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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.
Friday, April 25, 2014

Parshas Kedoshim: We are not Striving for Mediocrity

:"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel saying, 'You shall be holy: for I the L-rd your G-d is holy'" (Leviticus 19:1-2).

The obvious question here is what does it mean to be holy? Is it even something that is attainable? What does it mean that G-d is holy? The Ramban explains that holiness in this context is to separate yourself from forbidden relationships and even to limit that which is permitted to you.

Although it is permitted to eat and drink, it is forbidden to be a glutton or a drunk. There is also the idea that a person can keep the entire Torah to the letter of the law but still be disgusting in G-d's eyes because they don't keep the spirit of it!

We have to know how to use this world the way G-d wants us to use it! We don't look at this world as being inherently evil and everything here is bad. We are allowed to use this world for our benefit but we cannot abuse it, even those things that are permitted to us!

Every mitzvah we do, every blessing we make, we sanctify the physical. We bring blessing to the world through our actions. We must not forget though that we have to go beyond the minimum requirement and try and utilize all of our strengths to overcome our evil inclination. Definitely easier said than done.

Holiness by  G-d is a totally different thing. By G-d there is no physicality, there are no limitations, everything by Him is all spiritual. This is something that we can't really relate to. So why does the Torah then tell us to be holy like G-d is holy?

We have to work hard and sanctify the physical at our level. This shows the difference between the Jewish people and the nations of the world. The nations of the world would lead you to believe that holiness is defined by lots of fasting and separation from this world!

The Jewish people believe just the opposite. We can utilize the physical world and make it spiritual. A person can take a mundane thing, an apple for example, make a blessing on it and sanctify it. If done properly even at the minimal level, it brings blessing to fruit trees in the world which allows them to grow and prosper to feed us!

Being holy also means we cannot be happy where we are. We have to go beyond what the Torah wants for us. We need to feel uplifted by the commandments and want to implement them into our lives. This is what it means to keep the spirit of the law even if it is beyond what the Torah demands from us.

The more we keep the spirit of the law, the more G-d's name is sanctified in this world and the greater people we become!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 4: How we Acknowledge G-d

"Rabbi Shimon said, 'If three have eaten at a table and have held no conversation of Torah, it is though they have eaten of sacrifices offered to the dead (idols) as it is said, 'For all their tables are full of filth without the presence of G-d. But if three have eaten at a table and have conversed of Torah, they are as though they have eaten from the table of G-d, as it is said, 'He said to me: This is the table which is in the Presence of the L-rd.'"

Why is it so  bad that if one eats with others and they don't speak words of Torah? If they don't speak anything forbidden is that such a tragedy? Rabbenu Yonah explains that since three people are considered a group it only appears that they are eating for the sake of their own enjoyment and throwing off the yoke of heaven.

The reason this is so severe is because one may just eat and drink for their own enjoyment and take G-d straight out of the picture. They will then live their lives by the old adage eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow I die.

If on the other hand, they speak words of Torah then they have showed that they have proper intentions because they are eating and drinking to sustain their bodies to better serve G-d. Even such a mundane activity as eating can have the highest level of sanctity if done right.

We acknowledge G-d's goodness by speaking words of Torah and implementing its ideas. If not, we just give into and are controlled by our desires which is equivalent to idol worship. If we don't serve G-d, then we serve ourselves!

This may at first glance seem to be harsh but in reality there is a tremendous lesson to be learned. G-d is all around us and we have the opportunity to sanctify His name even with the most mundane of actions.

This is a great opportunity that we should not lose and it will give us greater awareness of G-d's role in the world and our obligation to Him!
Sunday, April 13, 2014

Passover: Passing down our Priceless Heritage to our Kids

As we make our final preparations for the seder and rid our homes of chametz, we tap into how G-d interacts in history. The exodus from Egypt is what transformed the Jewish people into a nation to be able to go into the desert to accept G-d's Torah.

There are so many things that we do that are dependent on the exodus from Egypt that it plays a vital role in the life of the Jew. This shows the connection that G-d has to His people and how He intervenes in history and can change nature!

As we sit at the seder and tell over the story of the exodus from Egypt and relive the miracles, the message is as important now as it ever has been. We talk about the four sons, how Lavan our ancestor tried to uproot everything and how the Egyptians embittered our lives.

The Rambam tells us that we have to "demonstrate" on that night that we came out of Egypt. The vast majority of the haggadah's say that we have to "see" ourselves as if we came out of Egypt. What is the difference here and what is the Rambam trying to teach us?

The Rambam is telling us that seeing ourselves as if we have come out is not enough, we have to do something to show that. How do we do that? By drinking four cups of wine, eating matzah, maror and by saying over the haggadah with great joy!

When we say hallel and sing and uplift our souls going through the seder we transform ourselves. The reason is because when we delve into the haggadah and receive its important messages, it becomes part of us.

This is the reason that the haggadah is in the form of question and answer because when someone asks a question and they get an answer, it has more meaning to them! It lets them continue and ask questions to get to the essence of what Passover is all about.

G-d runs the world and intervenes in history. We may not always understand how it all works and the picture that it makes but sometimes in hindsight we get a glimpse of the divine in this world. After all, G-d sent the Jewish people to Egypt where they almost got destroyed spiritually so G-d had to take them out earlier.

If that is the case and the Jews almost got obliterated, why did G-d send them to Egypt in the first place? The answer is that the Jewish people had to understand what a human king was like and how to serve him. This would be beneficial for them in the future when they would go into the desert, receive the Torah and serve the king of kings..

G-d never forsake His people but he wanted them to reach higher spiritual levels that they were capable of. Passover is the time to take that message, internalize it and make it part of lives. As our children ask the four questions like we did as children and our parents did as children, they continue the link in the chain that goes back to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

This continues throughout the generations as fathers tell over the story to their kids. The idea is to make it real and relevant to our lives, that is how we pass it down. Even with all the cleaning and the hard work, we have to make it fun and enjoyable so the chilren will have a positive experience and give that over to their children.

The exodus from Egypt is a major tenet in Judaism. May we merit to give over the timely and meaningful message to our children.

Have a meaningful uplifting Passover.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Parshas Acharei Mos: The Torah can's Cbange, we must change!

"And G-d said to Moshe, Speak to Aharon your brother that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the covering, which is upon the ark, that he does not die" (Leviticus 16:2)

There are a number of things we learn from this verse. One thing is that G-d tells Aharon that he cannot come to the holy of holies whenever he wants. Rav Moshe Sternbuch in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that the reason is because if Aharon would come there whenever he wanted, he possibly could take for granted that auspicious moment.

This means that there would be a greater demand from Aharon if he did not take advantage of that awesome moment of G-d's revealing of Himself to him. This is a tremendous lesson that we need to implement in our lives.

If we have a moment of a great spiritual epiphany, we should not lose it and grab it with both our hands. We want to use this moment as much as possible to give us a "boost" so to speak in our spiritual quest for perfection.

This also teaches us that we should not do things by rote. If that is the case, we don't grow spiritually and it is detrimental to that growth. We are not robots just going about our actions without thinkin  or delving into what we are doing. We have to analyze our actions and take each thing we do and determine whether it is a good thing for me or not!

Another important thing we learn here is that although we have freewill to do what we want we must do what G-d wants at all times. This means that the Torah is eternal for all generations and does not give us the right to change it when we feel like it.

There is an obligation though to determine if modern day inventions coincide with Torah. For example, when electricity was first used, there was a discussion by the rabbinical authorities of that time whether electricity is considered fire and whether it would be permissible to turn on and off on Shabbos.

This is not changing the Torah but rather analyzing what the Torah means and applying it to that time. In any case, when we tamper with the Torah to make it fit "our" times, we disgrace and demean it!

The idea is that it is not how much we involve ourselves in Torah but rather how much Torah we put into us! If we start to change the Torah and make up it's laws, then we subject the Torah to the whims of man which is very dangerous.

We have seen over the last few generations what this can do and the havoc that it creates. The main point is that even if we would say that changing the Torah and making it fit within the times would make more people observe it, it would still be forbidden to do so. This certainly has not been the case and has been a dismal failure!

May we always live up to the high standards the Torah wants for us and continue to pass it down to all future generations!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 3: Jews are different from Others and that's a Good Thing!

"Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon said: 'If two sit together and no words of Torah are spoken between them, they are a session of scoffers, of whom it is said: "A good man does not sit in the company of scoffers."' But when two sit together and exchange words of Torah, the Shechinah abides between them, as it is said: "Then those who revered the L-rd spoke to each other, and the L-rd listened and heard, and in his presence a record was written of those who revere the L-rd and respect his name.'"Now, this verse refers to two persons; where do we know that even if one person engages in the study of the Torah, G-d determines his reward? It is said" "'Though he sits alone in thoughtful meditation, yet he receives (the reward)'"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that two people who sit together and do not speak words of Torah are as if they are part of a session of scoffers. When a person speaks against another he causes himself to be a scoffer. Even if they feel justified in what they are saying, they end up putting someone down so that they make themselves look better.

This is the society we live in. People speak against others for any number of reasons, some justified and some not. The more obnoxious the comment, the more popular the person seems to be. There is a more basic problem though.

When one speaks against someone else he tries to elevate himself in the eyes of others. This leads to egoism which in just about any form is a spiritual danger to himself and others around him. This is why the Mishna here explains that if two people are sitting around and not discussing Torah, they will discuss other people.

This will inevitably lead someone to think that they are better than someone else and begin to degrade them in front of others. The more "leisure" time we have to sit around and schmooze and not discuss words of Torah, the more they will become scoffers.

On the other hand, the reward is great if we are sitting with others learning Torah. Even if someone is alone and their thoughts are on spiritual perfection and working on perfecting character traits, how much more the merit will be!

The way we become great people is working on ourselves and fixing up bad character traits. That means that even if we are alone, we still think Torah thoughts and how we can better keep the mitzvos. We may think that being alone exempts us from learning Torah. Just the opposite! Even when alone, we strive and live the life that G-d wants us to, even if that may be difficult.

The Mishna here teaches us that if we don't strive for this we are characterized as being scoffers. This is certainly not a compliment in the Torah world even though this is an everyday occurrence in the secular world.

Living a Torah life means to change the way I think and what I say and how I act. It is a big responsibility but the Jewish people are different; have different laws, customs and ways of thinking. This is what gives us the ability to change and want spiritual perfection!
Thursday, April 3, 2014

Parshas Metzorah: Know how to Speak!

"And G-d spoke to Moshe saying, 'This shall be the law of the one struck with tzora'as in the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest" (Leviticus 14: 1-2)

There is a Midrash that tells us of a peddler that goes to a certain city and asks the people 'Who wants life?' He is brought a sefer tehillim (book of Psalms) and he points out that it says 'Who wants life? Guard your tongue from speaking evil and go away from evil and do good'.  Rav Yanai said that all his life he read this verse and I didn't recognize the depth of it until this peddler demonstrated the importance of who wants life!

This is hard to understand. How could Rav Yanai not have understood the importance of this verse and why all of a sudden did a bell ring in his head about it because of this peddler?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that Rav Yanai knew that to guard one's life from tragedy and lengthening one's days on this earth one needs to guard themselves about speaking badly against others. He thought though the way to do this would be to dwell alone far from others just like the metzora who lives alone outside the camp.

This is what the peddler was trying to teach us. He was giving us advice as to how not to fall in the trap of speaking badly against others and staying away from bad things in general and do good for others. The way to go about this is to learn Torah and internalize its messages and desire peace.

We should also go out of our way for others and have interaction and contact with others. This will allow ourselves to want to do for others and always look at people in a favorable light. This is easier said than done especially if others have wronged us or made us feel bad.

Even in such a scenario we are not allowed to speak badly against for no purpose or even if we have a reason to, we must be careful not to do so. The laws of lashon hara (speaking badly against others) are very complex.

When the Chofetz Chaim explained these halachos, he did not tell us that we are not allowed to speak. He taught us how we are allowed to speak. We often speak of others in a disparagingly way often justifying why. Even if we have the noblest reasons for doing so, it is forbidden.

We are very careful what we eat making sure that it has the best hechser. How come we are not so careful as to what comes out of our mouths? The easy way out would be never to speak to people and live alone. The Torah is telling us just the opposite! We not only have to have interaction with others but we need to guard ourselves in how we speak to them as well!

The more we want to do for others and look at them in a positive light, the easier it will be for us to guard ourselves against lashon hara!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 2: The Difference between Torah and the laws of the land

"Rabbi Channina the deputy high priest said, 'Pray for the welfare of the government, since were it not for the fear of it men would swallow each other alive'"

What is the purpose of praying for the welfare of the government? In most countries, aren't there more and more scandals of government officials? In reality if there is peace and good will in the government, then there law and order in that country, if not their would be utter chaos.

If we did not have law and order then people would literally swallow each other alive. What happens when things spiral out of control? We have seen blackouts and natural disasters where we were left to the elements and on our own. This has the ability to bring out the best and worst of people. Some people will do whatever they can to help others while others will unfortunately take advantage of the situation.

The leads to a tremendous distinction between the laws of the land and Torah. The laws of the land are there to protect us from each other and make sure no one takes advantage of others. They also keep order, otherwise the most powerful people would be in charge running things without constraints. Laws of the Torah on the other hand, are there to transform a person and help them reach their true spiritual potential.

It is much more than just keeping the order and making sure that people act properly with regards to other's property...At the same time, this is a test for us. Do the actions of a person show that they are doing so because they fear G-d or because of the constraints of civilized society? Does a person keep the mitzvos because they believe it is true or because they are afraid if they don't they will fry in hell forever?

We grapple with difficult issues and try to make sense of them. When we see someone suffer, do they still try and wonder about G-d hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence) and how he runs the world? Are we robots just going through the motions or do we carefully analyze the things we do and try and make ourselves better people?

The purpose of this Mishna is to teach us that we live in a society with people surrounding us and we have to live our lives to the best of our ability. Even if we make mistakes we have to own up to them and continue striving to do the right thing. We have to keep the law but keep the spirit of the law as well.

We many times have to go beyond the law to uphold it holy statutes. This will help with our interaction with others and allow us to grow as individuals.