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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, March 26, 2015

Parshas Tzav:Enthusiasm for Keeping Torah and Mitzvos

"The fires shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out" (Leviticus 6:6)

Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe learns that to teach Torah to students one needs to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm to get the message across.  Rav Moshe cautions though that the enthusiasm and the energy is not to be mistaken for the learning itself since the learning must be done with great concentration and understanding.

The enthusiasm is only part of it; the preparation and the energy with which one gives over to the students is what will be remembered. This is also called learning Torah from the perspective of the greatness of Torah and the mitzvos but the real aspect of learning Torah is with diligence, concentration and great effort.

The reason Torah has to be learned that way is so one will not make a mistake in its teachings and be stringent when you should be lenient and lenient when you should be stringent! Although we should have great energy and enthusiasm when we learn, nonetheless we could get up in the moment and still make mistakes which is why we need to have proper concentration and diligence while learning G-d's law.

This is something that is somewhat lost today. We get caught up in the everyday of what to do and how to do it, we forget that we are serving G-d. Yes we do what we are supposed to do, keep shabbos, the holidays..but we get so bogged down on the what's and how's we sometimes forget about the enjoyment aspect of what we are doing!

We live in a world that doesn't give us much time to catch our breath as we are so busy with so many things! Nonetheless, we still have to pray, make blessings...to the best of our ability and remember that G-d still runs the world! This doesn't mean that we are robots or machines but we have to focus on what we are doing, understanding it to the best of our ability and putting it into action.

This is definitely easier said than done with the myriad of trials and tribulations that are thrown our way. We then have to pick ourselves up after adversity and continue to serve Him even if it is difficult. This is where we get the most merit i.e. when it is hard and we struggle.

We always have to keep that fire lit within ourselves, continually learning and trying to become better people. This is a lifetime of work but we start slowly building our knowledge, our observance level and then continue.

The most important thing is to have the desire to do so. This will give the impetus to continue, be consistent and incorporate the incredible teachings into our lives. This does not mean that it will be easy but we will soon see how transformed we are by keeping G-d's law!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 21: Prepare for the Big Game, Don't be a Spectator!!

"Rabbi Yaakov said: 'This world is like a vestibule before the world to come; prepare yourself in the vestibule, so that you may enter the banquet hall'".

The Talmud tells a story of how G-d goes to all the nations and asks them if they are interested in keeping the Torah. Each one asks what is written in it and each nation after hearing the answer reject the Torah. G-d comes to the Jewish people and asks them if they want the Torah and they say yes, na'aseh v'nishma (we will do and then we will hear) and they are given the Torah.

There is then a discussion that continues and concludes that one who does not prepare themselves for shabbos, don't get to eat on shabbos, which is the same idea this Mishna presents: if you don't prepare yourself in this world, then you won't be able to enjoy the next world. What exactly does this mean, since we know that every Jew, the Mishna at the beginning of every chapter of Ethics of our Fathers tells us has a portion in the world to come?

This means that whatever actions we do in this world to connect to G-d will reflect in what we merit in the next world. If we work hard in this world keeping the Torah and mitzvos then we will be rewarded accordingly; if not, then we may not even enter the banquet hall.

Even for someone that wasted their time in this world, the Talmud tells us that there is no Jew that hasn't performed mitzvos that should provide them with a place in the next world. The problem is how G-d looks at what they have done and takes into account the many transgressions that they have done. How does all this get weighed out?

Every action a person does creates an angel who will give testimony before the heavenly tribunal after they die. At that point, G-d calls all the angels to testify for what this person did in this world and then after hearing all the evidence G-d decides what should happen to this soul and where it will go.

If it needs to to be rectified because of the many transgressions it has done, it will go through a cleansing process which will allow it to be purified and take its proper position in the next world. Sometimes, that may not be enough and that soul will have to come back to this world, reincarnated to fix up what it messed up previously.

With that being said, we make the bed that we sleep in. When we get upstairs after 120 years, we will see all of our actions, thoughts...just like what someone experiences after having an out of body experience. Many say they are attracted to a great light and see their entire lives flash before them...

Some will have some merit to return to this world, others won't. At that point, we can't argue that we didn't do this or that, it has all been recorded!! Shouldn't that scare us into wanting to be better people?

It's like being at a big sporting event with bad seats. What's better, being there with a bad seat and not being able to see much or sitting at home and watching it on tv? If you are in the comfort of your own home, keep in mind that you are not at the big game, you are a bystander watching from afar. If you are sitting in bad seats, even if you can't see that much at least you are at the game!

This parable is exactly what the Mishna here means. If we want to get to the big game, we have to be players, not spectators from afar. We have to be in the game itself, if not, why should we get all the benefits if we aren't there?

We need to maximize our short time in this world and use it for holiness which will prepare us for greater things in the next world. If we don't prepare, we may get nothing which will just be wasted time in this world without any purpose whatsoever.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Parshas Vayikra: Sacrifices brings us closer to G-d

"And the L-rd called to Moshe and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting saying, Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, 'If any man of you bring an offering tot he L-rd, of the cattle shall you bring your offering, of the herd and of the flock. (Leviticus 1: 1-2).

When we read the book of Leviticus, the first thing that people have difficulty is the vast amount of verses that speak about the sacrifices and what has to be brought for what...How do we relate to this today? Do we really believe that when the Temple is built, we will go back to the sacrificial system?

The word sacrifice in Hebrew "korban" comes from the root which means to draw close. The purpose of the sacrifices were to draw a person close to G-d. When the Temple existed this was an easier thing to understand because we witnessed this with our very own eyes.

A person would bring the animal and the kohen would sacrifice it for them. It could be that the whole animal was sacrificed or part of it was and the rest went to the person that brought it but the experience was impossible to describe.

One of the things the Vilna Gaon said he wanted to see was what someone looked like before they brought the sacrifice and what they looked like afterwards! The experience had to be incredible!

When I was in South America a number of years ago, I helped out in the ritual slaughter of cows. When one of the cows was killed, I tried to imagine that I was bringing this animal as a sacrifice so I followed the whole process from beginning to end.

When I realized the magnitude of what was being done, it had a profound effect on me. No, it didn't make me want to be a vegetarian (even though I thought I would never eat meat again) but it gave me a higher awareness of what was transpiring (or potentially transpiring).

If that cow had been brought for a sin offering, then that cow was killed when really I should been the one to be killed. This idea can have a tremendous influence if we take this simple idea and apply to our lives.

Yes we are far removed from sacrifices today and for some it would seem archaic to bring back but in a spiritual world where fire comes down from heaven and consumes the animal or parts of it before our very eyes, we are not the same people as we were before we brought the animal! The animal has the power to make a tremendous sanctification of G-d's name through its sacrifice.

When the Messiah comes and rebuilds the Temple and brings back sacrificial worship, we will witness unbelievable things. It will give us a higher awareness of the world and how it is supposed to function which will bring us closer to G-d which is the point of all this!

Prayer has taken the place of sacrifices today and when sacrifices return, prayer won't cease and will continue. At the same time, it will help elevate ourselves with the sacrifices themselves.

May we merit to see the Temple rebuilt speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 20: Strive for Greatness, not Mediocrity

"Rabbi Mattithyah ben Heresh said: Meet every man with a friendly greeting; be the tail among the lions rather than the head among foxes"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that we should meet every man with a friendly greeting. This means that everyone we see and come in contact with us should be greeted with a happy face. Isn't this obvious, what is the Mishna trying to teach us here?

The only thing that we take to the next world are our actions and what we did in this world. The commentaries tell us that if we are loved by and looked up to by others, then we have accomplished a great deal in this world which is a recipe for success.

We sometimes forget that no matter what struggles or difficulties we have, others don't have suffer from our sour faces. We can overcome a lot just by attitude and how we present ourselves. If we are nice to others, then they will be nice to us and give us a good name in this world.

The next part of the Mishna teaches us the importance of growth and reaching potential. If we attach ourselves to great people, then we constantly learn from them and raise ourselves  to a higher standard.

If on the other hand, we rest on our laurels and associate with people that don't have the same goals or desires, then we stagnate our spiritual growth. This doesn't mean if a person has the ability to teach others who are not on their level, that they should necessarily worry that this will stunt their spiritual growth.

If they are bringing others closer to Torah, then they themselves will be growing as well as the Talmud tells us that a teacher learns more from his students. It doesn't mean he has to reach the level of his students but if he learns from great people, he will then be better able to influence those less learned.

We many times have an ego issue where we would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. If we are the big fish so-to-speak, we won't have to work as hard and can give over things without that much difficulty.

If on the other hand we have others that push us to our limit and demand a higher standard for ourselves, better to be that small fish where you can grow and learn from these great people. The ability to do this shows a tremendous amount of humility knowing that they are much less learned than their counterparts but at the same time the knowledge and spiritual growth that they are able to envelop helps them influence better those that know less than them.

This is an important idea in education and in life and in business. If we can learn from others that have better skills than us and know things better, aren't we going to gain by having a connection to them? Won't they give us tools that will allow us to grow and help others as well?

If we think big, we may not end up big but we won't be small; if we think small, we end up small. This means that we have to have dreams and visions and want to become the best people we can be. We can expedite this by talking and learning from people that have insight and greater knowledge that can help us in our endeavors.

If we look beyond ourselves and our own egos, we have much to gain and higher levels to go. Otherwise we could be influenced by others who stagnate our growth which will inhibit us from reaching our potential!
Thursday, March 12, 2015

Parshas Vayakhel - Pekudei: Preparation in the Performance of Mitzvos

"The men came with the women; everyone whose heart motivated him brought bracelets, nose-rings, rings, body ornaments - all sorts of gold ornaments - every man who raised up an offering of gold to Hashem." (Exodus 35:22)

Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe asks what the purpose is of all the bracelets and jewelry that the women gave? The purpose of this is to teach us that G-d not only wants man to give things that are important in his eyes like gold, silver and the like but even if they are important in his eyes, they have to know that the mishkan is even more important and special.

Each mitzvah that we do is special! Even though we have to work to make a living, we have to realize that learning Torah doing the mitzvos is even more important. This is the lesson the Toah here wants to convey.

We are teaching the women that yes jewelry is important and serves a purpose but the ultimate purpose of what we are doing in this world is perfecting ourselves through learning Torah! We take each mitzvah as it comes and prepare ourselves at least a little bit before we do it.

That is why it is so important for example before we eat to concentrate a little bit (no kabbalistic intention here) on what we are doing before we make the blessing instead of just throwing the blessing out there and putting the food down our throats! Imagine if we really understood that when we eat something we are giving the opportunity for the blessing to come down for that species of food!

The problem is that we don't live like that or look at the world like that. We make the blessing quickly and eat; we pray fast and don't understand what we are saying. These are real issues that we must take seriously so we can bring the world to where it needs to be!

If a person has to work to support their family then it is there obligation when they are not working to learn as much Torah as they can. Yes they should help out at home and have other obligations but the reality is that working and earning a living exempts a person from learning Torah at that time. What about the time that the person is free?

Regardless if the wife has had a hard time, she should be sending her husband out to learn. They will have to make quality time together and he will have to make an effort to connect with his kids, but isn't that the correct Torah philosophy?

We can't give Torah lip service and make excuses why we don't live up to the Torah's ideals, we have to act, learn and prepare ourselves. Torah is an all inclusive lifestyle that teaches us how we should behave and act. It is our duty to do just that!

When we live by the Torah's ideals, others will see it and want to be a part of it. They will exclaim how great this person is and how fortunate they are that their father taught them Torah. A little bit of preparation will bring the world to its proper redemption, may it happen speedily in our days!

Shabbat Shalom

Chapter 4: Mishna 19: Don't let this world fool you

"Rabbi Yannai said: It is not in our power to explain why the wicked are at ease, or why the righteous suffer"

This is the age-old question of why evil people seem to have it easy and the righteous suffer. This world is a world of falsehood because we see many things that don't make any sense to us.

Someone who spends their lives learning Torah and integrating its ideals in their lives, why should they have it so hard in this world? If after all, if they are doing their best to serve G-d, then they should have abundance in their world so they can devote their time to learning! Unfortunately we see them suffer and have a hard time!

One reason that the righteous suffer is because G-d wants to give them greater reward in the next world. If they have suffering in this world then they get atonement for whatever transgressions they may have done and go to the next world with a clean slate ready to get the just reward they deserve.

At the same time, the evil ones seem to have it easy in this world without worries. The reason for this is that they are essentially receiving their reward from the next world in this world. That means for whatever mitzvos they did in this world, they will get the reward now and not have a portion in the world-to-come.

This is because a person has to earn a portion in the world-to-come. The Talmud tells us if you didn't prepare yourself spiritually in this world then there will be no opportunity to have the next world.

Even though the Mishna at the beginning of every chapter of Ethics of our Fathers starts out by saying that every Jew has a portion in the world-to-come, nonetheless there are things a person could do to lose it! One thing that we have to keep in mind is that it is not in our power to explain this.

We have to realize that G-d runs the world and gives each person their trials and tribulations to help them reach their true potential. Some have it easier, some harder, each one according to what spiritual goals they can reach. They help us grow and strengthen ourselves.

We may question things as not being fair because of our own struggles and others who seem to have it easy. We have to realize though at the end of our lives we will have to give an accounting for what we did in this world.

We can't worry about why someone else may have had it easier or anything else but we will have to answer for what we have done! As we see from the end of the book of Job, we can't understand what goes in this world.

G-d takes care of nature at every second of every day taking care of its needs to make sure that things run properly. We can't even imagine everything that goes into that! So too, how can we begin to imagine what goes on here with regards to how things appear!

This world is like a mirage. We have to navigate ourselves through it but through the blueprint which He gave us. This is indeed a formidable challenge which we have to constantly work on to strengthen.
Thursday, March 5, 2015

Parshs Ki Sisa: Remember the purpose of why we were created

 "Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: 'When you take a census of the children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them. This shall they give everyone who passes through the census a half shekel of the sacred shekel the shekel is twenty geras, half a shekel as a portion to Hashem.'" (Exodus 30: 11-13).

Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe asks that the mitzvah of the half shekel was not given dependent on the counting of the Jewish people because there was no mitzvah to count the Jewish people until they were in the desert and the mitzvah of the half shekel was an obligation to be given even without a census! Not only that, it was forbidden to count the Jewish people not specifically with a half shekel but with anything even with pottery shards as we saw by king Saul (1 Samuel 11:8). Another question that Rav Moshe asks is that twice in the desert there needed to be the half shekel given and the language of taking a census is not used.

The explanation Rav Moshe tells us is that the Torah wants man to learn it and keep its laws and should have humility in doing so and not think that they have done some great thing but that is what they have been created to do. Rather we should look at the Torah and its mitzvos as something I am obligated to do and not something that if I do it, I should be looking for great honor and accolades.

This is the humility of Moshe that even though he knew he was the master of all the prophets, nonetheless the Torah tells us that he was the humblest of all men! This is the mistake people make when they claim that the Torah is racist by calling the Jewish people "the chosen nation". Does that mean that Jews are better than non-Jews?

No. It means that we have a special obligation to our Creator who chose us to accept His Torah and we chose Him! The main difference between Jews and non-Jews is that we were given the Torah and have more obligations to do in this world. If we do what we are supposed to do, then we are truly a special people but if not, we are still chosen just not living up to the standards that we need to.

This should not put a chip on our shoulders thinking we are better because if we snub our noses to the important teachings of the Torah, then we are no "better" than anyone else. Torah changes a person to those that exemplify its teachings and lives by them.

This is the message that Rav Moshe is teaching us. We have to see the teachings of the Torah as eternal and do our best to live to its high standards. Even if we do and we learn a lot, keep the mitzvos and transform our lives to become better people, it does not give us bragging rights or desire for honor for what we are doing; this is what we were created to do!

The Jewish people is not a social club, i.e. I was born into this particular group so it is like a clique to be part of. Just the opposite! If a person was born into it or chooses it for themselves through conversion, it is a privilege to be part of it only if we live by its laws.

Changing a person for the better and developing spiritually and learning a lot is a great thing but it does not give us the right to be haughty from it and think that we are so great. We have to learn proper humility and remember what we were created for!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers; Chapter 4 Mishna 18; Adherence to Torah and Rabbinical Authority

"Rabbi Nehorai said: 'Go as a voluntary exile to a place of Torah, and do not say that the Torah will seek after you, for it is your fellow students who will make it your permanent possession; and do not rely on your own understanding.'"

The Mishna explains that if there are no rabbinic scholars or proper Torah institutions where you live then you have to put yourself in "exile" and go to a place where there are. The reason for this is because if one wants to truly keep the Torah and its mitzvos, you have to be in a place that is conducive for that.

The Rambam in the laws of repentance tells us that one of the things that stops a person from proper repentance is if they separate themselves from the community. A person cannot live on their own island so-to-speak and think that they can keep Torah by themselves.

This is why it is so important for proper converts to Judaism to live in a thriving Jewish community.
This means that there have to be Jewish schools for children to go to and orthodox synagogues for one to pray in. If a person lived in a small community with just one orthodox synagogue and no schools, under most circumstances they would have to move to a bigger Jewish community to be able to convert.

The reason is that the potential convert will see how Jews who adhere to Torah live their lives and put into practice what they learn. Although a person can learn a lot on their own, there is nothing like seeing it in action. Not only that but no matter how learned a person may be, unless that person lives in the Jewish community, no beis din (rabbinical court) will convert you.

 The last part of the Mishna explains that a person cannot rely on their own understanding. This means that a person shouldn't rely on their own logic or how they seem to understand things unless they get the advice from other rabbinical authorities. This is extremely important in having a proper mentor that can guide a person and give them proper advice in their growth in spirituality.

The Talmud tells us a spiritual mentor is someone whom we look at as an angel; if we don't see them that way, then we can't learn Torah from them. This does not mean that people are perfect; far from it but we want to learn from people that exemplify the Torah and its eternal message.

Getting their much needed advice and strength changes and transforms a person's life for them and their family. They have to be willing though to nullify themselves to someone greater than them in learning which will lead to tremendous growth and inspiration,

I have had the good fortune to be around such people for the last 20 years and the influence that they have had on me and my family is priceless. I certainly wouldn't be half the person I am without that and the most important thing is that when they gave me advice I listened (usually).

Adherence to Jewish law and its myriad of customs is not an easy thing but it is a way of life that has tremendous meaning if we do what we are supposed to do. Sometimes we get caught up in the details and miss the beauty of what we are trying to accomplish. May we all merit to live a Torah life and make G-d proud of all our actions!


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Purim: Are we the Masks that we put on?

As Purim has finally arrived, we have to utilize it to the best of our ability. It is a crazy day of running around, giving our friends mishloach manos (gifts of food), giving charity and tapping into our spiritual reservoir during our festive Purim meal.

We sometimes get carried away with the craziness of the day and miss a golden opportunity to pray for whatever we need. We use the physical world and its attributes to delve closer into the spiritual.

The real test of a person is to see how they use this world for spiritual things. This is why Purim is compared to Yom Kippur even though they seem like polar opposites. Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, soul searching and wanting to change while Purim is a day of feasting, drinking and merry making!

If that is the case, how can we even compare the two? Purim in essence can be like Yom Kippur if we use the day properly. Even though we feast and have fun, the essence of the holiday is to remember the almost destruction that befell the Jewish people and how G-d saved us.

Even though G-d's name is not mentioned in the entire megillah, we see time and again as the story unfolds how G-d has orchestrated everything! Esther "somehow" gets picked to be the queen, Haman rushes to see the king to have Mordechai killed and has to parade him around for saving the king's life.which ultimately leads to his downfall...and many other things as well.

Each one is integral to Haman's downfall and he even dies by his own motto. Amalek, who Haman is an offshoot of, does not believe in the supernatural and when he is pinned down by angels on Esther's bed, the king could not believe that he would try and conquer his wife right in front of him.

What could Haman say? He was pinned down by angels and couldn't move? Achashverosh would have laughed at him because Amalek doesn't believe in angels!! So we see that Haman cannot even save himself!

Another thing we have to keep in mind is all the goodness that G-d has bestowed upon this. This is the reason on this day we give more money to charity than food gifts. Although there is an obligation to give these food gifts to our friends, we should spend more money on giving to the poor and help make them happy.

This accomplished two things. One is that we help another person and second is that we realize how much G-d has given us and appreciate things even more! This allows to have gratitude to the one above while at the same time helping others.

During the day as the music blasts, we watch others including ourselves act in a way which we normally wouldn't during the year. This allows us to put on masks, disguise ourselves but really truly see our inner selves as who we really are.

When a person drinks, he has less inhibitions and the essence of a person comes out. If what comes out are truly inspiring words of Torah and wanting to draw close to G-d, then that person has successfully integrated what he learns into their everyday life.

Have a happy and meaningful Purim!!!!!!!!!!!