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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.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Derech Hashem - The Way of G-d Introduction

The Ramchal  in his introduction tells us that when a person is confronted with many details and does not know how they relate to each other, it is a very difficult test. Also, when one studies a subject, one must understand the place of each element within the general scheme.

When dealing with general principles, one must be very careful to grasp all their aspects and areas of validity. Even elements that may seem superfluous should not be ignored, but should be carefully preserved and taken to heart.

The Ramchal then tells us that in his work, he has put together the general principles of Jewish belief and religion, expounding its true nature in such a way that it can be clearly understood and provide an adequate picture, free of ambiguity  and confusion.

This means that when one understands these fundamental beliefs, then it is easier to understand man's purpose in the world and how the world works in general. This is regards to this world, the next world, how spiritual forces function... Creation and all its entity is confusing and it is very difficult to make sense of what happens around us.

The Ramchal sets up his book into four sections: The first section is about the general basis of all existence  and its details. The second section deals with G-d's Providence, the third with prophecy and the fourth with religious observance.

Although this gives the reader a very general basis of how things work in this world, it does not make our existence easy. This means that when we learn about the ongoing battle between the yetzer hara (evil inclination) and the yetzer ha'tov (good inclination) and how it all happened through Adam eating from the tree of knowledge, the struggles that we go through in this world, just don't end. Rather, we now have the basis from where it comes from!

Understanding these concepts from where they come from is half the battle in utilizing this world for our benefit to reach our true potential. Once we understand how G-d set this up and why He set up in such a way, it gives us tremendous more meaning in our everyday life.

At the same time, knowing why things are the way they are and working with these elements in our day-to-day lives certainly helps. There is a big difference, though, knowing what the right thing is and actually doing it! The Ramchal through his introduction shows us that there is a lot going on behind the scenes in this world and prepares us for this and how we are supposed to relate to it.
Monday, July 22, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishna 7: Having a connection to Bad People

"Natan of Arbel said, 'Keep aloof from a bad neighbor, do not associate with an evil man and do not give up the belief in retribution [wickedness will not succeed in the end]."

What is wrong with a bad neighbor? If I am strong in my values, do I really think that he will have the ability to influence me? The answer is that even if my values are good and I am strong in my beliefs, nonetheless the lifestyle of others can certainly effect me. This is why I have to choose where I live seriously because of the influence of my neighbors.

This goes hand-in-hand with the second part of the Mishna that one should stay away from an evil man. Rabbenu Yonah of Gerondi tells us that this is a tremendous transgression because if I associate with an evil man and transgress with him, then I have a portion in them because of my association with him.

There is a common misconception that if I have a connection with an evil person he will not affect me. Just the opposite! He has the ability to damage me more than I can affect him positively. This is the danger of doing kiruv (teaching non-religious Jews and bringing them closer to Torah). When a person is involved in this, they have to set up strict guidelines for themselves that they should not be affected negatively. Although this is a great mitzvah to bring other Jews closer to Torah, nonetheless, one has to be careful in such an endeavor.

The last part of the Mishna is directly connected to the previous statement. A person should not say in their heart, this evil person has it easy in this world, why shouldn't I have a good relationship with him? Everything is going great for them! Don't worry, It will happen in a short amount of time that this person will eventually be punished.

Sometimes, it looks like one has it easy it in this world. They have wealth, fame and power and all the trimmings that go with it. Behind the scenes, though, G-d is really giving that person the merit for the small amount of mitzvos that they have done in this world so that they will not merit anything in the next world.

The bottom line is that we want to associate with people in this world that will give us the best chance to help us reach our true spiritual potential. This will allow us to continue to grow and become the great people that we are destined to become!
Thursday, July 18, 2013

Parshas Ve'eschanan: Never Give up Hope

"I implored Hashem at that time, saying 'My L-rd Hashem Elokim, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand for what power is there in the heaven or on the earth that can perform according to Yoru deeds and according to Your mighty acts" (Deuteronomy 3:23, 24)

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Ta'am  V'Da'as brings a Midrash that asks, 'What does the word 'Saying here  mean?'It is a teaching for all the generations that a person should pray at a time of danger or difficulty. Even when Moshe was told that he would not cross over the Jordan (into the land of Israel), he began to pray and pray and pray until G-d told him to stop.

We learn from this Rav Sternbuch tells us that a person should never give up hope from G-d's compassion. Even if we are not answered the first time, we should continue to beseech him with prayer. As Moshe himself beseeched G-d over and over again to enter the promised land, he never gave up and continued to try and have G-d answer his prayer. Even if he would not be granted the good judgment, maybe G-d would have compassion upon him and answer his prayer.

Even though that G-d told him that he did not want him to pray for this anymore, for us, G-d desires the prayer of the Jewish people even to the point where it would worry us and cause us fear. After all, if |G-d hasn't answered us, why should we continue to ask for this desire. In the end, we could anger G-d!! We are thereby obligated to use all of our strength to pray as much as possible for our needs in order to invoke G-d's compassion.

Moshe's desire to enter the land were pure in that he wanted to be with them there so they could be obligated in the mitzvos that are dependent on the land. This was through tremendous work on the part of Moshe to be able to continue and elevate the Jewish people when they get to Israel.  He therefore wanted to try and nullify G-d's decree for the benefit of the Jewish people.

This is a true lesson that no matter what difficulties we have in our lives, we should continue to pray that G-d should take them away from us. Even if we are not answered the first time, second time or 100th time, G-d desires the prayers of the Jewish people!!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 1: Mishnah 6: Acquiring Good Friends and Judging People Favorably

"Yohusha ben Perachyah and Nittal of Arbel received the oral tradition from the preceding. Yehoshua ben Perachyah said, 'Provide yourself with a teacher, get yourself a companion and judge all men favorably"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that it is important for one to have a teacher. Rabbenu Yona of Girondi tells us that even if that person knows as much as you do, you should make him a rav for you because a person will remember more that which he learned from his rav than what he would have learned on his own. Also, this person may understand this subject matter better than you and even if you are equal in knowledge, you will have gained.

In order for a person to trust someone and have them be their rav, they have to be like an angel to them. Not just in the knowledge that they have, but  also in the way they act and interact with others.  Even if a person has to pay money for this, it will well be worth it because this is a person that one can learn and grow from.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we should acquire a good friend. There are three reasons for this Rabbenu Yonah tells us. One is that a person learns more Torah from his friend than his rav. This means that although his rav will have significant influence over the student, the majority of the time, this student will be learning with a friend and gaining from the friend's knowledge as well.

The second thing he learns from his friend is through the performance of mitzvos. If he starts to stray a bit from the Torah, his friend will help him and sometimes rebuke him and keep on the straight and narrow path.

The third thing is that a good friend will give good advice and help him as much as possible. This friendship will create a strong bond that will continue for a long time. Good friends are hard to come by and even if we have to pay for that, it is money well spent!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that we should judge all men favorably. This is speaking about a person who sometimes transgresses and sometimes does good things. If this person does something that could be judged either to the side of transgression, we should judge him favorably even if looks clearly like a transgression.

On the other hand, if a person is a habitual transgressor of Torah and doesn't care about mitzvos, then there is no obligation to judge them favorably because the indication of their actions is enough to prove what they did.

This in general is a very big test for us because when we hear that someone has done something and it is all over the press and internet, it is very hard to undue the damage that is done. Even in such cases we have to judge a person (who sometimes transgresses and sometimes does mitzvos) favorably.
The motto of innocent until proven guilty definitely does apply.

In the days after the nine days, we should work hard not only to want to change, but to see the actions of others in a favorable light.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

New Potential Class on Derech Hashem (The Way of G-d)

I am considering giving a class in Derech Hashem once a week. Any interest?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Introduction to Derech Hashem

One of the great rabbis more than 300 years ago, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (better known as the Ramchal) wrote an epic work called Derech Hashem (The Way of G-d). The book discusses many topics including the purpose of the creation of man, his responsibility in this world, mitzvah observance, the fight between the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) and the Yetzer Ha'Tov (good inclination), our relationship to non-Jews, the spiritual worlds and how they influence us as well as a discussion about Shabbos and the holidays.

Even though this work is steeped in Kabbalah, nonetheless, it can be understood at a basic level and have a tremendous influence on us. It is not an easy book to go through but there are fundamental principles about Judaism that every Jew needs to know.

First of all, shouldn't I try and understand the purpose of my creation and how I interact with the world? If G-d set me up here with my specific strengths and weaknesses to reach my potential, does that mean that my free will is limited? If the soul is so powerful that G-d Himself puts it into the body that best fits it, how does the soul (the most spiritual thing ever created) have the ability to stay in the body and not transform it into a spiritual reality?

If we know G-d to be just and good, how do we explain evil? What is evil's purpose in this world? Is suffering considered bad for me or is it a way to reach perfection in the next world? What role do angels or other spiritual forces play in the world?

These are some of the ideas that the Ramchal brings out in this book and we will try and bring them down to earth to understand at our own level. We will highlight the chapter, adding insights and anecdotes to make it more understandable and user friendly.

Anyone is free to comment or give suggestions and we hope to begin next week with Chapter 1 which  discusses G-d.

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishna 5: Have an Open House and Watch Out when We Speak to Women

"Rabbi Yosi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem said, 'Let your home be wide open (to strangers), treat the poor as members of your own family, and do not gossip with women. This has been said even with regard to one's own wife, how much more does it apply  to another man's wife. Hence the sages say, 'Whoever gossips with women brings harm to himself for he neglects the study of the Torah and will in the end inherit Gehinnom"

When a person opens his home to strangers, he becomes like our father Avraham and fulfills the mitzvah of having guests. Man's purpose in this world is to be close to G-d and this can be fulfilled by giving from themselves to help others. They give of their time, money and possessions to make the guest feel comfortable as a member of the family.

Man in general is selfish and the way to overcome that is to give, not just through money but even helping out themselves. When we give of ourselves selflessly, we help others and gain from the experience as well.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that a man should not gossip with women, not just women we don't know but even with our wives. Why is this taught here? One reason is because it can certainly lead to immodest behavior and the like. Simply stated, when a man speaks to another man's wife, they have to set up certain boundaries because becoming too friendly could lead to immorality.

This is the reason that men and women should not be friends, per se whether they are married or not. Nothing good ever comes of it and it certainly can lead to bad things. Not only that, but if a husband gossips with his wife and tells her that this happened or that happened it will only cause problems.

Look what happened to Korach! Korach told his wife what Moshe did that the Levi'im brought their offerings and it lead to Korach's ultimate destruction. Another possible explanation is that when a husband gossips to his wife and tells her that his friends made fun of him or embarrassed him, she may believe it and embarrass her husband which will certainly problems between them.

|These conversations will just feed the Yetzer Hara and the man will continue to be part of things that take him away from learning Torah. After all, isn't this more exciting, telling stories and lashon hara about others than sitting down to learn and wanting to bask in G-d's glory?

The lesson we learn from here is how these things can further deteriorate by feeding our Yetzer Hara to the point where it boils over and takes away from learning Torah!
Wednesday, July 10, 2013

T'sha B'Av: The fast that could turn into the feast

T'sha B'Av is that day of the year that we commemorate all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. The main thing we are remembering is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The problem is that we are so far removed from what the Temple was, it is very difficult to relate to what we are missing.

The Talmud tells us that the Temple was destroyed because of lashon hara and sinas chinam (unlawful hatred) between Jews. What essentially sinas chinam? It means that if there is someone less religious than me, I can still be friends with them but if they are more religious, then they are fanatics. Why is this so?

The reason is that if someone wants to hold by a higher standard whether it be in kashrus or modesty, the first reaction from someone less religious will be that their standard is fine and these people are fanatics! They feel threatened and their only line of defense is to name call the others!

This is sinas chinam since there is really no basis for this hatred.  Speaking lashon hara is also a terrible thing which has caused the destruction of the Temple. It actually kills three people: the person who said it, the person who listened to it and the person the lashon hara was spoken about.

Loshan hara is something that when a person does it , he doesn't get any real benefit from it, not monetarily or anything. The reason a person speaks lashon hara is to make themselves look good while at the same time, putting someone else down.

If we would look at others with a good eye instead of looking at their deficiencies, the world would be a very different place. At the end of the day, when T'sha B'Av comes, we have to take stock of our actions and realize that we have to become better and change. We have to realize that the tragedies that hve occurred to the Jewish people are because of our own actions.

We can't place the blame anywhere else and have to take responsibility for our actions. There are mnay good things going on in the Jewish world today with regards to Torah learning and the building of religious communities but at the same time there is too much infighting which has caused its own destruction!

May we be able to internalize the positive messages the Torah gives us and turn T'sha B'Av into a day of feasting instead of fasting!

Parshas Devarim: My actions matter

"Hashem, your G-d has multiplied you and behold, you are like the stars of heaven in abundance" (Deuteronomy 1:10)

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that the Jewish people are compared to the stars in the sense that each individual Jew has a specific purpose in this world. Just like the stars have their own name, each Jew has their own purpose that they were specifically created for. The Jewish people, in general as well were created for the purpose of honoring G-d's name and sanctifying it to the best of their ability.

In another place the Jewish people are compared to the sand by the sea. Just as the sand's importance is due to the conglomeration of many particles, so too the Jewish people enhance their individual qualities by standing together in unity. Only then can they rectify all the worlds.

Imagine the power of the individual! Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the famed disciple of the Vilna Gaon, tells us at the beginning of his work Nefesh HaChaim that a person shouldn't think that their actions don't matter. Not only do our actions matter, but they have the power to change all the spiritual worlds.

The Rambam tells us in the Laws of Repentance that we should look at the world as if it is wavering on the scale between good and bad and the next action (ie my action) could either destroy or save the world. This is the power of our actions!

The Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) will try to convince us that what we do doesn't matter in the bigger scale of things. After all, if G-d is omnipotent and omniscient, why should he care what we do and what effect should our actions have on the world?

Our actions are so powerful, the Sefas Emes tells us that if G-d forbid a person speaks lashon hara against someone else, that spiritual imperfection exists until we ask forgiveness from that person. That means we have spiritually polluted the universe through our mouths and the only way to rectify the damage done is to do teshuvah and ask the person for forgiveness. Without that, the spiritual damage cannot be undone!

We may not have the biggest numbers but each individual is important. We can change the world as a group as well as individually. Just look at what the first man did and the repercussions for those actions.

We should merit to live up to our potential and continue to sanctify G-d's name in this world.

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, July 4, 2013

Parshas Matos-Ma'asei: The Miracle of Teshuvah

"And Elazar the priest said to the men of war which went to the battle, 'This is the ordinance of the Torah which the L-rd commanded Moshe. only the gold and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin and the lead, everything that passes through fire, you shall make it go through fire and it shall be clean" (Numbers 31: 21)

Rav Moshe Feinstein, z"l in his work Derash Moshe explains that when the Torah says, 'This is an ordinance of the Torah with regard to kashering pots and pans, it is really an ordinance for the entire Torah. This means that if someone's pot or pan became not kosher, then there is a way to be able to kasher it and make it reusable like it was previously.

We learn out from here that someone who transgresses and sullies his soul has hope that they can actually fix what they have done and be free from that sin. The way they do this is through proper repentance and regret for what they have done. This is indeed an ordinance of the entire Torah where a person should never give up hope after they have transgressed!

The repentance one must do will depend on the seriousness of the transgression. If a person has a strong desire to transgress, then the repentance and regret will have to be just as strong to uproot what they have done. If the desire was not as great, then the repentance also does not have to be as strong.

This is the source for our ability to do teshuvah. In general this is truly miraculous because how does it work that the repentance and regret for their actions actually uproots what they have done. After all, haven't they just transgressed?

The miracle of repentance is as Rav Feinstein explains. When a person takes action and repents according to the transgression, they transform themselves and change.. This in turn uproots the wrong they have committed and now the person is free from sin.

The Yetzer Hara, though, does not make this so easy. It will convince a person of all the terrible things they have done and show how hard it is for them to change. "Why should repentance help?" the Yetzer Hara will tell you. After all, you will continue to sin in the future and not really change.

The answer is that although that is true, one has to look at what they have done and see it as being done in the past. Yesterday was yesterday, today is a new day. If I focus on the terrible things a person has done in the past, they will have no future because it will be impossible to overcome such feelings.

May we realize that although we are not perfect and make mistakes, we should learn from them, grow from them and transform us to become better people.

Shabbat Shalom
Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pirke Avos Chapter 1 Mishna 4: Be Connected to Great People

"Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah and Yosi ben Yochanana of Jerusalem, received the oral tradition from the preceding ones. Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah said, Let your house be a meeting place for scholars; sit at their feet in the dust, and drink in their words thirstily"

The company that a person keeps with shows a lot. This means if we open our homes to people that may have a negative influence on us, then we will most likely learn from them and go in their corrupt ways. On the other hand, if we decide to associate with people of stellar character traits, they will most likely have a positive influence on us.

The Mishna here tells us that our homes should be a meeting place for Torah scholars. As the Talmud tells us, we can learn a  lot of our Torah leaders even by their "mundane" talk. The reason for this is that these Torah giants have spent their lives immersed in learning Torah and developing themselves into great people.

The more contact we have with them, the more we learn and gain from their wisdom and insights. It is not enough to just learn from them but we should drink their words thirstily. The contact alone with such a person has the ability to transform them!

My family and I have been very fortunate to have had a connection with some of these great people. It is an opportunity to learn and hear from the Torah giants who have had their own special connection to their rabbis and mentors of the previous generation! These stories and inspiration can instill tremendous pride in a person as they are part of that great link of Jewish history.

My life has been forever changed and no amount of gratitude will ever be enough for these great people who allowed me to have a connection and witness such greatness. Whether it be seeing them in "action" giving Torah lectures or answering people's questions, I had the unique experience to see how the Torah can be internalized and lived on a high spiritual level.

The more we have interaction with such people and allow them in our homes and families can have a lasting effect for future generations. When my rebbe, HaRav HaGaon Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Shlita came two years ago to my neighborhood to be sandak (the one who holds the baby at the bris), I told people they should come just to see his face and witness spiritual greatness. May we grow to emulate such people!