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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, July 31, 2014

Parshas Devarim: Know how to give rebuke

"These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Yisrael on the other side of the Jordan river in the wilderness over against Suf, between Paran, and Tofel and Lavan, and Hazertot and Di-zahav" (Deuteronomy 1:1)

Rashi explains that Moshe reminds the Jewish people of their sins through a hint and not directly because of the honor of the Jewish people. Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l asks in Derash Moshe  that there are also verses that specifically mention their sins like by the spies and in parshas Ekev the sin of the golden calf so why here are the sins only mentioned through a hint while other places they are spelled out clearly?

Rav Moshe explains those sins and punishment that are spoken about in great detail is because the Jewish people have to be reminded of the severity of that particular transgression. This, though was only for the previous generation but by the the present generation that did not do those particular transgressions, there is no need for them to be rebuked for what was done previously.

Therefore, they are mentioned only through a hint since the present generation also needs to be rebuked for the transgressions of the previous generation. The reason for this is because each person has to know that if they see someone else sins, they should not say that this person made a mistake and it could never happen to me because I know that this particular thing is forbidden in the Torah and I would never do it!

This person also has what to fear that he could fall in the same trap as his friend and also transgress unless he uproots those negative character traits that constantly prey upon him! A person should not rely on their knowledge or laurels that they could never find themselves in such a situation but they should increase their Torah study and mussar learning to constantly fight against their desires and temptations.

As long as we are not working and striving for this goal, then we are puppets in the hands of our evil inclination. Another thing that we learn out from here is that if we have the ability to rebuke someone, we should do so through a hint and not with harsh words.

We should also never remind someone of what they have done wrong in the past. This will not help them to correct their ways and change. Giving rebuke is something that has been lost in this generation as we do not know how to do it properly. We need to embrace people with an overflowing amount of love.

There was a person in the yeshiva of Radin who smoked on shabbos and was about to leave. The saintly Chofetz Chaim met with him, grabbed his hand and with burning tears just said the word shabbos. This made such an impression on the boy that because of how the Chofetz Chaim approached him, he did not profane shabbos again.

Although we may not be on the level of the Chofetz Chaim, we can still try and help others with positive reinforcement instead of trying to "help" them with harsh words and rebuke.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 18: Torah is our Precious Gift, let's not waste it

"He used to say: 'Beloved is man for he was created in the image of G-d; it is by special divine love that he is informed that he was created in the image of G-d, as it is said: "For G-d made man in his own image." Beloved are Israel, for they were called the children of G-d; it is by special divine love that they are informed that they were called the children of G-d, as it is said: "You are the children of the L-rd your G-d." Beloved are Israel, for to them was given a previous instrument [the Torah]; it is by special divine love that they are informed that to them was given the precious instrument through which the world was created, as it is said: "For I give you good doctrine; forsake not my Torah.'"

Why is it so special that G-d informs us that we were created in His image? If we weren't informed of this, would it be any less important and what does it mean that we were created in His image in the first place?

The Torah tells us that when man is created, G-d gave him life by putting in a soul in his body. This soul is part of G-d, so-to-speak which gives mankind the ability to make decisions, reason and reach their spiritual capability. At the same time. G-d puts man in a physical universe with desires and temptations that hinder man in this quest.

It is for this purpose we are created, to use the physical world as a means to spiritual perfection. The Jewish people don't look at the world as a terrible place where we are condemned forever but rather as a place that is full of challenges helping us reach our potential.

Each person has their own challenges and trials and are given a specific purpose only they can reach. They are supposed to navigate this world and be successful by tuning into what the Torah wants from them. This is what the second part of the Mishna means here.

G-d gave us a tremendous gift and heritage to pass down to the future generations. It is this instrument that guides us in everything that we do. Even though the physical world is a tough place to navigate, the Torah helps give us direction.

G-d created the evil inclination but at the same time he gave us the Torah to learn and practice as its antidote. While we are praised for making the right choices, we are also punished for the wrong ones we make. This is the power of free will.

When we use this world for our betterment, we uplift it and ourselves as well. When we give into our physical desires, we debase ourselves and the world too! We are created against our will and we die against our will, but we still have to live the most meaningful and productive lives we can.

This is why Torah is so precious. It helps us in so many ways, giving us the ability to be guided while living in treacherous conditions. These situations are what makes us who we are and who we can be!
Thursday, July 24, 2014

Parshas Masei: Each station in life has importance

"These are the journeys of the children of Israel who went out of the land of Egypt with their armies under the hand of Moshe and Aharon" (Numbers 33:1)

What is the purpose of mentioning all the times and the Jewish people visited while they were in the desert? Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that this is compared to mitzvah observance and spiritual endeavors a person encounters in their lives. A person works hard to do mitzvos in this world to acquire a portion in the next world.

While in this world, they go and travel for this outcome; i.e. all their effort goes from place to place acquiring the spiritual tools for the next world. This is what the rabbis mean when they say that rabbinic scholars have no rest in this world because they are busy perfecting themselves and growing spiritually! They are never satisfied where they are holding today, always looking to make improvements in their lives.

 We live in a transient world, whereby many think this is the ultimate; there is no other world except this one, G-d forbid! Therefore, what they do doesn't matter and why not just enjoy life to the fullest since "eat, drink and be merry today lest tomorrow I die!" Unfortunately this is how many people live their lives and the world continues for them a meaningless existence.

Torah observant Jews have everything to live for and tremendous meaning in their everyday activities. They pray, make blessings thanking G-d for their sustenance, help others, keep the holidays and shabbos...things that not only give them meaning but sustain the universe. The problem is that we don't see many times the results of our actions and therefore many make the mistake and think that what we do doesn't matter.

Rav Chaim Volohziner, the famed disciple  of the Vilna Gaon, brings down at the beginning of Nefesh HaChaim that this is a mistake we cannot afford to make. He tells us in great detail how great our actions are and what ramifications they have in this world and the next. If we would only understand it even at a basic level, we would live our lives differently!

The point Rav Chaim makes is that everything we do has repercussions for good and bad. We have to constantly take stock of our actions so that we improve them and change otherwise we could see disastrous results.

If our actions really matter, wouldn't we take life and ourselves more seriously? When we see a nation being bombarded with missiles and most are landing in open areas not causing much damage, do we see the Divine Providence  or do we say it is just luck?

Each of us reach different stations in life. We need to take stock of them and see how we did at each interval. When we do this, we can see what we need to work on and what needs to change. This makes us realize how small we are but how much we can grow and influence the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 17: Take life Seriously and no when to keep your mouth shut!

"Rabbi Akiva said: 'Jesting and light-headedness lead a man on to lewdness. the Mesorah (the tradition as to the correct text of the Scripture) is a fence to the Torah (and preserves integrity); tithes form a fence to wealth; vows are a fence (a help) to self-restraint; a fence to wisdom is silence.'"

The beginning of the Mishna teaches us the importance of why a person should not be light-headed. The reason is that one should take life seriously and have meaningful days. If we concentrate on just having fun and doing things for pleasure, we miss out on what is truly important.

This idle time when not spent on Torah can cause us to lose focus of what is truly important and lead to things that are detrimental to our spiritual growth. Is life only about having fun, i.e. eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow I die?

The next part of the Mishna explains the importance as to the correct text of the Scripture. The reason is that the rabbis teach us how to interpret the text so we know how to observe the mitzvos. There are numerous examples that illustrate this point.

The main idea is that it gives strength to the Torah by helping us to understand how to keep it. If we did not learn out these inferences from the verses, we wouldn't know how to observe many of the commandments!

The next part of the Mishna explains that if a person gives tzedakah, it will help form a fence to wealth. This means that by giving charity it can protect the money we have. Is this really true? After all, if we give money away every month, how will we replenish what we have lost?

The answer is that the more generous we are, the more G-d will make sure that our livelihood will be taken care of. This does not mean a person cannot have setbacks or fall on hard times but the reality is that no one has ever lost out by helping others.

Even if one cannot give a lot, we have to train ourselves to put our hands in our pockets and give. When we learn this, G-d will look favorably upon us and want to continue helping us and giving what we need.

Vows help us separate from things; even those things that are permitted to us! When we deny ourselves certain pleasures, we are showing to G-d what is truly important and that is not this world! This helps a person curb one's appetite for for the desires of this world.

G-d created the world for us to enjoy and get benefit from. He gave us directions on how to do that. This is called the Torah which he gave to Moshe on Mount Sinai to pass down to the Jewish people! Even though the world is ours to enjoy, we are not allowed to indulge more than we need to.

This world is just a corridor to the world to come. Therefore we have to prepare ourselves here to reap the benefits of the next world. The way we do that is through the observation of Torah and mitvzos. If we get distracted and get caught up in this world, then we have defeated the purpose for which we have been created.

How does silence lead to wisdom? Isn't wisdom acquired through talking and hashing things out to get to the truth? This means that one can be wise in knowledge and also through character development. We can learn not to talk when our friend is speaking. This will lead us to other good character traits as well. This is not being silent but realizing when a person should not speak.

Wisdom is gained when we don't speak in front of someone greater than us. We learn more when we think things through and don't answer the first idea that comes to our mind. We become great people when we seek advice from others that can help us instead of relying on our own opinion.

Silence here means when the right time to speak up is and when to nullify ourselves to others greater than us. This is certainly not an easy thing to do but we reap tremendous benefits when we do!
Monday, July 21, 2014

Miracles and Missiles

HaRav Moshe Sternbuch Speaks About Miracles and Missiles
By Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

Headlines – Tammuz 5774:
  1. Hundreds of sophisticated missiles, each one capable of causing mass destruction, fall in Israel.
  2. Most of these missiles land in open areas, and as a result no one is killed.
  3. The Kipat Barzel – the Iron Dome, intercepts some of these missiles, and the shrapnel and debris from these exploded missiles causes almost no injury or damage.
  4. The head of Hamas admits, “We have experts launching these missiles, yet their G-d will not allow us to hurt them.”
What is Hashem telling us?
Free Choice

The passuk tells us, “Hu Dasan V’Aviram” (Bamidbar 26:9). Chazalexplain that Dasan and Aviram continued in their evil ways from the beginning of their lives until their deaths (Megillah 11a). We know that Dasan and Aviram were not tzaddikim. What is it that our Sages were trying to convey to us here?
The deeper message of their words is startling. Dasan and Aviram saw the eser makkosKrias Yam Suf, the mann and the be’er. Yet witnessing these miracles did not inspire them to abandon their evil ways.
At the time of Krias Yam Suf, Hashem brought a powerful northern wind that raged the entire night before the sea split (Shemos 14:21). The Sefer Hachinuch (132) explains that the purpose of this wind was to give people the option to believe that Krias Yam Suf was not a miracle, but rather that it resulted from natural causes. Similarly, after the makkos in Mitzrayim, the sorcerers of Egypt showed that they, too, could perform similar feats (Shemos 8:14).
Whenever Hashem performs miracles, He always leaves an opening for people to err by believing that these events came about through natural causes. Dasan and Aviram assumed that all of these miracles had natural causes, and therefore they clung to their evil ways. Yet the question remains: If the purpose of a miracle is to display Hashem’s might and glory, why should He want to hide Himself?

Hiding Behind Nature

This world is a corridor leading to Olam Haba, and we will receive reward in the Next World in accordance with the degree to which we prepared ourselves in this world. If the Almighty were to reveal Himself openly, that would leave no room for free choice, and we would not have a chance to earn reward. Hashem hides Himself behind the cloak of nature so that we will need to search for His Presence.
For this reason, when Hashem performs open miracles, He always leaves room for a natural explanation for them. In Mitzrayim that explanation was the sorcerers; at Krias Yam Suf it was the northern wind. All of these natural causes are merely diversions He creates to hide Himself and to give evil people the opportunity to deny that it was Hashem’s Hand that performed these miracles.
While we cannot ignore the fact that our enemies are trying to destroy us, we must be wary about becoming overly absorbed in the details of what is happening. We should always remember that, just as the Almighty is stopping these missiles from hitting their targets, He is allowing them to be launched. We must recognize that every missile is a test in emunah: Do we attribute what is happening to natural causes or to Hashem?

Open Miracles

If we take a few minutes to think about what is going on around us, we will be amazed. Each of these missiles has the ability to cause mass death and destruction, Rachmana litzlan, yet not a single person was killed. One of the missiles made a direct hit on someone’s home, yet by chance the family had decided to go away that day; another missile hit someone’s home and miraculously did not explode.
These are highly sophisticated long-range missiles that, according to Hamas, were fired by expert missile launchers. The possibility of some of them missing their targets is low. The likelihood that there would not be a single fatality is nonexistent. This is an overt miracle of the highest degree.
After witnessing these miracles firsthand, why is it that all of us – each and every individual – have not decided to make major changes in our lives and taken upon ourselves an intense regimen of teshuvah,tefillah and tzedakah? We have been so strongly influenced by the media and by our nonreligious brethren who tell us that natural causes are behind these events, that we have hardly been affected by these miracles.

Blessing after Tragedy

Rav Sternbuch relates that after World War II he spoke to Rav Mordechai Pragamansky about what would happen to the Jewish people. Rav Pragamansky told him that when Hashem brings a great disaster to the world, such as the Holocaust, inevitably it will be followed by a period of great shefa, affluence. Even then, at a time when most Jews were living in great poverty, Rav Pragamansky foresaw that Jews of the next generation would become millionaires and billionaires.
We find a precedent for this phenomenon in the time when the Jewish people left Mitzrayim. After suffering 210 years of slavery and servitude, at the time of their departure the Egyptians gave them great wealth. Following Krias Yam SufKlal Yisrael received even more with the bizas hayam, the spoils they gained from the Egyptians who drowned in the sea.
Rav Pragamansky explains that all of this affluence is meant to be anisayon for the Jewish people: If we attribute everything to Hashem and His kindness, and if we use our resources to serve and sanctify Him, then we will have passed the test. If we attribute this wealth to our own ingenuity, then we will inevitably fall and be punished, as we see happened to the Jews in the Midbar, who sinned with the egel hazahav.

Reward or Punishment

Over the past week we have been witness to the highest degree of kindness and mercy from Hashem, when He prevented hundreds of missiles from hitting their targets. If we internalize the extent of His Kindness, and use it to raise our recognition of His Presence in our lives, then we will have passed the test that He has given us. We can be sure that this is one of the final nisyonos before the geulah.
Since it is possible to deny all of these miracles, the reward for one who recognizes them is extremely great. Someone who sees Hashem’s Hand during such times, thanking Him constantly for His benevolence and telling other people about the great miracles that He has performed for us, brings great nachas ruach to the Almighty. He has recognized what the Ramban writes at the end of Parashas Bo: “There is no such thing as nature in the world, and everything that happens is a direct result of Hashem’s Hand.”
However, if we attribute what took place to natural causes, then we are putting ourselves in the gravest danger. If we do not recognize His Hand in our lives, we can arouse great Divine wrath, and we will no longer be worthy of His protection. Then we are liable to receive a punishment similar to that of the generation of the Midbar, whose people used their affluence to make the egel hazahav.

The Power of One Person

Chazal describe the great reward that Pinchas received for his act ofkana’us. By taking up arms and killing Zimri and Kozbi, Pinchas saved the entire Jewish people from destruction (Bamidbar 25:11). So too, every single Jew, without exception, has the potential to be the “Pinchas” who saves Klal Yisrael during these times.
Hashem is performing ever greater miracles before our eyes, and ouravodah is to recognize Hashem. We must thank Him for the past (modeh al ha’avar) and beseech Him that He continue to have mercy on us (mevakeish al ha’atid). Anyone who breaks through the smoke screen of nature, who recognizes Hashem’s Hand behind all of these miracles, and who helps to open the eyes of his fellow Jews who have not yet been privileged to see this, can be considered the Pinchas of our generation.
Those people who recognize and publicize the miracles that are taking place will receive the greatest reward for doing so. However, we should realize that as soon as the geulah comes, this test will be no more. On the day that Hashem reveals Himself to the entire world, there will no longer be any free choice, and we will not be rewarded for seeing the obvious.
May this day come soon.
Thursday, July 17, 2014

Parshas Matos: Uprooting Bad Thoughts

"But if her father disallow her in the day that he hears; not any of her vows or of her bonds with which she has bound herself , shall stand, and the L-rd shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her." (Numbers 30:6)

Rashi explains that the case here is when a woman made a vow to be a Nazerite and her husband heard it and he nullified it but she did not know and drank wine or became impure by coming in contact with a dead body so she needs forgiveness for what she has done.

The Talmud in Kidushin 80a tells us that when Rabbi Akiva got to this verse he cried and he said someone who had intention to eat pig and ended up eating kosher meat the Torah says he needs atonement and one that wanted to eat pig meat and ended up eating pig meat all the more so! Rav Moshe Sternbuch Sh'lita in Ta'am V'Da'as asks what the novelty in Rabbi Akiva's statement when he came to this verse that the person who had intention to eat pig meat and actually ate it needs atonement? Isn't that obvious?

Rav Sternbuch explains that every transgression a person does is not just forbidden and makes a blemish on our soul but the essence of our thoughts to want to transgress is what we need to uproot and receive atonement for! Here if the person had intention to eat something not kosher and the meat they ate is kosher requires us to get atonement for the bad thoughts we had and to uproot them.

Rabbi Akiva here learned that when a person transgresses on purpose, one needs atonement for the thoughts as well that caused this action. Therefore it is not enough for one to not want to do the transgression in the future but one must do whatever they can to break that desire.

This is easier said than done. Feeling bad about the transgression is a step in the right direction. How do we uproot the desire and temptation? This comes with hard work. The more books we learn on proper ethics we should be trying to uphold and the more Torah we learn should help but the evil inclination does not rest for one second, not even when one sleeps!

We need to think of ways to overcome our temptations and continue on the path to spiritually perfect ourselves. We need mentors and guides to help us so we can continue on that path and we need to pray that G-d will help us in all our endeavors.

The Talmud tells us that really we have no hope against the evil inclination but the reality is that G-d does help us in so many ways that we cannot even begin to fathom. In the three weeks which we find ourselves now we are living in difficult times as we mourn the Temple's destruction.

May we strengthen ourselves to live our lives as G-d wants us to.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 16: Respect others and Smile

"Rabbi Yishmael said, 'Be submissive to a superior and kindly to the young; and receive all men cheerfully.'"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that we should be submissive to a superior. That means simply that we should show respect to our bosses and those greater than us in learning. The latter is easier to understand because we have to show respect to Torah scholars for the Torah they know and the knowledge that they can give to others.

Our bosses may be a different story entirely. Since they have higher authority than us with seniority or whatever capacity, we have an obligation to try and help them and show respect as much as possible. This may be obvious in regards to keeping one's job but this is more difficult when we think that we are just as good or if not more important than the people in charge.

This is where we run into the problem of not letting our own ego's get in the way. Being submissive to anyone is never easy but the reality is if we would learn how leave our "greatness" to the side, we would gain tremendously!

The next part of the Mishna explains the importance of being kind to the young. This may seem obvious but someone with more life experience or who is older very rarely will want to be nice to those younger than themselves. The reason is because "they believe" that the younger ones should serve them so they have the right to rule over them.

The commentaries tell us that this is not a good thing and will cause the youth to rebel. When they are not treated properly, they will disobey and have no respect for the older generation. Unfortunately this is very common today where we see how kids lack the proper respect for adults.

As the generations pass, this is more prevalent due to the fact that the young think the older generation is out of touch with reality and soon enough they will be moving on to the next world so their usage in this world is minimal. This is a big mistake as Judaism looks at the older generation as the continuation of the great chain that connects us to Mount Sinai.

The last part of the Mishna tells us that we should accept each person cheerfully. Why is this here at the end of the Mishna and what is its connection to what was said previously? If we show respect to our bosses and those older than us and treat the youth properly, then it would seem that we can do this by receiving each person in a positive way.

This means we look at each person an entity in and of themselves so that when we show them a smile and give them a good word, whether they be older or younger will have a positive influence on all. Even if someone is in a bad mood for whatever reason, did the person you see deserve to be looked at with a sour face?

We have many trials and tribulations on a regular basis, so this is easier said than done. If we keep in mind we are showing ourselves to others instead of selfishly thinking about ourselves all the time, this world would look a whole lot different!
Thursday, July 10, 2014

Parhas Pinchas: Get the right Guidance!

"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe saying, 'Pinchas, the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the priest  has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy." (Numbers 25: 11,12)

The actions of Pinchas are truly remarkable. He kills a prince of a tribe in front of the masses because of the desecration of G-d's name that occurred. The Talmud tells us of a number of miracles that occurred for Pinchas for what he did. The question though is how was Pinchas allowed to do such a thing?

When Pinchas asked Moshe what the halacha was in such a case, Moshe did not know and Pinchas remembered and acted on it. When we look at Pinchas' legacy, do we see him as the typical zealot, taking the law into his own hand or as an emissary of G-d doing His will? Through Pinchas' genealogy we see that he stems from Aharon.

Aharon was a man of peace and someone who ran after peace! This would show that Pinchas was also a man of peace. The only problem is how do we view that in light of what he did? We must remember that Pinchas did not act out of revenge or had any ulterior motives in killing Zimri. When he remembered the halacha, he did what he needed to do to sanctify G-d's name from this terrible tragedy!

Zealotry in general is never looked upon as a good thing. The reason is that many see it as a person acting in a vengeful way over some thing without thinking about the ramifications of what they are doing. A person is not allowed to act on their own. If they do not know what to do, they must ask a proper rabbinical authority and get the proper guidance that they need.

When we act alone or do something we think may be right without getting proper guidance, we basically are saying that we know better than G-d how to handle this situation! What possibly could happen is that the results of our "thought out" actions will have tremendous ramifications that we may not have thought of!

The Torah has been transmitted generation to generation. We have our guidelines and our rabbinical authorities to look to each step of the way. If we are unsure of something or clearly don't know, better to ask along the way than be lead down the wrong path! There are countless individuals that have either misguided themselves or have had others give them wrong information that has led them to waste time and go down a path not conducive to who they want to become!

It is so important to seek competent rabbinical authorities to get the right advice and proper guidance that is so badly needed. May we always be able to seek the truth and receive the right direction and guidance to lead us to our full potential!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 15: I don't want to lose my share in the next world

"Rabbi Elazar of Modin said: 'He that profanes sacred objects , slights the festivals, puts his fellow man to shame in public, breaks the covenant of our father Abraham or misinterprets the Torah - even though he has Torah and good deeds his credit, he has no share in the world to come.'"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that if one is not allowed to profane sacred objects. This means that anything that is consecrated for usage in the Temple is forbidden to misappropriate. The reason that this is so severe a prohibition is because you are using spiritual objects for every day usage.

The purpose of learning Torah is to incorporate its laws into our everyday life. We are constantly trying to improve ourselves by sanctifying the physical world and tapping into G-d's world. When we use spiritual things for something that is not appropriate we profane His name!

The next part of Mishna tells us that one is not allowed to slight the festivals. This cannot mean speaking of the first and last days of a festival that every Jew must sanctify, that would be obvious! The Mishna is referring to the intermediate days of a festival. These days are holy days as well, not like a festival itself but it has to be treated with proper respect!

One is not allowed to just write things down or go on trips! If one must work, one is allowed to but one has to be careful of the things that are not allowed so as to no slight the festival. Since it is still part of the festival, one must have a nice meal, where nicer clothes than we would normally wear for during the week... When one treats it like a regular day and not the importance that it deserves, the festival is disgraced!

The next part of the Mishna explains that one is not allowed to break the covenant of our father Abraham. This means that a parent is obligated to circumcise their son on the eighth day. If for whatever reason the foreskin is not cut off or the person wants to conceal the circumcision they then transgress this!

This is so severe because a person ultimately denies the importance of the mitvah by trying to conceal what they are supposed to take off! This was the covenant given to Abraham by G-d whereby one who does not do this mitzvah properly in essence denies G-d!

The next part of the Mishna explains the severity of shaming a person in public. Shaming a person should never be done, whether in public or private. If a person admonishes someone in public, it is as if they have killed them.

One of the three things a person must die for rather than transgress is idol worship, murder and immorality. An offshoot of murder is embarrassing someone in public. When a person is shamed in public, they first turn white out of fear and then red which is akin to murder.

The last part of the Mishna tells us about the severity of misinterpreting Torah. This means that one is not only not allowed to transgress the laws of the Torah but one is not allowed to be so brazen as to do it in public as if to brag about their actions.

This also means that one is not allowed to misinterpret Torah. If one does not understand a certain thing, better to go to someone learned and find out what the meaning is rather than give a bad interpretation and lead others astray! Sometimes the best answer to give someone is "I don't know!" This shows true humility which is expected from all of us!

In all of these cases one only loses their portion in the world to come if they have not done teshuvah (repentance). If one sincerely does teshuvah, then one need not worry but we must be on guard on the severity of these trangressions!
Thursday, July 3, 2014

Parshas Balak: Prophecy is not enough to change us

"So he sent messengers to Bilaam the son of Be'or to Petor, which is by the river, to the land of the children of his people to call him saying, 'Behold there is a people come out from Egypt, behold they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me.'" (Numbers 19:5)

Bilaam is an complex and interesting character. On the one hand, he a prophet of the nations whom G-d speaks to and on the other hand, he is corrupt and goes to great lengths to curse the Jewish people. How are we able to reconcile this?

One thing we see from here is that even a direct communication from G-d does not guarantee that a person will act according to His will! Even though Bilaam at a certain level had this ability to have G-d communicate with him, nonetheless it seems the prophecy he had did not help his character development.

The nations complained that if they only had a prophet of their own, how they would be loved by G-d as well. They were given the prophet Bilaam but they could still say, we would have become even better but the prophet you gave us couldn't help us and raise us to a higher level like Moshe Rabbenu!

The answer that we would give the nations is that prophecy, although a tremendous level to reach, does not change a person. Just the opposite! Since the person had flawed character traits, the ability to reach prophecy did not help him!

This is difficult to comprehend. Could it really be a direct communication from G-d doesn't change a person? We see from what happened to Korach that even witnessing the miracles of Egyp and the crossing of the sea were not enough to stop him jealous rant against Moshe and Aharon!

This shows us that even seeing the greatest miracles and reaching high spiritual levels, if one does not work on them and harness this, they go lost. Bilaam had the ability to help his nation and influence them to do good.

G-d hear wanted to show that a person could even reach a level of prophecy which would not effect the corruptness of his soul. The lesson to be learned here is that no matter what spiritual level we are holding by, we need to continue to learn and grow. It is not enough to rest on one's laurels!

We have to learn musar (ethics) every day to continually work on those flaws that we have. We can't think we have learned everything or know everything or even to say that although most Jews know nothing about their heritage, what I do is enough and I can slack off here or there.

Everyone has unlimited potential and we need to try and maximize it in this world to the best of our ability.

Shabbat Shalom!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 14: Don't let things limit your potential!

"Rabbi Dosa ben Horkinus said: 'Morning sleep (late sleeping), wine drinking at noon, (frivolous) children's talk, and attending the meeting places of the ignorant shorten a man's life.'"

The first part of the Mishna teaches us that a person should not sleep late. The main reason is because a person should rise early so they can pray at the appropriate time. Another reason is that when one gets a late start, it seems to have a bad effect on their overall day.

Getting up early should prepare us properly for our upcoming day. A person is most productive during the day accomplishing a lot. At the same time, if we don't start our day early enough then it seems to slowly digress as we get thrown off our schedule which helps give us order to our day.

A person needs a certain amount of sleep to be able to function during the day. Too much sleep can make a person lethargic and not productive. Too little sleep can affect performance as well. We have to eat well, exercise and take care of our bodies that we can maximize our potential. One way we can do this is by getting up at a normal time to start our day.

Drinking wine in the afternoon can cause us to stray away from learning Torah. This will depend on how much a person drinks and what their tolerance level is. In either case, the Mishna warns us that drinking during the day can cause us to not work to our full capacity whether in our jobs or our spiritual endeavors.

Drinking alcoholic beverages should be saved for specific times that don't interfere with our mitzvah observance. We must be care to utilize it at the right time so it doesn't affect us negatively.

Speaking frivolous talk does nothing to enhance our spiritual lives and it can certainly cause us to waste time talking in a way that the Torah does not want us to. This can lead to speaking about things that are forbidden or lead to actions that do not help us grow spiritually.

It also takes away from our primary goal of learning Torah and implementing its important message to us. We have to be careful how we speak and what we speak about making sure at all times to integrate the Torah into our lives.

The last part of the Mishna tells us that sitting with ignorant men will shorten our lives. This means that the whole purpose of life is to work on ourselves, fixing up our character flaws and being the best people that we can. If we sit with others or befriend them in a way that will be detrimental to this, then we in effect shorten our lives.

If our goal is to learn an keep the mitzvos, then why should we be here in this world if we don't do that! Why should G-d continue to give us life if we go against this fundamental message? The idea here is to be aware of one's surroundings at all times and navigating through it.

The Torah that we learn must be exemplified when we walk out to the street and interact with others. It is not enough to be righteous just in the study hall but we need to take what we learn and show others how the Torah expects us to behave!