About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Monday, 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.