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.