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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.
Thursday, December 26, 2013

Parshas Vaera: Educating our Children: They don't grow up by themselves

"And Amram took him Yocheved his father's sister as a wife and she gave birth to Aharon and Moshe and the years of the life of Amram were one hundred and thirty-seven years" (Exodus 6:20).

Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe asks why does the Torah not mention the names of Moshe's father and mother until it was known that he would redeem the Jewish people and take them out of Egypt?
The reason Rav Moshe explains is that one should not overly praise their son even if he has tremendous ability to succeed in spiritual endeavors.

This means that even if after he was born and filled the entire house with light, nonetheless a person shouldn't say 'since my son does all these good things, I don't have to look after him with his education, he will learn it all anyway!' This is a mistake that may people make that when seeing their children go in the right direction with regards to Torah and mitzvos, they think that they will continue on their path easily without having to continually educate them!

Just the opposite is true. The greater the person becomes in learning and Torah observance, the more the evil inclination wants to snare him and stop them from reaching high spiritual goals. The evil inclination would want nothing more to see this genius fail and not reach their full potential!

Therefore it is incumbent on the parents to educate them even more, keeping this strong connection insuring that the child continues to go in the right direction. At the same time, prayer always helps that G-d should give us the ability to help our kids grow spiritually as much as possible.

There is the story with the Steipler Gaon, Rav Yisrael Yaakov Kanievsky z"l who would pray three times a day that his son Chaim would go in the path of the Torah and mitzvos. This was well after Rav Chaim was a great Torah scholar himself!

Yes we should learn with our children and instill in them the ability to succeed. Even if they are going in the right path and doing the right thing, it does not exempt the parents from continuing to educate them. The evil inclination is very strong and has many ways to get people to make mistakes and veer off the right track.

Parents today are at a tremendous disadvantage trying to fight the onslaught of secular society. We pray that our children continue in the path of their forefathers to strive in Torah and to love Torah. This is certainly not an easy task today but with G-d's help, every Jewish child gets what they need to be worthy servants of G-d!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 8: Doing the Right Things has Benefits

"He used to say, 'the more flesh the more worms (in the grave); the more property the more anxiety; the more wives the more witchcraft; the more female servants the more lewdness; the more male servants the more thievery; but the more Torah study the more life; the more schooling, the more wisdom; the more counsel the more understanding; the more righteousness, the more peace. One who has acquired a good name, has acquired it for himself; one who has acquired for himself Torah has acquired for himself the life of the world to come'"

The beginning of the Mishna teaches us that a person should not indulge one's self in the vanities of this world especially when it comes to food. A person should eat so that they can strengthen themselves to be better able to serve G-d.

The other issue that the more one eats the more embarrassed one will be after they die. The reason is because it will cause more worms to eat their flesh (appetizing) which is like having a needle dig into one's flesh. Even if we are destined to die and be eaten by worms, we should minimize what the worms will eat which will help not to cause our soul intense suffering.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that wealth does not bring us any rest. The reason is that the more  property and things that one acquires in this world will cause a person more worry of how they are going to be able to hold on to them and sustain them.

Although money and wealth can certainly make one's life easier, it nonetheless causes them a lot of stress as well. How many wealthy people are there that are not paranoid about money?

The next part of the Mishna explains that even though one has more wives or female servants or slaves, the offshoots of their potential bad actions is reflected on the owner of them. This means that even if a person has many wives and servants and they themselves do terrible things, it is as if the master had done these things himself.

Rabbenu Yonah explains that the master had the opportunity to prevent this and make sure these things don't happen. Since he does not do so properly, it is as if he himself has done the action!

The next part of the Mishna that when a person increases Torah he increases life corresponds to the beginning of the Mishna,  Rabbenu Yonah explains. When a person eats a lot it certainly can shorten a persons life while learning Torah extends life in the next world.

Having lots of property and wealth can shorten a persons life while worrying about Torah thoughts and how to properly keep halacha actually extends his life. The reason is that even if someone is worried about how to perform a specific action in conjunction with halacha, a person on such a level, no harm will befall him for that.

Just the opposite. The more he learns Torah and delves into the intricacies of it will only grow spiritually and raise himself to higher levels and aspirations. This will be a benefit to him and his family as well.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that the more wisdom one has the more understanding they have. This means that when they learn and give over information to their students, they sharpen the ideas of the teacher making his lessons even more potent.

Even if a person has a lot of knowledge, it becomes even greater by the questions of their students. The more they ask the more they make their rebbe stronger!

The next part of the Mishna tells us that the more charity one gives the more peace he brings to the world. This means that when one is able to help another regarding financial matters, that person gets the benefit of the help and loves the person for what he has given him.

This combined with other good deeds that the person does earns him a good name. Others will want to be close to him and will want to be their friend. This helps promote peace and love among people!
Friday, December 20, 2013

Parshas Shemos: Beware of the Influences around us

"Now there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Yosef" (Exodus 1:8)

The Gemara in Sotah 11a brings a difference of opinion of whether this was a new king or it was the same king but he made new decrees. If we say that this king made new decrees it seems that even before that there were decrees and now there were new ones.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Chochmah V'Da'as explains that at the beginning, Pharaoh wanted the Jews to integrate into Egyptian culture and not to live in a different place within the country and have their own laws.. He wanted them to be just like the Egyptians in the sense that they would dress the same, go to their schools..

When Pharaoh saw that they would not change their names, language or their clothes he made new decrees. They would not have the same freedoms as regular Egyptians. Not only that, but if they did not want to be like everyone else, they would suffer the consequences!!

This happens over and over in all generations. The non-Jews nations in Europe wanted the Jews to be separate in their ghetto and not to mix with the non-Jews because they were not considered equals in society. In essence they could not be part of that society nor were they welcomed either.

Afterwards when the non-Jews nullified the ghetto and gave the Jews freedoms like everyone else and it did not take long before the Jews were "regulars" in society which caused much assimilation and intermarriage. As the saying goes, the more the Jew becomes more like the non-Jew, the more he loses his identity and his closeness to his priceless.

This same idea is applicable as well to the situation in the state of Israel. The Satmar Rebbe z"l was afraid that the non-religious in Israel would make decrees against the chareidim (ultra-orthodox) there. The Chazon Ish (Rav Avraham Yeshay Karelitz) z"l answered the Satmar Rebbe by telling him that he was not worried about the bad decrees that the non-religious would make against the chareidim but rather he was worried about the "candies" the non-religious would give them which would cause more problems.

The Chazon Ish was worried that the more contact we have and befriend them, then the more they could have influence over us. This shows how much we have to be aware of the influence of our non-Jewish society and guard ourselves as best as possible against it.

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 7: Judgment Measure for Measure

"He saw a skull floating on the surface of the water. He said to it: 'Because you drowned others, others have drowned you; and those who have drowned you, shall themselves be drowned [ measure for measure]'"

The reason for this is because there is a judge who runs the world and there is also judgement. This means that if a person killed someone and spilled innocent blood, then too the same thing should happen to him.

Rabbenu Yonah explains that because someone has killed, someone else is not allowed to take revenge and kill them for what they have done. Even if they would be obligated to die by a rabbinical court in this world, still one is not allowed to go out and act as a vigilante to offset the death that has occurred.

At the same time, the heinous action that this person did to someone else should be done to that individual. This means that when G-d judges a person and punishes them for the wrongful actions, He judges them measure for measure for what they have done.

Things in this world do not happen haphazardly and for no reason. We in our limited intelligence for what we see may not explain the actions of others and why things occur. G-d in His infinite wisdom will only allow us to understand the workings of what transpires in the world and in our own lives when we are a pure soul.

This is because since we are created from the impurity of the ground in this world, our soul is dulled because of it. Only when we are involved in spirituality through Torah and mitzvos, do we gain special insight. We get a glimpse in this world but it so hard to understand it because of all the tragedies that surround us.

This is the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people. The Torah is clear in many places that a person receives punishment measure for measure for what they have done. This makes sense because G-d is good and his ways are good. He judges and acts accordingly due to our actions. The judgement is fair and the punishment always fits the crime even if we are not able to fathom it.

We live in a very complicated world. It seems like utter chaos and no rhyme or reason for things to happen the way they do. The Torah is a blueprint to our very existence and gives us the tools to better be equipped to deal with life's challenges.

A student once came to Rav Moshe Shcneider, the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Etz Chaim in London. The student asked for a blessing from his rebbe. Rav Schneider asked him what blessing he would like. The student said he wanted a blessing that everything should go easy.

The Rosh Yeshiva answered, "I cannot give such a blessing. That would be a blessing in vain. Instead I give you the blessing that whatever trials and tribulations you have in this world you should be able to overcome them!"

This is a true lesson for all of us. Even if things are difficult they are ultimately for the good even if it is difficult for us to understand. The silver lining is there, we just have to know how to look for it.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Parshas Vayechi: Exile is a Terrible Thing!

"And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years so the whole age of Yaakov was a hundred and forty-seven years" (Genesis 48:28)

Rashi asks why this parsha is considered a closed one. He answers that Yaakov's eyes were closed as well as the hearts of the Jewish people due to the pain and suffering of the servitude in Egypt. Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe asks how this can be if Yaakov was still alive and the servitude in Egypt only began when Yosef and the brothers died?

The reason Rav Moshe answers is although they were in exile living under the good conditions set up by Pharaoh, they did not feel that the exile was bad. Since they were dependent on Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their good fortune, isn't this the worst type of exile that exists?

Had they felt the exile as a terrible thing, the eyes of Yaakov would not have been dimmed because of their suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. After Yaakov died things changed as they saw that they did not have the same goodness from the Egyptians as had been before!

We can take a great lesson from what Rav Moshe is telling us. Even if we live in a country that grants us the greatest freedom to have Yeshivas, girl schools, kosher food and the like, we are still beholden to that place. We even feel comfortable in such a place and forget that we are still suffering this bitter exile we find ourselves in!

We are not looking for pogroms or anti-semetism G-d forbid against the Jewish people but when we think we fit into that society and want to partake of the customs of that society, it is a recipe for disaster. As we have witnessed over the millennium, the more the Jewish people integrated into their society, the more the non-Jews around them hated them more

We are forced to live in certain societies and be part of them for livelihood...but at the same time we have to recognize that we are guests there. The problem is that we don't feel the exile and live it up too well in our country of residence!

When we feel too comfortable that is usually the time that the tide turns against us and we are forced to realize the bitterness of our exile. May we learn this lesson through keeping Torah and mitzvos and growing closer to G-d rather than through pogroms and the anti-Semites!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 6: Be Quick to Learn from all People

"He used to say, 'A boor cannot be fearful of sin; an unlearned person cannot be scrupulously pious; the bashful person cannot learn; and the quick impatient person cannot teach; anyone excessively occupied in business cannot become a scholar; and in a place where there are no leaders, strive to become a leader"

A boor is someone who has not learned Torah, does not keep mitzvos and certainly does not work on fixing bad character traits. This person will not have fear of heaven because since he is unlearned, he does not know what to guard himself against or what to fear. Lack of knowledge and awareness causes this individual to only worry about himself and nothing else.

An unlearned person because he has contact with others has some character traits that are good and can guard himself from doing bad things. This can lead him to be righteous  but it won't lead him to piety. .The reason for this is because he is unlearned in Torah.

Torah scholarship gives one the ability to continue to grow spiritually while at the same time gives the individual a special awareness. This allows one to reach higher spiritual levels which will lead him to piety.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that someone who is bashful cannot learn. The reason is because they will say how can someone who is stupid like me speak in front of such a great Torah scholar. In their bashfulness they will think that they are not capable of understanding the intricacies of what is being spoken about and their true lack of knowledge will come out.

They will be embarrassed and afraid of rejection and ridicule even if in reality it would not happen,. Every person to be successful need to have some level of self-esteem. If they are bashful they will look down on themselves and be afraid of giving over information or trying to teach because of the fear of being exposed as a fool.

A person that is quick tempered and impatient cannot teach because they quickly get angry and lose patience for every little thing. This will come out to hurt himself in the eyes of who they teach whereby information will not be able to given over and their students will not gain.

The students will be afraid to ask questions and the teacher will have no benefit from what he is doing. The purpose of teaching is to have an open heart for their students and help them understand and digest the information being presented. If one is quick to get angry and has no patience then they don't have the ability to give over anything they propose to teach.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that if a person is preoccupied with business they cannot be a Torah scholar. The reason is because they are so busy with business that they make it the essence of their lives and do not have fixed time for learning.

Business certainly can take up a lot of a person's time but a person is not their business. They need to grow spiritually as well and without fixed times for learning this will not happen. One should look at business as a way to make a living but not the essence of their lives!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that a person has to try and be a leader if there are no leaders. This means even if that person thinks they do not have the ability to do so, they should work hard to get these skills. The reason is in certain situations where there is no one to take action, then we have to try and step up and do what we can.

Many think they do not have the ability to do so but G-d puts people in certain situations that they use character traits that they don't think exist! That is the purpose of why G-d puts them in that situation int he first place!!
Friday, December 6, 2013

Parshas Vayigash: Know how to use your wealth

"And you should tell my father of all my glory in Egypt and all that you have seen and you shall hasten  and bring my father down" (Genesis 43: 13)

How could it be that Yaakov would be that impressed that the non-Jews honored Yosef and made him second in command to Pharaoh? Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Chochmah V'Da'as explains that even though Yosef was in charge of Egypt, he never forgot the teachings of his father and of the holy Torah.

Sometimes a person in their life has the trial of poverty or wealth. Yosef tells his father that he had both trials and even though he was now very wealthy, he didn't leave the path of his forefathers. Rav Sternbuch further explains that the gemara Brachos 32a tells us that Moshe claimed to G-d that all the silver and gold that the Jews took out of Egypt caused them to sin and make the golden calf.

After the trial of poverty in Egypt, G-d gave them great wealth and specifically they were not able to withstand it until G-d wanted to obliterate His chosen nation. This can also be explained by what transpired at the end of World War Two where many Jews were slaughtered just before the war ended.

Rav Sternbuch heard from the Telzer ilui (genius) Rav Mordechai Pogramansky that now was the beginning of the test of wealth. There were thousands of wealthy Jews that had tremendous fear of heaven and this is the final trial before the coming of the Messiah. The test will be if these Jews will use their wealth to help out other Jews and help fund the yeshivos and girls schools. If they give to Jewish causes, Rav Pogramansky said, then the final redemption will come quickly.

Yose was able to succeed in the trial of wealth and made known to his father that with all his honor and grandeur that befell him in Egypt, he still remained steadfast in his beliefs in Torah! Yosef was able to do what he wanted in Egypt without interference and would be able to organize and help his father in all his spiritual endeavors. This would be able to be done even in a society that was filled with immorality!

Wealth is a tremendous test and not everyone succeeds in doing the right thing with their money. Many try to guard their wealth to make sure it will stay intact for generations when in reality the healthiest way to insure that would be giving to Torah institutions and helping needy people. The problem is that the more we have the more we want.

We should learn from Yosef who had such a trial that he was able to retain his humility and stay close to the Torah even though he had tremendous wealth and power.

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 5: Be careful what you say and use your time wisely

"Hillel said, 'Do not separate yourself from the community; be not sure of yourself until the day of your death; do not judge your fellow man until you have been in his position; do not say anything that cannot be understood at once, in the hope in the hope that it will ultimately it will be understood; and do not say 'When I shall have leisure time I will study,' for you may never have leisure time"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that one shouldn't separate themselves from the community. Rav Ovadia Bartenura explains that the reason is because if one does not join the community and share in its suffering then they themselves will not be comforted at their time of sorrow. This means that one aspect of the community is to share and help when others suffer whereby it helps to soften the blow so-to-speak when others display solidarity.

The Rambam in the hilchos teshuvah (laws of repentance) tells us that this is one of the 24 things that stop a person from doing teshuvah. The reason is because if one is separates themselves from the community it shows that they only care about themselves. When one is self-centered and thinks everything is coming to him, then why should they do teshuvah?

The next part of the Mishna explains that man can never rely on themselves. The reason is because we all have evil inclinations and it can sometimes overpower us to act in a way that is against what the Torah wants for us. If we look at Yochanan the High Priest, even though he served in the Temple for 80 years, at the end of his life he became a heretic.

This is hard to understand at many levels. Someone so righteous, serving in the Temple can end up a heretic? This is exactly what the Mishna here states. Never rely on what I did yesterday. Today is a new day to grow and fight against my evil inclination. It is a constant battle that doesn't end. Relying on what we previously did may still not help us!

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we cannot hastily judge someone until we have been in their shoes. This means that if we see someone fail at a certain trial or tribulation that they may have, we are not allowed to cast judgement because we don't know what they are going through. Many are quick to judge without knowing the whole story!

Even though it is easy to condemn someone for their actions we have to consider the circumstances under which something was done. Although it does not condone the wrong action done, nonetheless it gives us awareness and helps us to show compassion for others.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we should be careful in what we say to people. The intention is that what we say should be clear and understood lest someone misinterpret and make a mistake. How applicable this is today!

There are many times that we may give someone directions or advice but they are not clear. Often this will lead to a misunderstanding that could cause disastrous results. When speaking to someone we must be so careful what we say and how we say it. Clarity speaks millions!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that we have to use everyday to try and reach our true potential. We shouldn't say that I will learn when I have time or when I get around to it because we may never have the time. We have all kinds of obligations that need to be met so we need to use our time wisely.

This is why it is so important to have fixed times for learning Torah every day. These times have to be cut in stone so that nothing deters us. When we are steadfast in what we do we gain a lot and teach others the importance as well. When our children know that at certain times there father is learning and they are not allowed to disturb it shows the tremendous importance of what learning is all about!