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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, December 25, 2014

Parshas Vayigash: What will we Answer when G-d Calls

"And Yosef said to his brothers, 'I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?' But his brothers could not answer him because they were left disconcerted before him" (Genesis: 45:3)

Truly an amazing story here. Yosef has been badgering his brothers, accusing them of being spies, taking Shimon and Benyamin as hostages, so-to-speak and causing pain to his father all the years he was in Egypt! After all that, he couldn't take it any more and reveals himself to his brothers.

They are in shock and cannot answer. They understood through all the accusations that what they did with him wasn't right, even if they thought so. At the same time, they searched and searched for Yosef and didn't find him, this revelation by Yosef caught them totally by surprise!

This is a premonition for what will happen to each of us in the future. G-d will judge us for our actions and what we did in this world. We won't be able to contradict Him because He will show us exactly what we have done in this world.

We will be like the brothers and not be able to answer. We won't be able to say we didn't do this or that, it will be there right in front of us. This will shake us to our spiritual core, totally embarrassing us for what we have done.

Many rabbinical authorities are of the opinion that this is one aspect of what gehinom (hell) is like. It will be the utter embarrassment of the actions that we performed that took us away from doing what is right in G-d's eyes.

Gehinom in a sense is a cleansing process that helps rectify the mistakes we have made in our lives to help us get our soul back to where it was when it was brought down to this world. That rectification will allow to get to Gan Eden (the garden of Eden) or the spiritual world where we will be able to get the benefit of the good things we did in this world.

There is a certain payback if you may for the bad things we have done in this world that took away G-d's presence. G-d will judge us what our intention was when we did them, where we were holding at the time and give us a judgment to rectify the corruption that we have caused ourselves.

This is a tremendous chesed (compassion) from G-d that even though we mess up He allows us to still draw close to Him. Most people are not inherently evil that they deserve their soul to be obliterated. Nonetheless, the soul has to be cleansed to be able to benefit from the next world!

The story of Yosef and the brothers helps us understand this more clearly. Just as the brothers weren't able to answer Yosef when he revealed himself because of their utter embarrassment, so too we won't be able to answer G-d when we have to account for our actions.

G-d in His infinite wisdom will have mercy on us as long as we admit and sincerely regret what we have done. Nothing stands in the way of repentance and even though we don't always do the right thing, we can't live in the past otherwise we will have no future!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: ;Mishna 8: Honor the Torah or be Disgraced by it

"Rabbi Yosi said, 'Whoever honors the Torah will himself be honored by men; whoever dishonors the Torah will himself be dishonored by men".

The Torah itself has kept the Jewish people together throughout the millennia. By its laws, ethics and teachings, the Jewish people have survived without a land of their own being dispersed around the world amongst the nations.

The ones who keep it properly and are G-d's ambassadors to the world have a tremendous responsibility of making sure that it is taught properly and not distorted. Therefore the Mishna here tells us that one who honors Torah in the end will be honored by it.

Honoring Torah can mean not placing holy books on the floor or sitting on a chair or bench that has Torah books on them. It can also mean that a person stands up when the Torah is being taken out of the ark to be read from.

We can also honor Torah by honoring rabbinic scholars and others who observe Torah. These people are the guardians of G-d's wisdom and ceaselessly work to teach and inspire others!

These people are the ones that live by its ideals and go beyond the letter of the law to uphold its teachings. The Torah will give testimony to this and will honor these people in their lifetimes.

This does not mean they will be rich or powerful but others will get the message that these people are different than everyone else. In the ideal sense, they are G-d's patrons who will be looked up to by others.

The Mishna should not be misunderstood that the reason we learn Torah and hold by its ideals is because we will get honor by it later. We live Torah because we believe it is the will of G-d and this is what He wants from us.

The Torah can change us as we internalize its ideals and make them part of our everyday life. When we do that, then others will take notice and G-d's name will be sanctified.

If we don't do this and give the Torah lip service so-to-speak, then will be dishonored by the Torah. If people G-d forbid, do not live by its laws, make fun of others that do...they in the end will be disgraced.

This punishment is measure for measure. The one who doesn't take Torah seriously or makes fun of its followers, in the end will come to be dishonored as well. As mentioned previously, the Torah is the life-force that has kept the Jewish people alive throughout the centuries as they suffered anti-Semitic pogroms and holocausts!

"The Torah is a tree of life to those that grab a hold of it". If we don't want it or we make fun of others that keep it, then we ourselves will be disgraced because of it! The Torah has the ability to transform us; the flip side is that go away from it and scoff at those that keep it. This will lead them to a path of destruction!
Thursday, December 18, 2014

Parshas Miketz: Taking Revenge is Forbidden

"Joseph saw his brothers and he recognized them, but he acted like a stranger toward them and spoke with them harshly. He asked the, 'From where do you come?' And they said, 'From the land of Canaan to buy food'". (Genesis 42:7)

The whole episode between the brothers and Joseph is hard to understand. Joseph was greater than them in knowledge, the prodigy that Yaakov loved and taught. At the same time, after all his trials and tribulations being sent to Egypt and then to prison and then rising to the second-in-command next to Pharaoh, do we really believe that this was his character trait to be mean to them?

The brothers hated him because they thought his dreams were showing that he would have dominion and rule over them. Joseph was obligated to tell the brothers these dreams because he received prophecy and when a person has it, they have an obligation to give it over to others, even to the extent that it could have endangered his life.The brothers did not take too kindly to what he said and thereby wanted him killed.

He was instead sold into slavery and suffered tremendously for it. When he sees the brothers, though he seemingly changes his tune and treats them poorly and disrespects them. How could he have done this, he is not allowed to take revenge as the Torah tells us later!

We could answer that since the Torah wasn't given yet, they weren't obligated to keep it so even if he did take revenge it would have been ok. On the other hand, we know that the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children kept the entire Torah before it was given. How can we reconcile this?

Joseph wasn't taking revenge against his brothers. As we will see later, he tells them not worry about what they did to him because it was all G-d's will that he should go to Egypt and save them! This is how the Divine providence worked and everything worked out in the end.

The purpose of his actions was to purge any sin whatsoever from his brothers by making them admit their transgression on their level for selling him. Once he hears their remorse and the willingness to bring Benjamin to him, he finally forgives them and tells them that he is Joseph.

Although the brothers acted in a proper way (at least they thought so) they still did not show the compassion for him as they should. Only after they realize what is happening to them in Egypt do they see that G-d has orchestrated everything and is punishing them for what they have done.

After the final admission and having sincere regret for their actions does Joseph reveal himself. This teaches us a great lesson of self-control. Even if someone has wronged us, we are not allowed to take revenge against them.

This does not mean I have to be best friends with them or even have anything to do with them. I am forbidden though to take revenge against them. This is certainly not an easy thing to do as we may enjoy seeing our enemies suffer but G-d wants us to reach an even higher level, and that is if anyone has wronged us, we are not allowed to take revenge against them!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: Mishna 7: Use the Torah Appropriately

"Rabbi Tzadok said, 'Do not make of the Torah a crown wherewith to magnify yourself, nor a spade wherewith to dig. Hillel used to say, 'He who makes unworthy use of the crown of Torah shall perish'. So whoever makes selfish use of the Torah, takes his own life'.

The first part of the Mishna explains that we are not allowed to use our Torah learning for the sake of receiving honor! The purpose of learning Torah is to make us better people so that we can internalize and live according to its ways.

There is another Mishin in Ethics of our Fathers that explains how a person can never be haughty if they learned a lot of Torah because that is what you created to do in the first place! What would be the point of trying to receive honor for something that you have an obligation to do anyway?

The Torah in reality should make us humble as the more we learn, the more we understand how much we don't know which makes us feel quite small! This leads us to the next part of the Mishna which tells us that we are not allowed to derive benefit for learning Torah.

This is hard to understand because aren't there people who charge for the classes they give? What about rabbis who teach children, why according to this would they not be allowed to get a salary for their work?

The Talmud tells us that when it comes to a rabbi teaching children, he is not getting paid for his teaching but rather the fact that he is getting to paid to watch over them so that they don't cause damage to others. Even if he is teaching them, the main part of his salary is keeping them orderly!

Today people are paid to learn Torah or to teach like in anything other profession. The idea here is that getting paid for teaching or giving classes helps that person continue learning and inspiring others. This could be why that it is not such a lucrative field because if it was then people would have ulterior motives and it would not be the pure Torah that would help others.

The last part of the Mishna tells us the severity of what could happen to a person if they misuse the crown the Torah. This means that even to save one's life, if one could have done it in another way and they used Torah to save themselves, they are held liable. The reason is that they could have done something else to save themselves.

This is showing misappropriation in the usage of Torah. If a person is in a life and death situation then they can do whatever they can to save themselves. The question is if they used Torah to save themselves when they could have used a different medium.

This is why it is as if they have forfeited their life. They have taken something so precious and misused it. The Torah is something so important and life altering that we are not allowed to just use it for what we want. We have to honor it and give it the respect it deserves!
Friday, December 12, 2014

Parshas Vayeshev: Let G-d Run the World

"Yet the chamberlain of the cupbrarers did not remember Yosef, but he forgot him" (Genesis 40;23)

If the chamberlain did not remember Yosef, doesn't that mean that he forgot him? What is the purpose here of saying the same thing seemingly twice?

Yosef is punished and had to wait several years before he was remembered by the chamberlain of the cupbearers. It would seem that Yosef lacked faith in G-d that He would save him by reminding the chamberlain to remember him. Isn't Yosef just putting his best foot forward to get himself out of his predicament?

Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe tells us that Yosef understood through this trial in jail that he would be a free man through these people, therefore he should not have asked them to remember him. He should have understood that this was not a chance happening meeting with these two individuals but they were his ticket out and he should have realized that.

Yosef was on a very high level spiritually and was given this test to work on him emunah in G-d. He should have continued living his life focusing on G-d's interaction with the world and his purpose in it. Because he failed in this way, G-d punished him.

This is hard for us to understand. We are not on the level of Yosef or even close. At the same time, it is a timely message for future generations. We have an obligation to keep the Torah and mitzvos to the best of our ability.

We are also obligated to believe in G-d through knowledge and that He runs the world. The problem is that we live in a world of G-d's hiddeness and is very difficult to fathom the chaos that the world is in. Even through the chaos, there is order; we are just not privy to see exactly how that order works.

At the end of the book of Job, Elihu tells Job that G-d is not going to reveal himself to him and explain all the workings of the world. He can't understand it but has to realize that G-d has a purpose for how things are done. We have to try and make sense of it but still have to live our lives!!

This can be challenging when we see terrible things go on around us without having any control whatsoever. We have to let go and let G-d run the world as He sees fit! Our small minds cannot understand the bigger picture. We have to take everything in stride trying to make sense of it and continue to serve Him no matter what.

Yosef taught us a valuable lesson in emunah. It is always something that needs to be strengthened. On our level, we have to constantly strive and put our best foot forward. We are not on the level to sit back and watch as things unfold and let G-d take care of what He needs to do.

Yosef was on a higher level and judged accordingly. He should have understood the message of relying on G-d and letting Him run the world. When we all do this and become subservient to Him, the world will be a better place, bringing godliness to the world!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 6: Live and Breath Torah

"Rabbi Yishmael bar Rabbi Yosi says, 'One who studies Torah in order to teach is given the means to study and to teach; and one who studies in order to practice is given the means to study and to teach, to observe and to practice'"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that one who studies Torah in order to teach is given t e means to study and to teach. Does this mean that they don't practice what they learn  and implement it into their everyday lives?

Absolutely not! Rabbenu Yonah here explains that when they learn and teach they don't do it to their fullest capacity. This means they are able to learn and even teach others but they don't delve deeply enough to find out if there are forbidden things they may be doing.

They take what they learn at face value and don't get very far. It is interesting to note that the knowledge they receive from their dedication to learning is able to be given over to others, albeit at a relatively superficial level. This is why the Mishna tells us that they will only be able to study and teach but not to observe and practice.

The second part of the Mishna explains that the learning that is done to be able to practice is on a much higher level. These people learn for the sake of the truth and are willing to spend hours upon hours to understand even a small point.

The most important things in their lives is to learn to derive the absolute truth so they can implement these ideas into their lives. We see from here there are different ways in which a person can learn.

One way is to learn and understand to the best of our ability. This does not take into account accountability of any kind and at best is superficial. The goal is not to get to the absolute truth but to put some effort in but not too much. It is not like these type of people would  be bothered by a question that would keep them up all night

These type of people will never be the rabbinic scholars of the next generation; they will be the pretenders to the throne. Only those willing to be bothered and dig deeper when they have a question and cannot find a satisfactory answer will be the future Torah leaders. They will turn over the world until they find what they are looking for and will not rest until they have satisfactorily answered their burning question.

People like that will grow into great Torah scholars which will lead to actions based on what they learn. The will  disseminate the Torah to the masses, inspiring them to keep the high standard the Torah has set for us. We then have to live up to those standards and be receptacles and implement these timeless words into our everyday life.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Parshas Vayishlach: We only Bow to G-d!

"Then he himself went on ahead of them and bowed earthward seven time suntil he reached his brother" (Genesis 33:3).

How could Yaakov have bowed down to his brother and not transgressed the prohibition of bowing down to others? Isn't that idol worship? The Zohar answers that when he bowed down, his only intention was to go G-d and not worshiping his brother, G-d forbid. The verse says explicitly that he bowed to the ground and not to Esav!

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that is a timely message for all generations! Even though sometimes we may have to ingratiate ourselves to Esav, we have to remember that this is because of the decree of our exile that we have to do this.

The Jewish people are the chosen people and we cannot forget the importance that we have to be a light unto the nations. At the same time, we have to get along with our non-Jewish neighbors and do things we may not like to so that they find favor in our eyes. Throughout the generations, we have sadly not learned this properly.

Many have not only ingratiated themselves to the non-Jews but have embraced them and their customs! They claim that one of the main reasons that the nations give us a hard time and persecute us is because we are not more like them. Why should we be separate, have our different laws about kashrus, shabbos, the holidays...which make us different?

If we were more like them, assimilated into their culture and married their children, they would have proper respect for us! Isn't this what the Greeks wanted us to do? Be like them, enter their gymnasiums, go to their universities, and do everything that they did?

The result has been an utter disaster! Intermarriage rates have skyrocketed to over 60% and there are 13 million Jews out there that know nothing about their precious heritage! When we become like the nations and think that is the only to find grace with them so there is peace, we are shortchanging and robbing ourselves of our priceless heritage!

It is forbidden for us to antagonize the nations but at the same time, the Jewish people have to remain separate from them and keep our unique status. That means not be ashamed to keep the mitzvos and learn Torah to the best of our ability, not just be a Jew inside his house.

Yaakov here teaches us that although it may be true that we have flatter and charm the nations, it may because we have no choice because of this long exile. We have to remember though we have no one else to rely on except the one Above! The nations will never come to our rescue as history has borne out.

The Torah is what separates us and makes the people that we are. Our uniqueness is the driving force to unity which allows us to pass our priceless heritage to the future generations!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: Mishna 5: G-d is Watching You!

"Rabbi Yochanan ben Berokah said: 'Whoever profanes the name of G-d secretly is punished publicly, whether the profanation is committed intentionally or unintentionally."

When we speak about a profanation of G-d's name the connotation is something that has taken place in public. The desecration of G-d's name will depend on the level where the person is holding spiritually. 

The Talmud gives an example of a rabbi who bought meat but didn't pay for it immediately. Each one will get judged according to their own level. We learn this out from Yishmael because when he was a child and dying of thirst, G-d did not allow him to die.

The angels asked why he was allowed to live if in the future his progeny would inflict great punishment and make the Jewish people suffer. G-d answered by asking if the child right now is guilty or innocent whereby the angels answered innocent. G-d then told them that since he is innocent now, I cannot punish him for what he may do in the future because I am judging him as he is now! 

 The Mishna here explicitly tells us that the transgression we do in our homes where others don't see us will eventually come out in public whether we did them intentionally or not. This is truly remarkable because many times we hear of things that people did that we never would have known had it not been made public.

This teaches us a number of lessons. One is how careful we have to be in our actions even in the privacy of our own homes! if we don't then we could eventually be exposed even for the most private of things!

There's an old saying: what goes around comes around. This seems to mean that a person's actions whether they are good or bad have consequences. We can run but we can't hide. G-d knows the thoughts and actions of all men and will expose those things that we so desperately try and hide.

This is similar to what the Zohar says at the end of a person's life, they will be shown two movies. One movie is what they did in their lives and the other is what they had the potential to do. Before the invention of video recorders. we would not know what this is referring to.

Now that we see things can be recorded and saved, G-d too does the same thing and will play all our actions that we have done when He renders His final judgement! The true righteous person is careful with their actions in public but we must be careful with them in private as well.

This shows true fear of heaven that all our actions regardless of where we may be have to be proper in G-d's eyes. This is not an easy task but G-d is with us no matter where we are and that is something we all have to remember!