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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, June 26, 2014

Parshas Chukas: Keeping the Laws of the Torah even if the reason doesn't apply today

"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying, 'This is the ordinance of the Torah which the L-rd has commanded saying 'Speak to the children of Israel that they bring a red heifer without defect , in which there is no blemish , and upon which never came a yoke.'" (Numbers 19:1-2)

The red heifer is the paradigm example of a chok (a mitzvah that we don't understand at all) which we have to keep because it is a direct command from G-d. It is impossible to understand since it makes pure the one that is impure and makes the pure person impure at the same time. Nonetheless, even though it doesn't make sense to us, we still have an obligation to keep it!

In reality though, even though there are plenty of mitzvos that we do understand, the rabbis did not give all the reasons for them. For example, we may understand why a person is not allowed to steal but there may be countless reasons why we shouldn't not just the reason that the Torah have given us.

This is because when the rabbis expounded on what we are allowed or not allowed to do, they did not give all the reasons. This leads to the question that if there is a particular halacha that we must keep but the reason for it does not apply today, do we still have to keep it? There is a difference of opinion on this.

Some rabbinical authorities hold if the reason for a particular halacha does not apply, then we don't have to do it while other rabbinical authorities hold that even if the reason doesn't apply, we still have to keep it because that reason may not be the only reason for that particular law.

How does this apply in our everyday life? If we would look at all of the mitzvos as an ordinance that we didn't understand but rather it is a decree from G-d, we would be less likely to transgress any of the Torah. The reason is that we would keep everything G-d wants us to do without looking for loopholes or rationales as to why we can be lenient or that particular thing does not apply to me.

 We are in G-d's army and have to do what He wants whether we understand fully or not. The Torah is everlasting and we need to uphold its high standards that it has for us. At the same time, we need to take stock of our actions and realize that everything in reality is a decree from G-d! If we looked at Torah in such a way, we would look like different people!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 13: Sanctifying G-d's Name in Public

"He used to say: 'If the spirit of one's fellows is pleased with him, the spirit of the Omnipresent is pleased with him, but if the spirit of one's fellows is not pleased with him, the spirit of the Omnipresent is not pleased with him.'"

The Talmud Yoma 86a tells us that a person that learns and interacts with others in an honest way, what do others say about him? Happy is the one who learns Torah, happy is his father and mother that taught him Torah. This is why the Mishna tells us that G-d is happy with him because the Torah is pleasing to others.

This means that when a Jew has positive interactions with others, they will see that it is because he clings to Torah and lives by its priceless message. If on the other hand, one does not act properly and does things not according to its laws, then others will have disdain for him, all the more so G-d Himself!

This may be hard to understand because a person could be well liked in this world and still be considered disgusting in G-d's eyes because they do not keep His Torah or mitzvos! There is a false reality in this world. Even though someone may be popular and have lots of followers does not mean that He lives by G-d's law.

This, fortunately or unfortunately is the role of the Jew in this world. We are the ambassadors for the Jewish people whether we like it or not. This means that we have to be careful what we do because if we do not do the right thing and desecrate G-d's name then others will lump all Jews together and say "Jews are this" or Jews are like that."

On the other hand, if we sanctify G-d's name in public by doing acts of loving kindness and mitzvos, others will see the merit of the Torah and praise the Jewish people for their great selfless acts. We cannot shirk this responsibility.

We cannot say that our actions don't matter and that others should not put us on such a high pedestal. Even if we don't want that, we have to live with it and try our best wherever we are to make a kiddush Hashem! (sanctify G-d's name), We have to have proper manners, not push in line... In short, we have to be constantly on guard to make sure that we are an example for others.

If we don't do that, then we become despised in the eyes of others! We have to live up to high standards whereby one will look at this person and cry out, "great is the father that taught this person Torah!" That is the standard we need to reach even if we don't think we can!

As I just got up from sitting shiva for my father, he exemplified that. He lived his life whereby people would say how nice he was and what good he did for others. He lived this principle! I don't know anyone whether in his business dealings or with his synagogue that had one negative thing to say about it. That is the tribute that he was buried with over 400 people at the funeral. This is how a Jew should act!
Thursday, June 19, 2014

Parshas Korach: Jealousy can kill

"Korach, son of Yitzhar, son of Kohas, son of Lvi, separated himself with Dathan adn Aviram, sons of Eliav and On son of Peles, the offspring of Reuven" (Numbers 16:1)

The commentaries are bothered by the fact that Korach was a great individual, comes from the offspring of Reuven, saw all the miracles in Egypt and crossing the sea, how could he have had the audacity to come out against Moshe and Aharon? After all, didn't Moshe and Aharon have directive straight from G-d Himself? Did he really think they were acting on their own and Moshe showed favoritism to his brother when he had a "legitimate" right as well?

The issue here is like the Mishna in Ethics of our fathers that teaches us that honor and jealously can take us out of this world. This can be taken literally that it could kill you but it could also mean that it could take them out of the next world as well. When a person is jealous of someone else, they could have legitimate reasons for doing so. At the same time, it is not a good character trait to have!

As great as Korach was, he made a fundamental mistake. After witnessing the miracles and coming out of Egypt, he did not take the lessons from there and place them in his heart. This means that he should have realized that Moshe and Aharon were only doing what G-d told them to do and had no ulterior motives! He failed in understanding a very important point.

Ultimately a person keeps Torah and mitzvos because they believe that G-d gave the Torah to Moshe at Mount Sinai and made all the laws binding for the Jewish people throughout the generations. There are mitzvos that we understand better, that make more sense and there are mitzvos that we don't really comprehend at all. Even though we keep them, it doesn't invalidate us and make us look like were are doing things because of a leap of faith.

Even the mitzvos that we do understand better we have to keep in mind that those reasons may not be the only ones as to why we keep it. Also, we have to look at them as if they are mitzvos we don't really understand as well. The reason is because if we keep all the laws of Torah just because G-d said so not necessarily because we understood them 100%, our mitzvah observance would look different!

This is the mistake Korach made. He though he "understood" what G-d wanted from him and instead decided that Moshe was taking too much power and giving it to his close family! Had he just realized that G-d was the one telling him what to do and say to the Jewish people, he would have seen that he was mistaken.

Instead he took his warped idea and convinced many righteous people that he was right and caused a tremendous tragedy to the Jewish people. From here we see what the power of jealousy is and how its venom can spread!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 12: Make the Torah Practical

"He used to say: 'anyone whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom shall endure; anyone whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom shall not endure'"

The beginning of the Mishna tells us anyone whose deeds exceed his wisdom will endure. Why should this be the case?  When a person does what he is supposed to do in his relationship with G-d, he will acquire wisdom. The actions of a person speak loudly about who the person is. If they continually do good deeds, then they will go in the path and attain wisdom as well.

This will make their learning stronger with greater meaning because they will exemplify what they learn and continue in that path. Learning will be a main priority in their life that will lead to continued good deeds.

On the other hand, when a person is only driven for "knowledge" it will not succeed in the long run. The reason is that the "learning" they are doing is nothing more than mental gymnastics. While they have the desire to know and understand things, even if they enjoy doing it, they don't put what they learn into into practice.

This is dangerous because what essentially happens is that a person can learn  and learn but it will not help perfect his character development. The reason is that when we learn Torah, we are supposed to understand the teachings to the best of our ability and then live them! If we just learn for the sake of learning but the Torah has no effect on us, then what is the learning all about?

Even  if a person would say that there are aspects of Torah that we learn that don't have practical ramifications or the G-d forbid don't make sense to us, nonetheless we get merit for learning it anyways. We have to learn and train ourselves that the Torah is still the word of G-d and as much as we learn, there are things that we won't understand to the fullest or things like the red heifer that are impossible to understand.

At the same time, we believe with perfect faith that everything in the Torah is from G-d and we have to make the best effort to learn it and keep it. This is why when our actions exceed our wisdom it will succeed because the Jewish people when they accepted the Torah they said "we will do and then we will hear." They didn't care what would be written in the Torah, they were willing to keep it at all costs!

They committed themselves to Do before they heard what was written in it! If we don't have that and we claim I will learn everything before I will keep it, it will not endure. That is because our character traits have not been developed properly and the wisdom that we are acquiring has no practical application to our lives!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Parshas Shelach: How do we act when we witness a miracle

"Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, 'Send forth men if you please and let them spy out the land of Canaan that I give to the children of Israel; one man each from his father's tribe, shall you send, everyone a leader among them." (Numbers 13:1-2)

The story of the spies is both enigmatic and perplexing. Here, the greatest generation known to man, who saw G-d face to face at Mount Sinai and received the Torah, witnessed the plagues in Egypt and the miracles at the sea, how could these great men not have thought that G-d could help them overcome the nations that lived in the land of Israel?

One possible way of explanation is that when one sees or learns something new, they don't automatically make it part of their psyche and envelop its message. Even if one witnessed a miracle in their lives, how does it not have the effect it is supposed to have? How many times have we been saved from certain situations or overcome different things whereby our lives have not been transformed because of it?

The spies understood and certainly remembered everything that G-d had done for the Jewish people. It would be inconceivable that G-d would tell them to go to this great land only to have them swallowed up by inhabitants. Rather they thought that maybe they wouldn't deserve to be helped in such a way. After all, now that they have received the Torah and greater all around responsibility in the world, they could have thought that they would be guilty of transgression and that divine protection would no longer be there.

At some level, they were lacking emunah (belief in G-d). They lived in the desert and were supported by G-d the entire way. G-d wanted them to live at an extremely high level spiritually, always depending upon Him and making it part of their reality!

The problem is that it is hard to stay at that level. It is difficult not to judge one's self harshly for failure and hope G-d will overlook this as well. They wanted to live at a level they felt comfortable with, not where they felt was beyond them.

At the same time. even if you feel you are not worthy for divine mercy, it does not give one the right to speak badly against the land of Israel. This is why the story of the spies continues from the sin of Miriam speaking badly against Moshe. The spies should have realized from that story the commentators tell us and overcome their lack in emunah and not speak badly against the land.

We learn from here that even the greatest people, witnessing the greatest miracles can be lulled to sleep so to speak if they don't actualize what they saw. If Korach would have understand this, he would not have come out against Moshe and Aharon. Their is no favoritism in Judaism and everything Moshe and Aharon did was because they were commanded by G-d, not for any other purpose.

If we would look at our mitzvah observance in that way and see everything is divine decree, we would be less able to transgress. The reason is because whether I understand the reason or think I understand why some of the mitzvos are given, we have to keep them because G-d decreed it.

The lesson of the spies shows us how much we have to internalize the messages of the Torah and live by them and actualize our true potential!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 11: Torah is not another academic subject!

"Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa says: 'Anyone whose fear of sin takes priority over his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone whose wisdom takes priority over his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure.'"

The first part of the Mishna explains that when one's fear of sin takes priority over his wisdom  his wisdom will endure. Why should that be? The reason is because when one concentrates in staying away from bad influences and things that will cause them to transgress, he becomes a greater person spiritually.

When a person learns the goal is to envelop the ideas and make it part of them. As a person grows in spirituality and constantly stays away from negative influences he will perform mitzvos as he has properly learned how to keep them. A person does not have to drive themselves crazy and constantly think that maybe they will transgress...but a person has to know his true inner self.

A person knows where their strengths are and what they need to work on and stay away from. This would seem to be a natural thing but nonetheless the yetzer hara (evil inclination) constantly works against a person to try and cause them to transgress. We have to always be on guard and use whatever resources we have not to fall in the yetzer hara's hands.

If wisdom, though takes priority over his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure. The reason is that one is learning Torah but not actualizing it. This means that although they feel that learning Torah is important, they are learning it like another subject that seemingly has no effect on their life.

Torah is not like any other academic subject. Its teachings are eternal and have the ability to transform a person. As we say when we return the Torah to the ark, "Etz chaim hi lmachzikim bah" (the Torah is a tree of life to those that grasp it), we understand that the Torah strengthens us more than we strengthen it. The word "lmachzikim" is in the causative form which means that the Torah is giving us strength!

Although we need to put our best effort forward in learning Torah, the reality is that the Torah is really empowering me because I tune in to its precious timely message. Learning for learning's sake is good, but the messages the Torah tells us are supposed to change us and make it part of our reality. If we don't do that, we degrade the Torah and treat it G-d forbid like another academic subject!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Parshas Behaloscha: Soldiers Serving Hashem

"Aharon did so; toward the face of the menorah he kindled its lamps, as Hashem had commanded Moshe" (Numbers 8:3).

Rashi explains that Aharon did not change anything in his spiritual growth. This means that he lived every day of his life growing in Torah and mitzvos. Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit"a explains in Taam V'Da'as that every person has ups and downs. A psychologist once told me that a person could go through more than 75 on an average day! The greatness of Aharon, Rav Sternbuch continues,  is that every day he lit the menorah he did it with great joy as he had done the previous day.

Not only that, but he was the only one that had the merit to do this on a daily basis. By doing so, he could have been conceited and thought he was was better than everyone else. Aharon was tremendously humble and didn't make a big deal about the fact that he was the only one to be able to do this!

We can also see Aharon's character trait of humility since the lighting of the menorah for all future generations could be lit by anyone, not just the kohen gadol. When the Jewish people were in the desert, he was the only to light the menorah but that did not preclude that in future generations it could be done by anyone else.

Even though this may have seem strange to him, he never asked or had any doubts about this showing his strong unbreakable faith in G-d. This did not change the way Aharon served G-d and continued to light the menorah as G-d had commanded.

This is emphasized by the story of when Rabbi Akiva Eiger z"l came to Warsaw and saw a huge crowd when he got there. He had no idea that the crowd was there to welcome him; that is the greatness of when a person truly has the character trait of humility.

By Aharon's conduct we see the importance of doing G-d's will even when we don't necessarily understand it 100%. We have to do our best to keep G-d's law and serve Him like we would in the army. Just like we take orders from our superiors and don't question them, so too we live by the Torah without questioning it!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 10: Don't Take Torah for Granted

"Rabbi Dostai ben Yannai says in the name of Rebbi Meir: 'Whoever forgets anything of his Torah learning, Scripture considers it as if he bears guilt for his soul, for it is said, 'But beware and guard your soul exceedingly lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen.'Does this apply even if [he forgot because] his studies were too difficult for him? [This is not so, for] Scripture says, 'And lest they be removed from your heart all the days of your life.' Therefore one does not bear guilt for his soul unless he sits [idly] and [through lack of concentration and review] removes them from his consciousness'"

Is it really possible to remember everything that we learn? After all, not all of us have a great memory so why is it that the Mishna here tells us that we bear guilt if we don't remember what we learned?

Torah is not something that is easily acquired. It is something that one has to constantly work on. If we don't don't constantly review, then how are we supposed to remember what we learned? This concept can be applied to anything, not just Torah. Will someone be a good doctor or engineer if they don't review the crafts of their trade?

Another reason this is so severe is that when one doesn't remember what they learned, they will be lenient when they should be stringent and stringent when they should be lenient! This could cause one to transgress the mitzvos through lack of knowledge.

This could explain the severity of what the Mishna is teaching us. We have an obligation to keep and guard G-d's Torah to the best of our ability. If we fail based upon lack of knowledge because we don't properly review, the consequences could be catastrophic!

We certainly can't rely on our memory since after time passes, even the best of us forget important details. Even though it doesn't seem like so  much fun to review what we "already know" nonetheless we won't retain it without it!

We are always interested in learning new things and implementing the ideas into our everyday life. What about what we already know? The purpose of Torah is too make it a part of our lives, to live it, breathe it... This can only be accomplished when we are in sync with what we learn. This means we can't take it for granted and must constantly strive to review what we learn!