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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, January 30, 2014

Parshas Terumah: Why I love Serving G-d

"And the L-rd spoke to Moses saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel that they bring me an offering: of overy man whose heart prompts him to give you shall take my offering" (Exodus 23:1-2)

Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe asks that the language of 'bring me an offering is strange' because it would seem to me that one is forced to do so. The verse later on (36:5) clearly states that the offering will be given from individuals with a giving heart!

Rav Moshe explains that the mitzvos of charity, chesed (acts of loving kindness) and even bringing G-d's presence down to this world in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) are not given because G-d decreed that we do them but rather they should come from our pure desire to do G-d's will. To reach such a state, a person will have to work very hard to overcome their evil inclination.

Even though there are plenty of mitzvos we are obligated to keep, nonetheless, we should do them like they are second nature. When we say the shema twice a day, we declare that we will love the mitzvos with all our heart, all our soul... The root of the word to love if we break it down is to give. We only allow ourselves to make the mitzvos part of us when we are willing to give our all to perform them.

This means we have to understand why we do them and how to perform them. When we understand the intricacies of each one, it has much more meaning and gives us more satisfaction when we do them. This will enhance our mitzvah observance and bring us ultimately closer to G-d.

This will lead us to enjoy more of what we do and not look at Torah observance as a burden. When we view the Torah in such a way and live it the way it is supposed to be, then we will influence others around us as well.

This has the ability to literally change lives. When we love something, we put our whole effort into it which will transform us. May we look at all the mitzvos that way and love serving G-d to our fullest.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 14: Help others, don't only look out for yourself

"He further said to them: Go and see which is the worst quality a man should shun. Rabbi Eliezer said, 'An evil eye (greed); Rabbi Yehoshua said, 'A bad friend (hatred); Rabbi Yosi said, 'A bad neighbor (discord); Rabbi Shimon said, 'One who borrows and does not repay. It is the same whether one borrows from man or from G-d as it is said: "The wicked borrows and repays not, but the righteous deal graciously and gives" Rabbi Eliezer said, 'An evil heart (selfishness). Said he to them: 'I prefer what Elazar ben Arach said to what you have said, for in his words yours are included'"

In order to explain this Mishna, we have to understand that in general the opposite of something good is something that we need to stay away from. On the other hand, there are a number of good character traits that the opposite of them is not bad. For example, the character trait of chasidus (benevolence).

If someone does not want to do acts of loving kindness for another they are not called evil but rather they are not considered generous.Still that leads us to the first statement of someone that has an evil eye. A person like that does not like to help others and although they don't steal they are not doing the right thing. A greedy person does things for his own benefit many times at the expense of others.

This leads one to be a bad neighbor and a bad friend. When one thinks of himself or what potentially they can get from someone else, they inevitably ruin the relationship between them. This self-centered person is only worried about himself and others will see that and not want to be friends with them.

The next part of the Mishna explains the terrible trait of one who borrows money and does not repay. Regardless if they can't pay and have a valid excuse, nonetheless they still owe the money and must repay it. This is a terrible thing because the person who lent you money did a great service and chesed and by not paying back the loan, the person shows his indifference for what his friend has done for him.

What we learn from here is how terrible a person can be by only looking out for themselves. They think that the world was created for them alone and not for others. They use and abuse others for the sake of their own gain. Even if this is not intentional, it gives a person a bad reputation that is hard to correct.

This is why that Judaism stresses the importance of doing acts of kindness and giving charity. When we give of ourselves we go against our evil inclination which helps us to envelop other good character traits. When we only look out for ourselves others will not be gracious and want to help us.
Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ethic of our Fathers: Chapter 2 MIshna 13: A good Heat is Inclusive of many good Character Traits

"He (Rabbi Yochan ben Zakkai) said to them: 'Go and see what is the best quality to which a man should cling. Rabbi Eliezer said, 'A good eye' (generosity); Rabbi Yehoshua said, 'A good friend' (friendliness); Rabbi Yosi said, 'A good neighbor' (goodwill); Rabbi Shimon said, 'One who considers the probably consequences (foresight); Rabbi Elazar said, 'A good heart' (unselfishness); He said to them, I prefer what Elazar ben Arach has said to what you have said, because in his words yours are included"

If we analyze this Mishna we see many great qualities that a person can acquire. A good eye is someone that is happy with what they have. They don't look at what their friends or neighbors have but truly enjoy what is theirs without being jealous of others.

Good friends are not easy to find. When the Mishna here speaks of a good friend it means even someone who gives them rebuke. Who wants to hear rebuke? Why is this such a good quality? The reason is because the friend shows how much they care for their well being and how much they want to help.

It is good to live in a place that has good neighbors. Our neighbors and their actions have an influence for good and bad over us and our families. This is why it is so important to live in a place with like-minded people who can help grow in spirituality and help share the same values.

One who considers the probable consequences of their actions is an individual that weighs them carefully. This means they are meticulous in what they do making sure that they do not do anything that may effect another person negatively.

A good heart the Rambam explains is the ability to fix up one's bad character traits. Everything comes from the heart and therefore if the heart is focused on doing good, they will be successful and go in the direction that G-d wants them too. If we have the will and desire to do that, the results can only be positive.

Rabbi Yochan ben Zakkai said that he prefers what Elazar ben Arach said is better because if one has that quality, then all the character traits mentioned in the Mishna will be covered by it. Haven't we met people who exemplify this?

They seek out to help others while giving of them selves and gaining from their chesed. These people will make good neighbors and friends as well as having an open heart to help others in whatever they need. This unselfishness will cause them to look at the good in others which will have a positive effect on others.

Even though we live in a topsy-turvy world, this strong character trait helps us get through the rough times. We can save ourselves much aggravation and anxiety by looking at the positive things that we have and can do. This will gain the contagious support of others helping us in our spiritual endeavors of becoming closer to G-d and reaching our true potential!
Thursday, January 16, 2014

Parshas Yisro: Seeing is better than Hearing

"When Yisro, the priest of Midyan, Moshe's father-in-law, heard of all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Yisrael his people, and the L-rd had brought Yisrael out of Mitzrayim" (Exodus 18:1)

Yisro heard either the war with Amalek or the giving of the Torah and the splitting of the Red Sea according to the Gemara in Zevachim 116a. Rav Moshe Feinstein Z"l asks in Derash Moshe but didn't the whole world hear what happened there? Even if we say that hearing means understanding the other nations as well heard these things!

In reality, Rav Moshe explains there is no comparison in hearing something and seeing it with one's own eyes.  Even if someone hears the truth, without proper introspection, it will not have that great an impact on a person's life.  Proof of that is when Moshe comes down from the mountain and only breaks the tablets after seeing what the Jewish people are doing in regards to the sin of the golden calf.

It could be that even if the nations heard about the great miracles that occurred in Egypt, how did it effect there everyday life? Even if people saw miracles in front of their eyes, did it make them more into G-d fearing individuals? We would think so but the reality may be very different.

The reason is even after witnessing miracles if a person does not use that spiritual uplift to impact their lives and cause them to take stock and change, then what was its purpose? In our everyday life we have the ability to look beyond what is happening. This is because if we think about our daily events, we should be able to see G-d's hand in it someway.

It doesn't mean we always understand why things happen as we live in a world where G-d's ways are hidden but at the same time we can take stock of events and see the goodness that He does for us. This is not always an easy thing but He gives us the ability to grow from our trials and tribulations.

The thing we need to keep in mind is that when things happen to us that clearly shows Divine intervention at some level, we have to use that sacred time and allow us to benefit from it and grow spiritually. If we don't take advantage of that, it disappears quickly.

Yisro had the ability to internalize the message and it effected him to change. The thousands and millions who heard about it, did not get the message and therefore it didn't effect them. In recent history we have seen great miracles in the Jewish state of Israel just by all the rocket attacks and minimal death of civilians.

Even the secular media called it a miracle! The problem is that saying those words mean nothing if we don't get the message and internalize it and cause us to change. G-d does not have to change nature for us to see Him we just have to know how to look and take spiritual advantage!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 12: Belief in G-d

"He used to say, 'If all the sages of Israel were in one scale of the balance, and Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in the other, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul, however, quoted him otherwise: If all the sages of Israel, including Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, were in one scale of the balance, and Elazar ben Arach in the other, he would outweigh them all"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was greater than the other sages.  The reason is that whatever he learned he never forgot. This does not mean that the other sages were not great in their own right but rather it shows the power of how much a person is praised for remembering what they learn.

This is why a person has to constantly review what they learn. If they just learn without reviewing, how will they remember what they learned? This is what the Mishna praises, knowledge through review will bring a person to great heights!

The last part of the Mishna explains that Elazar ben Arach was in fact greater than these other sages. The reason is because his mind was sharper and he was able to understand things through great concentration and extrapolation. Does the beginning of the Mishna then contradict the latter?

In reality the commentaries tell us that they are not really arguing. One is speaking about the character trait of learning and retaining what one learns while the other speaks about the idea of sharpness and originality of thought. A person is able to accomplish both and these two traits are not mutually exclusive!

When we learn, we certainly to review it over and over again so we have clarity. At the same time, we also need to think about what we learn. The reason is not to take anything at face value and constantly think about the subject at hand.

We don't believe things that the Torah tells us because we just believe like a leap of faith. We know and understand things through knowledge and extrapolation. There is a mitzvah to believe in G-d through knowledge. As the first of the Ten Commandments tells us, 'I am the L-rd your G-d because I took you out of Egypt...'"

How do we know that G-d exists? He took us out of Egypt; i.e. He plays an active role in history. Belief in G-d is not something flippant and based on a one second epiphany but it can be deduced through logic and knowledge.

By constantly reviewing what we learn and sharpening our minds we inevitably come to understand more and more about G-d's constant role in the universe and our ability to relate to Him!
Thursday, January 9, 2014

Parshas Beshalach: Moshe is not Allowed to Enter the Land of Israel

"It happened when Pharaoh sent out the people that G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines because it was near, for G-d said 'Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypty" (Exodus 13:17)

The Midrash explains that that at this point Moshe Rabbenu cries out. This is explained by the following parable: a person made a match for the daughter of the king. This person saw through the heavenly constellations that  that she would go out from her father's house but would not get to the chuppah (wedding canopy) and he began to cry. They asked him, why are you crying? He said he was crying because I made this match for the daughter of the king and I will not be able to bring her to the groom! So too Moshe Rabbenu screams out and says that he will bring the Jewish people out of Egypt but he won't be able to go with them and enter the land of Israel and that is why it says, 'It happened when Pharaoh sent out the people..'

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Sh'lita in Chochmah V'Da'as asks why does Moshe Rabbenu only scream out now, it is already known in Exodus 6:1 that G-d tells him you will see what I do to Pharaoh. Rashi there explains that Moshe Rabbenu had questions about what G-d was doing whereby G-d tells him that now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh but will not merit to see the destruction of the seven nations in the land of Israel. In fact, Moshe should have screamed out then, why does he wait until now to do so?

Rav Stertnbuch explains that the reason that Moshe is not allowed to enter the land of Israel is because if he were there with the Jewish people, G-d would demand them to live their lives at a very high spiritual level.  If Moshe would enter the land with the Jewish people and they would not keep the commandments as G-d would like, the Jewish people would be in great danger.

This is the reason that the Jewish people wander in the desert for so long and Moshe does not bring them into the Promised land.  Moshe thought that with all the miracles that occurred in Egypt that the Jewish people would attain that level to be able to enter the land of Israel with him leading them.

When Moshe saw that G-d was leading them in a roundabout way, he thought that because they would have to go to war, they would want to turn back and go back to Egypt.  Through this he understood that he would not lead the Jewish people there and he cried out at this point.

This teaches us a tremendous lesson. Although we have merited to have the land of Israel in our hands, nonetheless the Jews living there are expected to live their lives to a higher level since they are living in the palace of the king. If we don't live up to those standards then there can be terrible repercussions in the land and outside as well.

May we merit to always try and live our lives to the fullest full of Torah, mitzvos and good deeds.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishnah 10: The students of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai: How far a Person is willing to Acquire Torah

"Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had five pre-eminent disciples, namely: Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananyah, Rabbi Yosi Ha'Kohen, Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach. He used to sum up their merits: Eliezer ben Hyrcanus is a cemented cistern which loses not a drop (retentive memory), Yehoshua ben Hananyah, fortunate is she that bore him; Yosi HaKohen is most pious; Shimon ben Nesanel is one who fears sin; Elazar ben Arach is like a spring that ever gathers force (creative mind).

This Mishna teaches us the great character traits of the five students of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. The first praise is for Eliezer ben Hyrcanus who never forgot anything he learned. Just like a cistern after you have cemented it loses no water, so too did he not forget anything.

Some people are gifted with a good memory and can recall things at an instant. Others work hard on remembering things and constantly review things so they don't forget. What is so special about not forgetting anything that one has learned?

There is so much to learn, is such a thing possible? After all, there are thousands of pages of Talmud, Midrashim, commentaries on the is unbelievable that one could remember so much. The reason that this is possible is because one constantly reviews and reviews so what they know is like second nature. This shows the importance of one's learning and what one has the opportunity to acquire through diligence and hard work.

The next part of the Mishna tells us about Yehoshua ben Hananyah whose mother was fortunate that she bore him. What exactly is this teaching us? Rabbenu Yona explains that the word 'Ashrei' (happy) here includes many different character traits. One character trait that it includes is fear; i.e. the fear of G-d.

This is a good character trait to possess because that makes the person aware of what his responsibility is in the world. Our lives are not ownerless and there is much to do with regards to good deeds and working on our connection to G-d. Fear of G-d will lead a person in the right direction to keep them away from transgression.

Ashrei also refers to the one who has a fixed place where he learns. This is important because when a person has a regular place to learn, he shows the importance of learning. Not only that, it demonstrates a conviction and continuity to do that in a specific place at a certain time.

It can also include the character traits of emunah (belief in G-d) and closeness to G-d. Both things help a person in their quest to be close to Him and try and emulate His ways. These character traits all combined help make a complete person whose sole desire is to serve G-d.

The next part of the Mishna speaks about the pious Yosi HaKohen. How did he become so righteous? In all actions he went beyond the letter of the law. In other words, whatever he did, he went beyond what he was obligated to do. This lead others to want to become close to him and his influence was felt from afar.

The next part of the Mishna discusses Shimon ben Nesanel who demonstrated the character trait of fear of heaven. He would essentially make fences for himself around the Torah so he would not transgress any of the mitzvos. This fear of punishment led him to concentrate his efforts to make sure at any cost that he would do G-d's will without fail. One must be careful though that if one lives their life in such a way they won't get the enjoyment of keeping the mitzvos as well.

Fear of heaven is a great character trait to have but living with it can cause other stress if not utilized properly. We do the mitzvos because we are commanded to do them and if not, we will be punished. At the same time, G-d is not interested in zapping us every time we do something wrong but He truly wants  us to enjoy what we do. We need a healthy balance of both to succeed.

The last part of the Mishna discusses Elazar ben Aracha as a spring that ever goes forth. This means that he used him mind as much as possible delving deeply into the sea of learning Torah and coming up with novel Torah thoughts. This takes great concentration and dedication. A person easily distracted will not have the power to accomplish this.

This is important because it teaches a person to constantly think out what the Torah tells and how it relates to our lives. It sharpens our minds as well and shows the depth and broadness of Torah.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Parshas Bo: Don't Let G-d take away our ability to do Teshuvah

"And you may relate in the ears of your son, and of your son's son, what things I have done in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am G-d" (Exodus 10:2)

Rashi explains that this means that G-d has been playing and mocking Pharaoh throughout all the plagues that He brought upon Egypt. Rav Moshe Sternbuch in Chochmah V'Da'as explains that throughout all the plagues that occurred outside of nature to the Egyptians, Pharaoh still refused to let the Jewish people leave even at the expense of the damage it caused to his decimated country.

He could have rid himself of the Jewish people very easily and that would have saved the people of his country undo suffering. He was so stubborn and refused to let them go preventing this evil person from doing teshuvah.

The Rambam explains in the Laws of Repentance Chapter 6 Halacha 3 that 'it is possible that a person could sin a great sin or many sins until he will have to pay in some way for the transgressions that he has done. Sometimes if they have done them with their own will and knowledge they will be prevented from repenting so that they will continue their evil ways until they die'.

This is why the Torah speaks over hear and tells us that G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart since he sinned from the outset by enslaving the Jewish people and making their lives bitter. G-d then prevented him from repenting thereby being able to exact punishment for his terrible actions. Rav Sternbuch then asks that if G-d hardened his heart, why did He then send Moshe to tell him that he should repent knowing that he would not let the Jewish people leave?

The reason is because G-d wanted to show to the world that at the time He prevents someone from repenting, there is nothing anyone can do to fight it! So G-d mocked Pharaoh by sending all the plagues and strengthening Pharaoh's stubbornness! This teaches us an important lesson.

If we ourselves do not repent on the transgressions that we do sometimes we will be judged by G-d's character trait of strict justice which will prevent us from being remorseful for our bad actions and not allow us to repent. This is what is needed for us to tell our children and their children's children! If we ourselves are stubborn and refuse to change, then sometimes G-d will allow us to continue on that path and take that ability away from us.

This is a very scary idea. We have to be very careful that if we do transgress that we should repent from the bottom of our hearts. We don't want to live our lives like blind people and have that great ability to repent taken away from us. May we do G-d's bidding and even if we fail at some level, we need to pick ourselves up, admit our mistakes and become better people before that opportunity is taken away from us.

Shabbat Shalom

Pirke Avos: Chapter 2 Mishna 9: The Purpose of Creatiom

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai received the oral tradition from Hillel and Shamai. He used to say, 'If you have learned much Torah, do not claim credit for it because you were created for this purpose'"

The first part of Rabbi Yochanan's statement is indeed interesting. If a person dedicates their life to a Torah lifestyle, that should obviously imply that they have been learning many Torah concepts that they have integrated into their lives. Rabbenu Yona explains that this means that the Torah is so wide and so vast that a person cannot even fathom its true depth.

This is because man is a finite creature while the Torah is everlasting throughout all generations. Even if we toil and learn it, there is so much to further learn that it is impossible to reach its true deepness. After all, even after all the learning and living by its laws, isn't that what the purpose of life is? So why would a person think they are so special, this is in fact what they were created to do!

Rabbenu Yonah uses a parable to further explain his point. If a person had a debt that needed to be repaid and repaid it, is that person going to think they are so wonderful that they just did this great act? They were obligated to pay it back, how can they themselves think this is such a selfless act that turns them into such a great person?

This is exactly what the Mishna is telling us. The more Torah we learn, the more we grow, the more we learn all of its intricacies, isn't this what G-d wants from us from the beginning? Rashi tells us at the beginning of the book of Genesis that one of the reasons that G-d created the world was for the sake of the Torah!

G-d wanted to bring the Torah down to this world so that it would change mankind and fulfill His purpose in creating it! G-d gave us the ability to tap into this world which allows us to be close to Him. This is the purpose of creation and my purpose in life.

If this premise is indeed true, is a person not just fulfilling what G-d wants from us? Can we really say that we are such great individuals from this? We have to realize that this is our purpose in the world and this is what transforms us to become the great people that we can.