Blog Archive

About Me

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.
View my complete profile


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, October 31, 2013

Parshas Toldos: Why did we Waste our Time in this World?

"Then Yaakov gae Esav bread and porridge of lentils, and he did eat and drink and rose up and went his way and Esav despised the birthright" (Genesis 25:34)

The Torah speaks disparagingly against Esav because he despised the birthright. Why should this be so?  On that same day the commentators tell us he committed five sins so why should the Torah go out of its way and condemn him for his actions of selling the birthright when on that very same day he committed worse transgressions?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Chochmah V'Da'as answers that Esav knew very well the severity of the transgressions that he committed as he grew up in the home of Yitzchak but it was better to fill his desires without any impediments or guilt. The issue with selling his birthright for a bowl of lentils proves that the birthright was of no value in his eyes if he was willing to give it up so cheap.

Esav knew full well the value of Torah and mitzvos as we see by his great desire to receive the blessing from his father but for the sake of receiving something of value right now (the bowl of lentils) he was willing to sell the birthright.

He was willing and prepared to sell some of this world even for a quick fix than to wait and receive his true reward for the performance of mitzvos in the next world. Even though Esav realized the value of what the birthright meant, he wanted the lentils NOW and the ability to fulfill all his desires as well without any repercussions!

Rav Sternbuch continues and tells us that this is no different with us. When we transgress and give into our desires, we disgrace the sanctity of Torah. When we have time to learn and instead waste it on things that detract from our ability to be close to G-d, we also give into our desires for our quick fix at the expense of our reward for the performance of mitzvos in the next world.

We do all kinds of things to justify our actions in this world. Some of them may be legitimate but at the end of our lives, we will have to give an accounting of our actions. Just like Esav who was willing to give up his birthright for a bowl of lentils, we will have to answer for all the time we have wasted when we could have been learning Torah and doing mitzvos.

Shabbat Shalom
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 18: Absolute Truth leads to World Peace

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: 'The world is established on three principles: truth, justice, and peace, as it is said, 'You shall administer truth, justice and peace within your gates."

Why is the character trait of truth so important? Isn't it permissible to lie under certain circumstances and is recommended for the sake of peace? On the other hand, if truth was not so important wouldn't the world look even worse than it does?

The Rambam in the first of the 13 Principles of Faith tells us there is an obligation to believe in the existence of the Creator that is perfect and absolute. The reason that G-d must be absolute is because His existence is crucial for the world to exist. Not only that but if the values that He wants to administer to the world are not concrete and can change with time, then He cannot be G-d.

Therefore absolute truth must be based on something that is everlasting and does not change. If that would be the case, then we would live (which we do) in a world where moral relativism is king. This means that if I feel doing something fine, if not also fine but just don't tell me what to do. It is a world where values can change by what society dictates.

Forty years ago, euthanasia may have been viewed as murder but today if a person will not have what the doctors define as quality of life, then they will pull the plug on the patient. We could also justify other things that would never been considered years ago to be the norm today. This is the danger if we live in a world that does not have the guide of absolute truth!

The next part of the Mishna emphasizes the importance of justice. There is a difference how justice is looked at in the secular world and the Torah world. In the secular world you need laws and regulations to keep society orderly. Otherwise there would be chaos and the world would not be able to function.

In the Torah world, you need justice and regulations not to only bring order but to actually have the individual the ability to reach their true potential through spiritual growth. This means that laws are designed for the sake of benefiting the person in his quest to become closer to G-d, not just for the keeping society orderly and functioning.

The last part of the Mishna speaks about the importance of peace. Aharon Ha'Kohen had the unbelievable character trait of making peace between people. He would tell one person how much the other person he was angry at had regret for what they had done and only wanted to make up with their friend. He would then tell the other person the same thing and when the two met they forgot about what they were angry about and became fast friends again.

The problem is that we often are stubborn and will hold grudges even over something that may be able to forgive someone. We don't want to give in for we feel that is exposing ourselves to weakness and we don't want to show that to others.

Before Yom Kippur we ask others for forgiveness for anything we may have done wrong to them. When someone comes to us and asks forgiveness, we should immediately grant it to them. The reason is because if overlook what someone has done to us, G-d will overlook at the wrongdoing we have done to Him and will accept our teshuvah (repentance) and write us in the book of life and give us a good judgement for the upcoming year.

Peace is so important that we end the Shemoneh Esrei with the prayer for peace. May we be able to incorporate these character traits into our everyday lives and strengthen the world through our actions.
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Parshas Chayei Sarah Act without Worrying what we will get in Return

"And after this, Avraham buried Sarah his wife in the field of the cave of Machpela, before Mamre the same is Chevron in the land of Canaan" (Genesis 23:19).

The Ibn Ezra writes that the Torah here mentions the land of Canaan to demonstrate the greatness of the land of Israel more than any other land for people that are alive and dead. The Ramban tells us that one of Avraham's trials was finding a burial place for his wife. The Talmud Bava Batra15b explains that this trial was said by the Satan to G-d in order to test Avraham even though the sages do not count this as one of Avraham's ten trials!

The Avos pf Rebbe Nasan (Chapter 33 letter 2) writes that this was not one of Avraham's trials since the children of Chet tell Avraham that they cannot stop someone of his stature from burying his dead there. Nonetheless Avraham did not accept this because he did not want to benefit from others. If a burial place was being offered to Avraham why would this be considered a test for him?

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in Emes L'Yaakov explains that the idea of finding a burial plot for his wife and his whole discussion with the children of Chet was to demonstrate his character trait of generosity and openhandedness.  The reason is that they were willing to give him a burial place for the sake of his honor, whereby Avraham did not want to benefit from others.

We can understand this better from the end of the negotiations between Avraham and Ephron. At the beginning, Ephron was willing to give the field to Avraham for free but when Avraham did not want to take it, he agreed to pay for it in full for an astronomical amount of money.

Rav Yaakov continues and tells us that this is not the only place where we witness this character trait of Avraham.  We see it by the fight between Lot's and Avraham's shepherds where Avraham tells him to pick a piece of land and go there so there will be no friction between their two parties. There is also the aftermath of the war of the 4 kings against the 5 kings where Avraham tells the king of Sedom that he wants no benefit from him to make him rich.

Another place that demonstrates this character trait is the beginning of parshas Vaera by the story of Avraham looking for guest after the third day of his circumcision. This ability to give one's heart to others without benefiting from them could be the reason that he merited to having Yitzchak.

The Torah goes out of its way to demonstrate this character trait over and over again to show its importance. We should try to the best of our ability to be ones that give and help to others without any compensation for what we do.

Have a good Shabbos

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 17: Do Something, Don't Philosophize!

"Shimon his son said, 'All my life I have been brought up among the sages, and I have found nothing better for a person than silence;; study is not the most important thing but practice and whoever talks too much brings about sin"

Rabbenu Yonah tells us that there is no greater character trait than silence. The problem he tells us is that when a person speaks they could help themselves in one way but could damage themselves at the same time by saying something inappropriate. Even if a person speaks about something that they have to like about livelihood  or other things, nonetheless a person should minimize what they speak about.

The reason is that a person even if speaking about things that they have to, one should be careful and not go beyond what they speak about because it could turn out to be something that they would regret. This would go against conventional wisdom because after all, everyone has to talk, otherwise how do you accomplish what you need to do.

The Chofetz Chaim when he wrote his work on Shemiras Halashon (the laws of Loshon Hara) did not tell people they weren't allowed to talk but rather the purpose of his book was to teach people how to talk. Here the Mishna tells us that if you have to speak and get information, the best way is to minimize it in the best way possible.

The next part of the Mishna tells us an important idea in Judaism and that is the idea of action, not just thoughts. We learn here that the purpose of study is to put what one learns into action. There is no better way than to show and display to others good character traits than by the actions of the person himself.

Many people say that as long as they are Jewish in their heart and are good people, then that is enough. Judaism demands much more than that. Learn, continue to learn and put what you learn into action because otherwise it is like mental gymnastics. We are here in this world not to be philosophers but rather as doers who accomplish.

The last part of the Mishna explains that one should not speak too much when it comes to things of halacha. This means that when answering questions in halacha one should be careful and get to the specific idea that needs to be addressed because if there are others miscellaneous things added, it could confuse a person and come up with the wrong answer.

This is where talking too much will bring a person to the wrong conclusion. This doesn't mean that one should not talk things out to make sure that the conclusion is accurate but to ensure that no extraneous ideas come in that would confuse the issue.

We must learn that many times the best thing to do is be quiet, rather than answer and say things that one shouldn't. Not only that, we have to know that we need to do more and act rather than philosophize since we will take our good deeds and actions to the next world to testify for us to our benefit in the next world!
Friday, October 18, 2013

Parshas Vayera: The Desire to Keep Mitzvos

"And the L-rd appeared to him by the plains of Mamre as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day" (Genesis 18:1)

Rashi tells us that Avraham sat by the entrance to his tent and was troubled that there were no guests coming and then the angels in the form of men came. Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe tells us that this is a wonder because why should Avraham be upset that there are no guests and not be able to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnas orchim (having guests)? After all if there are no guests around, then there is no mitzvah of hachnasas orchim.

Not only that, Rav Moshe tells us but this is more of an onus even when one could have performed the mitzvah and was not able to. The reason is because under these circumstances, there was no mitzvah to be done here at all since there were no guests! This is similar to someone who is troubled by the fact that during the week he cannot perform the mitzvah of keeping Shabbos; since it is not Shabbos at that time then there is no obligation to keep it!

The reason that Avraham is upset over here is because of his great desire to do chesed and being unable to do so. Here he had the great desire to have guests and was upset that he could not fulfill the mitzvah in the Torah of hachnasas orchim.

This is similar to Moshe Rabbenu's desire to set up the cities of refuge even though he could not establish the mitzvah without setting up all six of them. He had the desire to do so but was unable to fulfill the mitzvah. The fact that he could not do it was not a deterrent rather it was a show of desire to keep the mitzvah even though under the circumstances he could not do so.

This teaches us a tremendous lesson. Even though in the cases of Avraham and Moshe they were exempt from the mitzvot that they wanted to keep because the circumstances did not allow for it, nonetheless they showed a strong connection to the mitzvah even though they couldn't keep it. The lesson we need to learn is to love the mitzvot that we do regardless of how hard they may be and how much they cost.

Mitzvos have the ability to draw us closer to G-d and do His will regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Whether we are tired, not in the mood...or whatever the yetzer hara (evil inclination) throws at us, we have to be "on call" to fulfill the mitzvos day and night to the best of our ability.

When we say the Shema twice a day, we say "V'ahavata es Hashem Elokecha..." that we should love the L-rd your G-d..." The root of the word V'ahavta is ahav or to love. If we break the root of the word down further we have the two letters hav. In Aramaic this means to give. If we want to have a connection to G-d and grow to love Him, we must give of ourselves. This will lead us to want to do more, keep more mitzvos and develop ourselves into people that are givers and leaders.

Shabbat Shalom
Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 16: Don't be Afraid to Ask for Advice

"Rabban Gamliel said, 'Provide yourself with a teacher and avoid doubt; and do not make a habit of giving tithes by guesswork"

There is nothing worse than having a question come before you and there is a doubt in your mind which way the halacha should be. This Mishna teaches us that a person should have a colleague either more knowledgeable or not to exchange ideas with it to come up with the right conclusion.

Rabbenu Yonah learns that even if this person does not match your level of wisdom, nonetheless it is worthwhile to have their counsel so there will be no doubt what the halacha is. The reason this is so important is because one does not want to permit something when it should be forbidden or forbid something that would be permitted. Therefore, you should appoint your friend as your rav to take one's self out of doubt.

This takes great humility because in essence one is saying that they don't know the answer and they have to seek guidance from others even if they are less learned. This also shows the importance of having someone to guide them and to learn from.

I have had the good fortune of being around great rabbinic figures where I gained practical knowledge as well as seeing their humility and righteousness in action. By witnessing great people in everyday life, it certainly changed my life and showed me what the great potential that man has!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that if one has a doubt regarding tithes that one should be stringent and take more will certainly make a mistake and cause one to lose out on their decision. Therefore, one should have a rav or someone they can get advice from who will be able to help them and steer them in the right direction.

Many people in different situations would have been helped had they asked advice from someone else who is capable of helping them. Two heads have the ability to prevail on a difficult task than one trying to figure things out on their own.

We have to try and be more humble and say that we don't know everything and sometimes ask others for advice. Rav Sternbuch Shlita told me in the name of the Brisker Rav that it was more important to say that they did not know the answer to a question than give an answer that was not truthful. Even the greatest scholars who say I don't know teach this valuable lesson of humility.
Friday, October 11, 2013

Parshas Lech Lecha: Obeying the Boss

"And G-d said to Avram, 'Leave the land of your birthplace, the house of your father to a land that I will show you'" (Genesis 12:1)

Rashi tells us that G-d sends Avram to a new land that will be for his benefit, goodness and he will receive tremendous blessings there. Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe asks why is this considered such a trial, after all many people travel to far off countries for the sake of livelihood even if he has a doubt whether he will be successful there.

The trial here Rav Moshe tells us is that Avram does not question what G-d tells him to do even though he does not understand why G-d is sending there.  Can't G-d give Avraham the blessings even where he is? Why does Avraham have to travel to a far off land to receive these blessings?

This is also true by the trial of the binding of Yitzchak. G-d promised to Avraham that he would have a son born to him and Sarah who would be his spiritual heir. After the miraculous birth G-d then gives Avraham the command to sacrifice him. Avraham does not complain or ask why G-d is doing this and received tremendous reward for listening to G-d.

There is a difference between both trials though, Rav Moshe explains. The trial here seemingly does not causes any suffering on Avraham's behalf. Yes he is leaving his homeland and everything he needs but ultimately he will attain great wealth and prominence and does not question G-d's ways.

 The binding of Yitzchak, though caused Avraham great anguish and he still did not question why G-d wanted him to do this. Rav Sternbuch shlita has told me many times  that we are considered to be in G-d's army. Regardless of what the king tells us to do we must listen and obey even if the command does not seem to make sense to us.

This is not just flippant belief in something not comprehensible and we have to keep torah and mitzvos because of a leap of faith. We have to try and understand all the laws of the Torah to the best of our ability. We must remember that the Torah is called 'chochmas elokim' G-d's wisdom and there are things that are beyond our capability of understanding.

This teaches us that we must be humble and realize our human limitations.  We learn from Avraham that even when G-d tells us to do something that seems incomprehensible we still must obey the "Boss" and do His bidding.

Shabbat shalom

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers Chapter 1: Mishna 15 Live the Torah that way it should be

"Shammai said, 'Make your study of the Torah a regular habit; say little but do much; and receive all men cheerfully"

Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura explains that the most important aspect of a person's day should be focused on learning Torah. Learning Torah has the ability to transform a person and change them. If we spend all our time in pursuit of the physical then a person will quickly lose their connection to G-d. 

The reason is because the soul needs spiritual nourishment and if it is not fed probably then it dies. This also teaches a lesson to our children. If they see that the father goes out to regular classes even after a long day at work, it demonstrates what is most important in a person's life.

The next part of the Mishnah is there to teach us that we are obligated to act, not just talk about what we are going to do. There are people that are talkers and there are people that are doers. Judaism is about taking action. This is easier said than done because there are obstacles that are thrown in our way to try and stop us in our spiritual endeavors.

A person has to be a dreamer with a plan to reach their lofty goals. One thing is for sure; one does not rest on their laurels but one continues to grow and seek guidance to help themselves reach their potential.

This has been demonstrated over and over again in my own personal life. Great rabbis that I have had the privilege to know and receive their guidance has been nothing short of unbelievable. They have collectively taught me to continue to strive and grow regardless of what "the world" may throw at you. With that kind of inspiration and seeing first hand their righteousness and knowledge, it certainly has transformed me into the person that I am.

With this type of inspiration and desire, how can one not look at someone cheerfully? After all, we have so much to be thankful for even if we are faced with difficult times why ruin it with a sour face? What did that person deserve to see our sour face?

This cheerfulness comes from a true desire to give over the best of themselves to others. This will result in others thinking highly of you and show true camaraderie. When someone exudes cheerfulness it is something that makes others feel good and brings the best out of them as well.

Let us use these ideas and live by them by incorporating the Torah into our lives to the best of our ability! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Parshas Noach: Was he really great or not?:

"These are the offspring of Noach - Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with G-d."  (Genesis 6:9)

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in his work Emes L'Yaakov brings the disagreement in Rashi whether Noach would have been even more righteous had he been in the generation of Avraham or whether he would not have been considered much at all. In reality, Rav Yaakov tells us that there is no disagreement between these two explanations because had he been in a generation of righteous people, he would have been considered even greater. The disagreement comes in what the words 'in his geneations' means; either to praise him or to deride him.

The question is why would we want to interpret Noach's character as in the negative when we could praise him for his righteous acts? Rav Yaakov explains that Noach could not have been truly righteous or he would have been able to save his generation. Not only that, but the Midrash implies that he did not know how to give rebuke to that generation and therefore was not successful in saving anyone else!

This is why there is the negative interpretation to Noach's righteousness. In reality though, why is this a knock on his righteousness, isn't it just a deficiency of wisdom? The answer is that this lack of judgment in wisdom is a blemish to his righteousness.

Had Noach been able to find the means to give rebuke properly, he would have found a way to explain it to his generation, thereby saving them. This is an important thing to keep in mind for us as well. We sometimes get caught up in the heat of the moment and forget about what we are here in this world to accomplish.

If we want to try and help someone but we are not successful, we have to try and think of other possible ways. Who is to say that there is only one way? Maybe our judgment has been skewed and we are not thinking clearly or just have made a mistake in handling the situation.

Sometimes we may have to go out of our comfort zone to be successful. There is a question as to who was better at hachnasas orchim (having guests) Job or Avraham. Rav Dessler tells us that Avraham was greater because when a guest came to the house of Job, he served him what he himself liked to eat where by Avraham, he served his guests what they themselves wanted to eat.

May we learn to give of ourselves and help others the way they need to be helped and what they need to hear rather than what we think they need to hear.

Shabbat Shalom
Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 14: Let's Change Now!

"He used to say, 'If I am not for myself who is for me? If I care only for myself, what am I? If not now, when"

Rabbenu Yonah explains that if I don't desire to want to change and fix my bad character traits, then who will be there for me? In other words, other people can help them change their bad habits but in reality, the greatest encouragement comes from the individual himself. If that person inspires himself, he will then continue to have positive thoughts about change and become the person that G-d wants him to be.

This helps us understand the second part of the Mishna because if I am only for myself, even if I help others, what I have I accomplished? The person has still not reached even the minimal level that he is capable. What is this comparable to? It is like a king who gives a field of 30 Kor to his servants to work for the year.

The servants work really really hard and at the end of the year, they harvest produce of 50 Kor. The king asks them, if I gave you a field of 30 Kor, how could you only produce 50 Kor in return? The servants tell the king that the field that you gave to us was of inferior quality and even though we worked really hard, we were only able to produce a little bit. So too we say in front of G-d, 'the nature of a person from when he is young is bad'. Even if a person works really hard on themselves, we only accomplish a little when there is so much to be done!

This teaches us an important lesson. We know that even if a person works really hard to fight the evil inclination, it still causes us to sin. If a person does not work hard on themselves to change then they will be empty of mitzvos. This is compared to the inferior field, if you don't fertilize it and plow it, nothing will grow from it.

The last part of the Mishna teaches us that if a person would say I have too much work to do today and  tomorrow I will pay attention to my bad character traits and work on them. Maybe they won't have time and will do nothing. Even if one does have time, maybe it will be wasted on other things when they should be working on themselves and doing mitzvos.

A person can't put off today what he could do tomorrow. We shouldn't be lazy and use each day to its fullest. The more we put things off, the less we will do them. The evil inclination does not sleep and continues to attack a person even when they sleep. we live lives of many wasted opportunities.

Let us use our time wisely and productively and become the great people that we are capable of being.