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.
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.