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, January 24, 2013

Wake-up Calls

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“And so that you may relate in the ears of your son and grandson how I made a mockery of the Egyptians” (10:2)

Paroh made himself into a laughingstock amongst the members of his own nation by shouting "Hashem is the righteous one and I and the nation are wicked” one moment, and then, as soon as the plague stopped declaring: "Who is Hashem that I should listen to him?"

Similarly, in times of distress, or on occasions such as Yom Kippur, we are quick to pray with great sincerity to Hashem, making all sorts of vows if we are saved from our woes, and then, once they disappear, forgetting about the vows, or diluting them with various rationalizations. Even if we stick to our promises, we tend to go back to our daily routine as if nothing has happened, until the next misfortune strikes rachmono litzlon, and so on and so forth in a never-ending cycle.

The Torah tells us that we have a duty to tell our children about this fickleness on the part of Paroh and to stress to them the importance of making fundamental and lasting changes in our lives following divine wake-up calls, lest we become guilty of the same pattern of behavior as Paroh.


“There was total darkness in the entire land of Egypt” (10:22)              

                Rashi at the beginning of parashas Beshalach (13:18) says that 4/5 of the Jews died during the three days of darkness. Since 600,000 men left Egypt, this means that 2 million Jews died during the plague of darkness, and this figure does not include women and children, so that an estimated 10 million people died altogether. 

                How could so many yidden have failed to reach the required spiritual levels after having witnessed eight unprecedented supernatural plagues during which the Egyptians received so much retribution? One would have thought that these must have made a profound impression on them.

                In a period of open miracles Hashem demands much more from us. The people who died were not outright heretical resho’im, but they failed to sufficiently internalize Hashem’s Providence, so that in light of the miracles they had experienced they were judged strictly and found worthy of being punished.

                By contrast, in periods when Hashem’s Providence is less apparent and the wicked appear to flourish, the reward for those who remain strong in their faith is multiplied manifold. The Arizal states that during such periods of hester ponim levels of avodas Hashem, which in previous generations could only be attained with great effort, can be attained much more easily.

                Chazal tell us that in the future and final redemption, we will experience miracles surpassing even those we experienced in Egypt. Hence, people assume that even completely wicked people will repent during that time. However, the Brisker Rov zt”l told Rav Sternbuch this is not the case, and only those who constantly contemplate the wonders of Hashem now will be able to recognize then that He is the Creator, because the evil inclination acts in tandem with the miracles, and it requires effort on our part to overcome it.            

Spiritual treasure
“Speak, please in the ears of the people, and let each man borrow from his friend” (11:2). Rashi:  I ask you to warn them about this, so that the righteous man, Avrohom, will not say He fulfilled His promise “and they will enslave them and oppress them”, but He did not fulfill with regard to them “afterwards they will go forth with great possessions”.

                This chazal quoted by Rashi is difficult to understand. If Hashem promised Avrohom that they will go forth with great possessions then surely He would keep this promise irrespective of what Avrohom will say.

                "Great possessions" in the plain sense refers to material wealth, but, in truth, material possessions are not a blessing, but the reverse, as Moshe told Hashem: "because of the gold and silver which you heaped upon them, they made the Golden Calf” (see Masseches Berochos 5b). Hashem, to Whom everything is revealed, was going to give them a great spiritual treasure instead, namely the Torah and mitzvos, which are of eternal value, but so that Avrohom and his followers would not say that Hashem did not literally fulfill His promise that they will go forth with great possessions, Hashem said that each man should borrow gold and silver from his Egyptian neighbor, so that His promise would also be fulfilled in the literal sense.

discrediting the righteous

“About the time of midnight” (11:4). Rashi: “About midnight, either [slightly] before or after, and he did not say ‘at midnight’ lest Paroh's astrologers make a mistake and say, ‘Moshe is a liar’!"

By this stage Moshe Rabbeinu had already overturned nature no less than nine times by means of the plagues throughout Egypt, and yet Moshe was still concerned that if the plague of the firstborn would appear to commence one moment before or after the designated time, Paroh would say triumphantly that Moshe was a liar and all the previous miracles were one big hoax. In the middle of all their anguish and the death of the firstborns, Moshe was worried that they would still not lose the opportunity of "discrediting" him and Hashem.

Deep inside, the wicked recognize the truth and the vacuousness of their idol worship and materialism. However, in order to grant legitimacy to their way of life, when faced with a holy righteous personality whose entire life is devoted to Hashem, they endeavor to find even a miniscule alleged defect in order to magnify it and declare that person and everything he stands for to be a lie.

It was the same with Homon. The possuk says “Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate". Given that all the other king's servants were bowing down to him, one would think that Homon would be totally unconcerned about the actions of an insignificant Jew, so what is the meaning of this possuk? Homon knew that all the obsequiousness demonstrated by the others was completely false, and that the only man of truth was Mordechai. Hence he was afraid of him, and felt that all the "honor" accorded to him was completely valueless as long as there was someone representing the truth. That was the cause of his fury, which led him to attempt to destroy the whole nation to whom Mordechai belonged. Following nine plagues, the Egyptians too had no doubts that Hashem controlled the world, and that all their idol worship was false. They were therefore likely to go out of their way to attempt to prove that Moshe was a liar.

Toras Eretz Yisroel

“This month shall be reckoned to you as the beginning of months” (12:2)           

The Ramban says that the names of our months (Nisan, Iyar etc.) originated in the Babylonian exile, and we continued using them upon our return to Eretz Yisroel. Why did we, in fact, continue using these non-Jewish names?

Some heretics in golus argued that all or some of the mitzvos only needed to be observed in Eretz Yisroel. Zionists, on the other hand, argued that the observance of the Torah was restricted to chutz looretz serving as a bulwark against assimilation, whereas here in our homeland we should forget our “galuti” past, and simply adopt nationalism. By contrast, the holy chachomim at the end of the Babylonian exile knew that the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh would not yet constitute the final redemption, and we would still have to undergo a further period of exile.

They therefore wanted to create a link between the period of exile and the period of our return to Eretz Yisroel, so that the masses should not think that now that we had returned to our homeland, anything had changed in terms of our connection to Torah, and all the takonos enacted in Bovel, and, of course, subsequently, the Babylonian Talmud, are of central importance for all generations both in chutz lo’oretz and in Eretz Yisroel.

private acts of Kiddush Hashem

“The blood will be for you as a sign on the houses” (12:13). Rashi: “’As a sign to you’ but not as a sign to others [Mechilta].

Blood signifies mesirus nefesh (dedication and self-sacrifice). This Mechilta does not mean to exclude acts of mesirus nefesh performed in front of others, but should rather be taken as an injunction to also perform private acts of Kiddush Hashem on a day-to-day basis within the confines of our own homes to which no one is witness, which the Rambam talks about (Yesodei Hatorah 5:10).

This takes place every time we overcome our evil inclination by refraining from sin, performing a mitzvah, or performing it with fervor, and when we set aside regular times for learning Torah and educating our children properly. In other words, the sign, which is situated outside as it were, should always be before us inside too, serving as a constant reminder of our duty to serve Hashem with dedication and to refrain from sinning.          

Eternal nation
“And it will come to pass if your children say to you, ‘What is this service to you’? You shall say, ‘It is the Pesach-offering to Hashem… And the people kneeled and prostrated themselves’” (12:26-27). Mechilta: “the Jews received evil tidings at this time, namely that the Torah would be forgotten amongst the Jews in the future. Others state that they received good tidings, namely that they would merit to see children and grandchildren.

According to the Mechilta cited by Rashi below (13:5) the descendants in question refer to wicked descendants, so how can these be termed good tidings?

The bad tidings of which the Jews were informed were that there would be heretics in every generation, and the good tidings were that that there would nevertheless be continuity to the Jewish nation, with children and grandchildren continuing in the path of Torah who would say this is the Pesach-offering to Hashem.

Throughout the generations some of our erring brethren have attempted to disconnect the link connecting the generations. They sought to "modernize" fellow Jews by doing their utmost to estrange them from their parents and from the values of previous generations for the sake of more "progressive" values, such as the belief that we are better than our ancestors and that divine values are subject to current philosophical, social or other theories.

It is only logical that such attitudes will stem, in part, from the theory that our ancestors were apes, instead of the holy beings, which they actually were. We know that the further removed we are from ma’amad Har Sinai, the less close we are to our original elevated spiritual status, but if one believes merely in science and technology, then each succeeding generation will look with disdain at their predecessors.

The Torah is telling us that even if such aberrant views would be held by the majority of the nation, they would still not succeed in uprooting its eternal sanctity, which remains incapable of being contaminated. When the nation heard these tidings, the people kneeled and prostrated themselves.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Internalizing the Makkos

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“I revealed Myself to Avraham, to Yitzchok, and to Yaakov as e-l sha-dai, but My Name Hashem [adnus] I did not make known to them” (6:3)

            The name Sha-day refers to Hashem's restriction of His greatness in this world which enables us to recognize Him. Kabbalistic and chassidic books discuss the concept of tsimtsum at great length, but for us it is sufficient to know that neither mortal beings, nor even angels, can comprehend Hashem's greatness. Even our forefathers, who attained supreme levels, were only capable of grasping the Creator’s greatness on the basis of what He in His wisdom allows a human being to understand.

            Moshe Rabbenu, with whom Hashem spoke pe el pe, had the merit of communicating with Hashem and recognizing Him on a level that was less clouded by tsimtsum.  Hashem taught Moshe that the main aspect of Hashem's greatness is to be found in the shem havayo, which teaches us that He wishes to suppress His anger and conduct the world with the trait of mercy. Of course, not even Moshe Rabbenu could truly understand Hashem's greatness - he could only see His back and not His “face” - but whatever he did comprehend, on the basis of the middos taught to him by Hashem, surpassed the levels of understanding attained by our forefathers.

TOrah and Eretz Yisroel

“I will bring you to the land… and I will give it to you as a heritage” (6:8)

            The only other time the same word (morosho) is used in the Torah is in connection with Torah: “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is a heritage for the congregation of Yaakov”. Torah and Eretz Yisroel are interdependent, because our right to Eretz Yisroel is dependent on complete observance of the mitzvos of the Torah.

            Chazal say that whoever does not mention bris and Torah in bentshing has not fulfilled his duty. Therefore, in the second brocho we thank Hashem for the covenant which He has sealed in our flesh, and the Torah, which He has taught us, and we conclude the brocho by blessing Hashem for the good land which He has given us. This clearly shows that our rights to Eretz Yisroel are dependent on observance of the bris and the Torah in general.

            The reference to a covenant may also be taken as an indication that Hashem concluded an agreement with us: if we stick to our part of the bargain by observing the Torah, Hashem will ensure that Eretz Yisroel will remain ours.


“These are the heads of the fathers' houses” (6:14)

            The young son of a Rebbe once lost a piece of paper containing his family tree, which was packed with famous names, and he started crying. His mother comforted him: "don't worry, your yichus will start with you!" In another incident two friends were having an argument. One told the other: "You might be a big talmid chachom, but I have an illustrious lineage”. His friend retorted: "The difference between us is that your yichus ends with you, whereas mine, with the help of Hashem, begins with me!

            The heads of the tribes did not consider it sufficient to be the descendants of the ovos hakedoshim, but wanted to become righteous in their own right. Similarly, every Jew must know that although he traces his lineage back to Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, it is up to him to become the head of a household in his own right, so that his descendants will be proud to stem from him, as Yaakov said: "let my name be named on them”.  

Two different types of leaders

“That is Aharon and Moshe”. Rashi: “In some places the Torah places Aharon before Moshe, and in other places it places Moshe before Aharon, to tell us that they were equal”. (6:26)

            The Torah states explicitly that Moshe was the greatest of prophets, so Rashi cannot be referring to the level of prophecy. What Rashi rather means is that they were equal in the sense that each one fulfilled the specific task which Hashem had designated for him, and each one was equally indispensable and worthy of hearing the Word of Hashem.

            Aharon was more closely connected with the nation, because he was involved in making peace between fellow Jews, whereas the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu was epitomized by the level of prophecy he attained, which was not matched before or after his time. Similarly, in every generation we need leaders to disseminate Torah, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, we also need leaders who are able to fight battles to defend the Torah and to take care of all the needs of the nation.

Maintaining free choice

“The sorcerers of Egypt also did likewise with their magic art” (7:11)

            The chartumim managed to turn a stick into a snake and water into blood using kishuf. We do not encounter the ability to perform such actions either before or after this generation of yetzias mitzrayim.  How was it possible?

            During periods of hester ponim (Hashem hiding His face from us, as it were) our challenge is to see through the veneer of nature and recognize that Hashem runs it, but when revealed miracles are prevalent and exceptional holy individuals such as Moshe and Aharon are in our midst, Hashem grants great powers to the forces of tumoh, such as the sorcerers in Egypt and Bilom with his prophecies, in order to maintain the required balance of free choice.

            People can then either choose to be misled by such forces or contemplate the actions and writings of the righteous individuals of the generation who explain the difference between the forces of holiness and those of tumoh, whose only goals are to fulfill the desires of their hearts.

The power of One person
  “And the frogs came up” (8:2). Rashi: It was one frog, and they hit it, and it split into many swarms of frogs.

            When a dog barks, others join in with him, and the croaking of one frog was probably enough to trigger off a whole cacophony of discordant noises in Egypt. Just like one frog can arouse countless others, so too are people able to arouse others to shout senseless things together with them. Take the case of Hitler, one unknown painter, who single-handedly used his rabble-rousing drivel to brainwash a supposedly cultured and sophisticated nation.

            Lehavdil, both the Baal Shem Tov and the Vilna Gaon, each of them working on their own, had a revolutionary impact on Jewish life for all future generations. Once again, although Hashem clearly guides historical phenomena, there is always room for free choice, even on the national level.

HAsHgocho Protis

“So that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the earth” (8:18)

            The first idol worshippers and philosophers throughout the generations argued that although Hashem did create the world, He does not get involved with events on earth. In Egypt this fallacy was put to rest for good.

            The Kiddush we recite on Friday night is not only a declaration that Hashem is creator of the world (zecher lema’ase bereishis) but also that He controls it with individual divine providence and is intensely involved in our world: zecher liyetzias mitzrayim. By recollecting the Egyptian experiences we reinforce our belief in hashgocho protis and by refraining from work on Shabbos we demonstrate our belief that Hashem's providence showers us with enough sustenance if we work only for six days, and whatever has been set aside for us will reach us irrespective of when or how much we work.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Eternity of the Jewish Nation

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

History repeats itself

"A new king arose over Egypt” (1:8) Rashi: “Rav and Shmuel: one says he was really new, and the other one says: His decrees were new

According to the latter opinion, if these edicts were renewed, what were the contents of the original edicts?

Initially, Paroh wanted his Jewish subjects to become totally assimilated and he was opposed to the territory of Goshen becoming a semi-autonomous kingdom. Thus, he had suggested to “appoint them livestock officers over my cattle” (Bereishis 47:6). In other words: “Let us all become one nation and let them serve our religion.” When this attempt failed, and our ancestors refused to change their names, language or clothing, Paroh decided to enact laws that denied them any rights as citizens, and emphasized that they were nothing more than slaves who had nothing in common with their host nation. From our viewpoint, the initial policy was no less a decree than the new one. It may have been sugarcoated, but the policy was identical: to destroy our religious identity.

This scenario repeated itself in Western Europe. When the ghetto walls were removed, large numbers were enticed into assimilating into the surrounding non-Jewish culture by being offered equal rights and opportunities. Unfortunately, this strategy succeeded only too well in many countries, and after more than a century, the country, which up to that time in many ways epitomized everything that Western culture had to offer, renewed its edicts. Within a very short period, these new laws resulted in crimes which by common consent outdid even the terrible misdeeds of Paroh’s compatriots.

“Who did not know Yoseph” (ibid)
   Paroh did of course know about Yoseph. According to the second opinion, he knew him personally, and even according to the first opinion, he must have heard about everything he did for the benefit of the nation. However, when someone lacks gratitude he pretends that his benefactor never did anything worthy in the first place, in order to soothe his conscience. The medrash says that someone who is ungrateful to a human benefactor will also deny that he is a recipient of blessings from the Creator, and will eventually deny His very existence, just like Paroh did.
By contrast, we are enjoined not to despise the Egyptian since we were strangers in his country (Devorim 23:8). Notwithstanding their persecutions, we are still meant to feel gratitude towards them for hosting us in times of trouble (Rashi ibid). The Torah puts such great emphasis on feeling gratitude for others, so that we may come to feel gratitude towards the Creator, whose kindness is limitless.

Protesting injustice
“Let us deal shrewdly with them” (1:10)
  Chazal tell us (Masseches Soto 11a) that Bilom who advised Paroh to kill the Jews was punished by death at the sword, whereas Iyov, who kept quiet, was punished by having to endure terrible suffering. Why did his mere silence warrant such a severe punishment?
  This teaches us what a serious sin it is to hear about plans to commit mass murder and remain silent and indifferent as if this matter is of no concern to him. They say in the name of the Brisker Rov zt”l that Iyov was punished measure for measure: he kept quiet thinking that protesting would not help anyway, in return for which he suffered afflictions which made him cry out even though he knew that his cries would not alleviate his suffering.
  When a fellow Jew is suffering spiritually or materially, and we are able to protest, but do not care enough to do so, being concerned solely with ourselves and those closest to us, we must realize that this is a serious transgression. Similarly, when decrees are enacted endangering our spiritual or material welfare we are duty-bound to at least cry out and object to such measures, in order to show that we care. Even if our protests are not crowned with success, we will at least have done our bit.

expecting the redemption
“And his sister stood from afar, to see what would happen to him” (2:4)

Chazal say that because she waited here, Miriam was rewarded by having the whole nation wait for her when she became a meztora after she spoke negatively about Moshe Rabbeinu. On the face of it, she did little more than satisfy her natural curiosity to see what would transpire with her baby brother, so why did this act deserve such a great reward?

The first thing we will be asked when we are judged is whether we expected (tzipisa) the redemption. Rav Yechezkel Abramsky zt”l noted that it does not say “kivisa leyeshuah,” because every believing Jew hopes for the redemption. The question we will be asked is whether we expected it the same way that we expect someone to arrive for an appointment at a prearranged time. We don't hope that the person will arrive. We expect him to. Hashem has not revealed a prearranged date for Moshiach to come, but we are meant to hope and wait for him in eager anticipation and expectation bechol yom sheyavo.

Similarly, Miriam waited with the conviction that the yeshuah would come for her brother. She did not know exactly how, but she harbored no doubts that he would be saved, and merely waited to see what form the salvation would take.

Qualities of true leaders
“He struck the Egyptian” (2:12)

 Rashi on the previous possuk states that Paroh had appointed Moshe over his house, and yet when Moshe saw one Jew hit another, he did not keep quiet and rationalize that his job was to deal only with lofty royal matters and not with a dispute between two private Jews. Instead, he risked his own life when he saw one Jew raise his hand at another.

No matter how busy they are with public matters, our gedolim have always been concerned for each and every individual. That is why they are called our "shepherds", and why Moshe Rabbeinu and Dovid Hamelech practiced this profession. Each and every sheep is equally dear in their eyes.

Rav Sternbuch once met someone who, when he became a rov, went to see Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzhinsky zt”l. Rav Chaim Ozer asked him what he felt to be the duties of a communal rov. He answered with a whole list of tasks such as maintaining appropriate kashrus standards. Rav Chaim Ozer responded that he had forgotten the main thing: a rov must take care of widows and orphans.

  “Moshe consented to stay with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moshe” (2:21)

Chazal tell us that Yisro agreed that Moshe would marry Zipporah on the condition that the first son produced by their marriage would be handed over to idol-worship and Moshe agreed. Moshe was punished for consenting to this when his grandson Micho served idol worship.

The Gerer Rebbe, the Beis Yisroel zt”l, explained that Yisro’s request is not to be understood literally. He rather argued that it would not be feasible for Moshe to bring up all his sons in an insular Torah-only environment. At least one son should be exposed to the philosophy of idol worship, so that he would be able to refute it. Moshe Rabbeinu was punished for agreeing to this request, because, as we saw last week, it is a parent’s job to ensure that his children receive an intensive Torah education. There will always be enough people to engage in da me shetoshiv outreach activities, and it is not a parent’s job to educate their children by exposing them to non-Jewish or anti-Torah material.

Eternal nation
“The thorn bush was burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not being consumed” (3:2)

Throughout history, our foes have endeavored to destroy us physically or spiritually, and when they witness our suffering they imagined that this nation, which is such a thorn in their eyes, was finally going up in flames. However, we are a nation that defies any laws of nature or history, so that even when the bush is burning it never becomes consumed, and since we enjoy special Divine Providence, we will remain an eternal nation. 

UtiliZing the potential of the Shovevim Period
“Now [ve’atah], behold, the cry of the Bnei Yisroel has come to Me” (3:9)
     What is the meaning of ve’atah in this posuk? Perhaps the prayers of the nation in Egypt had not been recited with sufficient outpouring of emotion, but Hashem, taking into account their dire situation and suffering, said He would nevertheless be willing to accept their prayers "now" even though they had not sufficiently repented, because of the state of the generation. We too should plead with Hashem to have regard to the condition of our generation and hasten our redemption.
We have entered the period of Shovavim, and the commentaries make a distinction between superior [illa’a] and inferior [tata’a] repentance, saying that although, strictly speaking, in order for repentance to be effective the sinner must want to repent due to a feeling of awe before the greatness of Hashem (yiras haromemus), in our situation today in this bitter exile, when tumah is so pervasive to such an unprecedented scale, Hashem listens to the cry of the Bnei Yisroel and makes do with "low-grade” repentance, which is motivated by yiras haonesh (fear of punishment). The main thing is to regret the past and remove any trace of tumah from our homes. If we do so, Hashem will surely have pity on us and listen to our prayers.

HAshem awaits
“Hashem said to Moshe, "Ehyeh asher ehyeh”[I will be what I will be]” (3:14)
The more that we let Hashem into our lives and make Him part of it, the greater will be the Divine Providence that we enjoy, as it says: "Let Your mercy, O Hashem, be upon us, to the extent that we have waited for You" (Tehillim 33:22). Similarly, says the Kotzker Rebbe zt”l, Hashem tells us: "I will be wherever I will be”, i.e. wherever someone lets Me in and wants Me to be there.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Subjugation and Redemption

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

SPiritual decline

“Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years” (47:28). Rashi: Why is this section closed? Because, as soon as Yaakov Ovinu passed away, the eyes and the heart of the Jews were “closed” because of the misery of the slavery, for they [the Egyptians] started to subjugate them.

After Yaakov’s death Yoseph still remained king, and, what is more, at the beginning of parashas Shmos the Torah relates that it was only when Yoseph, his brothers and all that generation had died, that the subjugation began. Why then, the commentators wonder, does the medrash here identify the death of Yaakov Ovinu as the start of the Egyptian exile?

As long as Yaakov was still alive, he served as a unifying force for his descendants to remain true to their religion and values. Once he had passed away, the spiritual subjugation started. The Jews no longer remained within the safe spiritual confines of Goshen, and started settling all over Egypt. They became closer to the host culture and assumed that it would welcome them, but, as has happened throughout history, the closer they became to non-Jewish culture, the greater was the animosity felt towards them by their hosts.

The eyes and the heart of the Jews were “closed”: they were unaware of the process of which had set in upon the death of Yaakov. Spiritual declines which go unnoticed are the most dangerous. In this case our spiritual subjugation was the forerunner of our physical subjugation, which commenced upon the death of all the tribes.

unforetold EXILE

 Rashi (ibid): Another explanation: That he [Yaakov] attempted to reveal the End to his sons, but it was “closed off” [concealed] from him

The great gaon and tzaddik Rav Mordechai Pogramansky, who endured a veritable hell during the Second World War and survived, only to die a few years afterwards, noted that although we find allusions to the various exiles in history either in tenach or in chazal, our sources contain no hint that there will come a time when non-observant and anti-religious Jews will rule Eretz Yisroel itself. This exile amongst Jews is not talked about in our sources.

Rav Pogramansky suggested that Yaakov ovinu was indeed told about this situation, and attempted to tell his sons about it, but was prevented from doing so, because had it been foretold to us, it would have caused unbearable despair. According to this explanation, the "End" referred to by the medrash cited by Rashi, is the end of the exile, but not yet the beginning of the geulo.

homes as havens

“He [Yaakov] said, "Swear to me," and he swore to him. Yisroel prostrated himself on the head of the bed” (47:31) Rashi: none of his offspring was wicked as is evidenced by the fact that Yoseph was a king, and furthermore, that [even though] he was in captivity among the heathens, he remained steadfast in his righteousness.

Yosef, the second most powerful man in Egypt, was asked by his father to take an oath. Someone else in Yosef’s position would have been likely to get angry that his father did not trust him to fulfill his request after having told him “I will do as you say”, but Yosef subjugated himself completely to his father and, without saying anything, unhesitatingly took an oath without further ado. When Yaakov Ovinu saw this response and realized the extent of the kibbud av vo’em exhibited even by Yosef, who had spent so much time in the Egyptian environment and had become a powerful figure there, he was satisfied that his bed was indeed perfect.   

Yaakov blessed Efraim and Menashe that they should be “called by my name”. Kibbud av vo’em is a critical component in the education of our children. With us it is a given that the closer a person is to maamad har Sinai the more do we look up to him. By contrast, according to the non-Jewish or secular attitude as technology, science, and medicine progress so do we, and the further a person is removed from these advances the more is he they looked down upon. As a corollary to this approach, the relationship between parents and children has become almost egalitarian. Unfortunately, elements of this attitude have seeped through to us so that some parents have become more lax in insisting that their children observe all the details of kibbud av vo’em.

On the other hand, the aim of kibbud av v’oem is not merely to induce children to honor and respect their parents but also to forge a close association with them. In fact, a warm relationship between father and son is the surest recipe for ensuring that the son will remain on the proper path and impervious to the many detrimental aspects of the outside world as long as he is in his parents’ household and beyond. Making our homes into havens for every child must be made into a top priority in our day and age.

WHat is a jew
  “I will make you into a congregation of peoples” (48:4)

Rav Yaakov Yechiel Weinberg, the Seridei Esh zt”l, told Rav Sternbuch about a meeting of academics that took place in Berlin for the purpose of establishing the definition of a Jew. Should it be argued that being Jewish is a matter of religion, that cannot hold water, because an apostate is also considered Jewish. On the other hand, being Jewish could not be a matter of nationality either, because many Jews are descendants of converts.

As they were discussing this matter a simple Jew entered the room and offered his solution for this conundrum: “a yid is a yid”. Rav Weinberg heard this suggestion and told his fellow participants that this Jew had hit the hammer on the nail! Being Jewish was neither a matter of religion only, nor merely a matter of nationality, but something that cannot be defined in conventional terms. Jews are sui generis, they are a “congregation of peoples” who defy any definition.

Family Harmony
“And he blessed them on that day saying: "Through you shall the Jews bless saying; 'May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menasheh and he placed Ephraim ahead of Menasheh” (48:20)

The greatest blessing a person could hope for is to be blessed with sons who are talmidei chachomim. In the merit of such a son the father will live forever. Efraim was the one who spent all his time in Goshen, learning Torah with his grandfather Yaakov. Goshen contained none of the allure of city life, since all its inhabitants were shepherds, who were abhorred by the Egyptians. Menashe spent his time helping out his father with his royal duties.

Efraim was placed ahead of his older brother, as he was the one who learnt Torah from Yaakov, in order to teach us that the foremost priority of any father must be to educate his son to become a godol beyisroel and dedicate his life to Torah. The alternative is to educate our sons to be like Menashe, who learnt from Yosef how to behave like a ben Torah in every situation in life, and to set aside regular times for Torah learning, but this must remain only the second-best option.

By referring to Ephraim and Menasheh when blessing our children we also pray for harmony between our children, just like there was between Ephraim and Menasheh when Menasheh was not upset and did not envy his younger brother for being mentioned first by Yaakov.

Why are dogmas only implied

“Until Shiloh comes” (49:10). Rashi: This refers to the King Moshiach, to whom the kingdom belongs [shelo]

We find that concepts such as the coming of moshiach and the resurrection of the dead, are only hinted at in the tenach. Why are these fundamental principles, which are listed amongst the articles of faith of the Rambam not stated explicitly?

Something stated explicitly in the Torah bears greater weight than something derived by applying one of the principles by which the Torah is expounded [midos shehatorah nidreshes bohem]. Similarly, if these fundamental articles of faith had been stated explicitly in the Torah, the punishment for disregarding them would have been too difficult for us to bear. Hence, Hashem in His kindness, only hinted at these concepts in His Torah. In any case, we must realize that the stronger our faith is in the coming of moshiach, the more will we this hasten his coming and our final redemption.

feeding the poor
  “As for Osher, his bread will shall be fat, and he will yield regal delicacies” (49:20).

This means that Osher limits his expenses, and only buys fat and healthy bread whereas he provides others with delicacies fit for a king. He is not interested in deriving pleasures from this world, preferring to wait the rewards of the world to come, but is very generous when it comes to taking care of others’ material desires. As Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l said: "My friend’s material needs are my spiritual needs”. This is indeed a high level to strive for, and the halocho also directs us to provide a poor person with the best food available in the house.


“Hashem will surely remember you [pokod yifkod] and take you up out of this land” (50:24)

Rav Meir Shapira zt”l noted that the double phrase pokod yifkod refers to both a spiritual and a material redemption. The geulo cannot take place if there is a material redemption unaccompanied by a spiritual one, and all the more so if material success is accompanied by spiritual decline, such as took place in the period following the founding of the State. So far from being a sign of redemption, such a situation is unfortunately merely a desecration of the Divine Name. Let us pray that this stage of the exile, which Rav Programansky talked about, will be brought to a speedy conclusion, and the final redemption ushered in.