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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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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, June 27, 2013

Parshas Pinchas:The Ability to Rise to the Highest Levels despite our Humble Beginnings

"And G-d spoke to Moshe saying, 'Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon Ha'Kohen has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel in that he was zealous for my sake among them that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy" (Numbers 22: 11-12)

Rashi: "Because the tribes made fun of Pinchas, the son of Puti  whose mother's father fattened calves for idol worship yet he killed  the prince of the tribe of Israel. This is why the Torah traces his ancestry to Aharon."

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Ta'am V'Da'as tells us that they scorned and mocked him because this act of zealotry is not in accordance with the character traits that the Torah wants us to emulate. The Jewish people have the character trait of having compassion for others and this act was so grave that he killed the head of one of tribes!

Therefore, the Torah traces his lineage to Aharon who loved peace and ran after making peace. In reality, the essence of the act of Pinchas was to make peace and that this murder was not for nothing. Rashi, though could be explained in a different fashion.

We know that the nature of converts and baalei teshuvah (returnees to Judaism) is to keep the mitzvos more stringently than most Jews. The reason is that since they were estranged from Torah for many years, they work hard to fix up their spiritual blemishes by being extra stringent on themselves! This is what the tribes were saying to Pinchas that because his mother's father fattened calves for idol worship he worked very hard to increase the honor of heaven and here is the source of his zealousness that he was able to kill Zimri.

Even if there would be the slightest tinge on the character of Pinchas because of what his grandfather did, the Torah connects his ancestry to Aharon. This shows that his act was for the sake of heaven at the highest level. So even if the tribes want to mock him because of his humble beginnings, the Torah tells us that it doesn't matter where he came from but look at what he was able to overcome!

We see from here that converts and baalei teshuvah, while they may have not been educated in the ways of Torah from their youth, they more than make up for their lack of knowledge through their dedication to the Torah and the keeping of the mitzvos. This is no small thing and these people deserve our utmost respect and we should try and help them as much as possible!

Shabbat Shalom
Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishna 3: Serving G-d for the Right Reasons

"Antigonus of Socho received the oral tradition from Shimon Ha'Tzaddik. He used to say, 'Be not like servants who serve the master for the sake of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you"

The beginning of every chapter in Ethics of our Fathers starts with the phrase, 'All Israel have a share in the world to come.' The world to come is the place where after 120 years in this world, we will receive our reward for the mitzvos that we have done in the world. If this is true, aren't we doing the mitzvos for the sake of reward in the next world as the first part our Mishna tells us?

Yes, but as the second part of the Mishna tells us it is better and a higher level to serve G-d by being a servant without expectation of receiving a reward. This can better be explained by the following story.

Someone once asked me what would happen if after 120 years I found out that really everything the Torah taught was a lie (G-d forbid) and I had "wasted" my life with all these odd rules and stringencies  where I would receive no reward or anything for it!

My answer was very simple. Yes, even if I would G-d forbid find out that the Torah was not true, at least I lived my life in the most moral and meaningful way. Not only that, it had changed my life and developed me into a totally different person!

The purpose of serving G-d and doing the mitzvos are to be close to Him and to learn from His ways. He gives us the ability to do that keeping the Torah and doing mitzvos. Obviously as Torah Jews we believe that this is the ultimate truth as passed down through the millenia.

This is what it means to serve G-d even if we wouldn't receive any reward because we believe it is the right thing to do. Through this we serve G-d through love and fear. We fear G-d because we realize His awesomeness and His ability to punish.

Fear of G-d and relating to His awesomeness makes us feel small and inconsequential. At the same time, it gives us the ability to show Him proper respect and act accordingly to the way He wants us to act.
Thursday, June 20, 2013

Parshas Balak: Couldn't we have done better than Bilaam?

"He sent messengers to Bilaam, son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the members of his people, to summon him, saying 'Behold a people sits opposite me" (Bamidbar 22:5)

Rashi: "Why did G-d allow His Presence to descend on the evil Bilaam? In order that the nations of the world would not have an excuse by saying 'Were we to have had prophets we would have repented', G-d established prophets for them yet they breached the fences of the world, for originally, they were restrained regarding sexual immorality but this one, Bilaam advised them to abandon themselves to licentiousness."

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Ta'am Da'as says that this would not have answered the non-Jews claim because they would tell you that this prophet was immoral and corrupt and for sure he would not have had the ability to influence others to repent! Rather, if they had a true prophet like the prophets of the Jewish people, they could have had the proper influence over their own people to go in the right and moral path.

One thing we see, Rav Sternbuch continues is that prophecy does not have the ability to change the nature of a person because of the influence of his evil inclination. If a person works hard to distance himself from the desires of his heart and subjugate his evil inclination, then he can raise himself to a high spiritual level and have a connection to G-d and His Torah.

G-d only rested his Presence on those prophets who demonstrated their ability to overcome their desires and devote themselves fully to the service of G-d. This is what G-d tells the non-Jewish nations. In reality their nature is corrupt and even if He would place His Presence on them it would not help.

The reason is because someone like Bilaam who understood G-d's wisdom at a very high level, was unwilling to work on controlling his desires and morals and therefore stayed on a very low level. This boggles the mind because as great as his understanding of heavenly things was, his corrupt nature did not allow this positive influence to help him.

This in turn lead him to be more corrupt and have a negative influence on his people. This we also find when G-d went to all the nations to ask them if they were interested in accepting the Torah which they ultimately rejected. The Jewish people accepted the Torah and were able to internalize its timeless message because they were prepared to give their lives for spirituality and distance themselves from the emptiness of the desires of this world!

This in fact is the essence of the work a person has to do in this world. We have to strive and work hard on fixing our bad character traits and merit to be of the students of Avraham to have a good eye and be humble. These character traits will help us develop our closeness to G-d. If a person does not work on his desires, then he is subjugated and beholden to them all the days of his life!

Rav Chaim Vital asks why we don't find the essence of character development specifically mentioned in the Torah? He answers by saying that Torah itself is the great foundation which itself is built on character development so therefore since that is the case, the Torah does not have to mention it explicitly.

May we understand and take to heart what the "real world" is and use all of our strength, all of our days working on our character development to become the great people that we can be.

Shabbat Shalom
Monday, June 17, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishnah 2: The Basis for the World's Existence

"Shimon Hatzadik was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say, The world is based on three principles: Torah, worship and acts of loving kindness" The world could not have existed without the Torah since the Torah is the blueprint for creation. It is G-d's handiwork of His existence and role in history.

The learning of Torah has the ability to help man reach it's true potential if its teachings are adhered to and internalized. When we return the Torah to the ark Monday, Thursday and on Shabbat and festivals, we say that "the Torah is the Tree of life to those who grasp it." This means if we learn it properly and internalize its timely messages, it will effect us and change us!   This is the power that the Torah can have. It is not how much of ourselves we put into the Torah but how much Torah we put into ourselves.

When the Mishna tells us that one of the pillars of the world is worship, it literally means the bringing of sacrifices to the Temple. Since we do not have the Temple today (may it be speedily rebuilt in our days), the worship is through prayer.  Sometimes we look at prayer as something more of a rudimentary practice that we don't get that much out of. The purpose of prayer is to draw close to G-d and He has given us the ability to do that three times a day.

We pray for all kinds of things, livelihood, health, redemption... Even if our prayers are not answered, we continue to pray and draw ourselves closer to our Father in heaven. This was the purpose of the sacrifices because a sacrifice in Hebrew is called a korban. The root of the word korban is karev which means to draw close.

Once when I was in South America and I helped out when cows were killed (at that point I thought I would become a vegetarian forever!) I tried to imagine being in the Temple and the shochet (ritual slaughter) was the Kohen Gadol (high priest) and I was bringing the animal as a sacrifice.

After putting it in that perspective and seeing the process from beginning to end, it gave me such a feeling in spirituality that I did not have for such a long time! People may say how could we go back to that system, it is so archaic, barbaric in ways but in reality, it can really draw us close to the Source!

The last of the three pillars are acts of loving kindness. The reason this is such an important pillar that the world stands on is because it gives a person to be a giver. Many commentaries tell us that if a person helps someone else, whether physically (getting him a job, giving tzedakah) or spiritually (helping someone learn to pray, make blessings) it is a greater pleasure for the giver even though he is actually helping someone else.

The reason behind this is because we feel good when we give of ourselves even if we don't receive any physical reward. When we are born, we are takers and continue to take and be helped because we can't function without the help! It takes a long time to learn how to give and help and when we give of ourselves it transforms ourselves into the benevolent people we can be!
Thursday, June 13, 2013

Parshas Chukas: The Inexplainable Mitzvos

"Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying, "This is the decree of the Torah which Hashem has commanded saying, Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take to you a completely red cow which is without blemish, and upon which a yoke has not come" (Numbers 19:1-2)

Rashi explains that the Satan and the nations of the world will say what do you need this mitzvah for and what is the reason behind it? Therefore, the Torah calls this a "chok" (a mitzvah that is given without any fathomable reason as to why I have to do it) and it is a decree in front of Me and you don't have permission to question Me on this.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Ta'am V'Da'as asks why this mitzvah is singled out as a "chok" more than any other "chok" in the Torah, like by sha'atnez, or the laws of separating milk and meat? What is so special about the mitzvah of the red heifer?

Rav Sternbuch learns that the Torah chose the red heifer as the ultimate chok because of the contradiction that the mitzvah poses because it purifies the one that became impure and makes the one that is pure impure. In reality though, even if the Torah gives us reasons for the mitzvos that we do, this is not the ultimate reason of why we perform the mitzvos.

At the end of the day, the Torah is so deep that we cannot possibly fathom the reasons for the mitzvos that G-d has decreed and even if we do understand the reasons for the mitzvos, it is only a tiny fraction of their essence and why we perform them.

This is why the Torah tells us "this is the chok of the Torah" because in essence, the entire Torah is really a chok and we only understand a small amount about the reasons for the mitzvos. This doesn't mean we shouldn't try and understand the reasons for them but it should be clear that this is G-d's wisdom and what we do know is only scratching the surface.

Another way to undertand this is that the foundation of the mitzvah of the red heifer is that it makes the one who is impure pure and the one who is pure impure. From this we can learn how to better serve G-d. People have different strengths and weaknesses and everyone is different. Also, the source of a person's soul is different one to another.

For example, one person's strength in service to G-d may be another's weakness and vice-versa. Therefore, every one of us should be introspective and know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. This in turn, will help us finding our special path to G-d and helping us to reach our true potential.

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, June 6, 2013

Parshas Korach: Even the Greatest People can make Mistakes

"Korach, son of Itzhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, spearted himself with Dahan and Aviram, sons of Eliab, and On, son of Peletch, the offspring of Reuven" (Numbers 16:1). The Midrash tells us that Korach was very intelligent and asks why he would start up and make trouble with Moshe and Aharon. In fact, he saw through Divine Inspiration, that the prophet Shmuel was destined to come from his lineage.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in his work Ta'am V'Da'as asks that if Korach had Divine Inspiration  and he saw in the future who was destined to come from him, how could he come and give problems to Moshe and Aharon?

From here, Rav Sternbuch tells us is the power of how the heart can lead a person to go astray. After all, since Korach had the ability to have Divine Inspiration, his eyes seem to have led him astray and led him to become like a blind person. Not only that, but he thought he had the ability to disagree with Moshe and Aharon!

If we put this in further perspective, Korach saw the miracles in the desert, witnessed the plagues in Egypt and came out with Jewish people! By seeing such things, how could it be that he thought that Moshe and Aharon were abusing their power?

The answer is that he did not internalize the message of what happened in Egypt. Everything that happened there was done by G-d through Moshe and Aharon, not that they acted on their own in any which way.

Some commentaries tells us that a number of the plagues in Egypt were to strengthen the Jewish people in their belief in Divine Providence and faith in G-d. The miracles were to fortify this into the hearts of the Jewish people so it would be solidified when they went into the desert.

This is where is Korach made his mistake.  He didn't get the message and understand that G-d runs the world and makes His decisions the way He see fit. This is what we have to understand and put this in our hearts and live our lives this way!

Shabbat Shalom