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.
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.


Maria said...

But the other yeshivos in England (Gateshead, Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester and Etz Chaim) also kept functioning during WW2, as did the United Synagogue's Jews College. So this story is not historically accurate, though it is probably based on a real event. It certainly shows the attitude and strong of Harav Hatzaddik Rav Moshe Schneider