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

Idol Worship: Epikorsus and Anger

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel, with which to give the offering to Hashem, to atone for your souls” (30:15) 

            The rich man's large donation to charity is no dearer in Hashem's eyes than the poor man's small one, everything rather depends on the degree of devotion and self-sacrifice displayed by the donor; there is no justification for the rich man to feel superior to the poor man just because of the size of his donation.

            Every person had to donate an identical half-shekel amount to finance the korbonos to teach us that it is not the amount of a donation that counts, and also to emphasize that the resulting atonement was the result of the joint effort of the entire nation. For the same reason the amount specified was half a shekel, to indicate that each individual’s private donation could not be complete without being complemented by the donations of all the other individuals comprising the entire nation. Only then would be there be a complete shekel.

            However, the Mishna at the beginning of Masseches Shekolim says that an announcement was made on the first of Adar about bringing shekolim and also about kilayim. Since the shekolim, as we said, symbolize unity between all members of the nation, the Mishna counterbalances this by mentioning kilayim in the same breath in order to remind us that although unity is indispensable, the holy may not be intermingled with the profane, and we therefore cannot unite with epikrosim who detach themselves from the rest of the nation, because such "unity" would constitute kilayim (a forbidden mixture).

            The Baal Haflo’oh, who was the rov of Frankfurt, refused to count irreligious people as part of a minyan. When he was challenged about this policy in the light of the medrash that encourages sinners to be part of our public prayers, he replied that he had no objection to their joining our prayers once a kosher minyan had been formed, the point being that if the non-observant approach us seeking to make a connection, we must of course welcome them with open arms, but as long as they remain antagonistic towards us, we must maintain our distance.

Following in the footsteps of the LEVIYIM

“Whoever is for Hashem, let him come to me! And all the sons of Levi gathered around him” (32:26) 

            The Brisker Rov zt”l noted that it seems strange that only the Leviyim volunteered to participate in executing the death sentence on those who had sinned. Surely the whole nation had now witnessed that Moshe Rabbeinu was alive and well, so that the whole raison d'être for the golden calf had dissipated. Why, then, did only the Leviyim answer Moshe’s call?

            This teaches us, he replied, that if someone doubts Hakodosh Boruch Hu it is difficult for him to detach itself from his erroneous beliefs even if he is presented with proof of the false nature of his views. He added that people think that when moshiach comes everyone will become righteous overnight, but this is not so. We have to prepare ourselves for moshiach by connecting completely to Hashem. Without such a connection it will be difficult to dissociate ourselves completely from heretical thoughts even once moshiach comes.

            He also commented that the entire Jewish nation believed in Hashem, but only the Leviyim answered Moshe’s call, because only they believed in Hashem exclusively, only they had had no desire to join the erev rav, to have anything to do with them, or to approve their actions in their hearts. As Chazal say: anyone who acknowledges idol worship, it is as if he denies the entire Torah.

            Similarly, in our times, if someone seeks to unite with anti-Torah elements, it is as if he denies the entire Torah. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that only bnei yeshiva are at stake. As much as they wax eloquent about the Torah, in reality they wish to uproot it by enacting laws such as those pertaining to the secularization of marriages and conversions.

            Our very existence in this country is supernatural, and we have been witness to miracles both during peacetime and, in particular, in times of war, but we cannot take this for granted. We must beseech Hashem that He will continue to protect us in His mercy. In order for us to have clean hands in this respect, we must continue to resist any talk of compromises and dissociate ourselves completely from anti-Torah elements and their supporters.

“Only keep My Shabossos” (33:13) 

            The Torah mentions Shabossos in the plural. One Shabbos refers to the fact that we refrain from performing melochos, whereas the second Shabbos refers to the positive, active kedushah inherent in Shabbos based on which we strive to create an otherworldly experience, and to recharge our spiritual batteries, thereby sanctifying ourselves and this holiest day. Kedushah in this context means learning Torah, saying divrei Torah, singing zemiros and conveying fundamental messages to our children at the Shabbos table.

            Chazal (Masseches Shabos 118b) tell us that if we all keep two Shabossos properly we will be redeemed immediately. These two shabossos may be interpreted as referring to the Shabos of refraining from melochos and the Shabbos of actively creating the requisite kedushah.

neshomo yeseiro
   “And on the seventh day He ceased and rested [vayinofosh]” (33:17) 

            The gemara (Masseches Beitza 16a) expounds this as a comment made by a person when Shabbos starts: vay ovdo nefesh: “woe is to my soul, which has departed from me”. The gemara says this in the context of the neshomo yeseiro, the “additional soul” with which we are endowed and which departs on motzoay shabbos, so how can we understand this exposition in view of the fact that the possuk appears to be talking about Shabbos itself not motzoay shabbos?

            The Imrei Emes zt”l says that already upon the commencement of Shabbos a person should bear in mind that his neshomo yeseiro will only be with him for the duration of the Shabbos and he should therefore utilize it to the utmost for as long as he has it by refraining from forbidden or idle talk and endeavoring to infuse the holy day with kedusha.

            Alternatively, when Shabbos starts a person should take stock of whether he has given his neshomo its due during the week that has elapsed. If he has not, he bewails his neglect of it, and undertakes to dedicate more time during the upcoming week to learning Torah and generally catering to the needs of his neshomo.

clarity in hindsight
“You will see My back but My face shall not be seen” (33:23) 

            We have an annual Day of Judgment every Rosh Hashono and are also judged after we pass away, but it is only on the Final Day of Judgment, which will follow the chevlei moshiach and techias hamesim, that Hashem will reveal to us the reasons for our national and personal suffering, and for the rewards that have been allotted in this world and the Next World.

            For now we cannot see Hashem’s “face”, we cannot fathom the depths of His judgment, only after the Final Day of Judgment will we be capable of understanding the justice of all His deeds, only then will we “see” His “back”, only then will we understand in retrospect everything that happened to us.

beware of anger

“You shall not make molten gods for yourself. The Festival of Matzos you shall keep” (34:17-18).  

Rav Meshulam Igra zt”l was a famous Gaon who died in 1801. His shamash told the following story to the Chasam Sofer zt”l, who succeeded Rav Meshulam to the Pressburg rabbinate.

Rav Meshulam was very particular about personally handling the entire process of matzo production right from the first stage of ketziro (reaping). For example, he checked each wheat stalk himself to ensure that there was no suspicion of chimutz (fermentation). One erev Pesach Rav Meshulam left the house early to go to shul before Yom Tov started, and the maid found three matzos on the table. These were the matzos which Rav Meshulam had so painstakingly prepared for the Seder, but thinking that they were simple matzos she took them to make a dish with them.

Soon after that the Rebbetzen noticed that her husband’s matzos were no longer there, and she asked the maid if she knew where they were. When the maid told her what she had done with them, the Rebbetzen became very upset with her, and told her that her husband had spent so much time and effort on these matzos and he would now not have any matzos for the Seder. The Rebbetzen was in such a state that she fainted. A doctor was summoned and he told everybody not to worry, because the Rebbetzen would be all right.

When Rav Meshulam came home he was surprised to find a large crowd gathered in his house, and he became worried that something had happened to the Rebbetzen. When he was told about the preceding events, there was no change to his calm demeanor, and he did not say anything, but merely asked where the maid was. It turned out that she had become so frightened that she had run away, and had to be summoned. The rov told her that she must not worry, because what she had done had not been her fault, and he would just borrow three matzos from the neighbors. These matzos, he added, were perfectly kosher. The matzos and all the chumros I invested in them, he concluded, would not be worth anything if I now became angry because of them.

The Chasam Sofer was very impressed with this story, and was amazed at how Rav Meshulam  reacted to his maid’s conduct, even though he heard about the incident suddenly and without any warning.

According to the plain meaning “You shall not make molten gods for yourself” is a prohibition against idol worship, but the Zohar learns that it is an admonition against becoming angry, so these pesukim may be read as follows: you shall keep the Festival of Matzos meticulously and employ as many chumros as possible to ensure their kashrus limehadrin, but do not do so at the expense of becoming angry!