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Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Thursday, November 28, 2013

Parshas Miketz: The Connection between the Physical and Spiritual

"Joseph answered Pharaoh saying, 'That is beyond me, it is G-d who will respond with Pharaoh's welfare" (Genesis 41:16)

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in Emes L'Yakov explains this verse through the lighting of the candles on Chanukah before Shabbos. The Shabbos candles we are allowed to get benefit from but not the Chanukah candles. Not only that but one is not allowed to use the light to read words of Torah or for any other mitzvah as well.

The Shabbos candles are lit so there will marital harmony between husband and wife and the Chanukah candles are lit because of the miracle of what happened in the Temple. Nonetheless, if one only had money for either Shabbos candles or Chanukah candles, one should buy Shabbos candles because marital harmony outweighs even the great miracle of what transpired by Chanukah. Why should this be so?

The great miracle of Chanukah shows the tremendous Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) and miracle that G-d did for the Jewish people but Shabbos candles show the connection between the physical world and spiritual world through the meals that we consume.

We also know that by keeping the laws of Shabbos, it is a gateway to what will be in the next world regarding the awesomeness of the spiritual experience. The question though is how this eating and drinking on Shabbos is part of what the great spirituality of the next world.

The answer is because the spiritual worlds are connected one to the other.  This is how our holy ancestors used the physical world for spiritual means. This explains what Yosef said to Pharoah in their seemingly mundane conversation,

Pharoah tells Yosef that he is a great interpreter of dreams whereas Yosef pushes him off saying that it is beyond him and it is only G-d who will explain the dream to him and the subsequent dream as well, This is incredible because Pharaoh being the ultimate denier of G-d's power agrees and says that Yosef has the spirit of G-d within him!

This is the power that our ancestors have passed on to us this idea that physical things even have spiritual realities. The fact that Yosef can interpret dreams is only because it is G-d who shows him what the dreams mean.

This is a tremendous lesson for us because we can take a mundane act such as eating and drinking and make it seemingly part of what the next world experience will be like!

May we always see that connection between the physical and the spiritual in everything that we do.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 4 An Upside Down World

"He used to say, 'Do G-d's will as you would do your own will, so that He may do your will  as if it were His; sacrifice your will for the sake of His will, so that He may undo the will of others before yours"

Rabbenu Yona explains that just like one has the desire to do his own will so too one should want to do the will of G-d.  Not only that, but one should strive to make his will and the will of his Creator to be the same. This sounds like a great idea, but how do we accomplish this?

The more we learn and incorporate the Torah's values into our own lives, we begin to change. This means that when we envelop the values of the Torah, they change us into spiritual people. This in turn leads us to want to continue to act in such a way which will bring us to a higher awareness of what G-d wants from us.

The Mishna continues by explaining G-d gives us everything that we need. By doing the will of G-d ie by keeping His Torah and commandments, He in turn gives us what we need.. This may seem difficult as most people do not have easy lives and have trials and tribulations to contend with.

At the end of the day though, we have a roof over our heads and food to eat. This is what the Mishna means. Although we may think we need more or deserve more, nonetheless, G-d gives us what He feels we need and can handle, not the other way around.

The last part of the Mishna teaches us that when we do G-d's will, he keeps our enemies at bay so that they cannot hurt us. This is also difficult to understand because we don't always witness this first hand or second hand or even know about the great things that G-d does for us.

We will find out later (in the true world, ie the next world) all the things that we went through and why. Not only that but G-d will reveal what He did to take care of us and thwart the plan of our enemies. We can only understand this as a true soul without a body because in this physical world our minds are clouded and we don't see reality as we should.

At that time when our soul is not part of our bodies things are seen with greater clarity. In essence we live in an upside down but G-d runs the show and will show us why He did things the way He did.

The thing we have to do is continue to grow and sanctify His name in this world through the mitzvos that we do which should change how we look and interact with others.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chanukah: Let the Light of the Torah Shine Bright

Chanukah is upon us once again. As we light the candles and eat our donuts and latkes, what is the real reason we celebrate this holiday? After all, even though it is the last revealed miracle that we know about in Jewish history, how do we relate to it today?

We know that the Maccabees fight and beat the mighty Greek army. As they go back to the Temple, they find one crucible of oil that still has the seal of the high priest which had not been contaminated by the Greeks. That crucible of oil miraculously stays lit for eight days when it only has the natural ability to stay lit for one!

After that miracle, the rabbis decreed that we should make a festive holiday for 8 days in memory of the oil that stayed lit for that amount of time. The Greeks have all but disappeared and the Jewish people are still here. As we see the candles lit, what should we be thinking about?

One thing to keep in mind is that today even though the Greeks are no longer among us, nonetheless, they have left their mark on society since a lot of what surrounds us today is the legacy of the Greeks. Education, philosophy, sports and especially the worship of the bodies are all things that the Greeks have left for our modern society.

Even though we are surrounded by Greek culture, nonetheless we look at it as a time of darkness. The obvious question is how can we view it as darkness if in reality it was a time of great enlightenment and scholarship?

When we look at the Greeks, we have to understand that they were interested that Jews should keep their customs in their house...but they should go to Greek schools and participate in the gymnasium. This would lead to more integration into their society which is the most dangerous thing that could happen to the Jewish people!

The result is intermarriage and assimilation. The more we participate in their culture, the more we lose our special identity as Jews. According to the Greeks, that is exactly what they wanted. The more the Jew will be outside his culture and laws, the more susceptible he will be to the non-Jewish way of life!

This has proven to be our downfall. The reason is because the more we participate and are active in that society, the more we tend to assimilate. The biggest thing that the Jewish people have to fight against is illiteracy of Jewish texts and customs.

The more the Jewish people stick to their beliefs and ideals, the more they will stay together and continue to grow. With that in mind, as we watch the candles burn, we should keep in mind the miracles that G-d has done for us.

Not only that, we should realize that the Greek ideals unfortunately are very much alive today and our job is sanctify G-d's name by learning His Torah and keeping His mitzvos.

May we strengthen ourselves during these festive days and enjoy the light that the Torah brings out of each one us.

Have a meaningful Chanukah!
Thursday, November 21, 2013

Parshas Vayeshev: Everything happens for a Reason

These are the generations of Yaakov, Yosef was 17 years old was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them." (Genesis 37:2).

The Seforno explains the when Yaakov came back to the land of his father, what happened to him was similar to what happened to our forefathers in the time of the destruction of the second Temple and the final exile. 

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a asks in Ta'am V'Da'as what the connection is to what happened by the destruction of the second Temple and what occurred during the life of Yaakov?

Yosef ends up going to Egypt because of the hatred of his brothers and then his brothers and father go down there as well. We too went into exile after the destruction of the Temple because of unlawful hatred between people. This hatred between people has kept us in this exile until today.

What was the purpose of Yaakov going down to Egypt? He went there Rav Sternbuch explains because he needed to bring out the sparks of holiness among the most immoral of all societies. They did not change their names, language or clothing and sanctified G-d's name.

Rav Moshe Schneider, Rav Sternbuch's Rosh Yeshiva of the famed Toras Emes Yeshiva, explains that in our days, when a Jew keeps Torah and mitzvos while living among people that are not observant, they have the ability to sanctify G-d's name. 

They do so by keeping G-d's will even in a place that is far away from a Torah center or observant Jews! The fact that these people see Orthodox Jews acting in such a way certainly has a positive influence on them.

The fact that today Jews are spread all over the world and are surrounded by immorality and all the negative influence that comes with it, nonetheless, they hold strong the principles of the Torah and sanctify G-d's name.

The Chofetz Chaim said that the hatred of the brothers caused Yosef to go into exile, ending up in Egypt but in the end it was G-d's will for him to be there to be able to save his brothers and family. The same thing is true today that in the end of this long terrible exile we will see that the suffering did have a purpose and everything will be made clear to us.

In the time of Ikvesa d'Meshicha (the birth pains of the coming of the Messiah) may we be able to withstand all the trials and tribulations of the coming of the Messiah and he should come speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 3: Don't rely on man, only on G-d

"Be cautious of the ruling authorities  for they befriend a man only for their own interests; they appear as friends when it is to their own advantage, but they do not stand by a man when he is in distress"

This Mishna explains what has happened over the millennium. The ruling authorities of any country, state...always look out for their own interests. Even in the most democratic countries, the one's in charge call the shots even though they are elected by the people.

They talk a good game, promise the world and more but in the end satisfy their own needs and not that of their constituents! When they need something from people they will go out of their way to be friendly and nice and do what it takes to get what they want. If not, their is no end to what they may do.

Just think of any company that requires money from an individual. They will do whatever it takes to get the money out of the person. On the other hand, if the company owes someone money, see how quickly they are in returning it!

Even in times when a man most needs help, they are often not their for them because it is not in their interest! We can think of many a war or two that the United States did not get involved in where there was tremendous bloodshed and loss of life. 

This does not mean that America has to run around the world and help everyone but rather we see that when there are no American interests at stake, America does not get involved even at the expense of mass genocide!

On the individual level, don't we act in a similar way? Mankind in general is selfish and acts in their own interests for their own motives. Whether it be in business, sports or entertainment, we look out for ourselves. Torah and the observance of mitzvos make us realize that this is not the proper way to act.

There is an obligation of giving tzedaka and helping those less fortunate than ourselves. There is an obligation of helping the community and getting involved in communal affairs. The Torah teaches us that we have to look beyond ourselves without receiving any benefit for what we do!

This Mishna teaches that we have no one else to rely on except our father in heaven and not to rely on the actions of man. At the same time, we still have to change ourselves and our mentality and help one another even though it really goes against our nature. This is precisely the reason that these mitzvos were given to us!!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Parshas Vayishlach: Fight the Yetzer Hara and Become Pure

"But he got up that night and took his two wives, his two handmaids, and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabok" (Genesis 32:23)

Rashi brings from the Midrash and asks where was Dinah at this time? The Midrash answers that she was placed in a locked box so that Esav would not look at her. Yaakov is punished for this because he prevented his daughter from marrying Esav. The reason is that she could have possibly influenced him to be better and do teshuvah so she was taken and defiled by Shechem.

Many commentaries are baffled by this and ask why Yaakov would have to give his daughter over to someone so evil? Rav Moshe Sternbuch explains in Chochma V'Da'as that Esav was truly evil and understood how to trap women to be with him. He never forced the women but was able to cajole them and convince them until they agreed to speak with him and do his wishes.

Dina was righteous and there wasn't any reason we should think that she would marry Esav but Esav would try his best to convince her. Maybe then she could have had a positive influence on him. This would have taught her how to speak to people like Esav and that would have prepared her better and she would not have fallen with Shechem.

This may have been ok for someone of the spiritual stature of Dina but the future generations would not have been able to withstand the test and certainly would fall in such a situation. Rav Sternbuch further clarifies and tells us that there are two types of ways to educate children.

One way is to totally separate from evil people and have nothing to do with them because they could have a negative influence on us. Another way of educating our children is that if we know their nature and they are strong in their beliefs, maybe they will have a positive influence on others and will not be effected by them.

Even so this is a dangerous option. Rav Shimon Shkop would tell his students that were interested in learning more worldly things about the danger it entails. He would explain that if a person put themselves in danger and then under the circumstances fell because of onus they were still held liable.

There is also the story of a student of the Ba'al Hatanya who went to learn a little bit in university. The Ba'al HaTanya warned him about the dangers lurking there. The student answered that when he learned by the Ba'al HaTanya he did not turn into such a righteous person so too by learning in university, it wouldn't effect him negatively.

The Ba'al HaTanya answered him that impurity makes one impure through touch but holiness is a hard thing to acquire and a vessel does not become holy unless it envelops the sacrifice and not through touch. The reason is because holiness is a hard thing to grasp while impurity happens just by being touched by it.

We see the power of the evil inclination just how far it is willing to go to trap us. May we learn and strengthen ourselves to fight against it and purify ourselves through the learning of Torah and keeping mitzvos!

Shabbat Shalom
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 2 Mishna 2: Don't Sell out the Family for the Sake of the Community

"Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehuda Ha'Nasi said, 'It is well to combine Torah study with some worldly occupation, for the energy taken up by both of them keeps sin out of one's mind; all Torah study which is not combined with some trade must at length fail and occasion sin. Let all who work for the community do so from a spiritual motive, for then the merit of their fathers will sustain them, and their righteousness will endure forever. "I credit you with great reward (G-d says) as if you accomplished it all"

There is a disagreement among the rabbinical authorities what the first part of the Mishnah is talking about. Does it mean that one needs to learn combined with work or that it refers to learning with proper ethical behavior? If we say that it means that one needs to work, there is another Mishnah later Chapter 3 Mishna 22 that tells us that without a livelihood one cannot work.

While this is true, the Mishnah here explains that even if one learns Torah, he should combine it with something that will help him earn a living so that he won't come to sin when there is free time. The reason is that Torah study weakens a person and if a person when not learning does something to help earn a living, he keeps the evil inclination at bay because he is busy all the time.

This aspect of the Mishnah indicates that one must be busy so as to not fall in the clutches of the evil inclination. Even if that means when one is tired and not learning one should work to stay out of trouble.

This leads to the next part of the Mishnah which tells us that one should work for the community for the sake of heaven. The connection is keeping one's self busy while at the same time helping out others. Here we learn that the reason one helps the community is for the sake of helping the community and not for the sake of honor, or to get benefit from it or to have power over others.

There are many people that give to their all to help different aspects of the Jewish community. While this is good and even praiseworthy, one must know how to balance that with their familial responsibilities. As the saying goes, chesed (acts of loving kindness) start at home. A person must work very hard to keep his home structure strong and functional.

This means that even though they help the community-at-large, it doesn't mean every last second must go to that at the expense of their family. At all times, family must come first. This may be obvious but sometimes the goals of the individual cloud the person's thoughts and they end up sacrificing their family in the process.

This is why it is critical to have a rabbi or mentor to guide them in this process. Helping out and working for the community is an amazing mitzvah, but their must be clear boundaries when it comes to family.
Thursday, November 7, 2013

Parshas Vayetize: Be Thankful for what we Have

"And Yaakov vowed a vow saying, 'If G-d will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to wear" (Gemesis 28:21)

The Medrash Tanchuma tells us that every claim that Yaakov had to G-d, G-d answered. When Yaakov said if G-d will be with me, G-d answered I will be with you. Then Yaakov said You (G-d) will guard me, G-d answered that I will guard you wherever you will go. When Yaakov said give me bread and don't forsake my livelihood G-d answered if I promise you that I will supply you with food but why do you ask for more? This G-d did not promise.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that Yaakov was worried that maybe he would sin  and G-d's promises to him would not be fulfilled. This is why Yaakov said if G-d will be with me and give me bread to eat. G-d did not promise this so that Yaakov would continue to pray for his needs.

This Midrash Rav Sternbuch tells us is a fundamental principle of Judaism. In reality, G-d does not owe mankind anything even if he is righteous like Yaakov but rather one should pray for one's needs. The rich person should pray that he will be able to sustain his wealth and not lose it while the poor person prays that he will have some money with which to live.

A father prays for his children that they should be healthy and that he should be able to educate them properly in the ways of Torah. A person should remember that prayer always helps even for our basic needs.

G-d desires our prayers and this is why sometimes people may have a hard time with livelihood or with their children so a person should be dependent on G-d and pray for these things. The primordial snake looks like he had it easy. After the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, the punishment for the snake was it's legs were chopped off and food would readily be available for him.

If food is readily available for him, what is so great about the punishment he received? He doesn't have to work so hard to eat! The answer is that because of this, the snake will have no connection to G-d. All his needs will be provided for and he won't ever have to pray for anything.This is G-d saying that I don't want your prayers and stay away from me.

G-d doesn't owe us anything. The fact we exist and depend on Him is enough. He gives us the ability to pray to Him and draw close to Him. We need to be thankful for the things that we have and realize all the goodness that G-d gives us.

This week I became a grandfather for the first time. After seeing my daughter in the hospital and seeing that beautiful baby boy, I couldn't help but to think of all the goodness that G-d has bestowed upon me. It became even clearer one day this week while I was on the bus and I saw a sick child suffering from a terrible disease. This made the reality for me even more obvious how much more we have to thank G-d and be happy with what He has given us.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 1 The Results of our Actions

"Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi said, "Which is the right course that a man should choose for himself? One which is creditable to the person adopting it, and on account of which he gains respect from men. Be careful to perform a minor mitzvah just as well as a major one, for you do not know the reward for each mitzvah. Balance the loss sustained by the performance of a mitzvah against the reward secured by its observance and the profit of a sin against its injury. Consider three things and you will not come into the grip of sin - know what is above you: a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and a book in which all your deeds are recorded"

The first part of the Mishan teaches us that when we do what G-d wants us to do and follow his commandments properly, then we not only give Him nachas but others will want to emulate us as well. The reason is that the Torah has the ability to change us and when internalize the Torah's timely messages, we become closer to G-d.

Growing in Torah and changing bad character traits transforms us. When people we come in contact see this, they witness something extraordinary. They notice something is different and want to be a part of it.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we have to be careful with all mitzvos. The reason is that even though we know the punishment for transgressing different mitzvos, ie either being cut spiritually off from the Jewish people, lashes or one of the 4 severe deaths, strangulation, stoning, having molten lead thrown down your throat or having one's head chopped off, nonetheless we don't know what merit we receive when we do the mitzvos.

The reason we do not know what the merit of the mitzvos we do is because if we did, we would only concentrate on those mitzvos that give us the highest reward and we wouldn't bother with the "smaller" mitzvos at all. This is the reason that we must be careful in performing all the mitzvos which will make us into a more complete individual.

This also ties into the next part of the Mishna that a person may think if I perform this mitzvah and it costs me a lot of money, why should I do it? A person has to realize how important the mitzvos are regardless whether they cost a lot of money or not. The idea is that when G-d gave us the Torah and we took G-d to be our G-d, it didn't matter what was written in the Torah; we will do whatever G-d tells us regardless how much a particular mitzvah may cost us to do.

We also have to be aware that when we transgress any commandment of the Torah for whatever benefit we may get, we have to keep in mind that at some point either in this world or the next we will have to pay for that bad judgment. This is a world where we can have the ability to acquire eternal life by keeping the mitzvos but if we transgress them, then we will have to pay later.

This leads to the last part of the Mishna that we have to realize what our purpose is in this world and where we came from. We have to realize that G-d knows the thoughts of man and what we will do in the future. Therefore even if we transgress in this world, G-d knows it and will judge us for our actions in the next world.  Not only that, G-d witnesses what we do and has angels following us around recording our actions.

These angels will come to give testimony in front of the heavenly court and then G-d will judge us based on that. Nothing we do in this world goes unrecorded. Thousands of years ago we could not have imagined this but with the advance of technology it is not that hard to fathom.

This is indeed scary which means that we must be careful what we do in this world as we try and make the greatest kiddush Hashem we can. This is done by performing the mitzvos to the best of our ability which will transform us and the influence the ones around us!