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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.
Friday, August 30, 2013

Parshas Nitzvavim - Vayeilech - Each Jew is Responsible for each other

"For you to pass into the covenant of Hashem your G-d and into His imprecation that Hashem, your G-d seals with you today" (Deuteronomy 29:11)

The parsha begins in plural form (atem nitzavim) and ends in singular form (l'avdecha). Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Ta'am V'Da'as tells us that the covenant made between G-d and the Jewish people is so that the they will be considered like one unit in as much as if one Jew transgresses whether through his body or soul, the entire Jewish nation feels it.

This is what it means that the Jewish people entered the covenant with G-d, each one taking responsibility for their fellow Jew. There is a novelty here, Rav Sternbuch explains. Even if one Jew decides that they want to throw off the yoke of keeping Torah and mitzvos G-d forbid, they are not doing what we call actions of our people and thereby take themselves out of the category of being part of our nation.

We understand that no matter what a Jew does, they are still considered a Jew even if they convert to another religion. At the same time, there are things that a Jew can do that systematically take him away from his people. Therefore, there would be no mitzvah of giving rebuke to such a person. Similarly there is no mitzvah to give rebuke to evil people and wanton transgressors who do not keep Torah and mitzvos.

Nonetheless, the Jewish people are all interconnected and all of them are considered one entity and have all entered the covenant with G-d together. Therefore if one of the Jewish people transgresses, it makes a blemish for the entire Jewish nation who feel the pain of what this person has done. Also,  anyone who can protest against what these people do should do so in a way that they themselves feel the pain of their actions.

One may ask, what will this protest do? Won't it anger the people even more? Sometimes a person has to stand up and do something because he feels the pain of what this transgressor has done. This will strengthen the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people through His Divine Providence and compassion for his people and His land.

This is the eternal promise of the merit we have in the land of Israel today. This makes things worse in some ways because if one transgresses in the palace of the king, then the punishment and repercussions are much greater.

I have heard many times Rav Sternbuch say that he is not afraid of all the hostile nations that surround the tiny country of Israel. What he is more afraid of is G-d's anger for his people when they do not act as His people in the land of the Israel!

As a nation we have to look out for our ignorant brethren and try and educate them in the ways of the holy Torah. This will bring out love of Torah and create a tremendous kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name).

Shabbat Shalom
Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishna 11: Be Careful what you Teach

Avtalyon said, 'Scholars, be careful with your words! You may incur the penalty of exile and be banished to a  place of evil waters (heretical teachings) and the disciples who follow you into exile are likely to drink of them and die (a spiritual death) with the result that the name of Heaven would be profaned'

A Torah scholar has to be careful of many things. One thing is that they have to be careful who they teach, meaning that the student has to be worthy to be taught. Not only that, but even if the Torah scholar has good students, he must be careful with his words that they are not misinterpreted which could lead to heretical ideas.

The question that may be asked is why the Torah scholar has to be so careful. After all, if the students misinterpret what is said, why is that the problem of the teacher? Everyone has free will and if the student makes a mistake then it is their own fault. The answer is that when a person teaches others, regardless of the level they are on, they have to give over information in the easiest way possible for it to be understood.

The reason for this is that something should not get misinterpreted by the students which can lead to heretical thoughts. It is said in the name of the Chasam Sofer that he would tell his students to be careful what they said in his name. Only if they clearly understood what he said were they able to say things in his name.

The Mishna continues by telling us that if a scholar is not careful with his words then they will incur the penalty of exile and be banished to a place of heretical teachings. Rav Ovadia Bartenura learns that this means that a scholar could potentially get banished to a place for having his teachings misinterpreted. Even though where the scholar lives now is not a place where heretics live, he could cause himself to get banished to a place where there are heretics.

This will lead to his students being corrupted by what they have "learned."  This will also cause them to sin and they will die spiritually and prematurely. This in turn will lead to a desecration of G-d's name because what will remain with these students is the heresy that they continue to spread. This will lead to their ideas not being accepted after all their hard work.

One thing we learn from here is that we have to be careful what we say and who we say it to. If we have the ability to influence others, then all the more so we must be careful. We have the opportunity to be ambassador's for the Torah and if we misrepresent it and do not uphold what it says, then we will make a desecration of G-d's name, G-d forbid.

We have to live our lives on a higher level and be consistent with its teachings. This will lead to living more enriching lives and sanctifying G-d's name.
Friday, August 23, 2013

Parshas Ki Savo: The Power of our Actions

"Then you shall call out and say before Hashem, your G-d, 'an Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. He descended to Egypt and sojourned there few in number and there he became a nation, great, strong, and numerous" (Deuteronomy 26:5)

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in his work Emes L'Yaakov asks why does the Torah use this language instead of saying like normal Lavan the Aramean? This comes to teach us, Rav Yaakov tells us that not only does Lavan hate Yaakov but all the Arameans hated him as well.

The reason is that when Yaakov went to Charan Yaakov said to them, 'My brethren, where are they?' Yaakov acted with respect towards them by asking with words of friendship and warmth. Even so, when the people gathered together to make a festive meal in the honor of the marriage of Yaakov and Rachel, they all knew full well that Lavan would not give Rachel to Yaakov in marriage but rather his older daughter Leah.

The Arameans knew what Lavan was up to but no one would reveal to Yaakov the truth. This is why the Torah tells us an Aramean he will be, he tried to destroy me and not the normal language of Lavan the Aramean.

This teaches a tremendous lesson about the world in which we live. You could have people live in a certain community that are influenced by some people in a negative way. Not only do they have an influence on the people around them, but the people themselves, even if they see injustice will not react or help.

We don't always realize the effect that we can have on others, positive and negative.  This reminds me of the story of a non-religious Jew that donated a lot of money to an Orthodox synagogue. The rabbi asked this man, why are you donating money to our synagogue?

The man told the rabbi the following story. He was in Israel and went to the Kotel (Western Wall). He saw a man praying there, swinging back and forth deep in concentration in his prayers. The man was so taken aback and impressed with what he saw, he said to himself that he wanted to donate money to a synagogue that this man would feel comfortable praying in. This is the reason that I am donating money to your synagogue.

Our actions matter and can have influence on others around us even if we don't have intention for this! This man praying at the Kotel, will get up to heaven after 120 years and will get tremendous reward for just praying at the Kotel and influencing this man to want to donate money to a synagogue. On the other hand, the actions of Lavan had such an effect on his peers that no one wanted to speak up against the injustice that occurred to Yaakov. Such is the power of our actions.

Shabbat Shalom
Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 10: Love Work and Stay away from that Tempting Job from the King

"Shemayah and Avtalyon received the oral tradition from the preceding. Shemayah said; 'Love work; hate the holding of public office; and do not be intimate with the ruling authorities"

Rav Ovadiah Bartenura tells us that even if one makes enough money for livelihood, they should continue to work and not remain idle. The reason is that idleness leads to boredom and boredom will lead a person to do things that they shouldn't. As the old adage goes, busy people stay out of trouble.

Another reason that one should love work is that the more one does it, the easier it becomes. This will also lead a person to continue to do what he loves and he can teach that to others and help them as well.

Even if one has to work they should not hold public office. Why not? If after all, a person had the ability by being in the public limelight, then why should it be looked down upon? The reason is that when one is "out there" and everyone sees them in public, so to speak, they then have to be extra careful in anything they do. It is very easy to say the wrong thing or not do what is expected of themselves and cause a chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d's name.

This leads to the last part of the Mishna that one should not be close with the ruling authorities. The reason Rabbenu Yonah tells us is because if we are busy working hard for the king we will G-d forbid throw off the yoke of our obligation to serve the King of Kings whereby we will not perform mitzvos properly. A person will always be afraid and worry that they will not serve the king properly.

This is will lead them to work even harder to please the king which will take its toll on the family and spiritual development. In the end, they won't be able to serve the king properly which will cause them to eventually lose their job and everything they have.

Working for the king can have tremendous benefits and give a person prestige and power. At the same time, the closer one is to the king, the more chance they could get burned as well. Not only that, they could abuse power and be outwardly cruel to their friends to win favor with the king!
Friday, August 16, 2013

Parshas Ki Tetze: Don't be like the People of Amalek

"Remember what Amalek did to you on the way and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted and he did not fear G-d" (Deuteronomy 25:17)

There is an obligation to remember what Amalek did to us in every generation even though we would not be able to fulfill our obligation even if we knew who they were because we are still in exile. Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe tells us that we have to remember that man  has the ability to do evil and deny G-d's existence even when witnessing miracles!

Even when the Jewish people were in the desert, the Amalekites were the first nation to attack them. At first glance this does not make any sense because the Jewish people at the time were on the biggest role of their lives. This means that with all the miracles that G-d did for them, especially splitting the sea, the Amalekites did not care and attacked.

Rav Moshe learns from here that a person has to be so careful not to transgress the most stringent laws so as not to corrupt their soul. A person therefore should not rely on themselves for the good that they do lest they fall into the hands of the yetzer hara and transgress.

This means that even if we do good things, we cannot rest on our laurels! We have to work hard and serve G-d properly by keeping his mitzvos and going in the right direction. If we fail and don't work on ourselves constantly, we could transgress very easily and end up like the Amalekites!

Even after hearing about the great miracles that G-d had done for the Jewish people, the Amalekites were not willing to give credence to such things and explain it away as nature. For them, the supernatural does not and will not ever exist.

For the Jewish people on the other hand, the miracles by G-d got them out of Egypt so they could serve Him and receive the Torah. They were held to a higher standard and obligated to be introspective of everything that happened to them.

This is what G-d wanted for them as they traveled through the desert. He wanted them to work on their emunah and belief to raise them up to a very high spiritual reality. Even in our own generation, when things don't go the way we think or the way we want, they are tests to raise up the spiritual ladder. These tests define who we are but we have the free will to how we are going to react.

Are we going to look at these trials and tribulations as a way to build ourselves and sanctify G-d's name or are we G-d forbid not going to get the message and stay the same. This reminds of the story of a rabbi giving a class about belief in G-d. Someone in the back spoke up and said rabbi, I don't need to hear about G-d, I have seen Him in action.

I was once riding my motorcycle and skidded on oil and my bike went off the road over a cliff. I screamed out for help and lifted my arm which miraculously came to grasp a branch of a tree and then I was subsequently pulled up and saved. So rabbi, I don't need to hear stories about belief in G-d in this world, I saw it for myself.

The rabbi after hearing this story said to the young man, 'but who is the one that threw you off the cliff?' As we move through the month of Elul on our way to judgment day, may we merit to understand G-d's messages and change and become the great people we can.

Shabbat Shalom
Friday, August 9, 2013

Parshas Shoftim: Reaching Potential and not Resting on our Laurels

"And you shall not erect for yourselves a pillar, which Hashem your G-d hates" (Deuteronomy 16:22) 

Rashi "Even though you are beloved in the days of your fathers, now you are hated after you have performed idol worship"

Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe asks what is so wrong here, after all one has erected an altar and put sacrifices on it, why should it be forbidden if it was ok before? The answer Rav Moshe tells us is that a person has to be continually growing in his service to G-d. That means they have to keep doing the mitzvos throughout their lives to the best of their ability.

Even after 70 years and a person is already considered a tzaddik (righteous person) and have done numerous mitzvos throughout their lives, one must continue and grow spiritually. Even if G-d forbid they wouldn't do any mitzvos or learn Torah at the end of their lives, they would still have plenty of mitzvos for them to reap the benefits of them in the world to come.

This is a grave mistake. We see from the prophet Yechezkel (33:17) that this is not true. The true eved Hashem (servant of G-d) retains the merit of their mitzvos only if they learned Torah and continued to do mitzvos their entire life up until the time that they die. Therefore, someone who says that they have performed many mitzvos throughout their lives and now can rest on their laurels so to speak for what they have done in the past, is making a terrible mistake.

This is why the altar that is made of stone is forbidden and doesn't add on to a person's merits. Before the giving of the Torah, though, this person was considered beloved before G-d. After the giving of the Torah, even if one kept mitzvos just because he was "going beyond the letter of the law" not because one had an obligation to do is considered hated by G-d!

The reason is because even doing mitzvos and going beyond the letter of the law is still a commandment from G-d himself so if they are doing the mitzvos for the wrong reason, it can count against a person as well.

It reminds me of the story of when I was giving a class about people reaching their true spiritual potential. Someone told me to cut him some slack and not give so much musar (ethical discourse) because he himself was holding "better" than 95% of world Jewry. He kept shabbos, G-d's eyes this person claimed he was doing just fine.

I answered that even if what he just said is true, that doesn't mean that his avodas hashem (service to G-d) ends. We strive our whole lives to be servants of G-d. We don't just stop when we think we have attained enough merit for the next world. We have to keep going and continue striving to reach that true potential. If we are happy where we are spiritually, then that is akin to spiritual death.

As we continue in the month of Elul and prepare for the upcoming high holidays, let us continue to grow and work on ourselves to be the people we can be!

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishna 9: Be Careful what you say

"Shimon ben Shetach said, Examine the witnesses thoroughly; be careful with your words, but through them they learn to tell lies"

The first part of the mishnah tells us that the judges have to check and recheck the statements of the witnesses carefully so that they can make a proper decision. Rabbenu Yonah tells us that the more interrogation of the witnesses, the more likely you will find out what really happened in the case.
Quite possibly this could also lead to finding out that one of the witnesses is lying and that would clarify matters as well.

The next part of the mishna tells us that when the witnesses are interrogated the judges will understand where the judgment is going, they will learn how to lie so that they will be found meritorious. This means that even though the judges are doing their job through the questions they ask to get to the heart of the matter, it may end working against them as people may learn from this and end up lying!

This is truly an amazing idea because at the end of the day, the judges are there to evaluate information to reach a conclusion of who is right and who is wrong. The problem the mishna tells us is that this may in fact teach others their method of questioning and people could learn how to lie because of it.

This is a lesson for all of us showing that we must be careful at all times with what we say. When we do speak, we should be clear and not mislead others and to the best of our ability, not let others take our words and manipulate them for their own selfish purposes. Even if we are doing the right thing and helping others, how careful we must be when articulating our ideas!
Monday, August 5, 2013

The Month of Elul: A time for Introspection

In years gone by, on the Shabbos before the month of Elul was to begin,  as the chazzan (cantor) says "the month of Elul will be on such and such a day" people would faint at the mere mention of this month. There are 40 days from the beginning of Elul until Yom Kippur. They are days of introspection and a chance to reach out to G-d when He is so close to us.

Elul prepares us for the upcoming high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is time to take stalk of our lives, of what have done over the past year and what we need to work on. We hear the shofar every day of the month (except Shabbos and the day before Rosh Hashanah) to wake us out of our slumber from the past year. The day of judgement is coming.

The story is told of the mother of Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita who was busy during the month preparing for her court case. When a non-Jewish woman heard about his mother's plight, she asked her if there was anything she could do to help to which Rav Sternbuch's mother said, this is something only I can take care of!

If we were really going through a court case in this world, we would be working day and night to try and find ways to make sure we merit a good ruling. The same thing is true before Rosh Hashanah. We want to work especially hard to find favor in G-d's eyes during this time.

One of the ways we can do this is to try and do as many mitzvos as possible. Learning a little bit more than we would during the year, giving more to charity, acts of lovingkindness...things that will help shift the scale into a positive judgment.

We have to look at ourselves honestly and see where we have been during the past year to know where we want to be in the following year. The key is to work on things that I know I can do, no matter how small it may be.

When I do something on a regular basis even if it is something small, it helps us giving us building blocks for the future. It has to be something that we can do because if we take on too much and then can't do what we set out to accomplish, then we digress and say well it's too hard to change, I can't change...this is the best I can be.

One of things that Rav Sternbuch has told me many times is not to worry so much what one has done in the past. The reason is that if you dwell on the past and think of all of our terrible misdeeds then we have no future! This means that if we get stuck and dwell on the past, then we cannot go further.

The most important thing to keep in mind as we work on our Avodas Hashem (service to G-d) is to show G-d that we are trying to become better people. Even if we don't reach the goals we set but we are serious in our spiritual endeavors and want to improve that is good.

G-d just wants that we should try and become better. With a solid plan and taking on things to improve on, we surely will merit a positive judgement!
Sunday, August 4, 2013

New Derech Hashem Class Free Recording!!!!

 Here is a sample class on Derech Hashem - This will be a free class. Anyone interested in further classes, either join the class for $50 a month or each class will $15 to download. Hope you enjoy 
Thursday, August 1, 2013

Parshas Re'eh: Remembering: The Contrast of the Exodus from Egypt and Amalek

"You shall not eat leavened bread with it for seven days you shall eat matzos because of it it, bread of affliction, for you departed from the land of Egypt in hast so that you will remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life" (Deuteronomy 16:3)

Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe asks why by remembering the Exodus from Egypt we are so strict to make sure we say it twice every day but we are lenient in the fact that we do not need to read it from a sefer Torah while when we have the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us, we only read it once a year but it is required to be read in a sefer Torah!

Rav Moshe answers that by remembering the Exodus from Egypt it is enough saying it to remember the miracles that happened to our forefathers and to imbue the emunah (faith) that we have of G-d's Providence in the world, therefore there is no need to read it in a sefer Torah. Remembering what Amalek did to us is a constant reminder that without Torah, we should worry that any person can be G-d forbid evil like the people of Amalek!

This, therefore requires a sefer Torah because of what a person may become. This is so important we read it in a sefer Torah, just once a year. The reason we don't say it every day is that a person may become lazy and not internalize the message so once a year is ok.

This is an unbelievable contrast. When we want to give ourselves strength in belief in G-d and show that G-d runs the world, we are required twice a day to remember and to actually say it. This is something that will not be weak in our hands and will strengthen our belief in G-d's Providence in the world. On the other hand, the fear of not being like Amalek, the message can be lost if one says it every day. This is why it must be said once a year and in a sefer Torah; that message won't get lost.

This is somewhat difficult because we run into the problem that a person may get too used to saying something that they may do it be rote. This is something that one must guard against on a daily basis. As we say everyday before the Shema, we have to look at the mitzvos as if they are have been given anew today. A new chance at our service to G-d, to be close to Him and enjoy what He has given us.

As we approach the month of Elul, this is a good reminder as we get closer to the day of judgment. We want to be better than last year, we want to change and become the people that we can be. We must internalize the message and make it fresh and timely to better utilize what G-d has given us to reach our true potential.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 8: The Power of Teshuva after Judgment

Yehudah ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shatach received the oral tradition from the preceding. Yehudah ben Tabbai said: Do not (as a judge) play the part of a counselor; when the parties in a lawsuit are standing before you, regard them both as guilty but when they go away from you; after having submitted to the judgment, regard them both as innocent"

The first part of the Mishnah is talking about a case when a person is judging a case (whether it be a case of damages or divorce), that they should not reveal their thoughts on the case to one of the sides. This would certainly show favoritism and when people hear this, they will speak badly against him. The judge has to be impartial in all aspects of the case and must not give any advantage to either side.

Even at the beginning of the case, the Mishna continues, the judge should not lean to either side and think that he is the correct party. The reason is obvious, it will be considered corruption and illegal favoritism to one party! Therefore, each person as they appear in front of the court, must be looked at as guilty until the facts are clear to see which party is right.

When the two leave the courtroom, the judges must look at the two as being righteous, and after having submitted to the judgment, they should be regarded as innocent. The problem with this is that it is very difficult to look at one of them in this manner.  The reason is that the judgement was against them and therefore must have lied during the proceedings!

The answer is that the person has surely accepted the judgment  and even though he was found obligated to pay or whatever the other side claimed, nonetheless, we assume that he has done teshuvah and that the person will never do what they have done again. What an amazing statement! Even though the person is guilty, we assume that he will do teshuvah for the wrong that he did!

Normally when two sides come to beis din, each side has surely aggravated the other to no end. The reason they are coming to beis din in the first place is to air their grievance and have them decide who is right and who is wrong. When one side is ruled for over the other, the "wronged" side, after all the aggravation, will still want to do teshuvah for their previous misconduct. Incredible!

This is exactly what the Mishnah is telling us. Once the process is over and the beis din decides, that experience alone could put the fear of G-d into a person and cause them to have regret over what they have done. Is there any people in the world like the Jewish people?