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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, November 27, 2014

Parshas Vayeitze: Be careful what you say

"Then Yaakov became angered and he took up his grievance with Lavan. Yaakov spoke up and said to Lavan, 'What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me?'" (Genesis 31:31)

Imagine how hard Yaakov worked for Lavan. He toiled 7 years for Rachel, had Lavan switch her with Leah and then another 7 years for Rachel. He took care of Lavan's flocks diligently, never losing one and being an expert keeper of his flocks. How could Lavan have deceived him so many times without Yaakov getting angry?

Here we see the greatness of our Yaakov. Although he had every right to get upset hundreds of times before, here we finally see the anger come out. He was justified in what he felt and said and finally could not take it anymore.

What transpired, though, was something that he could not foresee. Lavan's tirade about his missing idols were the straw that broke the camel's back. Yaakov fired back and told him that all the years he worked for him nothing was missing and everything was in order. All of sudden Lavan has claims against Yaakov because of his idols.

We understand who Lavan was and what he represented. He was an evil trickster who would drive anyone mad. At this point though, Yaakov couldn't take it anymore and lashed out, deservedly so.

He was so sure that he or anyone else didn't take his idols that he said that whoever took them should die. Little did he know that his wife Rachel took them and it caused her to die prematurely.

When we look back at this, it is quite hard to understand why she should die early. After all, isn't it praiseworthy that her father is no longer worshiping idols? Isn't that against the 7 Noahide laws? 

Even so, we learn a valuable lesson. Yaakov was justified in what he said to Lavan. Wouldn't we have lashed out at him many times before? Our patriarchs are held to a higher standard and Yaakov should have been more careful in what he said. Had he known that Rachel took the idols he never would have said that.

This is a lesson for us as well. When we speak, we have to be careful what we say and how we say it. Our words have repercussions and can cause great damage. May we merit to always be careful what we say!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 4: Haughtiness and Hubris is not a Jewish concept!

"Rabbi Levitas of Yavneh said: 'Be exceedingly humble, since the end of man is worms"

The Mishna here is teaching about the importance of being humble to the extent that we should think of what our end will be which will help us do this. After all, how could someone be haughty and pompous when at the end of the day they will go to the grave and be eaten by worms?

The Rambam explains that normally when it comes to character traits we should find a happy medium and take the middle path. For example, if a person wants to be benevolent and give money to charity, they shouldn't give away all their money or they will be broke. Also, a person shouldn't be cruel and overly compassionate as well.

This means that we have to treat others properly but we shouldn't have compassion on people that want to cause us harm. We have an obligation to guard and defend ourselves against those who want to do us harm.

The commentaries here explain, though, when it comes to haughtiness and hubris, we shouldn't take the middle path but go to the opposite extreme and do whatever it takes so that we do possess this bad character trait. It is so bad, that the majority of our sins are attributed to it. If we don't have some level of haughtiness, though does that not make us weak and have low self-esteem?

The answer is that everyone has to have some level of self-esteem but ti should not be at the expense of others. We are not allowed to look down upon people or think we are better based on our social status or pedigree. Like anything, we have to find a middle ground that allows to be productive members of the society without stepping on others or putting them down in the process!

I once asked a great rabbi about boosting the egos of our children and always praising them for their actions. Wouldn't that lead to them to think that they are better than others or lead to haughtiness?

The rabbi answered that we live in a generation today that is so weak that most people don't have proper self-esteem and get walked and stomped on by others. Our praise to our children will make them feel good about themselves and want to strive to reach higher spiritual levels.

We always have to be on our guard and make sure if we are successful at something or get that prestigious job that we exhibit humbleness and realize where it all comes from. Woe to the person that thinks that everything that comes to them is based on the work of their own hands with G-d overseeing their actions and helping them along the way.

Is it really possible to think of our greatness as something positive if at the end of the day we will only go to the grave and be eaten by worms? This is what the Mishna here is telling us. We have to take a nice look in the mirror and see if our actions reflect humbleness or G-d forbid haughtiness and work hard to uproot that bad character trait from our hearts!
Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Tragedy Occurs

Words cannot describe the terrible tragedy that occurred in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof. I happen to learn in the neighborhood every day down the block from that synagogue and the words "SHOCK" doesn't do it justice.

There is outrage and demand that something must be done to stop all the violence. What is the Jewish perspective on what is going on?

Unfortunately, tragedy is not new to the Jewish people. We have persevered over the millennia through many; the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, the Chimenliki massacres, the Inquisition, the Holocaust...G-d's ways are hidden and we often do not understand what our eyes see.

There are a few things to take away from what has happened. 1) Never has there been an attack in Israel that occurred in a synagogue like this 2) The sheer brutality and lack of concern in the way this attack took place was just horrific.

The problem is that if we know that G-d is good and He alone runs the world, how do we explain what happened? There are no satisfactory answers but we do know that tzdikkim (righteous people) are taken as an atonement for us.

That means when there is a greater decree sometimes G-d has to take the best of our people as an atonement for the sins of the masses. This means that as the Talmud tells us the Jewish people are responsible one for the other, we have to look inward at what we possibly could do better so that these tragedies don't happen in the future.

At the same time, we sometimes get a glimpse in the future of why these things happen. Just like the three teens that were killed over the summer, the result was finding and destroying hundreds of tunnels that could have caused unthinkable damage. It just so happens that these three boys had to be the "sacrifice" for that to be uncovered.

This may add a little comfort for the grieving parents but it shows that nothing happens for no reason. Every bullet has its mark so-to-speak and G-d is the one who ultimately judges and makes it happen.

We with our tiny brains cannot fathom this. We just see things with lack of vision. We see destruction, murder and blood; chaos for no apparent reason. There is a bigger picture that we are not privy too but everything from above is calculated.

G-d runs the world and we have to accept that. He is the true judge. May we know no more sorrow and may He bring Moshiach speedily in our days!

Parshas Toldos: Esav Despises his Birthright

"Yaakov gave Esav bread and lentil stew and he ate and drank, got up and left; therefore, Esav spurned his birthright" (Genesis: 25:34).

Esav comes home after exhausted after killing and plundering thinking he was on the verge of death. Yaakov has food cooking and Esav demands that he give him some. He agrees only if Esav will sell his birthright and swear to him that he will do so!! Esav is incredulous at the actions of his brother, agrees, swears and after eating ravenously despises his birthright. Aren't his actions justified?

When we look back at what transpires between Yaakov and Esav we cannot but be amazed at the fact that Esav grows up in the house of Yitzchak. How could it be that he is not interested in a spiritual life? After all, doesn't he come from a strong pedigree with Yitzchak as his father and Avraham as his grandfather?

The Torah tells us that it is not an inheritance. Just because our parents were religious or our grandparents were righteous people will insure that their kids or grandchildren will be like that. It definitely helps to have that but it is no guarantee for the future.

Esav understands where he came from and the importance of his pedigree. The problem is that he was so steeped in his desires that they overcame him and destroyed him. He was unable to control himself which inevitably caused his downfall.

He still understood the importance of the blessing and what it represented. Even if he did not want to follow the Torah or its laws, he nonetheless understood why he should follow it. He had respect but did not want any part of it.

This struggle between Esav and Yaakov is the struggle between the Jewish people and the nations throughout the generations. When Yaakov, ie the Jewish people are doing what they need to do they will be successful and on top. When we don't do what G-d wants, then the nations have the upper hand over us.

The Esav's of the world want to destroy Torah and make us like them. We should go to their schools, be part of their extra curricular activities and intermarry with them as well. The Jewish people in their eyes should not be unique and not stand out and be different. This has been the claim throughout the generations by our brethren that if we would only be like the non-Jews around us they would surely embrace us.

If not for the fact that we openly display our differences that they hate us. If we look at the Holocaust in perspective we see that this is not the case. Hitler, may his name be blotted out only wanted to destroy the Jewish people and didn't make any distinctions whether Jews were religious or not. He wanted to be rid of them as a whole group!

Anti-semitism exists because it exists. No matter what the Jewish people do, they are hated. If they have money, they are despised; if they poor they are not liked...No matter what we do we bring out the ire of the nations of the world. What should we do then?

G-d separated us a nation to make us a light to them. That means we have uphold our end of the bargain and do what we are supposed to do. When we do that, we bring light to the world and illuminate it; when we don't there is darkness and tragedy!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 3: Our Actions Matter

"He used to say: 'Do not despise any man, and do not consider anything as impossible; for there is not a man who does not have his hour, and there is not a thing that does not have its place'".

The first part of the Mishna should be obvious that a person is not allowed to despise anyone else. It is forbidden to look down upon someone, even if they feel justified in doing so.

Maybe that person wronged us or caused us damage in some way thereby making them despised in our eyes. The Mishna, though gives us a different reason for this. The Mishna tells us the reason we are not allowed to do this is because we shouldn't think that this person in the future could not possibly damage us because there is a no person who does not his hour.

What is the meaning of this? There is no person that is always down suffering. They have ups and downs which test a person. Therefore if we despise someone and look down upon them, who is to say that they can't effect us negatively in the future.

After all, we may actually need that person in the future. There are countless stories of someone helping another person when they were younger and then at some point, the one that helped that person needed their help in the future. Had they not been gracious enough to help them in the past, they would have surely suffered that future event.

Everything is calculated from above even to a hair's breadth. We don't always see it or understand but there is definitely irony in everyday life. Sometimes the most miniscule event in our lives have ramifications for the future which we are not even aware of!

The problem is that we don't see the value of our actions or think that they matter. We sometimes are able to see and get glimpses of what happens in our lives and how things are intertwined. Although that doesn't happen all that often, nonetheless when we do see it, we need to take stock of it and internalize the message.

Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the famed student of the Vilna Gaon brings down this idea in his epic work Nefesh HaChaim. He tells us that a person should never think what they do is meaningless. We have the ability to change the world with our actions, either for better or worse.

The Rambam tells us that we should look at the world like a big scale that is teetering to either side and our action right now will make the scale in either direction. This shows how important our actions are and what they are capable of doing!
Thursday, November 13, 2014

Parshas Chayei Sarah: Passing the Torch of Torah

"Now Avraham was old, well on in years, and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything" (Genesis 24:1)

Rashi explains that the world "bekol" in gematriya (taking the letters and putting a number equivalent to them) is the same as "ben" or son and now that he has a son, he has to find him a wife. Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe asks that the Torah tells us explicitly that he had a son without any hints so why does the Torah here have to give a hint that he has been blessed with a son?

Even though Avraham was blessed with everything including a son, he knew that if there were no future generations to guard the Torah and keep like it is supposed to be kept, all the goodness, wealth and good deeds aren't worth very much unless there is a future continuation! Therefore when he is blessed with everything which represents a son, once he sees that he has future generations that will come from him, then all of his actions and righteousness will have been for the benefit of the future generations.

This is an important lesson for us to learn. Not only do our actions matter and how we interact with others but we have to show our children the importance of what we do in keeping the Torah. When they see our enthusiasm in doing G-d's will, it will have a positive effect that they will want to continue in the same path.

The test of what we do is what our offspring look like. This means we have to give over to them to the best of our ability of the importance of guarding the Torah. Even when things are difficult or we are having a hard time, we nonetheless have to show them how much we enjoy it!

As other so-called movements in Judaism will tell you that the Torah has to change and there must be innovations for Judaism to be relevant in the "modern world". Tthe results of these actions are disastrous. Even without the philosophical questions that they may have, how does their beliefs transcend to their kids?

With a skyrocketing intermarriage rate together with a lack of proper Jewish education for most, the results are catastrophic! if their brand of Torah does not trickle down to their kids on any level then the next generation becomes weaker and will eventually disappear into spiritual oblivion!

The future generations are the ones who will get the message either for good or bad which will result in whether the Torah will continue to be observed or not. Hitler, may his name be blotted out, killed over one and a half million children. This is a hard thing to fathom.

He did so because he understood that if there was no one to teach in the future Judaism will die. It has to perpetuated in the best way possible and if it cannot be passed down to the next generation, then the philosophy of those parents and their ideals are all for nought.

Avraham understood that he had to find a wife for Yitzchak because of the importance of passing the ideas of Torah to the next generation!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 2:The Importance of Mitzvah Observance

"Ben Azzai said, 'Run to perform even a minor mitzvah, and flee from transgression; for one good deed draws (in its train) another good deed, and one transgression leads to another; for the reward of a good deed is a good deed, and the reward of sin is sin" (virtue is its one reward, and sin its own penalty).

Rabbenu Yonah explains that the purpose of running to perform even a minor mitzvah is because we don't know the merit we receive for doing so. Even though we perform mitzvos because we believe it's the right thing to do, nonetheless we know that we will receive our reward for them in the next world.

Ben Azzai adds that we should run towards a minor mitzvah and stay from transgression. Why does he mention the idea of a minor mitzvah here? If a person does a minor mitzvah once, that will draw him close to G-d and put him in the proper frame of mind to perform other mitzvos as well. This is why we educate our children even from a young age to participate in doing mitzvos so they will regularly want to do them in the future!

When a person performs this mitzvah it leads him to do other mitzvos as we explained. Even though the merit for doing the mitzvah is only in the next world, we get the benefit of the mitzvos we do which allows to do other mitzvos. The purpose of what we do makes us closer to G-d and continues the cycle of our good deeds.

If a person though chooses to transgress, then in the same way that will lead to other transgressions and make it difficult for them to do teshuvah (repent). Everyone has free will and G-d will let a person to choose whatever path they want. Their choice, though has repercussions.

Even if we choose to do good, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) will not rest and will continue to try and convince to do the wrong thing. At the same time, we arm ourselves spiritually with learning Torah and performing mitzvos to offset this. In reality, there will be this constant struggle but if we continue to do G-d's will, then that will lead us down one path; or if choose transgression, it leads to a different path.

We live in a world that is full of temptation which would seemingly throw us off our path to living a spiritual life. We have to insulate ourselves to the point where we are constantly reinforcing the good values that will lead us to keep the Torah the way in which it should be! This is not something that is easily acquired and takes great effort and perseverance.
Thursday, November 6, 2014

Parshas Vaera: Uncovering our Potential

"And it happened after these things that G-d tested Avraham and said to him, "Abraham," and he replied, "Here I am." And He said, "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love - Yitzchak and go to the land of Moria; bring him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you." (Genesis 22:1,2)

Avraham is given ten trials, this being the last of them. This one, though seems to be the most difficult as G-d has promised him a son after so many years in his old age, told him that he will inherit him...and now he is commanded to bring him up as a sacrifice. Why is Avraham given this last test?

One of the 13 principles of faith of Maimonides (the Rambam) is that G-d knows the thoughts of man. If that is true, why make Avraham goes through this trial, knowing that he would do what G-d commanded him and leave it at that. Why put him through this last test if G-d knows he will faithfully do it anyway?

The commentaries explain that it is true that he passed the other tests that he was given and was indeed a great man and prophet. At the same time, G-d wanted him to reach even greater potential that had he not gone through this trial, he would have been the great Avraham!

This is indeed remarkable because what this means is that a person's untapped potential, if not realized and come to the forefront, is just that unreachable potential. Even if G-d understands that the person will pass the test, nonetheless, if they are not given it, that potential for that particular thing will not have been realized.

A person is given different trials and tribulations throughout their life. While we pray everyday that we should not have them, we see that without them, we don't grow spiritually like we should. In essence we are not the same person without them.

Even if a person suffers because of a particular trial, they become better people because of it unless they are broken by it. We don't understand why things happen to us but these trials are given to those people for specific reason which we are not privy to!

G-d created each person with potential. Each one has their special mission that they were created for in this world and only they can fulfill it; no one else can fulfill another's potential. If that is true, how do we know what our mission is in this world?

One great rabbi explained to me once that if a person would think about the hardest thing for them to do, whatever it may be, that could be what they are here in this world to fix up. It could be that someone has a hard time with thanking people for helping them or giving money to charity...

Whatever it is that we may be doing here, we have to utilize our days and our lives perfecting ourselves to the best of our ability. Even if things are hard or don't always go our way, we have to overcome these tests and continue on.

If you were to ask people about difficult things that they have persevered in their lives, they will tell you that they are better people because of it. They will also tell you that even if that is the case, they wish that they did not have to go through it!

May we all use our strengths to uncover that hidden potential!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 1: Subduing our Desires

"Ben Zoma says, 'Who is wise? He who learns from every person as it is said: 'From all my teachers I grew wise.' Who is strong? He who subdues his personal inclination, as it is said: 'He who is slow to anger is better than the strong man, and a master of his passions is better than a conqueror of a city.' Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot, as it is said: 'When you eat of the labor of yoru hands, you are praiseworthy and all is well with you.' You are praiseworthy' - in this world; 'and all is well with you' - in the World to Come. Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said: "For those who honor Me I will honor, and those who scorn Me shall be degraded.'

The first part of the Mishna tells us that someone is wise if they learn from every person. Wisdom, the Rabbenu Yona tells us if it is desired and loved, a person may not attain it per se, but he is still called wise. Why should this be the case?

The reason is because if a person wants to expand their knowledge, it can lead them to fear of G-d. This may not always happen but since one has the right desire to do so, he will gain more knowledge. This will lead that individual to the realization that they are really insignificant in the bigger scheme of things of how the world is run which will make them humble.

Another aspect of this idea is that a person may have a big ego because of what and how much they know and refuse to listen to the ideas of those not at their level. The Mishna here teaches us that we can learn from all people and add to our wisdom. When a person humbles themselves and envelops this idea, they begin the path in reaching wisdom!

The next part of the Mishna tells us that the really strong individuals are the ones who can conquer their evil inclination. Physical strength is limited because as a person ages, his vigor and power diminish.

Real strength is the ability to overcome the evil inclination because it never ceases to trap a person to do things that they shouldn't. It works 24/7 figuring out different ways to trap a person. We are given the evil inclination so that we can work on overcoming it and mastering the physical world.

This is easier said than done because most people just act at what is thrown their way without thinking. They are subjected to societies' whims and submit to its influence. The real power is working on their character development and not being slaves to themselves!

The next part of the Mishna speaks about the one who is rich. Someone who has lots of money and assets works very hard to make sure they will stay intact for years on end so they can live the lifestyle they are accustomed to. The question though is: how many rich people do we know that are really happy?

They spend their days and nights worrying about keeping ahead without losing what they have worked so hard for. The Mishna here points out that it doesn't matter how much money or property we have but are we happy with what G-d has given us?

Having more certainly doesn't insure happiness. Whether we have a little or a lot or just get by, we have to realize that everything comes from G-d and we need to appreciate it. Many will say it is easier to appreciate what we have when we have a lot. Even the little that we have can make us grateful as well!

These are eternal lessons of how we have to deal with the secular world while keeping our values strong. We don't capitulate to our surroundings and make every effort to strive and become the great people that we can be.