohom strengthened himself and walked in his righteousness by himself
          
Noach may have required Hashem’s support because he was only righteous for himself, and did not get involved in the affairs of his fellow human beings, as opposed to Avrohom, who attained his faith through intellectual enquiry. Although Noach’s righteousness prevented him from becoming enticed into participating in the wicked deeds of his contemporaries, it was not sufficient to attract them to follow the righteous path. Avrohom, on the other hand, who understood the internal wisdom of the Torah was capable of influencing others to follow his path.
           
We have often emphasized the importance of simple unquestioning faith, but someone who has a thorough grasp of the fundamental principles of Judaism, having delved and enquired into them, and who possesses the talent for disseminating them, may be more successful in doing outreach work. A person who combines a deep inner faith independent of intellectual enquiries, who has nevertheless undertaken such studies, would make the ideal candidate for outreach work.

the power of REPENTANCE

“And the rain was upon the earth for forty days and forty nights” (7:12). Rashi: He brought them down with mercy, so that if they would repent, they would be rains of blessing
            
Noach’s contemporaries committed all the cardinal sins, and (unlike the generation that built the migdal Bovel) even their character traits were totally corrupt, and yet Hashem still waited 120 years to see if they would repent. Had they done so, they would have been forgiven, and the rains would also have turned into rains of blessing, even though the repentance would only have been motivated by fear of an impending deluge. How much more so is the power of teshuva me’ahavo, when a person repents out of love of Hashem and a desire to do His will. When that happens Hashem showers us with unlimited blessings.

Noach’s ATonement

“Come out of the ark” (8:16)
The Zohar contrasts Noach’s conduct with that of Moshe Rabbeinu, who asked Hashem to delete him from His Book rather than found a new great nation. Noach too after having been told about the forthcoming mabul should have pleaded for his contemporaries to remain alive until they repent, instead of thinking only of himself and his family.
Hashem could have found another way to keep the animal world alive other than the ark, but it was a way for Noach to achieve atonement for his sinful conduct in the period leading up to the mabul.  Hashem was telling Noach: “You wanted to live a solitary life, and did not care enough for your fellow men, now you will be forced to live for an extended period on your own with your family in ‘solitary confinement’ from the rest of the world. Moreover, you refused to act with kindness to your fellow men, now you will be forced to perform ceaseless acts of chesed for an entire year for all the animals”.
Noach suffered terribly in the ark, from the stifling heat (the water outside was boiling and there was no ventilation inside the ark), from the stench emanating from the animals, from the attack by the lion and so on. This suffering facilitated the process of atonement. However, since the period he was to spend inside the ark was a punishment to atone for his previous behaviour, Noach was not permitted to leave it until commanded to do so, so that he could be sure that his sin had been forgiven.

UNJUSTIFIED MOdestY
“And he took of all the clean animals and of all the clean fowl and brought up burnt offerings [olos] on the mizbeach” (8:20)
Once he had left the ark, Noach offered up olo offerings. This type of korbon atones for sinful thoughts, and in this case Noach, after having witnessed all the destruction, regretted not having prayed for his generation, having deemed himself to be unworthy of affecting the divine decree. Modesty in and of itself is one of the most important character traits to develop, but we see here the disastrous effects of failing to act or to pray on behalf of others due to unwarranted modesty. Only once it was too late did Noach realize his mistaken attitude, and wished to atone for it through these korbonos.

FAith
“But your blood, of your souls, I will demand” (9:5)
It is forbidden to murder someone else in order to shorten their suffering or even to commit suicide in order to shorten one's own suffering.
In the Warsaw ghetto the rabbonim that still remained issued a proclamation that our wicked enemies had made us despise this world, but they could not deprive us of the world to come, and someone who committed suicide would not have a share in the world to come. According to reliable witnesses the vast majority, being imbued with complete faith, withstood the test and did not commit suicide.
Rav Yaakov Yechiel Weinberg, the Seridei Esh zt”l, told Rav Sternbuch that it was a common phenomenon in the Warsaw ghetto for people to get married in the afternoon, in the full knowledge that they might be taken to their deaths before the day was over. They refused to let their circumstances deter them from performing mitzvos as much as they could.
 The emuno of those people, who almost went out of their minds due to the suffering they had to endure, was astounding, all the more so since these events took place not many centuries ago, but very close to our own times. May they inspire us to withstand the more mundane trials of our own generation.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Partners with Hashem



By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


HERESY

“In the beginning G-d created (1:1)

The gemara (Masseches Megila 9a) says that in the Septuagint (the targum hashiv’im when 70 Sages were forced to translate the Torah by the Greeks) the words bereishis boro elokim were rendered as elokim boro bereishis in Greek lest anyone should think that bereishis is one divine power who created another one called elokim (see Rashi ibid).

Why, in fact, did the Torah at the very beginning use an ambiguous phrase, which seems to leave open the possibility of a heretical interpretation?

Someone who used to be religious once met Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l and told him that he had various questions about Hashem's conduct in this world. Rav Chaim answered him that if he had questions, he would be willing to answer them, but he suspected that these so-called questions were not genuine ones but rather excuses to justify his own conduct and lifestyle, and for such excuses he had no answers.

In other words, heretics do not usually become what they are because of intellectual or theological doubts. It is rather a matter of character traits. Preferring to live an unbridled lifestyle without the yoke of Torah, they come up with supposed problems in order to justify their neglect or abandonment of religion.

MIDDAS HADIN

“In the beginning G-d [Elokim] created (1:1)

Hashem created the world using the trait of strict justice symbolized by Elokim, but was "forced" to join the trait of mercy to the trait of justice in order to ensure the continued existence of the world. The question is why Hashem did not do this at the outset, since He obviously has no need to "experiment".

Rabi Akiva wanted to be judged according to the strict trait of justice only, and that was why he was killed in such a terrible manner. Although few people can follow in his footsteps Hashem wanted to leave open the possibility for select individuals to be judged solely by the strict trait of justice untempered by rachamim, and also to teach those who cannot reach such heights to at least strive for perfection in other more feasible areas based on their specific levels.

Divine image

“Let us make man in our image (1:26); Rashi: Even though they [the angels] did not assist Him in His creation, and there is an opportunity for the heretics to rebel (to misconstrue the plural as a basis for their heresies), the possuk did not refrain from teaching proper conduct and the trait of humility, that a great person should consult with and receive permission from a smaller one”.

Hashem is speaking to the angels, who were created on the second day (see Targum Yonoson), since they had a personal interest, so to speak, in the creation of man, because the status of the upper worlds, including that of the angels, depends on the actions of man in this world. Of course, Hashem does not need to hear the opinions of any being, but wished to teach us that even people less important than us must be consulted concerning any matter in which they have a personal interest.

We see here once again that the Torah is not concerned with potential misconstructions on the part of heretics. Similarly, we do not "dress up" the Torah for the sake of finding favor in the eyes of the non-religious. This forbidden method has been tried in recent generations and has invariably failed in its aim of increasing religious observance amongst our skeptical brethren. Moreover, the advocates of compromises or unwarranted leniencies, or at least their descendants, eventually departed from the path of the Torah themselves.

However, the main message of this possuk is that we are partners together with Hashem in creating ourselves. The Zohar explains that the food of the neshomo is Torah and its clothing are mitzvos and good deeds. Hence, each one of us creates the form of our neshomos on a daily basis, together with Hashem. Just like no two individuals have identical faces, even though billions of inhabitants currently populate the planet, so too do each of our neshomos look different in accordance with the Torah and mitzvos which become an eternal part of them. The Arizal had the ability to discern a person's spiritual form and could perceive the effects of even seemingly insignificant mitzvos or transgressions on a person’s spiritual form. We too will possess this ability in the future.

Quality before quantity

“It is not good that man is alone (2:18)

This phrase seems to imply that although it was not an ideal state for man to be on his own, the alternative was nevertheless a possibility. That being so, what purpose would there have been to creation if Odom had remained alone and lived forever?

We see from this possuk that since a righteous person is the foundation of the world (Mishlei 10:25) we might have thought that it would have been worthwhile for Hashem to create the whole universe for the sake of one zaddik who subjugates all his desires to serve Hashem on his own. Although this possuk makes it clear that it is better to lead a married existence and to procreate, the fact that the Torah finds it necessary to clarify this teaches us the importance of quality as opposed to quantity. The Chazon Ish zt”l explained that quality can eventually result in quantity too, but quality cannot result from quantity alone.

the evil inclination

“The serpent was cunning (1:3)

How can we understand that the snake once walked and talked like a human being?

In order to maintain the balance of free choice, the greater a person is, the greater must be the forces inciting him to evil. Odom Horishon (the first man) before the sin was so great that he needed an external persuasive being to incite him away from holiness to the path of evil.
           
The nochosh (snake) argued that it would be worthwhile to eat from the forbidden fruit because that way Adam and his wife would attain hitherto unobtainable divine levels. He claimed that Hashem had only warned them against eating from the spiritual fruit, because it would be too difficult to live on such a high spiritual level, but they should do so anyway. It was an argument clothed in the guise of leshem shomayim. To this day, the yetzer horo still sometimes attempts to incite us into aspiring towards levels totally beyond our capabilities in the hope of causing our downfall. Furthermore, the technique of disguising prohibitions as mitzvos is also still prevalent.

Once he failed this test, Adom’s greatness declined and he no longer had the spiritual power necessary to overcome the nochosh in its original form. Instead, Hashem created the yetzer horo in its current form of a spiritual power inside us inciting us to evil, and our task is to overcome it. We are assisted in this task by the very fact of our mortality, which was decreed at the same time, since the thought that we are destined to end up as dust serves as a deterrent to sin.

Kayin and Hevel

“Kayin rose up against Hevel his brother and slew him (4:8)

Why was Kayin jealous of his brother and how did he descend to the level of killing him?

Kayin and Hevel had different outlooks as to what a person's duty was in this world. Kayin thought that since this was a material world, it made sense to enjoy it and subsequently thank Hashem for His goodness, as it says: “It came to pass at the end of days, that Kayin brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to Hashem”, “the end of days” meaning that only after he had enjoyed the food did he bring an offering, and specifically one from vegetables, to show that even the most basic food essential for the body’s health is a present from Heaven. Hevel, on the other hand, thought that the spiritual could not be separated from the material, and everything in this material world had to be used for the sake of heaven. He therefore brought an offering before enjoying the products of this world from the "firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest” and not only "at the end of days" like Kayin.

Kayin killed Hevel in the belief that his brother's place was anyway in the upper worlds which was completely spiritual, so that he had not harmed him. Perhaps that is why he responded, "Am I my brother's keeper", meaning is it my job to ensure that he stays in the lower than Gan Eden, as opposed to partaking of the greater pleasures of the upper Gan Eden. Hashem responded that this material world does not tolerate murder, and as a punishment the soil would not continue to give its strength to him, and he would be forced to live without agricultural work, which was of such crucial importance according to his outlook. He would become a wanderer and an exile, and would therefore be forced to constantly pray to Hashem for his very subsistence. This was Hashem's way of demonstrating to Kayin that Hevel had been right, and that even material actions such as eating and physical enjoyments are like sacrifices and must be connected to spirituality. All our actions must be for the sake of Heaven, and we must constantly beseech Hashem for our livelihood and all our requirements.

Repentance

“And he was building a city, and called the city after the name of his son, Chanoch (4:17)

Why does the Torah find it necessary to mention the fact that Kayin built a city? Moreover, this Chanoch, the son of Kayin, was wicked, so why would his father have wanted to name the city after him? Does it not say "the name of the wicked shall rot"?

One of the best forms of repentance is to benefit others, and therefore Kayin wanted to build a city for others to live in, especially as he had sinned by killing his brother Hevel, thereby limiting population growth. That is also why it says "and he was building" (in the present tense) to show that by the very act of building he hoped to make amends for his sin. He called the city in the name of his son in the hope that Chanoch would continue in his path and busy himself with increasing the population and settlement of the world.