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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, March 27, 2014

Parshas Thazria: Why do we do Circumcision on the eighth day?

"On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (Leviticus 12:3),.

The Torah tells us that there is an obligation to circumcise a child eight days after he is born. If all goes well and the child is healthy then the circumcision is on the eighth day. It is interesting that every number of years there is always a discussion whether circumcision is a good thing or not against cancer. Some doctors are for it, some against it but here we see that the obligation to circumcise a child is because G-d told us to do it!

Rav Moshe  Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe asks why a child is obligated to go through circumcision on the eighth day. He answers from the Midrash (Vaykra Rabba 27:10) that a child cannot be circumcised unless a shabbos has passed. This is so a person would not make the mistake and think that if someone denied G-d's existence or thought that G-d created the world but there were other worlds before that or that G-d does not have a connection to mankind...that their saying G-d's name with a blessing does it really account for something?

The purpose of keeping Torah and mitzvos is to draw ourselves closer to G-d. Shabbos is a symbol that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. We refrain from "work" on Shabbos and sanctify in the way that G-d wants us to. Someone who denies this basically denies one of the matin tenets of Judaism. Such a person denies G-d and His Torah!

What does this have to do with circumcision on the eighth day? The Torah tells us that the child has to pass through a shabbos so that the child will be imbued with the idea that G-d created the world from nothing and envelop that idea throughout their lives.

This will help intensify their belief that everything comes from G-d and we are obligated to serve Him to the best of our ability. Even if we don't fully understand His ways or how He does things, nonetheless we have to understand that G-d is the creator of life and keeps the world going on a daily basis. If not, the world would return to the original chaos of Genesis.

This is also what circumcision represents. It is a sign that differentiates the Jewish people from everyone else and keeps us separate from the nations. At the same time, we keep it and pass it down to the future generations because G-d told us to do so.

This too is a tremendous sign of the Jewish people as well as shabbos and that is the reason that a child has to pass through shabbos before the circumcision can be done.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 1 Where did we come from and where are we going?

"Akavyah ben Mahalalel said: 'Reflect on three things and you will not come into the grip of sin: know where you came from, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a strict account. Where you came from - a malodorous drop; where you are going to a place of dust, worms and moths; and before who you are destined to give a strict account before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One blessed is he'"

The beginning of the Mishna tells us that if we look at these three things we will not come to sin. The first thing is to look at how we come into this world. This act that has the potential to create human life is something that should make us humble and keep us away from egotism. With such humble beginnings, could we ever think that we are so great? This thought will stop us in our tracks when we want to think that!

The next step is to think of where we will end up: the grave. We cannot possibly think that this world is the ultimate since at the end of the day every person will die. This idea will keep us on the straight and narrow path in this world because one will realize that when we try and acquire the frivolities of this world, we will reason that our time here is limited and we will make the best of it by trying to do mitzvos and keep G-d's Torah.

The other side would say since time is so short, we must eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow I end up in the grave. This is a big mistake because even if we live life to enjoy and have fun, then what? Has this given us meaning or is it a way to dull our senses of what our true responsibility here is ie Torah and mitzvos?

The last part of Mishna tells us that if we realize who we will have to give an accounting to at the end of our lives, we will live our lives to the best of our ability. This means that while in this world, we need to maximize our time to reach our spiritual potential. After all, if we are given this great gift of life we have to sustain our spiritual soul with spirituality and not get caught up in the physical world!

This is what the Zohar means that after a person dies they see two movies. The first movie is what the person did in their life and the second one is what potential they had and didn't reach it. This should terrify us because we will see everything that we did, every thought... and the embarrassment of it all.

This many commentaries is an aspect of gehinom (hell) that a person goes through. The embarrassment alone is enough to kill a person. This knowledge of the accounting we will have to give should put the fear of G-d into us all. The problem is since that we don't witness this now or see it, gives a person the ability to not take it seriously.

There have been many stories though of people who have had near death experiences and came back to this world all had the same story. They saw their entire life flash before them and were drawn to a great light. This certainly corroborates what the Zohar is telling us.

Each one of these things alone should be enough to give us the ability to continually strive and grow spiritually. The problem is by just thinking of one of them, may not be enough to wake us up from our doldrums so to speak. Hopefully if we think of all three, this will lead us to where we need to go!
Thursday, March 20, 2014

Parshas Shemini: Get the right advice from the right people

"A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem." (Leviticus 10:2)

The rabbis teach us that there were many severe transgressions by Nadav and Avihu that caused their deaths. Some say it was because they brought incense and a strange fire; others say they entered the mishkan after drinking wine; others say because they had no children and were not interested in getting married while others say they gave over Torah law in front of their master, Moshe. If Nadav and Avihu were such great individuals, how could they have done such things?

They brought incense at the time of the celebration of the mishkan. Why is that so bad? This would seemingly be a good time for this. They made a mistake and overstepped their boundaries because even though it was a tremendously auspicious day, they were not allowed to do what they wanted without explicit permission from Hashem.

They drank some wine and performed the service and gave sacrifices. What was so bad about that? They thought they were on a higher level and claimed that an "insignificant" amount of wine would not damage them or cause them to make a mistake and not think clearly during the service in the mishkan.

They didn't marry because they did not want to give in to their desires and potentially sin from them. They brought the incense and a strange fire since they were doing for the sake of holiness there would be nothing wrong with it. They also gave over Torah laws in front of their master Moshe without wearing the special coat the kohen needed to wear. They wanted to show that they were closer to the level of angels.

Although many of these things can be explained, one thing we do know is that they tried to show that they were on a higher level than they actually were and they died because of it. The Torah states clearly that there are things we are allowed to do and things we are not allowed to do. When there is a doubt, we go to our rabbinical authorities and they tell us what the law is.

We  never take the law into our own hands even for the most noble of intentions. We have to know our limits and what we are capable of doing and not overstepping our boundaries. When we do, it could not only hazardous to our health but fatal!

The Torah here teaches that no matter what level a person is on, they cannot do things on their own. They have to have proper guidance and rabbinic authorities that they can turn to. Even if we think we are doing a mitzvah, it could be a tremendous danger; we should never act on our own accords; get advice from those who are worthy of giving it.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 21: Internalize the Message

"He used to say, 'You are not called upon to complete the work (of Torah study), yet you are not free to evade it; if you have studied much Torah, much reward will be given you - your Employer can be trusted to pay you for your work; and know that the grant of reward to the righteous will be in the world to come"

Torah is as vast as the sea; we don't really plunge its depths as needed. Nonetheless, we are not free to evade it. How is a person supposed to learn it all? What if they are not given the capacity to finish it; is it a waste of time to try?

Rabbenu Yona explains that a person should never lose hope that they cannot finish learning all of the Torah since we get the mitzvah for learning it. Not only that but learning Torah helps transform and change us by inculcating its timely messages. After all, are we not doing what G-d wants us to do?

We cannot shirk our responsibility and say that I will learn a little here or there; we have to use our strength to the maximum and learn whenever we have free time! A person shouldn't say that they will learn when they are free but rather make fixed times for learning since we may not have that "free" time available to us!

We learn Torah not because we are forced to or because of the reward we will receive. We learn because we believe it is the word of G-d and that it will change us and make us great people. Even though we understand that we will receive reward for the Torah we learn, that is not the ultimate goal.

The goal is to internalize the message the Torah gives us. The more we learn, the more we realize the chesed that G-d does for us which will increase our love and fear of Him. This will teach us that even though there is no reward for keeping the Torah in this world, we will receive it in the next world.

How do we know this? The reason is because G-d could not have created man just for the sake of this world. There is tremendous hatred in this world, wars, sickness, people dying young...The world looks totally haphazard in the way it is being run. We know that the world has order just from the way it was created and G-d continues to run it and keep it going.

The problem is that we don't always understand the messages that G-d sends us. This is precisely why this cannot be the only world G-d created. Unfortunately many of us live in this world like it is ultimate and there is nothing else afterwards. This leaves us empty and with the mentality that I should eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow I die.

G-d has a purpose for mankind and the world. The Torah keeps the world functioning and thriving. If we shirk our responsibility though, then we undermine what G-d wants from us and potentially bring disaster upon us.

May we utilize our time wisely making fixed times for learning and internalizing the Torah's message.
Thursday, March 13, 2014

Parshas Tzav: The Sanctification of the Ashes

"The kohen shall don his fitted linen tunic, and he shall don linen breeches on his flesh; he shall separate the ash of what the fire consumed of the burnt-offering on the altar and place it next to the altar" (Leviticus 6:3)

The Chovas Halevavos Sha'ar Hachinah Chapter 6 explains the essence of the mtizvah of taking out the ashes every day in the Temple. The kohen in all his greatness was obligated by G-d to "lower" himself and take out ashes so that he will not have hubris and think he is so great because of his lofty position. After all, if the kohen has the exalted position of serving in the Temple, why should he have to lower himself and take out the trash?
 
Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that the honor of a person is not dependent on his wealth or wisdom but the true honor depends if the person is willing at all times to serve G-d with great joy and love. There are no alternative motives! We serve G-d because He deserves it and we try and keep His mitzvos to the best of our ability. There are no preconditions.

Rav Sternbuch tells the story of his father when he was ill that someone had told him if he gave money to charity he could make a condition that through this mitzvah G-d should take away his illness. Rav Sternbuch's father replied that you don't make conditions with G-d. He runs the world as He sees fit! No preconditions!

The Rambam in the laws of Meilah (deriving benefit from sanctified objects to the Temple) explains the stringency in which the Torah looks at consecrated items in the Temple that are misused. If one used the name of G-d when consecrating wood or stones or dust they have been sanctified and even if one did this by mistake they still need atonement! 

All the more so a mitzvah that G-d has given us to perform a person is not allowed to scorn it if we do not understand the reason behind it. We should not look at mitzvos through our small eyes and thoughts. The essence and the importance of the mitzvah is because G-d commanded us to do it and that is where the holiness comes from. Therefore burned ash even if you cannot use it for anything if sanctified in the Temple cannot be misused or misappropriated because it was sanctified for the sake of the mitzvah itself!

If we would look at mitzvah observance as a way to get closer to G-d and utilize His world properly, we would be much more steadfast when we  perform them. We are all part of G-d's army and regardless of the circumstances we have to perform the mitzvos to the best of our ability. This is the honor that G-d deserves and this is how we bring His presence back to this world!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 20: The Power of Torah

"Rabbi Tarfon said, 'The day (life) is short; the task is great; the workmen (human beings) are lazy; the reward is great, and the Master is insistent'"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that life is short and that the task is great. We understand that man is finite and his days are numbered on this earth, that is why we have to make the most of what we do. At the same time, the great task here is learning Torah.

Why is this considered such a great task? Torah is infinite and is for all generations. Torah is as long as the earth and as wide as the ocean! The Torah is unfathomable in the sense that is extremely dense and complicated. Although the Torah was given to man, we seemingly scrape its vast surface when we learn it.

The Mishna then goes on to describe how people are lazy to learn Torah. People don't put in the proper effort in their learning and mitzvah observance. Even the greatest Torah scholars at some level, Rabbenu Yonah tells us are lazy. It is the nature of man to be lazy and no man is free from that. The only question is how much!

There is tremendous reward a person will receive in the next world for how much Torah they learned. According to many commentaries, this is the first question a person will be asked after they die: how much Torah did you learn in this world? The issue is that a person is placed in this world, has to make a livelihood, raise a family...and is always busy.

At the same time, that individual still has to make time to learn and to grow spiritually. No one is exempt from that regardless of their situation in this world. Some may have it easier physically and some not but observance and spiritual growth is a must for everyone!

When that person is judged by G-d for their actions in this world, they will realize that they had even greater potential and squandered their days in this world. This is part of the cleansing process a person will go through because they will be able to see clearly how they wasted their potential.

There is hope though. We need to strive every day and as we say every day before reciting the Shema, G-d renews the world on a daily basis. Since G-d allows us to live and keeps everything in proportion for the world to continue, we too must look at each day anew.

Regardless of what we may have done yesterday or the day before is irrelevant. We have to forget about the past and forge our future to aspire to our spiritual endeavors. When we do this on a regular basis, we begin to change and grow. This is the power of Torah!
Thursday, March 6, 2014

Parshas Vayikra: We are Responsible for one Antoher

"Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, 'When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem, from animals, from the cattle or from the flock shall you bring your offering" (Leviticus 1:2)

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Ta'am V'Da'as brings in the gemara Yevamos 61a that a Jew is called 'adam' (a man). Why should this be so? When a person is sick in one part of their body, the entire body suffers because of it. The Jewish people although scattered over the world, when one is in trouble or suffering the entire Jewish nation share in that suffering!

If a Jew, G-d forbid is taken captive or is in trouble, there is nothing that the Jewish people won't do to try and help. We have seen over and over again throughout history with Jews that are sick or in trouble how other Jews who don't even know the person will do what they can to try and help.

We see it unfortunately when one Jew doesn't do what they are supposed to do and stray far away from Torah, they are preyed upon by the other nations.  As we get closer to the holiday of Purim we see this in a glaring light.

Mordechai was the only one that refused to bow to Haman. In Shushan at the time there was this bow to Haman cult which Mordechai refused to be a part of. Haman had wealth, prestige and power and could easily have overlooked what this Jew did. Not only did Haman not look the other way, but he was bent on revenge not only against Mordechai but against the entire Jewish nation.

How many times have their been scandals that occurred to Jewish nation which did not get the ire of the other nations against them? One individual, one act but the entire nation gets blamed for it. This is what it means that a Jew is called 'adam'.

Each Jew is responsible for their brother even if he doesn't act like it. We are all one nation and when one suffers, the entire nation suffers.  A person cannot turn away when their brother is in trouble, that is called an act of cruelty.

We have to look out for others and look at our nation as one unit and not as splintering groups. When we do that and have genuine love one for another, we are that much closer to bringing Moshiach speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 19: Be Careful of the Influence of the Heretic

"Rabbi Elazar said, 'Be eager to study the Torah; know what to answer a heretic; know before whom you toil, who your Employer is, who will pay you the reward of your labor'"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that we should be eager to study Torah. The Tiferes Yisrael explains that there are three things that a person needs to do to be successful in learning Torah: 1) consistency and constant learning; 2) in depth learning; and 3) making sure one is not distracted while learning.

The Tiferet Ysirael explains that the learning has to be consistent, meaning that one should learn as much as possible at fixed times and constantly review what they have learned. Review is important because even though a person wants to cover ground, it is important to constantly go over what they have learned so the understanding will be that much clearer and one will not forget it.

The second thing a person needs to do to be successful in learning is to learn in depth. When one delves into their learning uncovering layer after layer of what the text is talking about, they will have a better understanding and clarity of the material at hand. One will also understand better the finer aspects of the particular subject at hand and master it.

The third thing a person needs to be successful in their learning is to have clarity of thought. This means one should not bring in their everyday worries and thoughts when they begin to learn. This will only distract a person and not allow them to concentrate. Although this is easier said than done, nonetheless, this is a prerequisite to successful study.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we have to know what to answer a heretic. Rabbenu Yonah explains that if we don't learn properly and have clarity in our learning, then how are we to answer the heretics of our generation? The reason this is so important is because if we don't answer them, they will have a negative influence over others causing them to stray away from Torah.

Others ask why should we delve into the heretical thoughts of others, won't that effect us negatively? In reality, we need to answer up our own heretical thoughts. Why don't we act like the Torah tells us or how have we fallen into the trap of the yetzer hara (evil inclination). It doesn't mean I should read heretical books so that I can better know "their material" so I can answer them.

The leads to the last part of the Mishna that a person should be careful and know who will repay the labor of your work in this world, ie G-d Himself. This means that I have to be careful in my interactions with the heretic, lest he have a negative influence on me! Therefore, we should keep in mind that G-d is the one who truly knows our thoughts and what we do.

Even if we have the greatest intentions, we could be damaged spiritually. After all, isn't it a mitzvah to try and convince our erring brethren that they are going down the wrong path? As long as they will not hate Torah more by this discussion then it is praiseworthy but we must always be on guard against the negative influence they may have on us!