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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, February 26, 2015

Parshas Tetzaveh: Money matters are important!

"They shall attach the breastplate from its rings to the rings of the ephod with a turquoise woolen cord so that it will remain above the belt of the ephod and the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate will not be loosened from upon the ephod". (Exodus 28:28)

Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe asks why will the breastplate will not be loosened from the ephod? He explains that the ephod is to atone for idolatry and the breastplate for perverting justice either by the judge or by a person who does something in business that is illegal or underhanded or thinks that it is permitted to do so.

If a person would live with the idea and knew for sure that G-d fixes his livelihood and what he will be lacking (ie expenses that they did not count on like a broken washer machine, dental work...) from Rosh Hashanah they would be ever careful not to sin especially in the area of monetary matters.

Denying this idea of hashgacha pratis (Divine providence) one in essence denies G-d and is an idolator.   Therefore one needs atonement on both because if one transgresses laws that have to do with money matters they will also transgress idolatry as well and this is why you have the kohen wearing the breastplate and ephod together.

Why should it be that we compare lack of business ethics with idolatry? Idolatry does not only mean that a person bows down to an idol. It can also giving something power which takes G-d out of the picture. This could be in the form of sports, entertainment and money!

When we put these things ahead of what is really important, ie serving G-d and keeping the mitzvos, it is in essence idolatry and we must remember how severe a transgression this is! We are trying our best to do what G-d wants us to do but when we are unethics especially in dealing with money we desecrate G-d's name!

Rav Yisrael Salanter z"l the founder of the mussar movement said that everyone is quick to learn the laws of Shabbos but few learn the intricacies of the laws of damages. The problem is that most of the laws of Shabbos are rabbinical in nature while the laws of money most are on a Torah level!

The Talmud teaches us that there are three ways a person can be tested. One is by how he drinks, how they handle their temper and how they deal with money. Money does funny things to people and it is amazing what leniencies people will rely on or how unethical people can actually be.

The true test of a person is their business dealings and how they use their money. When it comes to something as personal as this, integrity is worth every penny. The people today that have a good name for themselves are ones that are truly scrupulous in money matters, making sure that no one gets cheated and are honest in their dealings with others.

What can happen sometimes is that a person may be stuck or in a pinch and will do something they wouldn't ordinarily do had they not been in that situation. There is a tremendous yetzer harah (evil inclination) when it comes to money and we have to be ever so careful in how we use and how we deal with others!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 17: Enjoy Learning Torah!!

"Rabbi Shimon said: 'there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood , and the crown of royalty, but the crown of a good name excels them all"

The beginning of the Mishna explains the three crowns of Torah, priesthood and royalty. The commentators tell us that of those three the crown of Torah is more important. Although the crown of priesthood is given to Aharon and his children and the crown of kingship is given to the house of David, torah surpasses them both.

The reason is because the Torah is given as an inheritance to the community of Yaakov and anyone that wants to merit in it can come and learn! The priesthood and kingship are only given to the house of Aharon and David; ie you are not a kohen or levi or come from the house of David then you cannot do what a kohen or levi does.

Torah though is for every Jew, the most learned and the one who doesn't  know very much. In either case, the Jew has the opportunity to learn and grow and have a share in it as well. The question is if we take the opportunity to do so!

One of the questions that will be asked of us after we die will be did you learn Torah? Everyone will have to answer according to what they have done here in this world in regards to Torah study. The important thing to remember is that we all the opportunity to learn as much as we can. We have to utilize our time here and focus on that!

The last part of the Mishna explains that the crown of a good name is better than the previous three mentioned. Rabbenu Yona explains that having a good name is really dependent on the crown of Torah because how could it be that a person will have a good name if they did not occupy themselves learning Torah and keeping mitzvos?

Torah leads a person to action. The more good that we do the more we will continue to do. This does not mean that we will not have our failures as well but if we don't start and continue to grow then there will be no chance of acquiring a good name!

A person can learn, sadly and not internalize the messages properly and still be disgusting in G-d's eyes. The reason is that  to them Torah study is like mental gymnastics; it gives our minds a boost but sadly does not effect our lives.

Judaism disagrees strongly with compartmentalizing ideas; i.e. that one can learn ethics and good ideas and still be unethical. We believe that even though we don't always live up to its high standards we still have to continue the path.

The yetzer harah (evil inclination) will tell us how hard it is to keep the mitzvos and how we don't concentrate on what we do and do things by rote...These are ways to weaken a person's resolve so that they will just want to give up everything that they do!

A person has to have the resolve to continue even if it is difficult and there are failures along the way. If we worry about what we did in the past then we will have no future. The purpose of the mitzvos is to help us attach to the One who created us and develop a connection to Him!

At the same time we have to realize our limitations. We need to learn and continue to grow with what we study, internalize the important messages and make sure that we don't get too depressed when we realize that we don't always live up to its high standards!
Thursday, February 19, 2015

Parshas Terumah: Bringing Spiritualty to the Mundane!

"You shall make the planks of the Tabernacle of acacia wood standing erect" (Exodus 26:15)

Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe explains that we learn this out from the fact that on sukkos we take the four species the way they are grown. What is the significance of this statement and is the relevance to us?

Rav Moshe tells us that the way we "grow our mitzvos" causes us to do other mitzvos. This means that we should do the mitzvos out of love and joy which will cause us to do other mitzvos as well.

We must not do the mitzvos just because we want to fulfill our obligation or because if we don't do them then we will fry in hell forever! This in no way will help us reach our spiritual goals because we won't grow the way we need to; we will be too worried about getting zapped by G-d if we don't do what we are supposed to do,

G-d has created each person with certain potential based on the their soul capabilities. They are put in this world to use it to their best ability and help others. When we don't use it for the right things then we pollute the world and sully our souls at the same time.

If we have the right frame of mind and do things for the right reason, that will have a positive effect on us which will lead us further in that path. Although we have an evil inclination working against us, the Torah is our antidote to reaching those high plateaus!

At the same time, G-d does not tell us that it will be easy and life definitely has its challenges. I guess it wouldn't be worth living if it didn't! Life is an opportunity to take whatever is thrown at us and use it for good.

Although we may ultimately fail in some of our challenges, the goal  is to pick ourselves up and continue in the right direction regardless of how hard it may be and what challenges there are. G-d does not put a person in a situation that they cannot handle although we often think that this is the case!

Another thing to keep in mind as we go through these parshiot on the building of the Tabernacle is that the wood and stones used to build it had the ability to bring G-d's presence to this world. This means that we are using things of this world to tap into the spiritual.

Unlike Christianity which holds this world is evil...Judaism looks at it with a totally different perspective Yes there are bad elements in this world that can take a person away from their spiritual potential but at the same time it gives us tremendous resources for growth.

Even if we give into our evil inclination we can still do good things. We have to remember not to live in the past because if we do then we have no future!

This is what the wood and stones of the Tabernacle teach us; use this world for our spiritual growth. Do what we need to do to survive physically here but sanctify it and bring spirituality to the mundane!

Shabbat Shalom



 

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishnah 16: Our Opinions Matter, Maybe

"Rabbi Yehudah said, 'Be careful in teaching, for a error in teaching amounts to intentional sin"'

Teaching others in any capacity is a tremendous responsibility. The person has not only has to know the material very well but has to understand who they are speaking to so they can give it over properly.

The Mishna here tells us the importance of this idea to the extent that if a person makes an error it is as if they made an intentional sin. The commentaries explain the severity of this matter in terms of making a mistake and paying a heavy price for it.

This means that a person who has the responsibility to answer questions of others (if they are capable) must know the subject thoroughly and then and only then should be they give a decision for the question at hand. If one is not sure about the answer (or must do more research) they should do so and not rely on the first thing that comes to their mind.

This is why it is crucial in Torah to constantly review what you have learned. The Chofetz Chaim in his introduction to the laws of Shabbos explains that if one is not constantly reviewing the laws of Shabbos, they will come to transgress them. The reason is because there are so many laws which are so complex, one cannot master them without proper review.

This is not only true for Torah but for anything else as well. If we are not constantly learning our trade and keeping up-to-date on the innovations of that industry, then we will not be successful in our endeavors! The repercussions of what we may tell someone or explain to the could be catastrophic!

If someone is a doctor and does not keep up with the many constant changes in medicine, how could they advise people what medicine to take or whether or not to have a certain operation. It is therefore imperative to constantly be aware of possible changes in one's field.

In Torah matters, if one give the wrong decision, we don't just chalk it up to a simple mistake or misinterpretation but rather we look at it as if they have done it willingly. The reason is that a person could permit something that is really forbidden or even forbid something that is permissible.

This is why a person has to have their own rabbi (mentor) that can properly guide them and give them the advice they need. If that person comes to something that they can't handle, they shouldn't try and go beyond what they are capable of but rather seek out guidance from others who can help them.

This not only shows humility but is the smart thing to do. Why give bad reasoning or make a mistake when that person could get advice from someone else?

A person has to know what their capabilities are and how to use them and know when to pass it on to someone else. The problem is that someone may ask something of us and we give our opinion without the proper knowledge. Why can't we just own up to the fact that we aren't sure and move on?

The reason is because our intellects get the better of us. It tells us that we have self worth and are intelligent people who has an opinion about a certain thing. We all have opinions but sometimes it is best not to express them even if someone presses us for them.

We learn a tremendous lesson here. If we teach others or give advice we have to make sure what we are telling them is truthful with great thought that was put into it. At the same time, if we are not qualified to give an opinion we shouldn't!
Thursday, February 12, 2015

Parshas Mishpatim: Don't Oppress the Convert!

"Do not oppress a stranger; you know the feelings of a stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 23:9)

There are many verses in the Torah that warn us about the mistreatment of converts to Judaism. The reason the Torah tells us is because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. This means since you understand better than others what this feels like, do not do it to them.

We have to be more sensitive to their needs. We are not allowed to remind them of their past because of the negative feelings it may bring up; the same goes for baalei teshuvah (returnees to Judaism) as well.

Since these people have left their former religions, moved into a Jewish community and sacrificed friends and family along the way, don't they deserve our compassion and help? How could someone be so cruel and not understand this basic idea?

The problem is that when someone wants to convert to Judaism, the communities around the world are skeptical and want to make sure that they are converting for the right reason and are genuinely sincere. At the same time, when this has been proven, the Jewish community should do what they can to help.

The Torah doesn't teach us things that are obvious, there must be a deeper reason why this command is here. The answer is that it must be a lack of sensitivity on our part that the Torah has to tell us this.

People are human and make mistakes and say things they shouldn't and act in a way they shouldn't. At the same time, we need to be more cognizant of what we say especially when it comes to converts.

They deserve our respect for the hardships that they have gone through and our help when it is needed. We must not make the mistake and think that our skepticism of their sincerity is equivalent to making them feel bad or on guard when they don't need to be.

Skepticism is ok; treating them poorly is not. The Torah here wants us to know that even if we doubt them, it does not give us the right to abuse them in any way. We forget sometimes and get caught up in how religious we are and what we have to guard ourselves against that people have feelings and need to be treated properly.

If I had a dime for the people that contact me about issues they have in Jewish communities of things said or done, I would be a very wealthy person today. I remind them not to mix up Jews and Judaism. This is very important because we as Jews have the obligation to uphold the Torah to the highest standard and we sometimes fail.

This is not a problem of the Torah but rather human deficiency. The Torah is precise in every place telling us not to oppress converts. While this may be obvious, we sometimes don't internalize the message and make mistakes.

We have to remember that we were once strangers in a strange land. If we think in those terms and remember the compassion others had for us, we will act accordingly and have compassion for the convert to Judaism who has given up so much to connect to the Jewish people!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 15: If you have the right teacher, you will go far!

"Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua said, 'Let the honor of the student be as dear to you as your own, and the honor of your colleague be like the reverence due to your teacher, and the reverence for your teacher be like the reverence for heaven'".

The Mishna begins by telling us that a teacher has to be careful when dealing with a student to the extent that they should be dear to him as your own. We could understand that a teacher must treat his student with proper respect but does the student have to be as dear to you as your own?

If teachers want to be successful they have to not only have a firm grasp of the material at hand but they then have to give it over in a way that their students can comprehend it. Half the battle is getting the students trust and getting them to do what they need to do.

If the teacher shows great patience and sees the student as dear to them as their own, they will be successful in explaining the material and keep the students intrigued and enjoy what they are learning. Successful teachers inspire their students, showing them proper respect while trying to give over the information.

Although one may have students that are not the easiest to deal with, to say the least, they need to show restraint, compassion and patience at all times. If one is able to do that, they will be successful.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that the honor of your colleague is like the reverence due to your teacher. If we would treat people giving them the proper respect that they deserve i.e. like we would for a teacher, they will come to have more respect for us and become better people because of it.

The reason is because when they learn by the example of their peers, they inevitably will want to emulate the character traits that make them such an inspirational person. This will lead them to be inspired by them which will create a tremendous kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name.

This person will equate the goodness of their colleague to the fact that they observe the Torah and its laws. They will be awe-inspired and declare "thank G-d this person's father taught him Torah or thank G-d this person's teacher taught him..."

Leading by example and not the "do as I say but not as I do motto" will go far in influencing others. This will lead to a greater reverence for G-d because of the how the person acts and interacts with others.

This leads to the last part of the Mishna which tells us that the reverence we have for our teacher should be like the reverence we have for heaven. If a person does not look at their teacher (at least a Torah teacher) as someone who is like an angel, then they can't learn Torah from them. This does not mean that people are not infallible but one has to realize that if the Torah they learn from their teacher inspires them, changes them and helps them reach there potential in spiritual growth, then that will lead to a greater reverence for heaven.

On the other hand, if the teacher is someone who has bad character traits or the like then the message will not get across and the student will lose respect for them, certainly not creating a greater reverence for heaven. This is the like the famous story with Bertrand Russell.

He was a teacher of ethics but was clearly very unethical. When one of his students asked him "how could you teach ethics and be so unethical?" he responded by saying that "if I taught mathematics would you expect me to be a square?" This is not a Jewish concept and we do not compartmentalize things in such a manner.

We have to strive and grow and become the best people we can; that starts with having the right teachers that can give us the information and inspire us and help us in that endeavor.  The successful teachers are the ones that put all their effort into their craft, giving the students what they need and keeping them focused!


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Parshas Yisro: We don't get Merit for a Mitzvah done in this world

"Honor your father and mother so that your days will be lengthened upon the land that Hashem, your G-d gives you" (Exodus 20:12)

It is very rare that the Torah tells us the reward for actions that we do. After all, the Talmud tells us that we don't get the merit for doing a mitzvah in this world. This being true, what does the end of the verse mean that we will have our days extended upon the land by honoring our parents?

The Talmud discusses this point and shows the disagreement between the rabbis and Elisha ben Abuya otherwise known as "acher" (the other one). Elisha was a great rabbi part of the sanhedrin who left the Jewish path after encountering something he didn't understand or could make sense of.

He saw a child climbing up a ladder to do the mitzvah of shiluach ha'ken (sending out the mother bird and taking the eggs from her). As the child was coming down the ladder, he slipped and died.

Elisha did not understand how this could happen because the merit of doing the mitzvah of shilach ha'ken is that one will have his days lengthened and also he was performing the mitzvah of honoring his parents because his father was the one to tell him to do this.

With two mitzvos being done culminating in lengthening one's days, Elisha could not understand what happened here which led to his questioning of G-d's ways and becoming a heretic!  One of the commentaries explains that since the boy had not fulfilled the mitzvah by bringing the eggs to his father since he fell, then he had not completed the mitzvah of honoring his parents.

Even if we say that he was in the process of doing so and he was following what his father wanted him to do, this answer seems insufficient. The Talmud tells us that the rabbis answered Elisha by telling him he didn't understand the verse properly.

Since there is no merit that a person gets of the mitzvah seemingly in this world, then we must explain that the lengthening of days means in the next world i.e. a greater portion in the world-to-come. The rabbis were telling Elisha that what we see in this world we don't always understand but it cannot be that the child would get long life in this world!

Elisha disagreed with the argument of the rabbis and became a heretic until the end of his life. We understand where Elisha is coming from if we have experienced a tragendy or seen trauma in our lives. If G-d is upright and just, how can these things happen?

This has been an age-old question throughout the millenia of why bad things happen to good people. The idea is that we don't understand how G-d works and what His rationale is for the things He does in this world. At the same time, we have to live in this world and function and do what He wants us to regardless of the circumstances.

This is when our belief in Him has to be the strongest. When things go our way and everything is good, do we acknowledge all the good that G-d does for us? We certainly complain when things don't go according to plan, blaming Him for everything that happens.

We have to live our lives according to both sides of the coin. We have to live in G-d's world and do what He wants even if it is hard or difficult. We also have to acknowledge the good that He does for us and be thankful for everything we have.

G-d never said life would be easy but He gave us a blueprint of how to live through His Torah. May we practice what we learn and envelop its priceless message!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 14: Don't think what we do doesn't matter!!

"Rabbi Yochanan ha-Sandlar said: 'Any assembly which is for the sake of heaven (for the promotion of a noble purpose) will be of permanent value, but one which is not for the sake of heaven, will not be of permanent value'". 

The assembly the Mishna here is talking about refers to the learning of Torah and good deeds that a person does. They will be remembered long after this person has left the world because of the positive effect it has.

The purpose of a Jew in this world is to draw close to G-d through the performance of His mitzvos and doing acts of loving-kindness for others. This means that the ideas of Torah and our own actions transcend time.

This is a mind blowing concept because we may think that there nothing more permanent than leaving this world; once you are gone, nothing remains. Just the opposite is true. As the Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers teaches, this world is only a corridor to the world-to-come!

This can have a tremendous impact on our lives because it gives us the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in this world. Our ideas, actions can influence others for good which in fact will be remembered and passed on to subsequent generations.

Whether it is a kind word to a colleague or a general positive countenance and outlook, can effect others in ways which we cannot imagine. When we say in the first paragraph of the Shema "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you are sitting at home and when you go on a journey, when you lie down and when you rise up" we are showing that our actions matter.

We teach the ideas of Torah to our kids, we speak about them and even more importantly they learn by what we do just in everyday interactions! What a tremendous responsibility a parent has to their children.

They see everything that we do and not just by what we say. They even learn from what we don't say and the body language that we give as well! If this is what we have the opportunity to do with our family, all the more so with everyone else around us! Therefore, what we do and what others see of us matters.

If on the other hand our actions are for the purpose of how much honor we can receive or how we can lie and deceive others, our actions will not have any permanent value. This makes sense because why would such a person be remembered if they are not nice to others or have big egos and think that everything is coming to them because of who they are?

The people that have real moral values and help others, these are the heroes whose character traits will remembered long after they are gone. Their influence knows no bounds and we don't even understand the ramifications our actions can have.

There is a story of an American man coming to visit Israel that illustrates this point. He went to the Western wall and he saw a young man praying at the wall. He was so enamored by this person and the way he prayed, that when he got back to the states, he wanted to donate money to a synagogue where that man would feel comfortable praying.

When he gave a substantial sum to the orthodox synagogue, the rabbi asked him why he was donating it there since he was not a member there. He told him this story of the person he had seen at the Western wall and wanted to make a sizable donation to a place this person would feel comfortable.

Imagine at the end of this person's life when he gets upstairs and is told of this American's donation to the synagogue all based on the inspiration he had while he watched him pray at the Western wall! That is the power of our actions even when we think no one is watching or that we don't contemplate on the purpose of what we do could have ramifications on others!