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, March 4, 2013

Donations and Efforts

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Give and receive

“And have them take for Me… ” (25:2). Rashi: for my sake

We would have thought that the purpose of mitzvos such as giving charity or donating objects to hekdesh is fulfilled irrespective of the motives of the donor, so what is the meaning of the midrash quoted by Rashi? Furthermore, the commentators wonder about the Torah’s phraseology:  why does it say "have them take for Me a donation” instead of "have them give Me a donation"?

When we observe the mitzvos of Hashem and donate money for the sake of His honor, we become worthy of receiving an abundance of blessings and success. That is why we "take" this Divine bounty in return for our donations, and the purer our intentions upon voluntarily giving away our possessions for the sake of Hashem, the greater will be the divine reward.

Rav Sternbuch was once speaking to a wealthy person and encouraging him to make a donation to poor talmidei chachomim. The person responded that he preferred to make a donation for a building that would commemorate his name for ever. Rav Sternbuch replied by citing Rashi here. Hashem wants us to give charity for His sake. If we do so, He will provide us with a heavenly and eternal "monument and memorial better than sons and daughters” and better than any memorial plaque.

Terumo from money
  “… a donation [terumo]… (ibid)

Separating terumo is not only a mitzvah in its own right, but we thereby also "fix" the remaining produce. The possuk refers to terumo to tell us that the mitzvah of tzedoko may be compared to the act of separating terumo from produce, since when we make a donation to the mikdosh or charity we thereby fix and elevate the money remaining in our possession, and can thereafter legitimately use it as a divine gift. Conversely, when we fail to set aside appropriate amounts to charity our possessions acquire a status equivalent to produce which has not been tithed.

Someone who has internalized the fact that when he gives away "his" possessions, he is not parting with anything belonging to himself, but rather transferring an object actually due to the recipient, for example when he makes a donation to an oni who is entitled to his ma’aser kesofim, will do so with a totally different attitude and will, in turn, enjoy manifold blessings.

PURE donations

“… from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My donation” (ibid)
The Zohar hakodosh on parashas vayakhel says that before the sin of the golden calf donations to the mishkan were accepted also from the erev rav, as it says "from every person", whereas after the sin their donations were no longer accepted, as it says: "Moshe called the whole community of the bnay yisroel to assemble”, and not "every person".

It may be assumed that even before the incident of the golden calf the erev rav did not behave impeccably, but as long as they did not act conspicuously and remained subservient to the Jewish nation it was permitted to take donations from them. However, once they actively transgressed and incited the rest of the nation to do so, their donations were no longer acceptable.

Even when his yeshiva was in great financial trouble, Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l refused to accept donations from mechalelei Shabbos (people that don't keep shabbos)  arguing that this would have a detrimental effect on the spiritual level of the students, and that, to a large extent, the students’ success depended on the purity of the financial resources supporting the yeshiva, because when we accept donations from resho’im this increases their power of evil and has a negative impact on the whole Yeshiva. Instead, the Grodzinski Bakery, which was owned by religious Jews, agreed to donate all the bread that had not been sold by the end of the day to the yeshiva.

On another occasion it became public knowledge that a religious Jew had obtained his wealth through fraudulent means. When Rav Schneider heard this he was adamant that no donations would be accepted from this person either. Rav Schneider did not budge from his principles, and in the end even his opponents had to acknowledge that he was a man of truth.

Reward based on effort
“And this is the donation that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper… Shoham stones and filling stones for the ephod and for the choshen” (25:3, 7)

The Ohr Hachayim hakodosh wonders why the Shoham stones, which are more valuable than gold and silver, are not mentioned first. He replies that these precious stones had been brought to the Jews miraculously in clouds, and since they had been attained without any effort or financial sacrifice specifically for the purpose of being used in the mishkon, the Torah saw fit to enumerate the gold and silver first, because since they had been obtained from the Egyptians and the owners donated them with self-sacrifice they were dearer in Hashem’s eyes.

Similarly, the self-sacrifice of a poor man who donates one dollar to charity may be dearer in Hashem's eyes than the deed of a wealthy person who donates 1000 dollars effortlessly. It says “from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity” to emphasize that the jov, generosity and self-sacrifice accompanying the act of giving are the main components of the mitzvah of tzedoko.   

 The same holds true with regard to any mitzvah. Hashem investigates the hidden recesses of every person’s heart and mind to determine the extent to which he has had to overcome difficulties in order to succeed in his Torah learning or observance of mitzvos. The genuine importance of each yid depends on the extent to which he has been successful in overcoming such trials.

   “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst” (25:8)

Nothing is more elevated than Hashem, and yet He still "lowered Himself" so that the shechino could kivyochol dwell in the mishkon. We too should learn from this by way of a kal vachomer not to find it beneath ourselves to interact with those who have not been fortunate enough to receive a Torah education or with people who do not comport themselves the way they should despite having received a good education. Instead of denigrating them we should endeavor to bring them closer to avodas Hashem.

talmidei chachomim  
   “And you shall overlay it with pure gold; from inside and from outside you shall overlay it” (25:11)

The gemara (Masseches Yomo 72b) says that this possuk teaches us that a talmid chachom whose external wisdom belies his character (literally: whose inside is not as his outside) is not a real talmid chachom. However, since the oron itself was made of wood and covered with gold, so that its interior was also not the same as its exterior, this gemara seems difficult to understand.

Someone who knows that people consider him to be a talmid chachom is obligated to sanctify the divine name by behaving in the way described by the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os, beginning of chapter 5). All his private and public actions as well as his speech will be in conformity with the elevated status expected of him. People expect him to behave in a superior manner, symbolized by the external gold covering, and also to be replete with yiras shomayim and midos tovos, symbolized by the internal gold covering.

However, in his private thoughts he lives with the awareness that he is nothing more than wood, since his deeds, speech and thoughts are still in need of much improvement in light of his true potential for greatness. Such a person is indeed following the path of a true talmid chachom: although his internal dialogue with the Creator is “wooden”, and reflects a genuine anovo, his external behavior, which is witnessed by onlookers, is appropriately gilded. His inside is like his outside in the sense that both of them are in conformity with the path a genuine talmid chachom is supposed to follow.        

who supports who?
   “And you shall bring the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them” (25:15)

Chazal tell us (Masseches Sosto 35a) that notwithstanding the poles, the oron miraculously carried its bearers on its own. This teaches us that although it appears as if the donors for Torah causes support the Torah, in reality the reverse is the case: the Torah supports them, and their donation is the catalyst for receiving blessings from Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Similarly, the yisroel appears to be supporting the kohen with terumos and ma’asros, but Hashem instructed the kohanim to bless the nation in order to teach us that all the abundance enjoyed by the rest of the nation is in fact received via the kohanim.

Nowadays, too, bnei Torah enjoy the same status as kohanim (see the Rambam at the end of Hilchos Shmita Veyovel) and those who support them are in reality supported by the bnei Torah. If our erring brethren realized that their material welfare stems from the lomdei Torah we would not be in the situation we are currently in.

In any case, it is clear that instead of priding himself for his generosity, a person who makes donations to Torah causes should rather be grateful for the opportunities presented to him for receiving Hashem’s bounty.

Tampering with the Torah
   “And you shall place the ark cover over the Ark of the Testimony in the Holy of Holies” (26:34)

It seems difficult to understand how the luchos inside the oron could have served as a testimony when they were stored in the kodesh hakodoshim, which everyone except the kohen godol on Yom Kippur was forbidden to enter.

Throughout our history there have been people who have argued that the Torah has to be adapted to the times. Sometimes such people really appreciate and honor the Torah, and feel that by adapting it to the needs of their generation they are protecting it, so to speak. However, their actions lead to very grave changes in such areas as the laws of conversion, chupa and kidushin.

The Torah is kept in the kodesh hakodoshim as a reminder that we cannot begin to fathom its holiness, and any attempts to tamper with it are likely to have dire consequences.

toil to receive siyata dishmaya

“The menorah shall be made of hammered work” (25:31) Rashi: “By itself”.

This Rashi may be understood in light of the Vilna Gaon’s explanation of the statement "if you have toiled and found, then believe”. He says that this does not mean that a person enjoys the fruits of his labor, as is the case in other areas, but rather that even after a person has toiled in Torah he can only acquire a proper understanding of it the way one finds a lost object [meziahyogato umozoso], by way of a divine gift.

On the other hand, a precondition for meriting such siyata dishmaya is to first toil in one’s studies. That is why the menorah, which symbolizes the Torah and mitzvos, first had to be made of hammered work, and, then, after all the toiling, was constructed by itself.

A yeshiva bochur upon first entering his yeshiva, or a ba’al teshuva who sees a talmid chachom, may become disheartened at the magnitude of the task facing them. How can they possibly begin to master the whole Torah? The answer is that if they utilize their abilities to the utmost, that is all that Hashem asks for, and He will reward them with corresponding siyata dishmaya to complete the task.