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.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Partners with Hashem

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“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.


“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.


“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.