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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, April 30, 2015

Parshas Emor: Don't let your guard down!

"And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not suffer the hair of his head to grow long, nor rend his clothes neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father or for his mother; neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his G-d; for the crown of the anointing oil of his G-d is upon him" (Leviticus 21: 10-11).

If a member of the high priest's family died whom he was obligated to mourn for (a father, mother, sister, brother or G-d forbid a child), he is not allowed to come in contact with the dead body or even leave the sanctuary to go the funeral. This may seem a bit strange because why should that be? Shouldn't they be allowed to mourn their families like everyone else?

The high priest and the priesthood in general are not like everyone else! They have a specific purpose in serving in the Temple and teaching Torah to the masses. This being the case, their purpose and function is different than others. Their tribe has been chosen for this and they therefore have to guard the holiness of their position.

 This means that although the high priest has an obligation to mourn like everyone else, nonetheless, he is not allowed to leave the hallowed sanctuary to partake in the funeral. Kohanim in general are not allowed to go to funerals or come in contact with dead bodies.

Even though today there is no way to purify ourselves like in the time when the Temple existed, nonetheless they are not allowed to add to the impurity that everyone has today. This teaches us that even though we are on a lower level than our predecessors, nonetheless since the Temple is destroyed and the kohanim practically speaking have lost their "jobs" and can't serve there, they are still not allowed to purposely defile themselves when coming into contact with a dead body!

They are also not allowed to just marry anyone either as the Torah proscribes. Kohanim are held to a higher standard as the Torah tells and have to uphold their holy lifestyle as the teachers of the Jewish people.

They are not allowed to rest on their laurels, so-to-speak but must continue to live according to the ideals the Torah set out even if the Temple has been destroyed. Living in this world then gives them and all of us the ability to be close to G-d, fulfilling His will.

We try to the best of our ability to reach high spiritual levels and not defile ourselves with things that will make us impure. Even if we are unable to purify ourselves as during the time when the Temple existed, it doesn't give us the right to spiritually pollute our souls and add to it.

Day in and day out, we can sometimes get into a rut and be put on automatic pilot when performing the mitzvos. We have to be careful as we say everyday in our prayers that we should look at the world being renewed every day. This means that we look at each day as if it were a new day, being able to accept the Torah anew and continue to serve Him properly.

May we all merit to continue to grow in Torah and mitzvos and see Moshiach speedily in our days!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 24: Our enemies fall, can I throw a party?

Shmuel Ha'katan says, 'When your enemy falls do not be glad, and when he stumbles let your heart not be joyous. Lest Hashem see and it displeases Him, and He will turn his wrath from him (to you)'". 

What is Shmuel Ha'katan teaching us here? Can he really mean that when our enemies fall or stumble we are not allowed to be happy? We would think just the opposite that it would be a mitzvah to see the downfall of our enemies?

The question here is why is the person happy at the fall or stumbling of his enemy? Is it because he feels that the person deserves this punishment and therefore measure for measure he is being punished by G-d or is it because he really hates this person and is happy that they are getting their just deserts! The issue with this is that it is forbidden to hate a person in your heart!

Rabbenu Yonah explains that although this enemy has fallen, even if they are truly evil they are still part of G-d's creation.. If we see their downfall as a way to sanctify G-d
's name and bring about the honor to His kingdom, then that is permissible.

It would also be permissible if we are happy that G-d has meted out justice. This means that although we are not allowed to be happy at their downfall, this is not what gives us satisfaction. The pleasure that we get from this is because judgment has been enacted and we have in fact been saved from possible destruction.

Philosophically this is a difficult thing to understand because we should be allowed to have joy when our enemies fall. The Mishna here goes even further that if act happy in a way that we are not supposed to like in this case, not only does it displease G-d but He will turn His wrath to you instead of the enemy! Why should that be?

The reason is because your character traits are a bit warped. This means that since our intention here was not for the sake of heaven but you were happy that the enemy has fallen, it shows a lack of compassion for G-d's creation.

Since you weren't happy that justice was meted out and got pleasure from seeing their destruction because of your hatred for them, G-d will then turn His wrath against you! If we would have realized how bad my intention here is then G-d would not have to do this.

This teaches us a tremendous lesson. Even if we have the right to hate someone or their actions, nonetheless when something bad happens to them, we can't just start whistling Dixie and throwing a party! We have to remember that although what they did was wrong and they were deserving of punishment, it doesn't give us the right to be mean and still not show compassion.

G-d does not want to have to do what He did, but the enemy is deserving of punishment and therefore must be dealt with appropriately. Nonetheless, life is lost and people suffer, maybe they are deserving of it, but that is not the character trait G-d wants us to embellish. We still have to remember that even if that person should die because of their bad actions, life has been lost and we should not take that lightly!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim: Hate the Action not the Person!

"You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you should rebuke your neighbor and not suffer the sin on his account" (Leviticus 19:17).

If someone wronged us in any way, doesn't it give us the right to hate them and want to stay away from them? How can the Torah command us to do something which essentially goes against our very nature? After all, doesn't king Solomon in Ecclesiastes tell us that there is a time to love and a time to hate? What exactly was he speaking about?

The commentaries tell us that we don't have to take unnecessary punishment from someone. If we are mistreated then we don't we have the right to be angry and be upset with this person and hate them? This is what G-d wants to uproot from us, this hatred in our heart while at the same time guarding ourselves from this person.

In essence we can hate the act, just not the person! This is easier said than done!! We have every right to be upset, appalled at what this person has done. G-d wants us, though to differentiate between the person and the act itself!

We all mistakes and certainly have to take responsibility for our actions. We would like others to have compassion for us so we certainly should have compassion for them. Even if someone has done something to hurt us, we are not condoning it but rather have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

We have to try and put ourselves in their shoes, thereby creating more compassion for them which will in turn alleviate some of the pain that was caused. Theory definitely works more than reality but this is what we are supposed to do to the best of our ability.

The end of the verse speaks about the importance of rebuke. We have an obligation to rebuke someone if we see them doing something wrong. What if they won't listen? At the very least maybe something should be said to show that you disagree with their behavior?

Many rabbinic authorities hold that although that may be true we don't know how to give rebuke today and will often make the situation worse. At the same time for ourselves we have to make some sort of rebuke to show that we are not held accountable for what someone else has done.

This means if I don't make some sort of protest even for myself it may be that we are showing we agree with this behavior and therefore will be held accountable for what they have done! We often here the expression live and let live, I'm ok, your ok... Basically this means that we shouldn't interfere with what others do and leave well enough alone.

This has no place in Torah because after all we believe there is right and wrong; standing idly by is not an option! We see from this verse the importance of self-esteem while at the same time showing emotional self-control. We also see the scope of how another person's actions even if we are not doing it but standing idly by is as if we consent!

May we have the power to control our emotions be spiritually aware of things around us!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: Mishna 23: Know when to Speak!

"Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says, 'Do not appease your fellow in the time of his anger; do not console him when his dead lies before him; do not question him about his vow at the time he makes it; and do not see him at the time of his degradation'".

 The first part of the Mishna tells us that we shouldn't try and appease our friend when he is angry. The commentators explain that the reason is when a person is angry they lose themselves and don't think rationally and will often berate the person who is trying to help them. It is certainly better to wait for the anger to subside than trying to speak to the person at that time.

 When a person is angry, the Talmud tells us even if they were standing over the pit of gehinom (hell) they would not be moved to repent or let the anger go. We lose ourselves in the moment and no matter what anyone will tell us (within reason) we will not listen or even entertain the advice they are trying to give us.

This is similar to trying to console someone when their dead is in front of them. Since this a very highly charged time, it is better to console them during the mourning period. This is in fact the mitzvah of consoling mourners that we go to their homes and help console them for their loss.

What we would tell them at the funeral is of no consequence because of the pain that they are feeling at that time. The best we can do is give them a hug, a consoling show that you care. This is certainly better than any words a person can say!

We cannot also try and question a person at the time they make a vow. Sometimes a vow is made in frustration or anger but if we try and find a way to annul it while they are making it, we would best use our energy for something else.

There is a disagreement the Talmud discusses whether it is better to make a vow and uphold it or not to make a vow at all. At the end of the discussion the Talmud concludes that is better to not have made the vow. Certainly though if someone made the vow, that is not the time to try and convince them why they should not have done it.

It is better to wait rather than try and convince someone at the height of what they are doing. They certainly won't listen and will be offended at your overtures.

The last part of the Mishna tells us that we should not see a person at his time of degradation. When a person embarrasses themselves or does something wrong, we shouldn't be there to watch and enjoy. Very often these things can happen right in front of us, but if we stay there and gawk, it embarrasses the person even further.

We learn from here how careful a person must be in their interactions with others. We have to know when it is ok to speak and when it is better to not say anything. Unfortunately we often act without thinking and although we think we are helping out, in reality we are causing the other pain.

We must be careful at times of great emotion where someone is either angry or lost a dear one to step back and not say anything until the anger or hurt subsides. We will cause more damage than it is worth if we try and answer during these trying time!

May G-d gives us the strength to know when to speak and give the right words to the person at the appropriate time!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Parshas Thazria/Metzorah: Our actions can cause us to be sick

"Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon saying: 'If a person will have on the skin of his flesh a s'eis or a sapachas, or a baheres and it will become a tzaraas affliction on the skin of his flesh; he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen or to one of his sons the kohanim" (Leviticus 13:1 - 2)

Why is it so important that if one has affliction it should be shown to a kohen? Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe explains that the Temple itself was not the only place where we would have a connection to a kohen but anything that we see that has a connection to life will show us this special relationship. How can we explain this?

Even sickness and tzaaras as explained in this verse are only caused by our transgressions. We believe there are no chance happenings in the world and everything is dictated from above even to the minutest of details! The Torah permits a person to go to a doctor because maybe a person won't do proper repentance for G-d to heal them, nonetheless the essence of why things happen to us is because of our bad actions.

G-d then gives us different trials and tribulations to wake us up to repent. In this case if we do proper repentance then we go to the kohen who can take away this affliction. The way this works is that we change our ways and through that the kohen has the ability to take away the affliction.

The question we need to ask ourselves is wouldn't it be better for a person to not receive sickness or any other malady, live their lives properly and serve G-d the way He need to be worshiped? The answer is that there are reactions to our actions. If we pollute the spiritual world (not to mention the physical world) by our terrible deeds, we need to be shocked so-to-speak to change us for the better.

We certainly grow by these situations and they help us become the great people we strive to be. At the same time, we pray everyday that we should not have these trials nor do we want them; but we don't grow without them, so we are stuck in a catch-22!!

G-d is not standing over us waiting to exact punishment and zap us; He wants to truly do the right thing and give us our just reward. The problem comes when we veer off the beaten track and cause damage to ourselves and the world at large. For this, G-d has to take action and redirect us to the proper path.

Just like a doctor may give a patient bitter medicine, they will be healed by whatever malady they have by taking it.Although it is a bitter pill to swallow (no pun intended) nonetheless it saves our lives and allows us to continue to do our work here!

When we someone sick or suffering it is very hard for us to look at it and say that it is there sins that have caused this. Everyone goes through difficult times in their lives and G-d gives everyone exactly what they need to overcome whatever situation they go through. When the body is sick it corresponds to spiritual sickness as well.

We certainly don't want to see anyone sick and suffering. When we hear about these things and we thank G-d are healthy and functioning fine, we shouldn't take it for granted! We sometimes only realize what we have until we don't have it anymore.

Let us always be thankful for what G-d has given us and make the most of our opportunity while we are still here!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 22:The Awesomeness of the World to Come

"He used to say: Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the entire life of the world to come; and better one hour of spiritual bliss in the world to come than the entire life of this world"

In order to understand what the Mishna is telling us we have to first understand the purpose of a person in this world. Man is an intricate being that has a physical body and a spiritual soul. Onkelos (the Aramaic commentary on the Torah) explains when G-d breathes in the spirit of life to a person, he gives them the ability to discern, reason and make decisions based on their intellect.

There is an ongoing struggle Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato explains in Derech Hashem (The Way of G-d) between the body and soul throughout a person's life. The body wants the person to enjoy and have great benefit from things in this world whereas the soul wants to tap into spirituality and do G-d's will.

When the body succeeds it debases itself as well as the soul; when the soul succeeds, the body and soul are both elevated. G-d in essence puts us in this world with free will to make decisions and do things; some will be seen as good in His eyes, some not.

At the end of a person's life, the soul will come before the heavenly court and G-d will summon all the angels that were created from a person's actions. These angels will give testimony to what the person did in this world. G-d will then judge that soul for the good it did and past imperfections and give it it's proper place in the next world, if the soul is deserving.

With that brief introduction we can now try and make sense of this Mishna. Although we will get rewarded for our actions in the next world, the Mishna here says that it better to have one hour of repentance and good deeds than all the spiritual bliss of the next world. What exactly does this mean? After all, if spiritual bliss and basking in G-d's glory is what we are striving for in eternity, then why is repentance and good deeds in this world seemingly better than that?

This world is a world of falsehood and temptations can steer a person off course for what their true purpose is in this world. At the same time, if we do what we are supposed to do in G-d's eyes even if that means we repent for past misdeeds, that is better than anything in the next world. The reason is because we have broken the barrier of physicality by elevating ourselves through the performance of mitzvos.

This has made us better people and helped us in our quest for spiritual perfection. This is G-d's eyes is seen as even more important than all of the next world. A human being working on themselves constantly, not giving up when they make mistakes, trying to strive for loftier goals is an incredible thing!

Although we may fail, we continue to develop our connection to Him through the performing of mitzvos and tuning into His world. Make no mistake though, the next world is the ultimate of what we are striving for, to receive the reward for our actions here in this world.  We can't imagine what this is but at the same time the commentaries tell us what an unbelievable experience it will be which will surpass any enjoyment of this world.

Didn't the Mishna though say that mitzvos and repentance in this world is better than the world to come? Even if we cannot fathom the greatness of what the world to come is if we merit it, nonetheless taking the physical of this world and sanctifying it and trying to make ourselves better people is even greater than that!

No one knows what their true potential is but we only have a short time in this world. We need to take advantage of that by polishing the diamonds (our souls) and when the time comes, to give it back to our Creator as He has given it to us!!!
Friday, April 3, 2015

Passover: Belief in G-d is a Mitzvah

Passover is finally upon us! All the cleaning is done, we have turned over our kitchens for only Passover and we get ready for the all important seder!! The seder should be said in an uplifting way that should make a strong impression on us and last throughout the year.

The purpose of the seder is to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt and instill in us the idea that G-d interferes and plays a role in history. As the first of the Ten Commandments tells us we know  G-d exists because He took us out of Egypt! The mitzvah to believe in G-d comes from this command but the belief in G-d is through knowledge, not just a flippant "I believe" based on nothing.

The Rambam tells us that we don't just have to see ourselves as if we came out of Egypt but we have to demonstrate this. How do we do this? By reciting the Haggadah, drinking the four cups of wine, eating matzah... Even that is not enough if we give the words lip service without delving into what they mean!

it is such an unbelievable opportunity that we should not waste! The more we delve into the miracles of the plagues and drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds, the more we see G-d's hand in history! As the Haggadah tells us, even if we were all wise, we still have to tell over the story.

The reason is that when we give over these ideas and really think about what we are doing, we strengthen ourselves in belief in Him which will strengthen us during the entire year. Even though there is an obligation to remember the exodus of Egypt twice a day, we have such an opportunity on these nights to absorb this important message.

Even if a person was alone they would tell the story to themselves, delving into the intricacies of the exodus and the miracles that G-d has done for us. This is how important these nights are for us!

Another idea to keep in mind as the Haggadah tells us is that had G-d not taken us out, we would still be there. This is incredulous because the ruling power in every nation has power for a certain amount of time but then it eventually ends either through military takeover or through elections.. If that is true, could it possibly be true that the Jewish people would never have escaped?

The commentaries tell us that according to nature it could not have happened. When G-d tells Moshe to go to Egypt and take the Jewish people out, he refuses. One of the reasons he does not want to go is because when he looks up to heaven, he sees an angel of G-d and an angel of Egypt (each nation has their own guardian angel) intertwined like a double helix and understood that the Jewish people would never be allowed to leave.

G-d tells him that in essence that may be true but since G-d can do anything, He will take the Jewish people out from Egypt through miracles that are above nature. As we go through the plagues, we realize just how true that is!

At the same time, the Haggadah tells us that only G-d did this, not through an angel, intermediary..i.e. to show G-d's power and demonstrate that the world power at that time was utterly destroyed throught the miraculous plagues that G-d brought about against the mighty Egyptians.;

If we look at history, the Jewish people have survived against the natural world. As they have been dispersed without their own land for thousands of years, it is nothing short of unbelievable how they have survived! We have been exiled, gassed, had pogroms against us..and still the Jewish people continue to survive.

They survived through belief in G-d and His Torah and continue to thrive. May we take these timely messages and let them infuse in us belief in Him that will lead to the Messiah coming speedily in our days!!

May each and every one of us have a enjoyable and meaningful Passover.