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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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Followers

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.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sovereignty of Torah


By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


DIVINE ETHICS

“And these are the ordinances” (21:1). Rashi: just as what was previously stated [the Ten Commandments] were from Sinai, so too are these from Sinai.

After describing kabolas hatorah the Torah immediately delineates the laws of interpersonal relationships, such as the provisions against cheating and stealing. This teaches us that the Torah’s civil and criminal laws are no less divine than the chukim, which cannot be derived by applying the principles of human logic. "He has not dealt so with any nation: and as for His ordinances [mishpotim], they do not know them”. Furthermore, Pirkei Ovos, which deals exclusively with ethics, starts with Moshe kibel Torah miSinai, in order to emphasize that ethical matters too are divinely ordained.

For example, the mishna (Masseches Bovo Metzia 75b) states that if an employee deceives a fellow employee upon hiring him with regard to the remuneration terms specified by their employer, the deceived worker only has a grievance against the other worker. In other words, the aggrieved party does not have a claim which he can enforce in bais din, but he is entitled to hold a grudge against the person who has wronged him. Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l said in the name of Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l that this demonstrates that even holding a grievance is forbidden unless the halocho explicitly confirms it to be justified.

DIVINE PUNISHMENT

“Should you buy a Hebrew slave” (21:2)

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l noted that this section teaches us how much Hashem condemns a thief. With us a wealthy person is likely to be honored and feted even if his wealth has been amassed by dishonest means, and everyone knows it. By contrast, the Torah prescribes that if a thief cannot pay back what he has stolen, he has to be degraded by being in the service of another person for six years, and cohabiting with a Gentile maidservant.

On the other hand, unlike secular systems in which thieves are imprisoned, only to have their wayward ways reinforced by constantly sharing the company of fellow criminals, the Torah’s idea of punishment focuses not only on the restoration of the stolen object and degradation of the thief, but also on educating him. Thus, the Torah insists that the master must give his best food to the "slave". By witnessing such behavior and generally being in a Torah environment, the thief is inspired to appreciate the beauty and justice of its laws, and is more likely to be rehabilitated once he has completed his punishment.

Honesty pays

“The homeowner shall approach the judges [venikrav ba’al habayis el ho’elokim] [to swear] that he has not laid his hand upon his neighbor's property” (21:7)

The above is the plain meaning of this possuk, but a Rebbe once rendered it as follows: How can a businessman [ba’al habayis] come close to Hashem? If he has not laid his hand on his neighbor's property, in other words if he has not obtained property by dishonest means, only then can he come close to Hashem.

Bonding with our children

“And one who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death…” (21:15)

The possuk talks about someone who strikes his father or mother and about a person who curses his father or mother, but in between it refers to someone who steals a man, and sells him. Why did the Torah not put the prohibition against smiting a parent in juxtaposition to the prohibition of cursing a parent? On the face of it, these two similar prohibitions belong together.
           
The Ibn Ezra explains that the Torah is telling us about the origins of this extreme case of a son cursing his father. Since he was stolen from his father's house, and did not learn how to respect him, he will eventually end up cursing him. Unfortunately, we witnessed such phenomena in recent generations, when children were separated from their parents here in Eretz Yisroel. In such circumstances, the son is exposed to outsiders seeking to convince him that his father belongs to the old generation and has no understanding of today’s needs. The boy’s heart will be “stolen”, he will start calling his father names, and will eventually curse him.

Moreover, even in the absence of physical separation, if there is no close connection between a father and son, the father's influence over his child will decline. If we make it our priority to nurture a genuine connection with our children, then even if they go through difficult periods, they will never want to sever their bond with their parents.

Kashrus

“And you shall be a holy people to Me, and flesh torn [tereifo] in the field you shall not eat” (22:30)

When it comes to ma’acholos asuros we have to behave like “holy people" who adopt stringencies and ensure that any food enters their mouths does not have the slightest suspicion of being treif. For this purpose we have to stick only to the most reliable hechsherim, and avoid places where shochtim compete with each other as to who can shecht the most chickens or beef in an hour. Moreover, even when we are away travelling ("in the field"), we should not compromise the standards which we maintain at home.

UNISON

“And all the people answered in unison and said, "All the words that Hashem has spoken we will do."” (24:3)

Why does it say that the people answered in unison?

In a public auction in which people bid against each other, the person whose bid is accepted might claim that he would not have agreed to buy the auctioned item had the other people not forced him to outbid them. Similarly, had only part of the nation agreed to accept the Torah and others followed suit, those who did not agree initially might have argued that they had been convinced to consent by those who agreed before them, and they wished to withdraw their consent. Since, however, all the people answered in unison, any such arguments could not be made.

Cancelling gezeiros

“And Moshe was upon the mountain forty days and forty nights” (24:18)

The number 40 is of great significance. For example, the mabul lasted for 40 days. Also, continuous prayer for a 40-day period for the sake of a specific purpose is a wonderful segulo. Someone suffering from misfortune, who is in need of a yeshu’o should go to shul on a daily basis especially for the sake of the prayer, he should state what he is asking for, give money to charity, and afterwards recite the fourth book of Tehilim (chapters 90-107) and undertake bli neder that if Hashem will answer his prayers, he will say the nishmas prayer continuously for a 40-day period. Many people have had their prayers answered in this way. We must not lose sight of the fact, however, that the basis of all segulos is to trust in Hashem that He will help.

Moreover, dinim (judgments) should be distinguished from gezeiros (decrees). Dinim can be overturned through prayer, segulos and repentance, whereas gezeiros are much more difficult to overturn. This could only take place on occasions such as Yom Kippur or when we pray with tears throughout the year. We also have a tradition that if someone undertakes to pray the yom kippur koton prayer every month and engages in a dialogue with the Creator from the depths of their heart with tears to the best of their ability, that is also effective for overturning gezeiros.

During the last yom kippur koton prayers (erev rosh chodesh odor) Rav Sternbuch spoke briefly about the current situation in Eretz Yisroel. He said that this was an ais zoro, and that the issue of serving in the army is symptomatic of their general goal of secularizing the nation. They are fully aware that the yeshivas are the core of the whole nation in its genuine form, and that is why they wish to undermine them as much as they can. Rav Sternbuch implored those present to bear in mind that we are still before the stage of a gezeiro, and should make the most of our possibilities of changing the situation through prayer and repentance before a gezeiro crystallizes, because such a situation would rachmono litzlon be much more difficult to overturn.

ParaShas Shekolim

Rashi brings the Medrash that Moshe had difficulties with the machatzis hashekel, and so Hashem showed him the form of a fiery coin. Why did Moshe have difficulties in understanding the shape of a coin, and what was the significance of the fire?

Moshe did not understand why specifically half a shekel was required. Hashem’s response was that the physical act of giving only constituted half of the mitzvah, whereas the emotion accompanying the act and the desire to perform the will of Hashem are complementary and indispensable ingredients. If these are lacking, then not even half of the mitzva has been performed. Since these aspects of the mitzva are intangible, they are compared to fire, which cannot be touched.

Similarly, it says that someone giving tzedoko to a fellow Jew with a sour face loses his reward. During World War Two, Rav Sternbuch went round collecting money for Rav Schneider’s Yeshiva in London. Some people refused to give anything pointing to the sign outside their door “No hawkers allowed!”, and even some of those who did give something, complained to Rav Sternbuch: "Why do people come to me all the time? I’ve had enough of this! All right, what can I do, here, take this and go!”

The act of giving is only an empty shell that has to be filled with genuine love and respect for the recipient - be he an oni or the representative of a Torah institution - based on the recognition that the money with which we are parting is not ours in the first place, and that by means of this act money is being handed over to its rightful owner, and the recipient has enabled us to come closer to Hashem.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Closeness to Hashem


 By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Spiritual rejuvenation

“Moshe's father-in-law, Yisro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that Hashem had done for Moshe and for Yisroel” (18:1)

Rashi cites the gemara [Zevochim 116a] that the news that made such an impression on Yisro that he came was the splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amolek. However, the event mentioned in the possuk itself is that Hashem took us out of Egypt, which Rashi himself says was the greatest miracle of them all. Why, then, did Yisro wait until the war with Amolek to join Moshe Rabbenu and not come immediately after we left Egypt, or after hearing about the miracles of the mon and the pillars of fire and smoke?

When he heard about all the previous miracles, he did not yet think that the time had come to uproot himself and make his way to his son-in-law, but after hearing about how even after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea Amolek still remained adamant that everything is happenstance, that the only reality is nature, and that, at best, any unusual event must be attributed to witchcraft, he felt the need to join the holy Moshe Rabbenu and remain in his environment in order to boost and maintain his spiritual level.

The Ramban asks why according to the opinion that Yisro came after matan Torah is that event, which literally shook the foundations of the world, not mentioned as being a catalyst for Yisro’s move. According to our approach, it may be suggested that perhaps Yisro’s original plan had been to join the nation only once they arrived in Eretz Yisroel and that it was only when he heard that shortly after krias yam suf Amolek was still denying divine Providence, that he realized that he could no longer stay where he was and was in urgent need of receiving chizuk from Moshe Rabbenu.

Spiritual VICTORY

“Her two sons, one of whom was named Gershom, because he said, "I was a stranger in a foreign land, and one who was named Eliezer, because [Moshe said,] "The G-d of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Paroh's sword” (18:3-4)

Moshe’s rescue from Paroh’s sword took place before he became a stranger in Midian, so why was the latter commemorated first when Moshe's first son was born?

Gershom’s name symbolized Moshe’s elation at the fact that he had managed to remain a stranger spiritually speaking in the country, which had welcomed him when he fled from Paroh. The main danger facing the Jewish nation is not the threat of physical destruction, but when we imagine ourselves to be an integral part of our host nation, or wish to adopt their mores, because this eventually triggers a process of spiritual assimilation, and our ruin in this world and the next.

Erosions of spiritual levels are often imperceptible in the initial stages, and therefore require greater siyata dishmaya to be overcome. That is why Moshe Rabbenu wished to first celebrate his spiritual victory with his firstborn, and only subsequently to commemorate his physical rescue from Paroh’s wrath, which he considered to be of secondary importance.

Relating stories

“Moshe told his father-in-law [about] all that Hashem had done to Paroh and to the Egyptians” (18:8)

As we saw, the very reason that Yisro came to Moshe was because he had heard about krias yam suf and the war with Amolek, and he certainly knew about the events leading up to yetzias Mitzayim, because he had been a witness to them, so what could Moshe have added that he did not already know?

Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l noted that this teaches us that telling a story is an art, and when Moshe Rabbenu related all the events that had taken place, they took on a different hue, and Yisro’s perception of them became much deeper.

dayonus

“You will surely wear yourself out both you and these people who are with you for the matter is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. I will advise you, and may Hashem be with you” (18:18-19)

The main prerequisite for a successful dayan is not for him to be a big rov and lamdan, but rather that he should enjoy siyata dishmaya. Yisro was telling Moshe: "let me advise you what you should do so that Hashem may be with you, that you may enjoy siyata dishmaya. If you will relieve yourself of some of the burdens of public service, you will be in a better position to concentrate on coming closer to Hashem and serving him, and then He will become closer to you.

Nowadays, the prevalent custom is to appoint dayonim on the basis of examination results. Anyone who achieves good marks immediately becomes a candidate for dayonus. In reality, dayonim should be appointed by gedolei yisroel who should ascertain whether candidates are also G-d-fearing, in which case Hashem will be with them, and such dayonim will have the merit of passing proper judgments.

Jewish leaders

“You shall choose… men… who hate monetary gain [sonay beza]” (18:21)

Rav Zelig Reuven Bengis zt”l once told Rav Sternbuch that although he knew Jews who do not chase money, he had yet to meet one who hated it. How, then, could Moshe have looked for a person who does not exist?

If we translate beza as a compromise, instead of monetary gain, this possuk becomes easier to understand. There are many Jews who are willing to compromise here and there in spiritual matters in the hope of acquiring a reputation as magnificent leaders. Moshe was looking for people who hated compromise, and would not be willing to compromise an iota when it came to religious matters. Only such men of truth are worthy becoming genuine Jewish leaders.

Women's rights
            
“So shall you say to the house of Yaakov and tell the sons of Yisroel” (19:3)

Rashi cites the Chazal that the house of Yaakov refers to the women. Those who are ignorant of the Torah reproach us with discriminating against women and denying them equality. Chazal tell us that the women were commanded first here, because they are the ones who perform the commandments with greater alacrity, or, others say, because they take their children to learn Torah. In general, women are responsible for maintaining the sanctity of the Jewish home and guarding it against harmful influences from the outside. The fact that they are exempt from certain mitzvos does not mean that their merits are less than those of men, or that they are less important in the eyes of Hashem.

An English vicar once came across a translation of the siddur known as the Singer’s Prayer Book, and noticed the blessing "who has not made me a heathen". He became infuriated. “Is this how the Jews repay us for all the rights they enjoy in join this country”, he ranted. Look how they make fun of us and degrade us in their prayers! He threatened to make a big fuss if the Jews would not delete this blessing from their prayer book.

One rov pointed went to see the vicar and pointed out to him that in the next but one blessing in the prayer book every Jewish male thanks Hashem that he has "has not made me a woman." Do you think, the rabbi told the vicar, that we despise all our women? Of course we don't! We honor and respect them, but they have a different function in life. Similarly, Jews have a different task than Gentiles do. Would you like to stop eating pork or give up on a whole list of things you would not do without? You wouldn't, but we're happy to do so. Gentiles too have a holy task to fulfill in this life by recognizing the Creator, but we observe a myriad of commandments and thank G-d every day for this privilege and the closeness to Him that they create. This argument placated the vicar.

Greatness of each individual
         
   “You shall not have [lo yiyeh lecho] the gods of others in My presence” (20:3)

The Ten Commandments were stated in the singular. This teaches us not to look around to compare ourselves with others and conclude that lots of people are worse than us in many ways and we are completely righteous compared to those others. Hashem addressed us in the singular in order to emphasize that each and every one of the 600,000 individuals present and all their descendants have a unique task to fulfill, and each of us should focus exclusively on ourselves and on that task to determine whether we specifically are doing what we can to realize it.

Although every person has his specific strengths and weaknesses, every individual must feel the awesome sanctity of his neshomo, which has been hewn from the upper spheres, and conduct his life in accordance with the realization that only his internal neshomo is of eternal significance, and he must therefore sanctify it with Torah and good deeds.


Tangible faith
        
    “And all the people saw the voices” (20:15) Rashi: “They saw what was audible, which is impossible to see elsewhere”.

The commentators wonder how it is possible to see voices. The fact is, however, that sound waves can be recorded and seen, and subsequently played back. Rav Nissan Aharon Tikochinsky zt”l writes in Gesher Hachayim that his father, Rav Yechiel Michel Tikochinsky zt”l, expressed the hope that one day a device would be invented that would enable the sound waves of our holy forefathers to be absorbed. Such a device would be likely to cause a great spiritual reawakening.

In any event, the Chazal cited by Rashi indicates that at the time of matan Torah the whole nation attained the type of tangible faith (emuno chushis) where the person feels Hashem's presence tangibly kivyochol. From the time of matan Torah onwards the ability to perceive Hashem is granted to each and every Jew. Some people have the merit of experiencing such elevated feelings only every so often when they pray or during certain parts of prayers, when they feel a wonderful closeness to Hashem, whereas other righteous people have attained such love of Hashem and intimacy with Him, that they constantly feel His presence kivyochol. Be that as it may, every yid can and should enjoy some feelings of closeness to Hashem based on his spiritual attainments and levels.

Wedding with the Torah
          
  “Moshe said to the people, "Fear not, for Hashem has come in order to exalt you, and in order that His awe shall be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin” (20:17)

Rav Sternbuch heard a parable from Rav Zvi Hirsch Ferber zt”l, which illuminates this section.

There was once a fabulously wealthy person whose daughter got engaged to a young man possessing all the required qualities, including wealth, although his wealth was as nothing compared to his father-in-law's. A date was set for the wedding, and on the appointed day, the father of the bride set out in his magnificent carriage, together with the groom. The media reported this event in great detail. However, the proud father's joy was spoilt when he noticed the groom was upset about something. When he was asked him to explain his melancholy, the groom told his future father-in-law that now that he was witnessing the extent of his bride’s family's immense wealth and honor, he was starting to worry that even the huge dowry he had received would not be sufficient to maintain a standard of living which his wife was used to.

Upon hearing this explanation, the bride's father reassured the groom that he was fully aware that his daughter would henceforth have to get used to a more modest standard of living, and she herself was also aware of this, agreed to it wholeheartedly, and what was not expecting anything more than that. The only reason he was expending all these expenses during the journey was to do his utmost to pay tribute to this wonderful bride and to demonstrate to the groom and to the public what material sacrifices she would be making for the sake of marrying a ben Torah.

Similarly, the Torah is compared to a princess whom Hashem has wedded to the Jewish nation. When it was given to us amidst thunder and lightning and in the thickness of the cloud, Moshe brought the people out towards Hashem (Rashi: “like a bridegroom going out toward a bride”), and the people saw and trembled upon seeing the Torah being given amidst flames of fire, and the nation began to feel that the Torah was too elevated for them, and that we would not be able to withstand its holiness. They therefore said to Moshe: “You speak with us, and we will hear, but let Hashem not speak with us, lest we die”. To this Moshe responded that they should not be afraid because Hashem was only coming to exalt them, to elevate them and show them the Torah in all its splendid glory. Hashem wanted the bnei yisroel to appreciate this important gift and do their utmost to observe it in its entirety, but Moshe reassured the nation that Hashem did not require of the Jews anything beyond their abilities: all He asked them to do was to subjugate all their senses, thoughts and powers to His service.