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, 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.


“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.