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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 9, 2014

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.