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 13, 2012

Live like a zaddik, don’t wait to be buried next to one

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Living martyrdom

“And Soroh died in Kiryas Arba” (23:2)

Rashi quotes the Medrash that Soroh’s soul departed after hearing that Yitzchok had been prepared for slaughter and had almost been slaughtered. Why was Soroh not relieved that in the end he did not die? Furthermore, since Chazal tell us that Soroh was even more righteous than Avrohom, why would she not have been willing to give up her son at Hashem’s request?

Our forefathers and foremothers knew that they were the pillars and prototypes for all future generations of the Jewish nation, and that their own experiences would be replicated again and again in the lives of their descendants. When Sarah heard about the Akeidah, in which two righteous and holy individuals had to endure a terribly difficult trial, she realized that, in the future, even her most righteous descendants would also have to endure extremely challenging experiences, such as the many persecutions in fact suffered by the nation over the succeeding millennia, and that not even the tears and supplications of the angels could avert these events (see Rashi on 27:1). She thus began to cry ceaselessly, wondering whether her descendants would be able to withstand such enormous tests, until her soul departed due to her great distress.

Alternatively, in the Maggid Meishorim it is recorded that the Beis Yosef, Rav Yosef Karo, was promised by the maggid (angelic teacher) that he would merit dying a martyr’s death al kiddush Hashem. Towards the end of his life, when he was already well into his 80s, the Beis Yosef expressed his surprise to the maggid that even though he had put into practice all the preparations taught by him for the purpose of meriting this form of death it had not yet happened. The maggid responded that he should not be upset since he had merited an even greater mitzvah than a martyr's death: he had dedicated himself completely day in and day out to fulfilling the Will of the Creator. Dying a martyr's death, as great a mitzvah as it is, only consists of a one-time act of self-dedication, but you, he told him, have performed endless acts of self-dedication throughout your life.

Similarly, Soroh was distressed that her son had almost been put in a situation where he would no longer be able to sanctify Hashem's name here on earth, and would consequently no longer be able to achieve a higher level than he could by being offered up on the altar.

JOY after performing mitzvos

“And Avrohom came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her (livkoso)” (ibid)

The kof in livkoso is truncated to indicate that Avrohom’s hesped was relatively subdued. Few couples in history have been as close as Avrohom and Soroh and anyway Chazal tell us that a wife dies "only for her husband”, i.e. he is the most affected by her death, so how can we understand this restraint on the part of Avrohom?

We say in birkas hashkivenu in ma’ariv: "Remove the soton from before us and from behind us." Before we do a mitzvah the yetzer horo attempts to convince us not to do it, and once we have done it, he attempts to dampen the joy and enthusiasm we are supposed to feel after performing Hashem’s Will.

Avrohom’s paramount concern in all his endeavors was to increase kvod shomayim and any personal emotions were subjected to this goal. After Soroh’s death Avrohom was worried that people would think to themselves that after displaying such unbelievable self-sacrifice during the akeido Avrohom was "rewarded" by his wife's death. If Avrohom would have given vent publicly to the real extent of his emotions after Soroh’s death during his eulogy, this might have increased the confusion people were feeling about this sad event. On the other hand, if they would witness his self-composure that would cause a great kiddush Hashem, because the listeners would realize that Avrohom’s intense joy and sense of satisfaction at having withstood the greatest of the trials had not been diminished even by Soroh’s death.

Choosing Burial plots

“Give me burial property with you” (23:4)

The Torah expounds at some length how Avrohom dedicated himself to finding an appropriate place to bury Soroh and to eulogize her in order to teach us the basic article of faith that some nitzoz ("spark") of a person’s neshomo remains with his body and his place of burial. This is the basis for the custom to pray in the vicinity of the grave of a righteous person, and beseech Hashem to answer our prayers in his merit.

 For this reason too it is forbidden to bury a righteous person next to a wicked one, and even people who were subject to different types of death penalties should not be buried next to each other, but only next to those subjected to the same type, because a person’s degree of iniquity differs as between the different types of death penalties.

Only some two weeks after Rav Sternbuch first arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa with a mission to spread Torah to a largely non-observant community back in the 1980s, he was already involved in a "scandal" that made the newspapers. Upon visiting the local cemetery he noticed to his dismay that mechalelei Shabbos (people who don't keep Shabbos) were being buried next to Shabbos observers. Rav Sternbuch naturally insisted straightaway that this blatant breach of halocho be remedied. The secular press was outraged: a new Rabbi had arrived from Israel, they said, and not only was he persecuting living members of the community, but he was pursuing them to their very graves! Rav Sternbuch responded calmly by calling a meeting at his house the following Sunday. The meeting was packed.

Rav Sternbuch said that once the members of the community will be called before the heavenly court and asked why they did not keep Shabbos in South Africa, and they will argue in their defense that it was just too difficult for them, the prosecuting counsel will note that their “neighbor” in the adjacent grave who had lived in the same place and faced the same challenges had nevertheless managed to keep Shabbos. This counter-argument will surely remain unanswered. I have come here to try to help you, concluded Rav Sternbuch, and in response you tell me that I'm persecuting you!

Those attending this meeting were convinced by the force of this argument, and in fact the head of the chevra kadisha (himself a mechalel Shabbos befarhesi’a unfortunately) came up to Rav Sternbuch straight away and told him that he now understood what this was all about and insisted that when the time came he should be buried next to fellow mechalelei Shabbos rather than the "frummies”, and others joined him in his request.

Nowadays you come across wealthy people who pay extravagant sums during their lifetime to buy burial plots in the vicinity of gedolim and zaddikim in the hope that this will be for the benefit of their souls after they die, but in reality it is likely to be for their detriment, because they are presumably far removed from the levels achieved by these people, and it is a halocho leMoshe miSinai that only people who we were on similar spiritual levels during their lifetime should be buried next to each other. Burial societies who observe halocho properly are very particular about this.

“She ...will be the one whom you have determined for your servant, Yitzchok” (24:14)

            The Torah expounds at great length how Eliezer searched for and found a wife for Yitzchok in order to emphasize the Divine Providence which is prevalent in all aspects of our daily lives, but most obviously evident in the sphere of shidduchim. In fact the Chazon Ish said this was one of the last remaining areas in which ordinary people experience revealed Divine Providence.

            For example, a shidduch that seems perfect does not materialize, or someone with all the right qualities for marriage finds it difficult to find his or her partner, in contrast to others lacking such qualities who have a much easier time. The Brisker Rov once noted that our human efforts put into finding a partner do not always seem to bear fruit, and are only designed to reassure ourselves that we are doing something, whereas the real zivug (divinely ordained marriage partner) appears like a lost object at the appropriate time.

            On the other hand, the Brisker Rov also noted that Eliezer did not rely on the miracles he experienced on the way, such as a kefitzas haderech, in order to determine whether this was indeed Yitzhok’s zivug. Instead, he made a point of examining thoroughly whether Rivka’s acts of chesed and her character traits and yirash shomayim were on a sufficiently high level for his master’s son. We too must surely examine the midos of any potential girl as much as possible. The Chazon Ish told Rav Sternbuch that the main quality to look for in a girl is that she should be easy going and not stubborn, since such a character trait can cause a marriage to fail. This may be due to the fact that stubbornness stems from pride, and a proud girl may wish to stand out and prove herself, and such characteristics obviously do not make for a good wife.

Satisfied with our lot

“And Hashem blessed Avrohom with everything” (24:1)

Being in possession of many assets is not usually the source of blessing for a person, since he is so busy looking after his property and businesses that he has no peace of mind and is also constantly striving to become even wealthier. Avrohom, on the other hand, was blessed with everything that he had, because he felt Hashem's blessing in his property and that he lacked nothing.

In a similar vein, the Shlo Hakodosh explains that it says "and they who seek Hashem shall not want any good” as opposed to "they shall have all the good", because the promise for the righteous is not that they shall not lack any material possessions, but only that they will be blessed by Hashem and not feel that they lack anything, irrespective of their actual material situation.