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, November 27, 2012

Helping ourselves by helping others

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Protective environment of the yeshiva

“And Yaakov left (vayaytzay) Beer Sheva and went to Choron” (28:10)

Yaakov left Beer Sheva for the purpose of escaping Eisov’s murderous designs and also in order to look for a wife in Choron. The Steipler zt”l commented that nowadays a young man needs to learn in a yeshiva for two reasons. Firstly, in order to escape from the harmful environment outside, and secondly, in order to learn and grow in yiras shomayim. Consequently, even if a bochur is not learning as well as he should, he must still continue to observe the commandment of vayaytzay by remaining within the safe confines of the yeshiva, thus  refraining from keeping undesirable company.

Rav Schneider zt”l was opposed to boys going to work before marriage, and was even more adamant that they should not attend university. He argued that even if the boy’s religious observance would not be affected, the very exposure to the behavior and manner of speech prevalent in such environments would have a detrimental effect on him. For this reason he felt a boy should not be thrown out of yeshiva into a street environment, and that those responsible for such an action would be held accountable before the heavenly court. Although the main protection afforded by the sanctity of the Torah is when we are immersed in studying it, just being present in an environment of bnei Torah also saves a person from sin and has a salubrious effect on him.

Rav Sternbuch recalls the time when a young sailor from Greece, about 20 years old, somehow found his way to Rav Schneider’s Yeshiva in London. Once Rav Schneider had ascertained that he was indeed Jewish, he made sure that this young man should be taught aleph beis, krias shema, tefillin etc. Even though the yeshiva was not designed for such people, since Rav Schneider could not find a suitable alternative, the commandment to look after a "lost body and soul" applied to this visitor. Had he not come of his own accord we might have been exempt from helping him out, Rav Schneider reasoned, but since he had fallen into our hands, we are forbidden to send him away.

Spiritual charity

“And everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You” (28:22)

The obligation to share the gifts with which Hashem has endowed us with others is not only limited to money. It is brought down in the name of Rav Shimon Shkop’s students that just like financial charity is the recipe for the economic enrichment of the donor, so too someone who shares his talents and knowledge with others will be rewarded several times over in the spiritual realm.

Rav Moshe Schneider emphasized this point, and in fact instituted the practice in his own yeshiva whereby an hour a day was set aside in which weaker talmidim were taught by other students. He considered this time to be a period of avodas hakodesh (holy work). Dedicating this time to others would not be at the expense of one's own growth in Torah. On the contrary, someone who has a student in his youth is likely to become the recipient of Hashem's blessings and merit to have many students throughout his life.

Rav Sternbuch notes having heard from several yeshiva bochurim who had not been successful in their learning and whose prayers in this regard had not been answered, that it was only when they started to devote even a small amount of time every day to help a weaker boy that their own learning started to flourish. Such is the power of tzedoko in spiritual matters.

Money as a litmus test

“A ladder (sulom) was set up on the earth and its top reached towards heaven” (28:12)

The Baal Haturim says that sulom has the same gematria as momon (money) and oni (poverty).

Money appears to be like a ladder set up on the earth, since a person’s status in this world appears to be dependent on his financial situation, but its top reaches towards heaven, because a person’s main test in this world revolves around money. The test of wealth consists in determining whether a rich person minimizes the time spent in worldly affairs in order to busy himself with Torah and other matters through which he acquires eternity, or whether he constantly seeks only to become more enriched, and also whether he gives sufficient charity and does so by granting the proper honor to the recipient.

The poor man, on the other hand, is tested to see whether he complains against the ways of Hashem, and whether he attempts to obtain money through illegitimate means. That is why the Baal Haturim states that the top of the ladder - meaning money - reaches towards heaven, because money is the litmus test for determining a person’s spiritual status.

Spiritual growth

“And if I return in peace (besholom) to my father's house, and Hashem will be my G-d” (28:21)

The gemarah in Masseches Berochos (64a) says that a person taking leave of his friend says "lech lesholom”, whereas someone taking leave of a deceased person says "lech besholom”. This teaches us that lech lesholom is the appropriate phrase when addressing someone who is still alive, and can continue his activities and lech besholom should be used when taking leave of a deceased person whose activities have come to an end. Why then did Yaakov Ovinu, who was still alive, say “if I return besholom, as if he was expecting this to be his final stop.

The Arizal explains that when Yaakov was asking Hashem to be his G-d (Elokim) he was asking Him to treat him with a strict attribute of justice (symbolized by Elokim) without any admixture of mercy, just like Rabi Akiva. However, he did not make this request for an indefinite period but only for a specific limited one, namely until he would reach his father's house. Once he had done so, he would decide whether to continue to ask to be judged in this extremely demanding manner. That is why it says "and I will return besholom”. Besholom is used in the context of termination, and here too Yaakov stipulated in advance that the elevated level which he was seeking would cease when he reached his father’s house (and possibly be resumed subsequently).

This teaches us an important principle of great practical application. Whenever we wish to make progress in a certain area we should not resolve to uproot previous negative behavior permanently, but rather make a determined resolution to maintain the desired conduct for a limited period. For example, a bochur who wishes to increase his level of hasmodo should not make do with some vague resolution never to idle away his time again, but should rather take upon himself to maintain a strict learning schedule for a specific period, say three days, until he habituates himself to his new conduct.

The same applies to someone attempting to uproot a negative character trait. The main thing is to start straightaway for a three-day period, and not in three days’ time. That way his good intentions are far more likely to be crowned with success.