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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, May 29, 2014

Parshas Naso: The Importance of Continual Learning

"According to the commandment of the L-rd they were numbered by the hand of Moshe, everyone according to his service, and according to his burden; they were numbered as the L-rd commanded Moshe" (Numbers 4:9).

The Rambam learns in Hilchos Kli Mikdash 3:7 that a Levi is not allowed to enter the outer court of the Temple unless they have learned for five years previously. What is the reason for this? The Leviim had different jobs as our Torah portion tells us, why is it significant that they learn for five years?

Rashi tells in two places that the Leviim started working in the Temple either at the age of 25 or 30. Why is there a discrepancy between the two verses? Rashi explains that these five years will show us if someone has dedicated them to learning Torah, whether they will be successful in their learning.

This is an important lesson for us today. After the destruction of European Jewry during World War II, the Jewish people have been rebuilding and strengthening the masses to commit to long term learning after marriage. The reason is that a whole generation of Torah scholars was wiped off the face of the map and it was needed to replenish them.

Another reason is that when one is first married, those early years are used to strengthen the house spiritually. There have been a number of generations of these idealistic women raised on helping out their husbands reach their potential by helping them with taking off the burden of livelihood from them.

These are the years that a person can utilize their undisturbed learning to reach great heights. This is reminiscent of the famous story of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva came home with many students after being away for 12 years. As he approached his house, he overheard his wife say to a friend, 'If my husband would come home now, I would send him away back to the beis midrash (study hall) for another 12 years'.

After hearing this, Rabbi Akiva turned around and went back to the Yeshiva. The commentaries ask how he could not have gone home and at least said hello to his wife and kids, why did he just leave? The answer is that had he stayed a little bit and then left, his Torah learning would have been interrupted because 12 plus another 12 is not the same as 24 straight years.

It is just like one who studies for a test. If they study 50 minutes, take a 10 minute break then another 50 minutes with a 10 minute break, they have not studied a full two hours! This is the idea of why we want our young people dedicating themselves to learning. They all have the ability to show their potential but they have to be given a fair chance at doing so.

If they have the ability to learn uninterrupted, we can gauge their spiritual growth and see what level they could potentially reach. If we pluck them out before their time or break up their learning schedule to have them do other things, we risk the possibility of helping them reach their potential.

This is what Rashi means here. The two different verses allude to this. May we merit to have continuous learning that enables to implement the importance of what we are learning!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 8 Mishna 9: There is Nothing more Important than Torah

"Rav Yakov said: 'One who walks on the road while reviewing [a Torah lesson] but interrupts his review and exclaims, 'How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field! Scripture considers it as if he bears guilt for his soul'"

The Mishna tells us the importance of Torah learning to the extent that if a person while reviewing that lesson on the way exclaims 'What a beautiful tree or plowed field that is' is considered as if he has forfeited their life. How can this be explained? After all, even if one made a blessing on that field or tree, one would be liable for the death penalty!

Rabbenu Yonah explains that the learning a person does should be done with fear and awe. This means that one should not speak frivolous things or to seemingly praise G-d for His great creation. There is nothing more than Torah learning and one must sanctify that time for that purpose.

Therefore, when learning Torah one should not think about politics, sporting events or anything that will take one's mind off Torah. Even if we see a beautiful thing which is G-d's creation, one must learn with continuity, awe and fear of heaven.

When one is able to learn with that type of clarity, they will be better equipped to understand what they are learning. One must also shut everything out from their daily lives when encompassed in learning. Although our days are filled with many trials and tribulations, we nonetheless have to shut out our everyday life.

If we try to the best of out ability to use this sanctified time to our benefit, we will receive the ability to understand G-d's Torah. The reason that taking one's attention off this is so drastic is because we have to understand the importance of Torah and our ability to implement it's teachings into our life.

As we approach the holiday of Shavuos and renew our connection to Torah, we should take this teaching to heart. As we stay up later than usual Shavuos night showing our commitment to Torah, we show G-d how much we value Torah. Just as Ruth clung to Naomi and declared "I will go where you go; your G-d is my G-d" and nothing will deter me to be part of this people and learn the Torah, so too we declare our connection to Torah; nothing is more important than it and nothing ever will be!
Thursday, May 22, 2014

Parshas Bamidbar: Our actions Matter!

"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they came out of the land of Egypt saying, 'Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, by the number of names, every male by their polls.'" (Numbers 1: 1-2).

Rashi explains that this counting showed the importance of the people in G-d's eyes when they came out of Egypt. When they fell by the sin of the golden calf they were also counted to show how many had sinned. They were also counted when G-d wanted to rest His presence on them as well as on the first of Nisan when the mishkan (tabernacle) was erected.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that his rebbe, Rav Moshe Schneider in explaining the beginning of the second chapter of Bava Metzia tells us the importance of counting. The gemara explains that a person checks his pockets constantly because his money is important to him. So too the Jewish people who are important and special in the eyes of G-d are thereby counted many times in the Torah.

The Torah writes the counting in a singular form teaching us that each person has their own importance and function in the world. Each person is unique with their own blend of talents that they were given to enhance the world. This comes with greater responsibility because if we are given these talents, then we should use them to the best of our ability.

The Baal Shem Tov on the verse "that your seed will be numerous as the stars in the heavens" (Genesis 26:4) tells us just as the appear small like an egg but in reality they can be very big in mass so too the Jewish people. Even though they appear to be a small insignificant nation, nonetheless in G-d's eyes, they are important and His chosen nation.

Each individual has the power to build or destroy worlds. We may think that what we do does not matter but in reality, we can do great things in the physical and spiritual planes! We shouldn't think our lives are worthless but live like what we do matters!

We were put in this world for a reason, not just to serve our own desires. We were given strengths and weaknesses to make us into the people that we are. We have to utilize them to the best of our ability to better serve G-d.

May we take stock of our actions and put them to good use.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 8: G-d's role and connection to His creation

"Rabbi Elazar of Bartusa said, 'Give Him from His Own, for you and your possessions are His. And so has David said, 'For everything is from You, and from your Own we have given You'"

This Mishna teaches us that everything comes from G-d and because this is so, we have an obligation to use the gifts G-d has given us for His sake. This means that whatever talents we have, we should use and utilize them in our spiritual endeavors.

This does not just mean that if have been blessed with a good livelihood that we should give a  lot of money to charity. We definitely should do this but the Mishna is not coming to tell us just this case but rather in all our endeavors we should use the good gifts that G-d has given us.

We also learn that everything that G-d gives us is like a deposit and He has the right if He so desires to take it away. Therefore when G-d entrusts us with things i.e. money, children...we have to use them properly for the sake of heaven. The problem is that we sometimes look at the world in a much more selfish way.

We think that we deserve certain things and if we don't get them, we complain bitterly about our situation. G-d does not owe us anything, but he gives us the right to exist in His world. That means we are not allowed to just do what we want with our talents but rather we should utilize them to the best of our ability.

There are mitzvos that we also do that exemplify this teaching. For example, regarding the mitzvah of tithing our crops, the Torah commands us "You shall surely tithe all the produce of your seed which your field puts forth every year" (Deuteronomy 14:22). Remember, the Torah tells you, when you merit to have nice crops, don't forget to give to G-d some because He is the one that allowed it to happen.

We have to learn and realize that what we have comes from Him. Yes, we have to work hard and use all of our strengths to survive in this world but we cannot forget that even with that, if G-d does not will it, then we will not be successful in our endeavors!

We often think that whatever happens to use for better or for worse is only the result of the actions of our hands. This takes G-d out of the picture and leads to idol worship, whether it be literally another G-d or a replacement ie money, entertainment...

G-d runs the world and has a role in history as witnessed by our miraculous delivery from Egypt. He has a personal connection to His world and has never forsaken it! We may not understand how it works by what we see in this world, nonetheless He is right there pulling all the strings.

Although this idea may be obvious, we live in a world where G-d's presence is hidden and it is difficult to be able to see this. If we look carefully and analyze things in our lives, this becomes more evident as we see the close personal connection that G-d has with all of us!


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Parshas Bechukosai: Torah is My Life!

"If you will follow my decrees and observe my commandments and perform the." (Leviticus 26:3)

Rav Yonasan Eibshitz z"l  explains that the difference between an angel and a tzadik (righteous person) is that an angel cannot change his level of spirituality;he always stays at the same level; tzadikim even try and understand chukim (laws of the Torah that are beyond our grasp and a Divine decree) to the best of their ability to get to the essence of what the Torah means. This is what the Torah means that we should follow G-d's decrees even if they seem incomprehensible to us.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a explains in Ta'am V'Da'as this is what Rashi means that we should strive hard to understand Torah. The question is though if we are obligated to use all our strength to understand the Torah, why use the language of a chok, of something that we don't understand which is a decree from above?

Rav Moshe Shneider z"l the Rosh Yeshiva of Eitz Chaim in England and Rav Sternbuch's rebbe explained that striving in Torah means that even while you are walking or going somewhere, you should be thinking in Torah! Someone who learns Torah will be judged not only for how he studied but what preoccupied his thoughts as well!

Did he live by the words he learned? Did he speak words of Torah when not learning? How did he act outside the sacred walls of the study hall? Rav Shneider was very stringent that at all times either while the students were eating or walking around outside, their minds were filled with Torah thoughts.

This may seem a little extreme. Isn't there down time in Torah when we can relax? The answer is that our lives revolve around Torah. Every second of every day gives us the ability to learn and do mitzvos. Even when we can't be preoccupied in learning when we have other things to do, nonetheless our thoughts shoudl be in Torah.

Our lives should show that the Torah is the most important thing! This is demonstrated by how we speak, eat and deal with others. If we look at Torah as another subject to learn, G-d forbid, then the Torah has no significance for us. It is nothing more than mental gymnastics.

The essence of Torah is to envelop what we learn and make it part of us. This has the ability to influence our families and people around us bringing G-d's presence to this world.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 7: G-d's presence is felt by learning Torah

"Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa of Kefar Chananya said: 'When ten people sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Shechinah abides with them, as it said, "G-d stands in the godly congregation." How do we know that the same applies even to five? It is said, "He has founded his band upon the earth." How do we know the same applies even to three? It is said, "In the midst of the judges he judges." How do we know that it even applies to two? It is said, "Then those who revered the L-rd spoke to each other and the L-rd listened and heard." How do we know that the same applies even to one? It is said, "In every place I have my name mentioned I will come to you and bless you.'"

One thing that we learn from this Mishna is the importance of learning Torah to the extent that G-d's presence is with them as well. This is somewhat difficult to understand because G-d's presence is limitless and cannot be confined to one specific place at a time. The Midrash in fact tells us that G-d is called the "place" of the world rather than the world being His place. In essence G-d is above time and space and is independent of it.

What does the Mishna mean then? Since G-d cannot be confined to a specific place, nonetheless, he lets His presence be felt there.When Torah is learned, it gives veracity to the truth of Torah. Whether in a big group or a small one, there is a clear demonstration of G-d's role in the world!

We live in an world filled with lies and fantasy. The fact that people learn Torah and bring G-d Torah down to this world is nothing short of miraculous. G-d gives us the ability to study His Torah and by doing so, He allows His presence to be felt more.

Someone once asked the famed Kotzker rebbe where G-d is? The rebbe answered him wherever you let him in. By doing mitzvos and learning Torah, it allows His presence to be felt. Even if He is not in one place at one time, His presence can still be felt if we allow ourselves to.

This is the importance of learning Torah. We learn to perfect ourselves and make us better people. When people see that it is only logical that there is a G-d and He runs the world. Living in the physical world makes this much more difficult but when we learn and spread Torah and people are inspired, it demonstrates G-d's existence.

The Mishna is here to teach us that we have the ability to do this and bring G-d's presence to this world. It doesn't matter if the group learning is big or small; the end result is G-d's presence is sanctified as those around us can feel it!


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Parshas Behar: Torah cannot be Compromised!

"And G-d spoke to Moshe in mount Sinai saying, 'Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, when you come to the land which I give you , then shall the land keep a sabbath to the L-rd.'" (Leviticus 25:1)

Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe explains that not only were all the mitzvos given on mount Sinai but even the ones that were given before the giving of the Torah as well. The reason we keep the mitzvos though is because we were commanded on mount Sinai to keep them through Moshe rabbenu.

The Rambam explains that even bnei noach (literally the sons of Noach, a reference to the seven noahide laws) are obligated to keep the seven noahide laws because they were said to Moshe and he commanded they should keep them as mandated by the Torah. There is a difference here though.

The seven noahide laws given to Adam and to Noach were an obligation to keep because they made sense and not because they were forbidden by a divine command. We therefore see Rav Moshe explains, that all the students that came from Shem and Ever did not have continuance in future generations.

The reason is because not everyone understands the meaning behind the mitzvos and they thought they understood things better than our forefathers. They went after their desires and were able to reason why they did not have to keep these mitzovs and thereby went into spiritual oblivion.

The Jewish people though kept the mitzvos not because they "understood" the reasons behind them but rather because it was a divine command that was passed down to Moshe to give over to the Jewish people. Since this was done, there was no reasoning to get out of the, just the opposite, we are fulfilling a divine decree which draws ourselves closer to Him!

This is the reason that it mentions the mitzvah of Shemitah (the sabbatical year where one is not allowed to work the land in Israel) since it is not something we keep because we understand why we keep it. We fulfill the command of keeping the laws of Shemitah because G-d told us to keep it since how could we observe it without destroying our land! Not only that, we are told that we will receive enough in the sixth year that will compensate for this!

Therefore, it can only be because G-d commanded us to keep it, otherwise it wouldn't make any sense. Who else could fulfill such a promise? If we would understand this idea to its fullest we would realize that since all the mitzvos come from mount Sinai, how could we rationalize to ourselves not to keep them?

This is the mistake many make thinking that since all the mitzvos are rational and we understand them as such, when they no longer make sense to us or we say that the world has changed and we have to change with the times, the Torah does not become sacred and is obsolete. This leads to making compromises that should never be made which are against Torah and insures that with that kind of attitude, Torah will not be able to be passed down to the future generations.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 6: There is nothing more important than learning Torah

Rabbi Nechunya ben ha'Kanah said, 'Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of the Torah will be relieved from the yoke of the government and the yoke of worldly affairs (struggle for existence); whoever divests himself of the yoke of the Torah will be burdened with the yoke of the government and the yoke of worldly affairs.'' 

The Mishna here explains that when one takes on the yoke of Torah they will be relieved from livelihood issues. This means that when one dedicates his life to Torah learning, i.e. they make the Torah the essence of their life and livelihood is secondary, they receive the blessing that G-d will guard them from doing anything extraneous to insure the continuity of their Torah study.

This would teach us that one would not have to work so hard to make a livelihood. When seeking that out, one should try and hone their skills into something that they could maximize the most of their time to sitting and learning. Although this is easier said than done, nonetheless, many have seen blessing in their work endeavors because they have dedicated the majority of their time to learning.

The Torah is clear that making a livelihood won't be easy and we will have to work through the sweat of our brow to make a living, nonetheless, if we truly want to learn, we have to dedicate ourselves to do that and G-d does the rest. Sometimes, though we see that this is not the case and a person has to work harder to make a living.

If we would be more in tune with what G-d wants from this, then what we have previously explained would be true. Yes we have to put our beset foot forward to be able to provide for our families .At the same time, we want to maximize our time learning as much as possible while at the same time, finding work that will allow us to do that.

The opposite is also true. If we spend most of our waking hours involved in making money and that is the essence of our lives, then our ability to learn will be burdened with other things. G-d will insure that we are busy with other things so that we won't be able to learn in peace.

The reason is that this person has made a clear-cut choice to make choose the "world" over Torah. This means that their worldly pursuits are on par with Torah and they do the "best" they can when it comes to learning. After all, they will explain, they have to make a living and support their families.

There are many times, though that one may think that they are obligated to do certain work related things when in reality that is not the case. This will be held against a person because the "work" they think they need to be doing doesn't have to be done and they could have been learning Torah!

Supporting one's family is an important thing and a person has to put their best foot forward to do it. We also have realize that even though that is true, when one is not occupied with that, Torah learning comes first!
Thursday, May 1, 2014

Parshas Emor: The Purpose of the Festivals

"Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: 'Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: Hashem's appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations these are My appointed festivals. For six days labor may be done, and the seventh day is a day of complete rest, a holy convocation, you shall not do any work; it is a Sabbath for Hashem in all your dwelling places.'" (Leviticus 23: 1-3). 

Rashi asks what is the connection between Shabbos and the festivals? It is to teach you that if one profanes the holidays it is as if you have profaned shabbos as well and if you keep the festivals, it is as if you have kept shabbos.

Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l explains in Derash Moshe that the essence of shabbos is the belief that G-d created the world and therefore if one does not keep shabbos, it is as if they have denied G-d and His creation of it. The festivals, though teach us that G-d runs the world Himself and sustains it.

This means that G-d has a role in nature and controls it. He redeemed us from Egypt and did miracles through changing nature to take us out. He also gave us the Torah and mitzvos so that we would become great people and reach our full potential.

In essence, Rav Moshe tells us you cannot believe in 1/2 a thing. For example, one cannot believe that G-d created the world and make the mistake and think that their are other spiritual or physical forces that control nature. Once a person has this "split" personality it is as if they don't believe in G-d and His power over the world.

This mistake will lead them not to keep the Torah and mitzvos because their are other forces that control the world. Therefore, when one profanes the holidays, it is as if he profanes shabbos as well. When a person denies G-d's control over nature, they essentially deny the fact that G-d created the world.

|The Rambam writes that this was the mistake of the generation of Enosh. They understood that G-d created the world but was so lofty and surreal that He did not want to have any connection to the lowliness of man and therefore left the world to run and be guided by other forces.

This was considered idol worship because people gave credence to other forces that were outside of G-d. These forces have no power unless G-d wills it or not. The wind and the oceans for example cannot decide they want to create a tsunami and destroy half of Asia unless G-d allows it to happen.

These forces do have power but they are not independent of G-d and what He decides to do with them. Once a person holds that these forces are independent and G-d has role in the everyday life of the world, then they ultimately denies G-d's role in the world and the fact that He created it!

The purpose of the holidays is to remember G-d's role in the world and if that is denied, then the ideal of what shabbos is also gets denied. As we prepare for shabbos, let us remember this idea which will enhance our observance of it!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 5: Utilizing our Precious Time

"Rabbi Chanina ben Hakinai said: 'He who is awake at night, or travels alone on the road, and turns his mind to idle thoughts, commits a deadly sin.'"

When one is out at night and just wants to unwind from a long day. what is the problem with letting one's mind wander a little bit? After all, we all need down time right?

The Mishna here explains that if one is awake at night or travelling alone, they should concentrate their thoughts on Torah because of the dangers that nighttime may bring. Therefore, if a person is in potential danger, their thoughts should be on Torah so that it will protect them.

The Talmud tells us that even though we don't get merit of the mitzvos that we do until the next world, nonetheless, the Torah that we learn and the mitzvos we do have the power to protect us. This means that the Torah learning we do or the Torah thoughts we have, protect us at that moment.

Another way of viewing this Mishna is that we have an opportune time to concentrate our thoughts on Torah and we shouldn't waste it! In the case where we are not working at that time and it is quiet, how much more so we should utilize this precious time!

If we don't use it properly, then according to the Mishna we have seemingly forfeited our lives. The reason is because it is ultimately a moment of undisturbed Torah learning that can lead to tremendous spiritual growth.

We have no worries or pressures to do things and we can concentrate on our holy work! That is only if we utilize it properly. If not, then we have lost something that at that time we cannot regain.

This is essentially our job in this world. We need to take advantage of time and not let time consume us. After all, once a person is finished with their job and their other familial responsibilities, they are now free to put their best effort in learning Torah.

We sometimes have to steal time in this world since we are so busy with other things. This is what makes someone a Torah Jew. They know they have to work to put food on the table but they realize that they are a Jew first and have a higher calling so-to-speak.

We are constantly reminded by this through all the mitzvos that we do on a daily...yearly basis. It helps keep us focused to understand what we need to do and accomplish. Woe to the person that had free time to study and grow and wasted it.

We have to be careful and try and utilize time properly. If we do, then we can grow; if not, as the Mishna tells us, we not only waste that precious time, but we forfeit something much greater!