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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, May 29, 2013

Parshas Shelach: The Sin of the Spies

It is very hard to understand the sin of the spies. After all, they saw G-d face-to-face at Mt. Sinai (at least for the first two of the Ten Commandments), witnessed the miracles of plagues in Egypt and became the first nation to ever escape their clutches. How could they have thought that G-d would not help them in overcoming the nations in the land of Israel?

Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe tells us that the generation of the wilderness lacked proper faith in G-d. The reason is because when they witnessed all the miracle, they did not stamp that experience on their hearts making it their reality. This means that seeing the miracles was not enough; they had to live them.

They believed that the miracles could have occurred for them against Pharaoh, but who said that the same miracles will take place against the thirty-one nations, whom they did not see and believed that G-d could not overcome them. This also occurred when G-d gave them meat in the desert with the manna.

The Jewish people did not see such an overabundance that they would have so much leftover and would not have to worry. They received enough but who was to say that they would receive more and more...

The thought process of the Jewish people was how long can the miracles last? After all, we got manna yesterday, the day before, the day before that...and they even received a double portion every erev shabbos. They themselves didn't believe that they were worthy or could sustain themselves for such a long period of time on this type of faith.

This is what G-d wanted. He tested their endurance through faith-training. This training which would last for some time in the desert was in fact preparation for them when they would arrive in the land of Israel. If their training was complete, they would have come into the land in a much shorter time and annihilated the nations!

In essence they were afraid and did not believe that they could live a life at such a high spiritual level. When the cupboard is bear and there is no more food, will the manna arrive tomorrow or not? Just because it came yesterday does not mean that it will be here today.

This was their test and as great as the men that Moshe picked to go and spy out the land, only two survived the test, Joshua and Calev. They internalized the spiritual message that G-d wanted for the Jewish people. The others failed and caused the Jewish people to wander for forty years in the desert.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishna 1: Jewish Continuity

The first Mishna in Pirke Avos says, "Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and handed it down to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, the elders to the prophets and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assmebly. The latter said three things: Be patient in the administration of justice, develop many students, and make a fence around the Torah.

The Mishna here established that G-d gave the Torah to Moshe, both the written Torah and the Oral tradition as well. Without an Oral tradition, the Torah is unfathomable. An example would be when the Torah tells us  that "You shall dwell in booths for a seven-day period, every native in Israel shall dwell in booths." (Leviticus 23:42)

What do the booths look like? What are their dimensions? How many walls do they have? Without an Oral tradition we would not know the answers to these questions. Not only that, everyone would come up with their own ideas of what they thought it meant! If everyone did what they wanted, their would be no continuity into tradition and everyone would pass something different down to their children!

After the Mishna gives the genealogy of how the Torah was transferred throughout the generations, the Mishna tells us that we should be patient in administrating justice. This means that when one comes with a question to a rabbinical authority, that rav should answer automatically but think carefully about the question before answering. Otherwise, without carefully analyzing the question, it would be very easy to make a mistake.

The Mishna is also careful to mention justice more than anything else here because it is essence of knowing G-d.  None other than the great prophet Jeremiah tells us "For only with this may one glorify himslef - contemplating and knowing Me, for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness in theland, for in these is My desire the word of Hashem" (Jeremiah 9:23)

How will a person come to know Hashem? When a person learns the laws of damages and understands administration of justice because this is what Hashem does. The world is based on judgement  and when we understand better these laws, we see G-d's greatness in running the world.

The Mishna also teaches us that we should have many students. Many students means that we should teach those who want to learn and grow. The student should be modest, honest and have fear of heaven. Having many students that will listen and soak up what the rebbe teaches is great for them but it also  makes the rebbe sharper through their questions..

When a rebbe has proper students, it inspires him to reach higher levels to help the students reach their unlimited potential so it a win-win situation for both!

The last thing the Mishna mentions is that a person should make a fence around the Torah. It is a great thing to make a fence around the Torah so a person will not come to make a mistake. Making a fence around the Torah gives a person a higher awareness of what his purpose is in this world and helps them reach higher spiritual goals.

Since they are more careful with what they do now and in the future, they will be more careful with their actions and have a higher level of fear of heaven!
Sunday, May 26, 2013

A student of mine fights the Supreme Court of Israel to make Aliyah

An interesting video about a student of mine desperately wanting to make aliyah, fighting his way to the Israeli Supreme Court

http://youtu.be/ASrCdxOk_Ds
Thursday, May 16, 2013

Parsha Naso: A Woman's Hair

"The Kohen shall have the woman stand before Hashem and uncover the woman's head, and upon her palms he shall put the meal offering of rememberance, it is a meal offering of jealousies, and in the hand of the Kohen shall be the bitter waters that cause curse" (Numbers 5:18)

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Ta'am V'Da'as asks according to the Chasam Sofer how could it have been permitted to mention G-d's name in the parsha of Sotah if the woman's hair was uncovered? We know that the Gemara tells us that an uncovered woman's hair is considered licentiousness and a man is not allowed to say a blessing in her presence, so how could the Kohen mention G-d's name in the parsha of Sotah?

We know the Rav continues that if a man must make a blessing in the presence of a woman and her hair is uncovered, he just has to turn his head to the side (not looking at the woman when making the blessing) and that would take care of the problem.

We see from this the stringency about a married woman covering her hair. Here the Torah compares the uncovered hair of a Sotah to a woman who is forbidden to her husband. The Rav explains elsewhere that the Torah does not give an amount of hair that if uncovered is ok.

We can infer from this that even if a little bit of a woman's hair is uncovered then it breaches a serious infraction of modesty. We see from the Rambam Hilchos Sotah Chapter 3 Halacha 5 that even if hair is covered but some is not she is considered immodest.

Some women think that if they cover their hair a little bit then they have fulfilled their obligation. We learn from the parsha of Sotah that even where we have to uncover her hair for the sake of embarrassing her, we don't have to uncover it all the way since even uncovering it a little bit is enough!

This is a lesson for the Jewish woman that covers her hair, that she should be very careful to make sure all of it is covered since if a little bit is uncovered, it leads to breakage in the lass of modesty.

Good Shabbos
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Holiday of Shavuous: Putting the Giving of the Torah into Everyday Life

As the holiday of Shavuos comes, we celebrate it through learning Torah all night long. As each holiday has their specific mitzvos, i.e. Sukkos, we sit in a sukkah, shake the lulav...Chanukah, lighting the menorah, Passover eating matzah...the holiday of Shavuos is marked by learning Torah.

The essence of the holiday is showing our commitment to Torah and adherence to its laws. We show its importance by staying up all night learning it. The reason is brought down by the famous Ari Zal (Rav Isaach Luria) that we were sleeping when G-d wanted to give us the Torah and He had to make lightning and thunder to wake us up. Throughout the generations we must fix up this transgression and stay awake all night to make up for what happened.

In reality though, we should be dancing with the Torah like we do on Simchas Torah. Why don't we do this on Shavuous? Simchas Torah celebrates our yearly cycle of finishing the Torah and we celebrate the ability to be able to continue it again and start from the beginning. This shows that the Torah never ends and is limitless and always continuing.

Shavuous on the other hand is about our commitment to Torah. We show we want to keep it at all costs regardless of what it tells us to do. It is like we are in G-d's army. Whether we get more sleep or less, we still have to uphold the standards of the Torah to the best of our ability.Even if we are tired after staying up all night and we will ultimately fall asleep during parts of davening, nonetheless we are showing our commitment to Torah!

Ultimately it is our ability to try and connect to the Torah as much as possible. Even if we fail we try and show G-d how much we want to improve! it is the effort that we put that matters and the thought that we want to change and become better people.

The purpose of these days leading up to Shavuos is to recommit ourselves to the Torah and its ideals  and think about what we can do to improve our ways. This is why there are the 48 ways to acquire the Torah that the Mishna in Pirke Avos speaks about. We look at each one, each day and think a little about them and how they affect our lives.

May we merit to accept the Torah the way it should be and learn it to the best of our ability.

Have a happy and meaningful Shavuos!

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Reporting a thing in the name of the person who said it

The last of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is reporting something you heard in the name of the person who said it. This is the last of the 48 ways to acquire Torah and the question that must be asked is why is this the last one? Why would this be considered such a great thing that would lead into the holiday of Shavuos? Not only that but the end of the Mishna tells us that if we do this, it will bring redemption to the world!

The reason that this is so important is because it shows the ultimate in humility in a person. If we were learning something and came up with a tremendous novelty that seemingly no one else has thought of, it would make us incredibly happy. All the effort we have just put in, all the hours, research, who wouldn't be happy? What if we find though, that someone else has already come up with the same idea?

Would we be so gracious as to give credit to someone else for our "novelty" or rather keep it for ourselves? Logic would dictate that we would rather keep it for ourselves than give credit to someone else. After all our hard work, thought and research, how could we possibly give credit to someone else for all the effort we put in?

This not only shows our humility but also our ability to give the credit to someone else for our own idea! This idea is so important that the Mishna tells us that we bring redemption to the world. This is such a selfless act, how could it not be deemed so important?

After all, mankind is selfish in general and our egos can be as big as the universe itself and we have now given of ourselves so much that we are willing to give someone credit for "my"  idea! Incredible that man has the ability to raise themselves to such a level! This act of selflessness transforms man to want to give more of themselves and do other acts of loving kindness that will transform themselves into the great people that they can be become.
Monday, May 13, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Think over what you have heard

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is to think over what you have learned. This means that when you hear something, analyze it in an organized way to make sure you understand it. Even if you have heard the teaching a hundred times or more, nonetheless still think it through to make sure it is clear.

This can also teach us not to be so quick when we hear something. Don't interrupt until you have heard what the person has to say. This will help in the final analysis if a person is quick to answer before they have heard everything.

Aren't we quick to want to say something before the person has finished talking? Don't we want to interrupt before we lose the flow of what what we want to say? Even if that may be true, don't, you may have misinterpreted what you have just heard!

Even if we hear something, we should give it proper organized thought. Whether we have heard it before or if it is the first time, there is no mitzvah in blurting out something before it has properly been digested.

Sometimes the best answer or response is nothing at all. Just stop and think about what has been said. A knee-jerk reaction may not be what you have intended or what you wanted to say. We must be careful in our words and actions to the extent that the best thing for us in a certain situation is silence.

This reminds me of a funny story. Someone was telling their friend something and in the middle of the story, his friend blurted something out before hearing the end. This person looked foolish as his friend said, "how can you say this, you haven't heard the end of the story yet!"

His friend responded that the way the story was going, this was going to happen and then that...and I made the comment based on that. His friend replied that the comment was totally out of place because that is not what happened in the story.

When his friend heard the end of the story, he was totally embarrassed as to what he had said and wished he refrained from what he said. Ahhh, the power of listening, internalizing and thinking over what you just heard!

The 48 ways to Acquire Torah: Making his Teacher Wiser

The next of the 48 ways to Acquire Torah is making his teacher wiser. The Talmud tells us that a teacher becomes wiser because of the questions that his students ask. The reason is that as great and wise as a person may be, the questions that his students ask him inevitably make his knowledge of that subject much greater.

This questions his students ask sharpen the teacher and make them develop what they are teaching to an even greater level. We may think that this is more advantageous to the students because in reality they are ones that would seem to gain the most from it. This is true because they are learning more in depth and are subjected to different ideas that expands their knowledge as well.

At the same time, though this helps the teacher even more for the reasons previously mentioned. There are stories of many great Torah scholars, before they would give their classes, they would analyze and reanalyze the material that they were teaching.

They would scrutinize every point and look at the topic from every angle to make sure they knew it properly. This in turn develops them and makes the knowledge that they have even greater because of all the effort they put into the preparation of the class at hand.

When a person has to teach something to someone else, they themselves have to have the utmost clarity before they do so. This leads to a thorough internalization of the material which raises them to a different level than they were before.

This is because they want to make sure that the material is clear and they cover their bases of what possibly their students could ask. By anticipating that, they increase their own knowledge while at the same time, imparting important lessons for their students.

The 48 ways to Acquire Torah: Learning in order to Practice

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is learning in order to practice. The purpose of what we learn is implementation. The acquisition of knowledge for knowledge sake but having no repercussions in my life is not Torah.

Learning Torah is about making myself a better person. Refining my character traits, making my mind sharper, helping me with my interpersonal skills and developing my connection to G-d.

Everybody has the ability to acquire knowledge in Torah but as we say everyday in the paragraph before we reach the Shema, we must learn, teach and give over that knowledge to others. The question is what happens if a person learns Torah for the sake of acquiring wisdom: is this an aspect of Torah?

In many ways we would say that this is not the case. In Torah, a person can acquire wisdom. The question is does this change a person? Does it make him want to do more mitzvos, help others or give charity? If the answer is no to these questions then what is a person learning Torah for?

On the other hand, there is a teaching that if I learn not for the sake of learning or for ulterior motives, then it can lead me to learn for the sake of heaven. This is true but that is not the standard we are looking to emulate.

We want to learn to help motivate ourselves to help others and work on character development. The most important thing is to do! We can't develop ourselves if we take this knowledge and leave it at that. It must be internalized and given over to others as well to help them in all their spiritual endeavors!

Everything we learn in Torah helps us in implementing that teaching. For example, if we learn about the laws of Shabbos, festivals, kashrut...it endears these things more to us. The knowledge itself gives us the information and shows the importance of that subject. This will lead to a more profound things that will expand what we know and make that mitzvah more beloved to us.


The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Listening and adding to on'es Knowledge

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is listening and adding to one's knowledge. When we listen to others, we have the ability to increase our own knowledge, all the more so when we listen to the wisdom of our Torah scholars.

When we listen, we absorb the idea and internalize it to make it our reality. We look at it from many different angles until we understand it clearly.

When we learn something new, we have the ability to add on to our previous knowledge. We may think that new things we learn have no connection to what we know previously. This is a mistake because knowledge never goes to waste.

When we learn Torah, whatever we learn is a building block for something else. This means that I could learn something new that sheds light onto something I have already learned and put it in a new perspective that wasn't thought of previously.

Haven't we learned something or heard a new idea that shed light onto something we learned many years ago? This is the power of Torah that shows that everything is interconnected, it is just a matter of time until we find the missing parts and put them together.

When we listen, we have to open our hearts to be able to hear. This means that when we hear something new, we should not automatically reject it out of hand. We should thoroughly analyze it to see if it is true and what I can gain from it.

We are quick to dismiss something that we haven't heard of. Maybe it's true but since a person hasn't heard of it before, they will be reluctant to implement its teaching until it has been proven. The most important thing here is to be open to listen, that way we can increase our knowledge and help ourselves reach our true potential!


  
Thursday, May 9, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Asking and Answering

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is asking and answering. Judaism is all about asking questions but there are different ways to ask. There is asking a question because one is curious and wants to know the answer and there is asking a question to ask a question but the answer does not have any relevance to my life.

We also know that sometimes the question is better than the answer that we receive. In any case, the purpose of questioning to get to the crux of the issue to know what the truth is. Sometimes though, the answers to our questions may be difficult to comprehend and understand.  At the same time, we have to be ready to handle the answer even if it may be difficult to accept.

We also have to be careful when answering questions as well. It is important to know who is asking the question and what is behind it, only then can we give a truthful answer. We see this clearly by the answer given to the evil son in the Passover Hagadah.

We are told to blunt his teeth. What kind of answer is that? After all, there is not much difference between the question that the evil son and the wise son ask. The difference is what the intention of their question is.

The wise son asks his question because he is seriously interested in the answer. The evil son is really giving an answer and it is impossible to answer and answer! This is why the Hagadah tells us to blunt his teeth because since he is not interested in an answer, we only add fuel to the fire!

In answering someone's query, we also have to be aware of what the implications may be. This means that our answer must be to what the questioner is asking. If someone asks us for directions and we are not sure and send them the wrong way, we have just wasted their time and caused them to go out of their way for nothing.

We also have to have proper guidance to make sure that we give proper advice to those that require it or send them to someone that can. This is a tremendous responsibility and we have to be ready to say I don't know and ask someone who is more knowledgeable than us. This not only shows humility on our part but it helps the person who needs the information!

 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire to Torah: Set People at Peace

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is set people at peace. This means that a person helps others to find inner peace in a world that can be in turmoil. There are many reasons why a person may not be at peace.

It could stem from past experiences that have not gone away or a decision that one has to make that makes one uncomfortable. It could also be the epic battle that goes on between body and soul that leaves a person on edge.

This battle is constant as the body and soul are constantly fighting for supremacy. The body wants to overcome the spiritual through his physicality while the soul tries to "spiritualize" the body and sanctify it.  Each one looks to beat the other which causes a person to be in constant conflict.

Inner peace means to be able to have both body and soul coexist without one trying to obliterate the other. The body needs the soul, otherwise it could not exist while the soul needs the casing of the body to be able to "live" in this world.

The soul, through the performance of the mitzvos can strengthen and beautify the body with its actions, and the two can work hand-in-hand. Although the spiritual soul comes from above, it is put in a physical body to be able to use the physical and turn it into the spiritual.

How do we do that? If we eat an apple, we think of what went into its creation and nurturing to be able to be eaten. I take this physical piece of food and make a blessing on it and sanctify its existence for the sake of my hunger and spirituality at the same time.

This means I can take a simple physical act, make a blessing by invoking G-d's name and thanking for creating it so I could get benefit from it. If I think in these terms and always keep this in the back of my head, then I have this inner peace that allows to live and benefit in this world on my way to becoming the spiritual person I can!






The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Directing him to Truth

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is directing him to truth. Why is getting to the truth so important and why should I search for it? Everyone needs meaning in life but most people never search for the truth either because they don't believe it is exists or because they are not interested and would rather live the life of fantasy.

This is because if they would come to the truth, it may obligate themselves to do things and change which is not on most people's radar! Not only that, they don't even want to get into a discussion because they are afraid of being brainwashed!

As I was learning with someone many years ago, he told me that even if you prove to me 99% that the Torah is true, I still have that 1% free will to say it is not true. I then asked if you were writing a term paper, would you leave your conclusion to a doubt? He said of course not.

The way you write a term paper is to pick a topic with a thesis and then spend the bulk of the paper of bringing proofs for that thesis. If I spend all that time trying to prove it and then leave my conclusion as a doubt, I will fail.

I then asked the million dollar question. If in real life you find the proofs for 99% of what the Torah tells us as being true, would you say that 1% is a doubt and I still have my free will? How far are you willing to take it?

At that point my trusted study partner looked at me and said, "What I am willing to do to prove my thesis for my term paper is not the same as I would do in real life if it meant I had to change my life!"

In essence this is really a sad way to look at things. Another person told me that they would rather not look for the truth and live fantasy because if I find the truth and I have to change my life, that is something I am not willing to do.

We get the character trait of truth from our ancestor Yaakov and the extent he was willing to sacrifice his life for it. The truth is something we should all strive for and try to live up to!
Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Judging a Person Favorably

The next of the 48 ways to Acquire Torah is judging a person favorably. This is talking about the average person who performs mitzvos and transgresses. When they are in a situation that one could judge their action either one, as long as they are not a habitual sinner, there is an obligation to judge them favorably. Why should this be so?

The average person deserves the benefit of the doubt. We all make mistakes but in a case where it could go either way, we should try as much as possible to judge the person favorably. After all, if we look at people in a favorable way, won't others look at us the same way?

At the same time, the more we look at others favorably, G-d will also look at us favorably. It is very easy to see the negative attributes of people and condemn for past things that they have done. The truly great people understand that we have our good days, bad days and that we are very much human.

People who look at others favorably in questionable situations doesn't make believe that what is happening doesn't exist and that they are naive. It means that they are positive people who want to look at others positively without being overly negative.

If on the other hand, we are talking about a habitual sinner who doesn't care about what they do or about others and they are in a questionable situation, there is no obligation to see what they have done in a positive manner. The reason is because they have spent their lives doing things that are forbidden and it is most likely what they are doing now is as well.

Since they have a track record for such things, my obligation to judge them favorably disappears. Although this may be a negative thing, nonetheless the direction that they are going in is a statement of their life and therefore does not warrant for my positive outlook!

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Bearing the Yoke with one's Colleague

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is bearing the yoke with one's colleague. This means that when our friend suffers, we should suffer with him; ie share his suffering with him. We can do this by trying our best to help our friend through his difficult time.

Good friends are hard to come by. What makes someone a good friend is that they are there for you when things are good and especially when they are sad. Even if one is having difficulty, that friend can try and "pick you up" by a friendly word, gesture or even being silent, just listening.

This can also mean that if our friend is in trouble, even financially, we should try and help or get others to help as much as possible. Regardless of what the situation is, when we try and help our friend that is in trouble, we share the burden of what he is going through.

Even if we ourselves cannot help our friend in his present situation or get others to help, just telling your friend that you are here for them and you feel for their situation is a tremendous thing. When someone is going through a difficulty sometimes the best thing a person can do to aid them is to make them aware that you are there for them. This does help alleviate some of the stress as the person having the difficulty sees that they are not alone in what they are going through.

This is especially true when one goes to visit someone that is sitting shiva for a relative that has died. The person is going through a painful experience and part of the healing process is that others come to be with the mourner to give comfort. Giving comfort may mean just listening to the mourner speak about the deceased without saying anything at all.

There are many ways we can help others by bearing the yoke of what they are going through. Either through physical help, money or even just being there so your friend can have a shoulder to cry on. At the very least, whatever we are able to do does alleviate the pain and help our friend in distress.




The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Not liking making directive decisions

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is not liking making directive decisions. Being a rabbinic figure is a very difficult job. Making decisions and answering people's questions is a big responsibility and should not be taken lightly.

How does one receive training in such a field? Today's rabbis have to learn a lot of material about many different aspects of Judaism. From kashrus to Shabbos to festivals to blessings...there appears no end in sight!

Even more important than the book knowledge and passing the exams is the amount of time they have spent with a qualified mentor that can guide them in the practical aspects of the material that they have learned. This is so important because one needs proper guidance and direction.

Another important element in becoming a person who answers questions for others is to know when to say, "I don't know" or "I am not sure" and be able to go to someone who knows more than them. As one of the commentaries tells us, one should not like making these decisions because of the awesome responsibility it entails and the tremendous repercussions they can have on someone's life.

This also means that if one has the proper training and proper mentors to go to, that they should not shirk their responsibilities if they are qualified for this work! The Talmud tells us that it is not good if a person has reached that level and does not help others. At the same time, the Talmud explains, if one is not qualified and answers questions for others, that is equally dangerous!


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Parshas Behar - Bechukosai The forbiddeness of Ribis and Lack of Faith of G-d

Leviticus 25:36 "Do not take usury from him or increase but fear G-d so your brother can live with you" According to the Kli Yakar, it is forbidden to lend someone money with interest because it is a lack of faith in G-d.  How can this be?

Normally a person who works, will turn their eyes to G-d for Heavenly help to help them with livelihood because there is no guarantee that they will be successful in their business.  Lending with interest, on the other hand, a person is guaranteed to make a profit and therefore does not need to rely on G-d to help him which is a lack of faith in Him. That is why this verse is brought in after the topic of Shemittah has been discussed since the purpose of the mitzvah of Shemittah is to have stronger belief in G-d.

There is a famous story with the Alshich that illustrates this point. Once he was speaking to the people of his city and told them that if they would dedicate all their time to learning Torah and working on themselves spiritually they would not have to worry about their livelihood because G-d would give them livelihood without them having to work for it!

When a simple wagon driver heard this, he decided that he was going tovdo just that! Immediately he stopped working  and went to the study hall to learn.  A few days later, he found a chest of gold that was able to support himself handsomely.

The students of the Alshich were astounded. They said that they also learn Torah and pray hard and they have not merited such heavenly help! The Alshich answered that the simpleness and pure faith of the wagon driver showed how clearly he believed with certainty about what the rav had said. G-d said He would help all those who dedicate themselves to learning Torah  and he had no doubt about it at all and therefore was rewarded from heaven!

You, my students on the other hand don't have as much faith as the simple wagon driver. Instead, you test G-d to see if He is going to help you and therefore it is not enough faith that G-d should send livelihood like He did with the simple wagon driver.

This teaches us a fundamental lesson about belief and faith in G-d and what G-d demands from us.

Good Shabbos


48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Do not have Pride in your Learning

The next of the 48 ways of acquiring Torah is don't have pride in your learning. This means that even if one learns a lot, it should not make you think you are so great! The purpose of learning Torah is to transform a person and change them, to envelop the learning into the person.

The goal is to learn from every person even if they have not learned that much. This also teaches a person humility as well. Even if one has learned so much Torah, the Mishna in Avos teaches us previously that one should not think they are so great if they learned Torah because that is what they were created to do in the first place!

Many people try and show off their knowledge and make others feel bad because of their lack of knowledge. It gives them a sense of accomplishment but in reality it puts a chip on their shoulder that is unhealthy.

Every person needs to be motivated to want to learn and review what they learn. Even if one is successful, still it may go to their head. On top of that, they could probably learn more and become even greater if this pride thing did not get in the way.

"Why review and learn more, when I have learned so much," one may think. "I am already doing so much, why exert myself more," they may think. This can ultimately make someone lazy and take shortcuts.  It could also cause them to look down on others as well.

Having too much pride in anything is never good, all the more in Torah because it can uproot a person's good character traits and cause a tremendous downfall!
Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The 48 ways to Acquire Torah: Run away from Honor

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is to run away from honor. What is the problem with getting a little bit of honor? What is the danger that the Mishna here is telling us about?

Honor is something that has the potential to ruin a person. The reason is that when a person is honored, even if he deserves to be, it can cause that individual to think that he is better than he is. Not only that, they may think they are so great, that they look down upon others.

The more a person is honored, the more this feeds into their mindset that they are really greater than they are. Everyone compliments them, respects them, wants to be friends with them...it creates a false illusion in many ways.

The Mishna earlier states that a person has to know their place. In terms of learning Torah, if a person learned a lot of Torah, they shouldn't think they are so great because that is what they are created for in the first place! Even if they have learned a lot of Torah, does that give the person the right to mistreat others or look down upon them?

Honor can build a person's self-esteem for hard work that they have done during their lifetime. At the same time, it can "build" them up so much as individuals that they don't listen to others and think they are better than others.

Who is considered a talmid chacham (a rabbinic scholar)? Someone who listens to people even if they are on a lower level than them and someone who is always talmid (student) and wants to gain knowledge from others regardless of what spiritual level that person may be on.

Honor is one of those character traits that the more a person receives, the more they want and desire it. That is why the Mishna states here that one should distance themselves from it.