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 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.