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.
Monday, November 19, 2012

Refusing to Rest on our Laurels

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Playing down miracles

“And these are the generations of Yitzchok the son of Avrohom; Avrohom begot Yitzchok” (25:19). Rashi: the mockers of the generation were saying that Sarah had conceived from Avimelech

If these mockers were attempting to deny any miracle, this allegation would seem to be insufficient, since even if it were true, Sarah was also far beyond childbearing age and could only have conceived with a miracle. The Brisker Rov noted that even when non-believers cannot explain away a phenomenon with natural causes they still seek to attempt to minimize the extent of a miracle, or look for "natural" explanations for supernatural events. Thus, newspaper headlines may refer to “miracles” such as numerous potentially lethal missiles causing relatively little damage and loss of life, without referring to Hashem at all.

Rav Moshe Schneider asked why this medrash quoted by Rashi refers to “mockers”. These people were seeking to uproot faith in Hashem and in miracles, so we would have expected them to be termed “wicked heretics” rather than “mockers”. He replied that this teaches us that the danger posed by those who mock and belittle talmidei chachomim or anything connected to kedusho is potentially even greater than the danger posed by outright heretics.

Real Baal Teshuva

“And Yitzchok prayed to Hashem opposite his wife, for she was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer” (25:21)

Rashi quotes the Gemara in Maseches Yevamos (64a) that Hashem listened to "his" (Yitzchok’s) prayer and not hers (Rivkah’s) “for the prayer of a righteous person who is the child of a righteous person cannot be compared to the prayer of a righteous person who is the child of an evil person.” We would have thought that someone who has overcome a negative family environment to become righteous has more merit than another person who has not had to deal with such challenges.

One explanation is that Yitzchok had to overcome a challenge of his own, namely the tendency to rely on the righteousness of his parents or his own achievements and merits.

It is related about Rav Hai Gaon that he once spent the night at an inn, hoping to remain anonymous and undisturbed, but his plans were thwarted and his identity was somehow discovered. His host then apologized to him profusely for not having treated him respectfully. Rav Hai responded: “but you did treat me with respect”, but the host insisted: "yes, but I did not accord the rov the respect due to the great Rav Hai Gaon”.

Rav Hai Gaon then noted that this episode had taught him an important lesson. He now realized that each day he should be like a different person, since the experiences of the previous day should make him achieve greater clarity in fathoming the greatness of the Creator, and his avodas Hashem should improve accordingly.

Similarly, Yitzchok did not rest on his laurels. He faced each day with renewed vigor endeavoring to reach ever higher levels of spiritual greatness and closeness to Hashem. This is in fact the definition of a true ba’al teshuva: someone who is constantly learning from his experiences or any lapses, and seeking to improve his level of avodas Hashem.

Keeping good company

“And the children struggled within her” (25:22). Rashi: When she passed by the entrances of the Torah academies of Shem and Eiver, Yaakov would run and struggle to come out; when she passed the entrance of a temple of idolatry, Eisov would run and struggle to come out

We can understand why Eisov wanted to come out, but Yaakov was being taught Torah by an angel at the time, so why would he have wanted to come out? The Brisker Rov is said to have commented that even being taught Torah by an angel is not worthwhile at the cost of having to live in close quarters with an evil person. Even though there was no obvious detrimental effect, just being in close proximity to a person like Eisov is damaging, especially for someone like Yaakov, whose image is engraved underneath the Kisei Hakavod.

Rav Sternbuch was once asked whether a child should be sent to a cheder with excellent teachers and a very high academic level, but the class in question also had some boys with bad middos, or to another institution with a much lower level of learning but in which the boys in the class did not have bad middos and came from strong homes. Rav Sternbuch instructed the parent to choose the institution with the better boys because that was the most important issue, since even a minority of children with bad middos can have a very detrimental effect on their friends.

“And the youths grew up” (25:27). Rashi: As long as they were small, they were not recognizable through their deeds, and no one scrutinized them to determine their characters. As soon as they became thirteen years old, this one parted to the houses of study, and that one parted to idol worship

Some people are not particular about the company their young children keep, or about the quality of their teachers, in the mistaken belief that at a young age children are not so vulnerable. They are making a grave mistake, because the precedent of Yaakov and Eisov teaches us that even at the youngest age a child's character is developed, even though it may not manifest itself until he becomes thirteen years old.

If a child keeps bad company, is exposed to immodesty, or is taught by teachers who do not serve as positive role models, this is absorbed by the child, even though the harmful effects may not become apparent until he grows older. Anyone who has his child's best interests in mind would do well to be aware of this and do what he can to ensure that his child is exposed to the best possible social and academic environments during his or her formative years.

real talmid chachom

“… and Eisov was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Yaakov was an innocent man (ish tom), dwelling in tents” (ibid)

Temimus in spoken Hebrew today means naïve, innocent and unsuspecting, but this can surely not be the correct translation here, because Yaakov knew how to outsmart cunning people like Lovon. The Targum Yonoson has the following rendering: “and Yaakov was a man who was perfect in his actions and studied in the houses of study of Shem and Eiver [and] sought instruction from Hashem”. This means that he sought to learn and grow in Torah and fear of heaven. Just like someone who dwells in a tent is not satisfied with his current situation and yearns for a permanent home, so too was Yaakov never satisfied with his current level but yearned for constant growth.

Yaakov’s temimus consisted in a yearning for perfection (temimus) and being honest (tomim) with oneself by realizing how far one is from completely actualizing one's potential for greatness. This is in fact the avodo of every genuine talmid chochom who lives with the awareness that however far he has come, he has not reached a level higher than that of the talmid of a chochom. Truly great people are genuinely humble because no matter how much honor they may be accorded by others for their knowledge or righteousness, they are aware of their potential for greatness on the one hand, and how far they still have to go to completely actualize it, on the other hand.

The test of prosperity

“And Yitzchok became exceedingly afraid” (27:23)

The Medrash on this possuk says that Yitzchok became afraid twice, once when he was tied up to become a sacrifice on the altar, and the second time when Eisov brought before him the tasty foods, and he realized that the recipient of his blessings had not been Eisov. The Medrash notes that the fear felt by Yitzchok on the latter occasion was greater (as it says "exceedingly afraid").

The fear felt by him at the time of the akeido may have been similar to that experienced by Sarah before she died (see last week's article), i.e. he may have been worried about whether his descendants would possess the same fortitude as him to withstand physical persecutions throughout the generations.

Yitzchok intended to bestow material blessings upon Eisov in the hope that this would be for his spiritual benefit. Upon learning that that it was Yaakov who had become the recipient of those material blessings, Yitzchok felt an exceedingly great fear, because he knew that the test of material abundance would be even greater than that of physical persecutions. He knew that it would be easier for his descendants to march to the stake or the gas chambers with joy singing shema yisroel or ani maamin than it would be to withstand the trials of material abundance.

For example, notwithstanding our enemies’ determined attempts to dehumanize us during the Second World War, the Holocaust brought out the best in most observant Jews. By contrast, as soon as they Ghetto walls were torn down and the Jews’ material situation improved rapidly even a town of the spiritual stature of Frankfurt became totally destroyed in Torah terms. The birthplace of the Chasam Sofer and many other gedolei olom did not possess a minyan by the time Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch came to rebuild the spiritual ashes just two generations later. Similarly, they say that since the Second World War, and the unparalleled prosperity and freedom for Jews that followed, about 5 million Jews have become completely assimilated in the United States.

Eternal investment

“And I will bless you for the sake of Avrohom, My servant” (26:24)

The Moshav Zekeinim wonders why the blessing is attributed to the merit of Avrohom. Surely Yitzchok himself was worthy of these blessings. He proves from this that if someone is righteous, learns Torah, and instructs his sons to learn and follow the proper path, the mitzvos performed by his descendants after his death are attributed to him as if he himself had performed them. That is why it says "for the sake of Avrohom My servant", because all the mitzvos performed by Yitzchok were performed in the wake of the education received from his father, and therefore Hashem deemed them as having been performed by Avrohom himself.

We would do well to be cognizant of this fact whenever we experience any za’ar gidul bonim. (difficulties raising children) Putting our hearts and souls into our children's education and serving as positive role models is not only an important mitzva in and of itself, but an investment bearing short-term, long-term and eternal benefits.