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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, September 18, 2013

Sukkos: Living in a Temporary World

As we have become pure and atoned for all of our sins, we go into our temporary hut (sukkah) to bask in the glory of G-d's protectiveness. The purpose of the sukkah is to show that this world is temporary and that is why the holiday of Sukkot has to be in the fall when the weather is not so good and most likely cold, depending on where you live.

We also read the book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes) on shabbos chol hamoed. The reason this is read is because King Solomon reminds us that this is a temporary world and that this world is a world of vanity. As King Solomon has searched the world, the only thing he found truth in is Torah.

This is a very interesting idea because many people today look at this world as the ultimate. This means that they live their lives according to what they think and want without regard for any real meaning in life. As the Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers tells us this world is just like a hallway for the next world. The Ramchal tells us in Path of the Just that G-d could not have created this world just for its own sake.

When we see things that don't make sense, like senseless suffering, there must be a picture. How can the righteous suffer or young children die if there is something on a higher plane going on. Sukkos is a time to dwell on the temporariness of this world and focus on our spiritual lives.

We put a white sheet around our Sukkah to represent the Ananei Ha'Kavod (the Clouds of Glory) that followed us in the desert. These clouds gave the Jewish people everything they needed as their clothes never wore out and all their needs were cared for.

According to Kabbalah, the clouds of glory represent what we call the Tzel D'Hemnusa, the shade of faith, so-to-speak. It is our faith that G-d's runs the world and that is a temporary world in which we live. Not only that, but if change the letters around from the word tzel (shade) to leitz (mockery) we see that in a split second we can change from our faith in G-d to making a mockery G-d forbid of Him.

This means that the sukkah is holy, there should be no frivolous speech in it, not to mention speaking lashon harah etc. If we don't use the sukkah properly and focus on its true meaning, then we make it into a leitz ie we mock everything that it stands for.

As we get ready to go into the sukkah, we are reminded by the holiness of the sukkah and how this world is just temporary.

Have a meaningful sukkos.
Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yom Kippur is upon us: Let's Change

Yom Kippur is just a day away. This is the culmination of the month of Elul and the ten days of repentance. We have had this whole to prepare deciding which things we are going to try and work on and setting up a plan in which to do so.

This is the holiest day of the year but an inspiring and uplifting one as well. We act like angels where we don't eat or drink and we say the confession a number of times. It is a solemn day where we realizes our weaknesses and prepare to rectify them.

We can't dwell on the past of what we have done because one who does that has no future. This means that the more I think about the bad that I have done and the seemingly futility of trying to change can destroy a person's will and want to forget about the whole thing.

The point of Yom Kippur is to realize that I have wasted my potential but not be broken by it. Realize that I have made mistakes but try and make constructive ways to change. As the Rambam tells us, if I just admit that I have done something wrong, that is the basic mitzvah of teshuvah.

The reason for this is because we are great at rationalizing why we do bad things. We can justify why we spoke lashon hara against someone; we can make excuses about our bad character traits but at the end of the day, admitting I have done something wrong is a tremendous thing!

Obviously we have to do more than that but the idea is to say I have made a mistake. G-d is not interested that people serve Him out of fear lest they do something wrong, they will be dealt severely in gehinom (hell). G-d wants us to serve Him out of love of His mitzvos and wants us to cling to Him to receive His benefit in this world.

As we pray in synagogue for most of the night and day, we must realize what the goal of the day is. The goal of the day is to admit we have done things wrong (when they apply)  and really really want to change our actions. This means we have to have a well thought out plan of what we want to change and then go out and make those changes.

This is easier said than done but we are showing G-d that we are serious in our quest to change. When we show G-d our true colors of who we want to be even if we don't always act that way, He will have mercy on us. The reason is because He draws us even closer after we sin.

This is truly miraculous because if I have already sinned towards Him, how can I now be closer to Him if I do teshuvah? If I stole from someone and then tell them later I did it and apologize, is that person going to ever look at me in the same way? Most likely not but G-d looks at us in even a better light because of it.

As we look at the viduy (confession) and see all the things that we have done wrong it should inspire us to want to change and become close to G-d. Even if we are sometimes broken by our actions and think that we can never change, never lose hope because G-d has a tremendous amount of mercy and only wants to see us succeed.

In the last few hours before the holiday, let us think in retrospect of what we have done and what we can do to change. May this inspire us to become the great people that we can.

Have a meaningful and easy fast
Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishna 13: Don't abuse the Torah

"He used to say, 'He who seeks greater reputation loses his reputation; he who does not increase his knowledge decreases it, he who does not study deserves death; he who makes unworthy use of the crown of learning shall perish"

Anyone looking for fame wanting to make their name great through arrogance and sheer power will not find it. Even if they are at first successful and they have fame, they will lose it and not be remembered. The "famous" people whose names remain etched on society are often the ones not looking for attention.

This fits into the next part of the Mishna because someone who is satisfied with what they have learned and are not interested in adding to his wisdom will decrease their knowledge. If the purpose of Torah is to learn its ways and change ourselves so we reach our true potential, how could someone just rely on what they learned and go on autopilot? How will they be able to impart these ideas to the next generation if their own knowledge and learning is faulty?

This is why the Mishna says that one who does this will decrease their knowledge. In reality, how does such a person grow in spirituality if they are happy where they are? It reminds me of the story of someone I have known for many years and unfortunately is happy where they are holding and been holding over all those years!

How sad, still lacking basic knowledge in things that could have been learned years ago. Still doing the same things after all those years without increased knowledge.  Sad, real sad. This is what leads to the next part of the Mishna which states that if one does not study he deserves death.

The reason for this is because someone who does not learn Torah is compared to an animal. Isn't our purpose in this world to learn Torah and keep G-d's mitzvos? If this is true and one does not do this their entire life, what is the purpose of it all? Just to acquire money, property...like the prophet Isaiah tells us eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow I die.

This reminds me of another story that someone once told me. They said that the more money they paid for tickets to get into the services for the High Holy days, the closer you get to the air conditioning. I said that's great, why not get a portable air conditioner and bow down to it?

The last part of the Mishna tells us that one who makes unworthy usage of the crown of Torah will die. The reason is that Torah is supposed to be studied and learned for its own sake for the purpose of changing ourselves and reaching our true potential.

If we use our Torah knowledge to disparage others and abuse our position, then this is obviously what Torah was not created for. This abuse of Torah can cost you your life! Torah is called life to those that guard it and cherish it but if you use it for the wrong reasons and abuse it, then it can be deadly!

Let us learn from this that we learn Torah to the fullest and try to uphold it's great ideals. Never rest on our laurels from what we learned, and continue to learn and grow in its ways.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Parshas Ha'azinu: Rely on G-d Alone

"When Hashem will have judged His people, He shall relent regarding His servants, when He sees that enemy power progresses, and none is saved or assisted" (Deuternony 32:36)

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in Emes L'Yaakov tells us that the gemara in Sanhedrin (97a) learns from this verse that the messiah will not come until we totally despair from the final redemption. This is amazing Rav Yaakov tells us because this is one of the 13 Principles of Faith that every Jew has to believe in!

Rav Yaakov explains that this means that when the Jewish people anticipate the final redemption as being something that will occur in a natural way, it is in reality not the redemption.  For example, the non-Jewish nations will have compassion for us and give us a place to build the Temple, to let us go back to our homeland...

In reality, this cannot be because acts of loving kindness that come from the non-Jewish nations is really a non-starter since they really do hate us. We have seen throughout the millennium what the nations have done to us; pogrom after pogrom, murdering, burning and plundering the Jewish people. So when we think that the nations of the world all of a sudden will have compassion upon us, is a fallacy.

We have to understand that the only being that we can rely on is our father in heaven. Once we place our entire faith in Him, then he will send the ultimate redeemer who will free the Jewish people from the more than 2000 year exile that they have been in!

This is also the reason why G-d sent Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand that he let the Jewish people go out from Egypt. Immediately after Moses told Pharaoh this, G-d hardened his heart so that he would not listen to Moses and let his people go. G-d wanted to teach us that ultimately it was up to Him to free the Jewish people and not Pharaoh!

We shouldn't think that it was Pharaoh's kindness or willingness to let the Jewish people go, but rather G-d Himself!  At that point, when it looked like there was no hope, that is when G-d brought the Jewish people out of Egypt. Only when the Jewish people were willing to be subservient to G-d alone, that is when the redemption occurred.

We see from here that the Jewish people have no one to rely on except their father in heaven. To Him alone we turn and pray for all our requests, whether it be health, livelihood...Sometimes we lose track of this idea and think that if we really become close to the nations they will help us. This is a grave mistake as we have seen throughout our history.

Shabbat Shalom

Rosh Hashanah: All the Preparation is done, are we ready for Judgment?

Rosh Hashanah has finally arrived. The month of Elul has helped prepare us for these awesome days. We have been reading Psalm 27 every day which we continue to do until the end of Sukkos and we have heard the shofar every day as well.

Ashkenazim last Saturday night began saying Selichos (Penetential prayers) while Sefardim have been saying them all month. We have had a month to start preparing and now we are in the final day before it all comes about.

Rosh Hashanah can be an awesome day as we prepare ourselves to crown G-d king. Even though we do this every day, twice a day by saying the Shema, there is a special obligation to do this on Rosh Hashanah. The reason is that we want to feel that G-d is king. If we take that attitude into every day, then there is less chance that we will sin.

We need to have the fear of heaven and actually feel the trepidation! There is the famous story of the Beis Halevi where he used to put his hands over fire to feel what gehenom (hell) would feel like. His hands were literally dark brown from all the years of doing this. He would live his life every day in fear of G-d.

The Ari Zatzal (Rabbi Isaac Luria) said that if a person does not feel the trepidation and fear on Rosh Hashanah, then there is a blemish on their soul! This means that we have to take stock of our actions and what we do. Not only that, but we don't know what our real potential is and if we are lazy and don't use our strength's to our fullest, then G-d could have complaints against us and punish us.

As we go through the machzor and chant these liturgical poems, we realize the importance of the day. It is all about judgment, G-d's awesomeness and what we hope to aspire to. We cannot take anything for granted. Just because G-d granted us life last year, does not mean we merit it this year.

As we say, who will die by fire, water, killed, eaten by animals...who will become rich, who will be made poor...no guarantees. Nonetheless, we have to work hard to the best of our abilities and want to change.

Although Rosh Hashanah is only a day away, we still have the ability to do mitzvos to have a good judgement. This reminds me of the story of a man who comes to synagogue Rosh Hashanah evening and finds out that someone had taken his seat. He was so livid, nothing could calm him down.

Even when he went home and ate his festive meal, he was still bothered by this incident. He went to sleep and had the follow dream, that he was being judged in the heavenly court. He saw in front of him a huge scale and then heard a heavenly voice call out, 'Bring out all his mitzvos.'

All of a sudden thousands of white angels came out, some stronger, some weaker and that side of the scale went way down. After that, he heard another heavenly voice call out, 'Bring out his sins.' All of a sudden, he saw these black angels, some stronger, some weaker as they jumped on the other side of the scale.

The scale was balancing back and forth and it seemed that the side of the black angels was going further down and they appeared ready to tear him apart limb from limb. The man screamed out, 'Aren;t there any more mitzvos?' Silence. The man petrified not knowing what to do, screams out, 'I will do anything, I will even take yissurim (suffering).

After that, there were a huge amount of white angels that started coming out and jumped on the scale and pushed the scale to the side of merits. At this point, the man awoke from his dream shaking realizing what just transpired. Needless to say, the next day when he came to synagogue, he didn't care that his seat was taken as he enjoyed thoroughly all the singing and prayers the entire holiday.

May we all merit to be written in the book of life and a happy, healthy meaningful Rosh Hashahan to all.
Monday, September 2, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 12: Don't be Stubborn, Change!

Hillel and Shamai received the oral tradition from the preceding. Hillel said, 'Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, be one who loves his fellow men and draws them near to the Torah.'

Rav Ovadiah Bartenura tells us how Aharon Ha'Kohen would make between two people that were arguing. Without knowledge of one of the combatants he would tell him how his friend had remorse for what he has done and is sad beyond belief for what he has done to his friend. He said to me that he will now go to his friend and ask his forgiveness for what he has done.

Aharon would tell the other friend the same story and when each one met up with the other, they would ask each other forgiveness. This is how Aharon HaKohen would make peace between two arguing people. What a lesson we can learn! The problem is that we stand on circumstance and refuse to budge and admit we have done anything wrong.

This leads us to be stubborn, not wanting to give in and change for the sake of peace. What a different world it would be if we could learn to overcome being adamant and not wanting to make peace with someone.

This leads to the second part of the Mishna where Aharon would draw people close to the Torah. How would he do that? If Aharon would feel that someone transgressed in private he would go over to them and draw them close and befriend them. The one who transgressed would say to himself, 'if Aharon knew what I had hidden in my heart, he would not want to befriend me but rather I am a good person in his eyes and full of mitzvos!

"If Aharon really knew who I was," he continues, "he would stay away from such an evil person!" This person would then feel bad and ashamed of what they had done and it would cause them to do teshuvah (repent) Aharon had the ability just by acting in a friendly manner to change others.

This reminds me of the story of when a Yeshiva student went to see the Chofetz Chaim. This student was found to be smoking on Shabbos and he was summoned to see the Rosh Yeshiva (head of the Yeshivah). The Chofetz Chaim took the boy by the and and cried tears saying the words, 'Shabbos'.
That is all he said.

From that time on, that boy never smoked on Shabbos! This is the power of our actions that can lead a person to teshuvah, true love and caring. When a person sees that, how can they not want to change?