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.
Thursday, December 27, 2012


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Assessing damages

“And Judah approached him and said, "Please, my lord” (44:18) Bereishis Rabbo: "Rabi Simon said: "In our laws it says: ‘If he has nothing, he shall be sold for his theft’, but this one [Binyomin] has something to pay”.

We can understand this medrash in light of a dispute between the acharonim (later commentators) regarding someone who damages an object which has market value and also a higher value to its owner based on his specific situation. For example, the market value of a used item of clothing may be very low, but its owner would be willing to pay more for it than the market value, because it fits him well or he is used to it etc. How much is the damaging party liable to pay - the market value or the subjective value of the damaged item for its owner?

The Nesivos states that even if the object is worth a lot to the damaged party, the damaging party is not liable to pay more than the market value, but the Chazon Ish disagrees and holds that the subjective value of the item for its owner is the determining factor whenever a bais din decides how much damages to award to the damaged party. The prevalent custom adopted by botei din is to adopt the approach of the Chazon Ish (although only a quantifiable monetary value for the owner is taken into account, and not some sentimental value, e.g. one stemming from the fact that the owner had received the item as an inheritance from his ancestors).

Yehuda admitted that for Yosef himself the cup was worth a lot because he practiced divination with it, but its real market value was no more than that for a standard cup, and that he was willing to pay. Moreover, he was in possession of the cup itself, so that there was no need at all to sell the thief into slavery according to our laws. Yosef’s entourage, on the other hand, responded that the cup had immense value for their master because he used that cup specifically for his divination purposes.

Moreover, they may also have argued that it only had the ability to serve as a tool of divination as long as it was in Yosef’s possession, but as soon as it had been stolen and transferred to the thief’s possession it lost this ability, so that the value of the cup - which had been enormous hitherto - had depreciated incalculably as a result of the theft, and only by serving as a slave for an extended period could the thief compensate for the loss he had caused.

The language of emotion

“Let your servant speak a word in my master’s ears” (ibid) Rashi: "may my words penetrate your ears”.

The Brisker Rov zt”l related that before the war the Polish government enacted a decree requiring everybody to learn Polish and mathematics. The rabbonim considered this to be a grave interference by the government with their internal affairs, and convened a meeting which was attended by many rabbonim and admorim in order to discuss ways to abolish this decree. The rabbonim decided that the best way to proceed would be to send a delegation of gedolei yisroel to the Minister of Education and explain to him why this matter was of such deep concern to them. None of the rabbonim spoke Polish except for one rov, and it was proposed to send him as a spokesman. However, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l opposed this, arguing that the authorities would be likely to respond: "You see, you can produce enlightened Polish-speaking rabbis, so why are you opposed to our new law?”

Instead, the Chofetz Chaim, who like all the others only spoke Yiddish, offered to be the spokesman himself. When he appeared for the interview with the Minister, he started to speak in Yiddish but quickly burst into uncontrollable tears. Although he did not understand a word of what the Chofetz Chaim was saying, the Minister was much moved. He said that he had not realized that this issue was so important for the rabbis, and assured them that he would issue instructions for the decree to be abolished.

Similarly, Yehuda thought that Yosef did not speak Hebrew, but he decided to speak it nevertheless in the hope that his words would penetrate Yosef’s ears and heart.

Keeping Loshon hakodesh holy

“And behold, your eyes see… that it is my mouth speaking to you” (45:12) Rashi: "in the holy tongue”.

The Chasam Sofer explains that Yosef wanted to convince his brothers that he had remained faithful to his religion. That is what Yosef wanted to express to them by telling them that he was still speaking Hebrew. He was emphasizing that he was still adhering to the holy way of life of the forefathers and he wanted his brothers to make their father happy by conveying this to him. Loshon hakodesh is not merely a language, but a symbol of sanctity. When the Jews were exiled to Bovel, they started speaking the local language, Assyrian, since they realized that their spiritual level had declined to the extent that it would no longer be appropriate to speak loshon hakodesh.

Until recent generations loshon hakodesh retained its quality as a language which was deemed worthy to be used only by someone on a sufficiently high level, and people were also aware of the special sanctity of Eretz Yisroel and our concomitant responsibility to behave accordingly in the eretz hakodesh. Using loshon hakodesh to speak loshon horo or other forbidden matters was unthinkable, especially not in Eretz Yisroel. However, as part of their program of "normalizing" our nation and secularizing holy concepts in order to advance their agenda, our erring brothers chose loshon hakodesh as their vernacular. This has had the tragic result that apart from the “hijacking” of holy words and concepts (such as “mishkan haknesset”) ivrit is not only used to articulate loshon horo, but also contains coarse or brazen terminology.


“I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up, and Yosef will place his hand on your eyes.” (46:4)

The same Hashem who took us down to Egypt also took us out of it and gave us the Torah. Life often seems like one big mystery. Why do the righteous suffer? Why do some people suffer from poverty, health problems etc. when less righteous people seem to have less problems?

Yosef did indeed place his hands on his eyes. He asked no questions. Instead of becoming embittered at his fate, or bearing a grudge against his brothers, he went out of his way to assure them that everything had turned out for the good and that they should not be upset. Hashem wants all of us to place our hands on our eyes and trust that He knows what is best for us even if cannot understand it. We will be rewarded for our faith and patience when all the intricacies of the divine plan will be revealed in the future.

Yaakov and yosef

“And Yosef harnessed his chariot, and he went up to meet Yisroel his father, to Goshen, and he appeared to him, and he fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck for a long time.” (46:29). Rashi: Yosef presented himself to his father.

We can easily imagine how happy Yosef must have been upon finally meeting his father, and yet he was even happier at the joy experienced by his father after all the sorrow he had to endure thinking that his son had died. Yosef “presented himself to his father”: he put his own personal joy aside in order to concentrate on increasing his father's pleasure as much as possible. This teaches us that in order to perform the mitzvah of kibud av vo’em properly, we not only have to honor and assist our parents, but also to feel joy at their happiness, thereby proving how important they are in our eyes.

Rashi tells us that Yaakov, for his part, neither fell on Yosef’s neck nor kissed him since he was busy reciting Shema. By accepting Hashem's unity upon himself at the hour of his greatest joy, Yaakov was emphasizing that nothing is of any value or importance compared to the paramount principle of Hashem's unity. At the same time, Yosef became so moved at the sight of his father, who, due to his great holiness, was not willing to enjoy the sight of his son before mentioning Hashem's name and His unity that he wept on his father's neck "for a long time". He cried, firstly, because such a righteous person, who lived in accordance with an absolute set of priorities, had suffered so much, and, secondly, because his father's awe-inspiring conduct made him regret not having had the merit of being in the vicinity of such a great person for so many years and this stirred up his yearning be in his vicinity once again.


“So that you may dwell in the land of Goshen” (46:34)

Despite their yearning to be with each other after all these years, Yaakov and Yosef decided that it would be best for Yaakov and his descendants to live far away in Goshen as outcasts in the company of shepherds, even though this meant that Yaakov and Yosef would not see each other again until just before Yaakov's death. Yaakov and his sons could easily have lived comfortably in the city next to Yosef, but decided instead to say that they were shepherds, who were hated by the Egyptians. Yaakov reasoned that the only way he could be saved from the tumoh of Egypt was by secluding himself in Goshen and learning Torah day and night.

The Rambam talks about the powerful influence of the environment, and we too should not underestimate its pull. The precedent of Yaakov demonstrates how important it is for us to get our priorities right and live in the vicinity of religious people rather than living a life of luxury amongst non-Jews or Jews who do not share our values or lifestyle.

Religious dispensation

“Only the land of the priests he did not buy” (47:22)

As steeped as the Egyptians were in immorality and idol worship they still understood that people who dedicated their lives to a religious purpose had a different status to other people and must be left to lead their lives undisturbed. Even during the period of the harshest decrees against the Jews during our exile in Egypt, the Levi’im, who made up about 10% of the population were exempted from slavery, in their capacity as religious ministers.

How tragic it is that in Eretz Yisroel, of all places, some of our brethren still have to come to the realization that by encroaching on the inviolable status of bnei Torah they are only shooting themselves in the leg, because any material success which they enjoy is due to the merits created by those very same people whose way of life they completely fail to understand.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fearless Leadership

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

bayomim hohem bazman haze

At the beginning of World War II there was a very real threat that the Germans would invade England just like they had already managed to overrun most of continental Western Europe. Against this background, the English government decided that every able-bodied male without exception had to be recruited to the army or sent to work to contribute to the war effort. This applied especially to foreign nationals, such as the Polish Jewish refugees.

One day a government official appeared at Rav Schneider’s yeshiva in London and informed the Rosh Yeshiva of the new regulations. Rav Schneider responded by saying that he could not agree to comply with it. The official pointed out that this was no laughing matter and that it would not be possible to circumvent the new requirements which were essential in light of the serious security situation.

At a meeting with Chief Rabbi Hertz the following day Rabbi Hertz told the Rosh Yeshiva that if he would agree to three boys joining the army he would use his connections with the government to obtain an exemption for all the other boys in the yeshiva. Rav Schneider was not tempted by this proposal and responded that he could not agree to even one boy being sent to the army or to work. The Chief Rabbi responded that he was not being realistic.

The committee in charge of implementing the new regulations heard about Rav Schneider’s attitude and decided that he would have to be expelled from London (they would have deported him altogether from the country had the political situation allowed them to do so). Since any further dialogue with Rav Schneider was deemed to be pointless, they decided to approach the students of the yeshiva directly.

The first interviewee was a Polish refugee. "Are you aware of the fact that there's a good chance that your parents may not survive this war?” was the first question posed by the committee member.


"Do you realize that if you join the army that would increase the chances of the chances of your parents remaining alive?” the official tried again.

“I believe that by learning Torah here in this institution I am protecting my parents by increasing their merits and helping them to remain alive”, the talmid responded undaunted.

The official started showing some signs of frustration, but persevered.

"Well, let's face it, if your parents won’t survive this war, you will be left here all alone with no one to support you. How are you going to make a living? Surely it would make sense for you to join one of our factories. That way you could support yourself. What do you say?

“I say that by learning Torah I am helping myself to make a living!”

By this stage the official no longer attempted to hide his frustration, but he was not one to give in easily. He tried once more:

“Let's say that you are entitled to hold on to your idiosyncratic views, but what if everybody shared your opinion? Who would fight our wars and how would anyone make a living, in fact, how could we run this country at all?”

The bochur was not taken aback and replied calmly: “There was such a period during our time in the wilderness. Nobody worked, and the whole nation was sustained by manna from Heaven. G-d is perfectly capable of sustaining me in any way he deems fit. As for your question about fighting wars and national economies, this does not worry me. There will never be a shortage of people willing and able to work and fight wars”.

It was now becoming clear that no further progress could be made with this particular boy, and so they called in the next interviewee.

“You heard your friend, what do you have to say for yourself?”

"I agree with every word he said”.

The official had had enough. "You’re all barmy [British slang equivalent of "nuts"]!” he exclaimed irately and left the room unceremoniously.

The following day Rav Schneider ordained a fast in the yeshiva. Everybody was convinced that Rav Schneider would indeed be expelled from London, and that the yeshiva would have to close down since all the boys would either be recruited to the army or sent to work. However, against all the odds, it was announced that all the students would be exempt from the army or from going to work, since they were all mentally imbalanced, and Rav Schneider could remain with them as the head of this "lunatic asylum"! That was how Yeshivas Toras Emes continued to function throughout the war undisturbed.

The lesson to be derived from this surrealistic series of events is obvious. If we remain steadfast to our principles, Hashem will help. In the time of Chanuka the many were delivered into the hands of the few, and the same has happened throughout history whenever we have adhered strictly to the Torah. During the time of the Greeks many of our coreligionists argued that it made sense to reach some compromise with the Greeks. After all, they were not interested in our physical destruction, and were in fact full of admiration for those rational principles and laws in the Torah, which accorded with their sense of reason and aesthetics. "Let’s not antagonize them, we are a small defenseless minority, surely we can agree to meet some of their demands”, argued the Jewish "pragmatists".

Similar “pragmatic” arguments can be heard nowadays with regard to the army issue.

It is only because of the wishy-washy approach adopted by some circles that we are currently facing problems. The legal situation of the Arab Moslem minority is identical to that of yeshiva bochurim. In theory they are also subject to the draft, and yet no one dreams of implementing this dead letter of the law, because of the resistance they would meet should they ever attempt to do so. Imagine the uproar if some Arabs would be "drafted" and subjected to the same procedures that yeshiva bochurim are currently experiencing at recruitment offices.

The truth is that even the original situation was nothing short of miraculous. Ben-Gurion only agreed to the deferment of the small handful of yeshiva students at the time after being convinced that they would be no more than a “museum” commemorating the Torah world of pre-war Europe. "These people contributed nothing before the war, and will die out very quickly anyway", he reasoned. Towards the end of his life he commented that this step had been the worst mistake of his life, because so far from dying out their numbers had only increased to an extent not imagined by anybody at the time, and, as we know, our numbers have continued to increase since his death. We must not lose heart and learn from history not to waiver from our resolute approach. If we remain consistent and resolute Hashem will protect us and our erring brethren will leave us alone.

Leadership qualities

“And they called out before him, "[This is] the king's patron [avrech]" appointing him over the entire land of Egypt” (41:43) Rashi: Rabi Yehuda expounded: avrech refers to Yoseph, who was a father [ov] in wisdom, and tender [rach] in years. Rabi Yossi ben Durmaskit said to him… avrech is only a term denoting knees [birkayim], for all would enter and exit under his hand”

Rabi Yehuda is of the opinion that if a leader is seen to be wise that is sufficient even if he is young, because he will be respected just for his wisdom. Rabi Yossi ben Durmaskit, on the other hand, responds that wisdom on its own is not sufficient for leadership purposes, and only if a leader is also strong-minded and sticks to his principles will he be respected and obeyed.

Yosef was great in wisdom, but he also stubbornly refused to diverge from his religious principles even one iota and led the nation in accordance with his plan without vacillating. Such are the qualities of a genuine leader.

A talmid chachom too must not be swayed by public opinion and fearlessly maintain strict halachik standards. When choosing a rov or leader it is of course preferable to look for a big talmid chachom, but he must also possess the ability of getting his congregants to become subservient to him. That is an indispensable requirement for any true Jewish leader, because only persons with a forceful character are capable of ignoring public opinion. Such people will enjoy success and siyata dishmaya.

living in the present

“Yosef named the first-born, Menasheh, "For G-d has made me forget all my trouble, and all my father's house” (41:51)

We would think that Yosef’s father's house should have been in his mind constantly. Why did Yosef praise Hashem for making him forget his father's house and commemorate this fact in his son's name?

The Netziv says that had Yosef not forgotten his father's house he would have constantly had yearnings for his father and would not have been able to lead the nation properly. In a similar vein, the Brisker Rov explains an enigmatic gemoro which states: "what should a person do who wants to live, let him kill himself” (Masseches Tomid 30a) as follows: if a person is suffering from painful experiences in the past or present he must overcome his emotions ("kill" them) and be ruled just by his mind in order to live joyfully in the present. The Brisker Rov himself lost his wife and three children in the Holocaust and had to witness the anti-religious activities in Eretz Yisroel in the years following the founding of the Jewish state. It was extremely difficult for anyone with emotion to live through those years. This gemoro addresses those who have suffered from painful events and encourages them to refuse to succumb to feelings of despondency or despair.

We find that the same Amora Rabi Yochonon, who lost ten sons during his lifetime and comforted and inspired others with his heroic reaction to misfortune, stated that although he wanted to witness the coming of moshiach, he was unwilling to bear the birth pangs preceding his coming. How could it be that someone who had faced the death of ten of his own children with such fortitude would be afraid of this period? Rav Elya Lopian zt”l answers that Rabi Yochonon was aware of his own character and knew that he would not be able to endure the terrible chilul Hashem when so many of Hashem's nation would be slaughtered, and to subsequently have to witness the deeds of erring brethren in His country.

Yosef realized throughout all those years in Egypt how much his father must be suffering, but instead of dwelling on that and on his own anguish at being forcibly separated from his home, and from the lifestyle of a nozir for which his father had groomed him, he chose to overcome his feelings, knowing that he had to fulfill Paroh’s dream and bring all his family to Egypt, in order to initiate the beginning of the Egyptian exile that was to lead eventually to the giving of the Torah and the conquest of Eretz Yisroel. With this attitude he managed to lead the Egyptian nation successfully with wisdom. He would not let his spirits fall, and in gratitude to Hashem for this called his son Menashe in the hope that he would continue to be able to forget his father's house for the time being, and perform the tasks which Hashem expected him to fulfill until the opportunity would present itself to meet his father again.

On a related note, any baal teshuva who wants to succeed must first completely forget his past, and think only about the future and building up a Jewish home full of Torah and mitzvos, because thinking about past misdemeanors would make it very difficult for him to live joyfully in the present. Part of the mitzvah of teshuva consists in forgetting about the past and living exclusively in the present. Only subsequently, once he has become totally accustomed to living a Torah lifestyle, should he contemplate gradually atoning for past transgressions.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Kibud Av

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“And Yaakov dwelt” (37:1); Rashi: When Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility, the troubles of Yoseph sprang upon him. The righteous seek to dwell in tranquility. Hashem said, “What is prepared for the righteous in the world to come is not sufficient for them, but they seek also to dwell in tranquility in this world!”

Yaakov had already endured much suffering by this stage: he had, among other things, spent twenty years with the fraudster Lovon, met Eisov accompanied by 400 men, and struggled with the angel. His desire for tranquility in his old age would seem to be understandable and justified. Why, then, was it held out against him?

Each of the ovos (patriarchs) transmitted their specific qualities for all future generations. Avrohom transmitted the quality of chesed, Yitzchok that of gevuro (mastery of emotions) and Yaakov excelled in emes. Part of Yaakov’s task was to sow the seeds of fortitude for his descendants, who were destined to be faced with trying circumstances during prolonged periods of golus. Trials are the main source and catalyst of a person’s spiritual elevation and Hashem was telling Yaakov that his task was to continue to serve Him by overcoming tribulations thus setting a precedent for his descendants and giving them the strength to follow his example.

A bochur once came to Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l to ask for a brocho before his wedding. Rav Schneider asked him what brocho he wanted. The boy responded that he would like a blessing that everything should go smoothly in his life, and that he should have no difficulties. Rav Schneider said that that was no brocho, and blessed him instead that when he would be faced with challenging situations, he should overcome them successfully, adding that living a tranquil existence is not an ideal. Something attained effortlessly has little value, and it is by surmounting difficulties that we achieve success.


“…in the land of his father's sojournings” (ibid)

Chazal derive from this phrase that Yitzchok had been responsible for producing converts. We know that Avrohom, who epitomized the trait of chesed, brought many people closer to Hashem, but our image of Yitzchok is that of a holy self-contained individual, so how are we to understand this statement of Chazal?

Rav Schneider noted that there are two types of righteous individuals. Some, like Avrohom, actively engage in various public activities to disseminate yiddishkeit, whereas others, like Yitzchok, have an influence by virtue of their avodoh performed with dedication and self-sacrifice. Yitzchok, unlike his father, did not travel from place to place and actively spread the Word of Hashem, but he still managed to create converts, because his very avodoh exuded holiness and truth and had an immense influence on those who witnessed it.

Some situations call for tzaddikim who actively seek to influence their fellow Jews. Rav Moshe Schneider would recall the time when he was living in Memel, a town on the border between Germany and Lithuania, in which the haskolo had created an almost complete spiritual wilderness. There was, however, one exceptional individual who was a true tzaddik nistar (concealed righteous individual). On one occasion, Rav Schneider told the son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Hirsch Levinson, who was visiting Memel, about this tzaddik. After he met him, Rav Levinson commented to Rav Schneider that this man was certainly a great tzaddik, but Memel needed tzaddikim geluyim (revealed righteous individuals) to stem the anti-religious tide and not tzaddikim of this kind who had no influence on the population, and you must be that tzaddik, Rav Hirsch Levinson told Rav Schneider in conclusion! Rav Schneider in fact went on to found a yeshiva there, and was very successful in spreading yiddishkeit.

A time to conceal, and a time to publiciZe

“And Reuven heard, and he saved him from their hand” (37:21)

The medrash says that if Reuven would have known that the Torah would write this about him he would have brought Yosef to his father on his shoulders.

It is obvious that Reuven was not interested in having his actions publicized. Not only is the desire for honor improper, but – as noted by Rav Chaim Volozhiner zt”l – since honor is a spiritual pleasure it comes at the expense of reward in the afterlife. It is therefore in the interest of anybody who performs a good deed to make sure that as few people as possible know about it.

Here Reuven, for his part, would surely have wanted to conceal his actions, which in any case he considered to be of no great significance but merely the performance of an elementary obligation incumbent on him, but it was Hashem who wanted to publicize the fact that Reuven instead of keeping quiet begged his brothers not to leave Yosef in the pit so that he should remain alive and be returned to his father.

The medrash is telling us that had Reuven known that his action was so important that even his act of speech was considered tantamount to actually saving Yosef from his brothers, he would have taken more active steps in public to save Yosef so that his actions would be publicized and create an even greater kiddush Hashem.

Rav Schneider added in the name of the Chofetz Chaim that although we are warned against seeking honor, sometimes we should make a point of publicizing our actions and acting with alacrity if others will learn from us. If our intentions are for the sake of heaven, then acting this way is a great mitzvah.

The Draft

“And Yehudo said to his brothers, "What is the gain [beza] if we slay our brother and cover up his blood?” (37:26)

Yehuda made a compromise (beza has the same root as bizua - a compromise). Instead of saving Yosef altogether by taking him back to his father, he compromised by convincing his brothers not to kill him, but rather sell him to the Yishme’elim (see Masseches Sanhedrin 6b and Rashi there). By doing so the gemara states (ibid) that Yehuda is considered to have despised Hashem.

Compromises are forbidden. For example, some people are currently looking for compromises to resolve the issue of drafting yeshiva bochurim. We believe with complete faith that we can stand up to the nations of the world only with the help of Hashem and in the merit of the Torah. If we abandon the Torah, or if there is any interruption or attenuation in our learning, this exposes us to great danger. If we remain strong instead of looking for compromises, Hashem will surely find a solution to this issue.


“And he returned to his brothers and said, "The boy is gone and I where will I go?” (37:30)

The medrash says that Reuven was concerned about the incident with Bilhah. Why does the medrash make this connection? 

Although the gemara says that the sin of chilul Hashem cannot be atoned for even through suffering, but only through death, Rabbeinu Yonah writes that there is a way to make amends for this sin, namely by creating a kiddush Hashem by drawing people closer to avodas Hashem.

In the incident with Bilhah Reuven had reasoned that even if Rochel was to have precedence over his mother Leah, this should not apply to Rochel's maidservant. Reuven’s mistake lay in failing to treat his father like a king, whose every word is accepted as being correct, even if he did not understand the reason for it. He had not honored his father sufficiently, and now wanted to return Yoseph to his father, thereby making amends for the previous transgression of kibud av. Therefore, when he came back and saw that the boy was no longer there, he was distraught, wondering how he could now atone for his previous sin.

Kibud av

“A wild beast has devoured him” (37:33)

Rashi cites the medrash that Hashem did not want to reveal the truth to Yaakov because the brothers had excommunicated and cursed anyone who would reveal the truth, and Yitzchok knew that he was alive but said, “How can I reveal it if Hashem does not wish to reveal it to him?” Why did the brothers cause their father so much distress by not revealing the truth when they could have informed their father that Yosef was still alive?

It is a general principle that Hashem does not punish a person if this causes suffering to others such as his family members, unless they also deserve to be punished. Therefore, the tribes assumed that Yaakov, who like Rabi Akiva, had asked to be judged in accordance with the strict attribute of justice, needed to atone for something, and they decided that the years of suffering which their father would have to endure would serve as an atonement for the years in which he had not sufficiently observed kibud av when he was far away from his father. Twenty years of severe emotional suffering were needed to atone for a slight defect in kibud av! This demonstrates how careful we have to be in our observance of this mitzvah.


“He refused to be consoled” (37:35)

It seems surprising that Yaakov who had already suffered so much in his private life refused to be consoled for this particular misfortune. Chazal’s statement cited by Rashi that “no one accepts consolation for a person who is really alive but believed to be dead” explains why those who tried to console them were not successful, but it is does explain why he refused to be consoled, which implies that he was not even interested in hearing words of consolation. This seems to run counter to the prohibition against mourning a dead person too much.

Yaakov ovinu was not only mourning the fact that his son was no longer with him, but he felt that it was also an irreplaceable loss for the entire nation, because he had educated Yosef to serve as an example for his descendants how to lead a life of holiness even in the most immoral surroundings. In addition to the decline in the spiritual level of the nation that would now ensue, Yaakov also bewailed the chilul Hashem resulting from the fact that a righteous person of the stature of Yosef had met a cruel death in the process of observing the mitzvah of kibud av. Such a terrible event would be likely to shake people's faith.

 Just like we are forbidden to divert our attention completely from the mourning for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh, so too Yaakov felt that he could not divert his attention from this mourning for spiritual destruction and the chilul Hashem that resulted from his personal tragedy. If we make a point of remembering and mourning the absence of kedusho in today's world, this will serve as an impetus for us to attempt to increase kedusho.

Our relationship with Gentiles

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“Yaakov sent angels ahead of him to Eisov” (32:4)

When Rav Sternbuch was a child his father asked him why Yaakov had to send real angels. Why could he not have sent ordinary people? Rav Sternbuch responded that had he done so Eisov would have killed them, but his father explained that since Yaakov had sent presents to Eisov he would be likely to think that Yaakov had become like him, steeped in the affairs of this world, and Yaakov therefore sent angels to indicate that he was still exclusively focused on spiritual issues and uninterested in worldly affairs.

600,000 angels had been dispatched by Yaakov. These were beings that Yaakov himself had created as a result of all his Torah, mitzvos and good deeds. Each mitzvah performed by a yid creates an angel which acts as his defense counsel whose importance and power depends on the concentration, dedication and joy with which the person’s deeds are performed. However, Eisov remained unmoved. Having been educated in the house of Yitzchok and Rivka he knew all about the world to come, but his intense craving for "cash" here and now, for fulfilling all his material desires in this world, almost completely clouded over his intellectual knowledge. In any case, upon being faced with all these important angels, Eisov realized that Yaakov had remained the same righteous person who was totally immersed in spiritual matters.

No compromises

“I have sojourned” (32:5) Rashi: "I lived with the wicked Lovon but still kept the 613 commandments and did not learn from his wicked deeds”

Yaakov was telling Eisov that even though he was willing to compromise in gashmiyus and send him lots of presents, he should not think that in matters of ruchniyus there was any room for compromise. Even in the hostile environment of Lovon’s house he had not given up even one mitzvah.

Alternatively, Eisov initially thought it was difficult to observe the Torah and therefore had not been that interested in Yitzhock’s blessings, but upon seeing the presents and how Yaakov was benefiting from both worlds Yaakov was worried that he would become jealous of him. He therefore emphasized that he had lived with Lovon and had had a very difficult time observing the 613 commandments there. That way he hoped to prevent Eisov from becoming jealous.


“He divided the people who were with him… into two camps” (32:8)

Yaakov Ovinu prepared himself with presents, prayer and war and the Medrash says that each camp prayed for itself. Yaakov did not want everybody to rely on all the people accompanying him. He therefore divided up the people into two smaller camps so that each camp would pray and cry out to Hashem to save them as if they were the only camp. Being relatively small in number, their prayers would be more likely to be sincere and heartfelt instead of relying on their own prowess.

In the recent war in Gaza more than 1000 missiles were fired at us causing relatively few casualties or damage. Hashem was testing us to see firstly whether we put our faith into our strengths and wisdom and in the “Iron Dome” system or whether we rely totally on Him, and secondly, whether we react with appropriate gratitude for His protection over the nation now that the war is over.

Our enemy wants to lose

“He said, "I will not let you go unless you have blessed me” (32:27)

Chazal (Masseches Chulin 91b) say that the angel told Yaakov that from the day that he had been created his time had not come to sing a song of praise until now.

The Chebiner Rov, Rav Dov Berish Weidenfeld zt”l explained that although the yetzer horo’s task is to lead us astray, since he is an angelic being who knows the truth he is happy when we overcome him. Therefore, when he saw that he was unable to overcome Yaakov, neither in his pose as a talmid chachom nor in his pose as a Gentile, he was happy and asked to be released, because now for the first time, the time had come for him to sing Hashem’s praises: in other words, there had been no more appropriate time for him to be happy and sing than now when Yaakov had overcome him.

Yaakov replied that he would not release him until he had blessed them: in other words until he had confessed that Yaakov had managed to overcome him, and that the yetzer horo no longer had any power over him. Even if we cannot emulate this completely, it remains our task to attempt to vanquish the yetzer horo to the best of our ability, thereby causing our "enemy" ultimate joy and satisfaction.


“And he fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (33:4). Rashi: Rabi Shimon ben Yochai said: It is a well known principle [halocho] that Eisov hates Yaakov, but his compassion was moved at that time, and he kissed him wholeheartedly

Rav Menachem Zemba zt”l hy”d comments that Rabi Shimon is the one who is usually doresh ta’ama dikro (derives practical conclusions from rational reasons for commandments) but in this case he emphasizes that the phenomenon of anti-Semitism is an irrational halocho. How else can we explain the fact that the Jews are accused of being socialists on the one hand and capitalists on the other hand, of being rich and successful but simultaneously also poor and lazy and a burden on the state?

The maskilim ("enlightened ones who wanted the Jews to integrate more into secular society) argued that if we changed our external appearance and adopted the positive aspects of our host culture the Gentiles’ animosity towards us would disappear. This argument was conclusively debunked when Germany, the cradle of haskolo (the Jewish Enlightenment movement) and assimilation, became the source of unparalleled cruelty, destruction and annihilation during World War II.

The Kloisenburger Rebbe zt”l, a Holocaust survivor, asked why Yaakov’s sons insisted that all the male inhabitants of Shchem circumcise themselves in the parsha of Dinoh. On a plain level this was to serve as proof of their sincerity, but the Rebbe suggested a different reason. Had Yaakov’s sons subsequently committed an act of "mass murder" on the uncircumcised population the whole world would have been in uproar, but now that they were circumcised the surrounding nations would consider them to be Jewish, and the murder of Jews is something that can be committed with impunity. Similarly, concluded the Rebbe, the Germans and their henchmen, could never have got away with killing six million Gentiles.

Our erring brethren were and remain unaware that, as noted by the Medrash Hagodol Eisov’s hatred towards Yaakov was created by Hashem for our benefit to prevent our assimilating amongst the nations and remaining a holy nation. No amount of public relations can change this fact and the genuine response to anti-Semitism lies in increased observance of Torah and mitzvos.