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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, May 28, 2015

Parshas Naso: Curbing our Desires: Good Idea or not?

"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, When either a man or woman shall pronounce a special vow of a Nazir to separate themselves to the L-rd" (Numbers 6: 1-2).

The Talmud asks whether it is a good thing to make vow and adhere to it or better not to have made the vow at all? We would think that it is a good thing to make the vow and adhere to it but in reality it is better not to have made the vow in the first place. The reason is that a person may make the vow but for whatever reason they are not able to keep it and will therefore need this vow to be nullified. What is the problem here?

If a person becomes a Nazirite then they are separating themselves from any product that comes from grapes ie wine, grape juice and that they will not come in contact with any dead body or cut their hair, depending how long the vow is. It definitely seems meritorious to refrain from doing these things but didn't G-d put you in this world to enjoy it? If that's true, then why are we all of a sudden becoming aesthetic and separating ourselves from things that are permissible to us?

This is exactly the disagreement that the Talmud is talking about. One opinion is that it is fine to make a vow and adhere to it because they are saying what they are going to do and doing what they are saying. They in essence are not causing themselves a stumbling block because they are fulfilling the words that they have spoken.

The flip side is that a person should not be forbidding things that are permissible to themselves lest they not be able to keep their promise! This is a real danger because there are a number of things that could come up that would lead someone to break their vow. This is why it is better to not make the vow at all so you don't have this issue!

This also leads to the fundamental question of how we look at this world. Do we look at it as inherently evil and everything is bad but I have to live here anyway even if it is bad or do we see it a place where we can grow and become more spiritual? The difference between these two philosophies is enormous.

If we look at the world as inherently evil then no matter what I do does not matter in the bigger scheme of things because of the how everything is set up. In essence my actions don't matter in a lawless G-dless world so therefore I might as well enjoy this world and do whatever I want without any repercussions!

If we look at the world though as a place of growth and a person is stuck here, then we have to make the most of it and try and become the best people we can. One way to do that is trying to reach higher levels by even forbidding things that are permissible. This gives us a higher awareness, making us ever more careful in our actions and how we interact with others.

This can be an amazing thing; we curb our appetites and don't eat that extra piece of cake or indulge in other things because we want to work on controlling our desires. We are not talking about suppressing them but controlling them in an way that has a positive and not negative effect on us!

May we merit to enjoy this world the way G-d wants and reach our potential as we go in the ways of the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: Mishna 28: Three things that could literally kill you

"Rabbi Elazar ha'Kappar said, "Envy, lust and honor shorten a man's life'".

These three bad character traits Rabbi Elazar tells us can shorten a man's life. Why specifically these three and no others? After all, there are other bad traits a person can have that could also shorten their lives!

The simple explanation many commentators bring is that we learn out from different verses of the Torah for each trait that specifically state that it will shorten a man's life. Even though we can explain this as a direct command from G-d that this will happen, what is the deeper meaning to this?

Envy is something that consumes a person and never gives them any rest. If a person is jealous of someone else for either what they know, how they look, how much money they make, their can literally destroy them. The reason is that they are consumed by their "lack" of whatever they don't have or they think they deserve that they will do anything to achieve it! Even if that is true, how does it shorten a person's life?

Shortening a person's life either means that it will have such a negative effect on them that it effects their health and literally kills them or it can mean that it can take them out of this world leaving them with no portion in the world to come. This means that they have succumbed to this character trait to the extent that it has caused them to forfeit their portion in the next world.

Envy on the other had can be also used for good things. A person can be jealous of someone else's Torah knowledge and desire and strive that much harder to reach their true potential. That type of envy is ok because it will lead to greater knowledge and character development while trying to become closer to G-d!

The second thing Rabbi Elazar tells is that a person should stay away from lust or desire. Desire is something that the yetzer harah (evil inclination) gives us to satisfy or let us think we need to satisfy our needs. Most likely, when a person acts on these desires (which burn inside themselves) it causes them spiritual damage. This means that it gives the body satisfaction which it will continue to seek.

Desire or lust in this case is something looked at in a negative light. It is something that will lead a person astray and cause them to distance themselves from their Creator! At the same time, many will claim that these desires are normal and that we should experience different things because after all, we are part of the physical world and G-d certainly wants us to benefit from it and enjoy it!

This fallacy causes more destruction than it is worth! We have to live in the physical world, that is where we have been placed to reach our spiritual perfection but that does not mean a person should give in to every desire because they have the right to get benefit from this world! We are put here to work on our character traits and harness them.

Yes it is permissible to eat and drink but that doesn't mean we should be a glutton and abuse it. We have to use things in this world to the best of our ability without corrupting ourselves at the same time. This may seem like we are always walking a thin line but nonetheless we have to be careful.

The last thing Rabbi Elazar tells us is that we have to be careful with honor. Although every person needs to have some level of self-esteem, honor can cause false pride and make a person think they are something that they are not. They have to realize that even if they do receive honor, it should be looked at as G-d helping them in their endeavors and make them humble.

The problem is that honor brings conceit which certainly can harm a person as by the way they are seen by their peers. A person should run far away from trying to receive honor because of the negative effect it can have on a person.

A person will look at themselves differently and will think that they don't need anyone else or G-d for that manner which will make them into a heretic. A person has to know their self-worth but also have a tremendous amount of humility. When we are humble, we can appreciate all the G-d does for us which will be an inspiration to us to continue and strive to do His will which will have a positive effect on others.
Thursday, May 21, 2015

Parshas Bamidbar: We are all Important!

"Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Yisrael, after their families, by the houses of their fathers, by the number of names, every male by their polls" (Numbers 1:2)

The word used here "to take the sum" is a language of honor and exaltedness. Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlit"a in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that the Jewish people are the chosen nation among the nations and G-d and as such, G-d deals with them differently than the other nations.

When the Jewish people do what G-d wants them to do then the chesed that He does with them is unbelievable. If we don't do what He wants, then we can be severely punished as we have seen throughout the millennia. This is what the verse here refers to that the Divine providence for His holy nation is radically different than the other nations.

We have seen this throughout Jewish history just how far this goes that a nation without their own homeland for thousands of years, dispersed amongst the nations have someone still survived; a historical enigma!! Not only that, but the holy land has been fought over for thousands of years by crusaders and the like but miraculously the famed outer wall of the Temple is still intact!

The Midrash shows us how important the Jewish nation is to G-d because G-d counts them 4 times as we see in the book of Numbers! He also count each camp as well. We can compare this to a person who counts money; regardless of how much they have, they carefully count it to see how much they have, all the more so, G-d showing his love for the Jewish people by counting them one by one!

Each person has their own potential and significance; each one with their own special purpose and uniqueness. We all have the ability to reach high spiritual levels as well as G-d forbid, falling all the way to the mud, nothing in between.

Either we are going up or down spiritually; if we are stagnant that is akin to death! We are constantly moving in this world and the more spiritual things we do, the more our body and soul are illuminated; the more physical and negative things we do, the more our soul and body are debased!

This teaches us an important lesson. We have to realize our importance in the world and how our actions matter. We see by the story of the book of Ruth that Ruth clings to Naomi and from here comes king David while Orpah goes her own way and from her comes Goliath. It is no coincidence that the one who clings to Naomi is the one that defeats Goaliath another way to show that what we do, has ramifications for future generations!

Let us all realize the importance of what we do and what we hope to accomplish while making our Creator happy and pleasing Him.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 27: Respect the older generations and know your place!

"Rabbi Meir said, 'Do not look at the flask but at what it contains: a new flask may be filled with old wine and old flask may be empty even of new wine (a man's age is not a reliable index to his learning)'. 

The importance of old wine will not get ruined in a new flask, so too if young people become wise from learning from older established scholars then people would learn from these young whipper snappers first! Rabbenu Yonah explains this is the difference in approach between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Rosi ben Yehudah since Rabbi Yosi explained that we should learn from rabbinical scholars that are older because of their knowledge, life experience and their ability to give over their wisdom to others.

Rabbi Meir, on the other hand held that we shouldn't go after the majority when it comes to gaining wisdom. The reason is because we may find young people who are wise and have vast knowledge that they can transmit  to others and therefore it would be better to learn from them as long as they meet that criteria. What is the difference in approach here and what are we supposed to gain from it?

As in the previous Mishna, we discussed the importance of learning from older people and the importance of gaining from their vast experience and life experience. This still holds true and there is nothing that can compensate for that. At the same time, if there are young scholars, although lacking more life experience but have acquired wisdom and an ability to others should not disqualify from learning from them just because they are young.

There is a certain freshness that comes with younger rabbinic scholars; a new energy that invigorates both the old and young! If they have the ability to give over to others and inspire the masses, then all the more so one should listen to them and gain from their teachings!

The thing that we have to be careful for is that these young scholars have to realize their place in the bigger picture. Although they have amassed great knowledge, they still have to respect the older generation and seek out their opinions. They cannot look at themselves as equals even if they are scholars.

That is why it is forbidden for younger generation rabbinic scholars to argue and disagree with their predecessors unless they have rabbinic scholars of that same generation that disagree with those same scholars. According to this opinion, as long as their are scholars of previous generations that agree with their premise, they then can argue, otherwise it would be forbidden!

This seems to be a great novelty here because why should their opinion be less valid than from someone of a previous generation? Aren't we more knowledgeable today with all our technological advances and such?

The answer is although that may be true, we believe that the previous generations are greater than later generations because of their closeness to the previous generations all the way to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

They are that link in the chain that goes back to greatness we can't even imagine. Who today or of the last generation can compare themselves to the Vilna Gaon? How can the Vilna Gaon be compared to the Rambam and the Rambam to the prophets?

The further back we go, the higher the spiritual level. The problem is that we live in a backwards society that calls these people medieval and would have no clue about the "new" "modern" generation, because after all they are medieval!

One thing we learn from here is that we shouldn't make ourselves bigger than we are; we all have to know our place even if we possess great wisdom!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 27:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Parshas Bechukosai: The right thing to do is not always easy

"If you walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit". (Leviticus 26:3-4)

If we would do G-d's will the Torah tells us, everything will be good; we will have plenty of food, rain will come at its appropriate time and life in general will be excellent. If we don't do what G-d wants us to do, then we won't have plenty of food, there will be no rain...The question is isn't this like the zap treatment: if I don't do G-d's will then I will get zapped, life will be difficult and I will have all kinds of problems. Did I just lose my free will?

If we look back at the story of Abraham when G-d tells him to leave his land, the place where he was born... and I will make your name great, you will have wealth... This is one of the ten trials that Abraham goes through! If G-d is going to make his life so easy and he will be world famous and wealthy where is the test here?

The answer to both questions is the same. In the case of Abraham he still had to go to the unknown; he had no idea where G-d was sending him. For every step he took the commentaries tell us he got reward for listening to G-d and giving up everything he had essentially known! Even if G-d was to make him wealthy and famous, he had no idea where he was going!

In our parsha G-d does give us free will to either do the right or wrong thing. At the same time, even if we know that things will be good if we do the right thing, we still can choose to go against G-d's will; this in no way contradicts the promise the G-d gives to us.

Even if we know that our parents will reward us if we do good on our report cards, we may for whatever reason be lazy or have negative influences that stop us from reaching our goal! Knowing the right thing to do and doing it are two totally different things.

Our yetzer harah (evil inclination) never stops trying to get us to sin, even when we are sleeping! We have to be ever so vigilant not to let him get a strong hold of us. We understand the task at head but we have to make a monumental effort to reach it.

Living in this world can make us go in a thousand different directions but G-d tells us even if that is true, there is still an obligation to serve Him. We know what the ultimate good is but achieving it is another story altogether.

If we would wake up every day and the weather would be 75 degrees and sunny for the entire year, we wouldn't necessarily be adversely affected by it! Weather is also a test when it is cold or rainy or too challenges our emotions.

If everything would go smooth and easy then what fun would there be for us? That is what some people want, just to be able to relax, have no pressure and let life be lived. The problem is that we don't grow without challenges. If things were too easy then we would find other ways to get ourselves into trouble causing all kinds of challenges that we are not looking for!

If we would live in an ideal world, then things would look different; the problem is that we messed it up and we don't. The goal is to put knowledge into action and internalize the messages that can help us grow. How easy is it knowing the right thing to do and then going out and doing it?

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: Mishna 26: The Monkey Syndrome

"Rabbi Yosi ben Yehuda of Kfar ha'Bavli said: 'He who learns from the young, to what is he like? To one who eats unripe grapes or drinks (new) wine from his vat. He who learns from the old, to what is he like? To one who eats ripe grapes, or drinks old wine'".

The Mishna explains that is better to learn from someone that is old rather than someone who is young. This may fly in the face of conventional wisdom whereby older people ideas and actions are pushed aside in the workplace and in general. The reason is that many think that the older generation has nothing to offer society once they are a certain age and it is time for the younger generation to take flight!

The Torah teaches us just the opposite! If a person wants to grow in wisdom then they should learn from the older generation and not from the young. The older a person is, the more experience and knowledge they have. These are the people that we want to get advice from and have mentor us.

If we seek out the advice of the young who are still developing, we won't get the advice that we need and we will not succeed at what we hope to accomplish. They may have certain knowledge but they don't have the life experience or wisdom that will help.

This is why young people need a rabbi or mentor that can help them develop and reach their potential. It is crucial to have someone with that knowledge and life experience to gain from their experiences which will ultimately help them in their endeavors.

There is a famous story with Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky that helps illustrate this point. He was once on a plane traveling and the person next to him could not understand how he got his grandchildren to wait on him hand and foot, always asking if there was anything he needed to make him more comfortable.

The man incredulously asked Rabbi Kamenetzky how he was able to get his grandchildren to treat him with such respect and honor. "After all", he continued, "the only time I see or hear from my grandchildren is when they want money!"

Rabbi Kamenetzky answered that the difference was in the perspective of how people look at their elders. "In the Torah world", he continued, the elders are looked at as a link in a chain that goes back to the giving of the Torah at mount Sinai and therefore older people are that link to the previous generation which is closer to getting to the giving of the Torah".

"You on the other hand, the further back you go in history, the closer you are to resembling a monkey and therefore they treat you a like a monkey!" This story tells us that society values youth more than they do older people when in reality it is the older generation we should be looking up to and gaining from their valuable knowledge.

We often live in what looks like an upside down world! That may be true but the values of the Torah are timeless and speak to all generations; we just have to learn to internalize the message and live according to its ideals.
Thursday, May 7, 2015

Parshas Behar: Everything comes from mount Sinai

"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe on mount Sinai saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, 'When you come to the land which I give you then shall the land keep a sabbath to the L-rd. Six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruit; but in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest to the land, a sabbath for the L-rd". (Leviticus 25:1-3).

The parsha begins with the command to keep the sabbatical year, Shemittah by leaving the land fallow for one year, not pruning the field or taking in its fruit. Shemittah is observed only in the land of Israel and with great sacrifice as well.

Farmers who earn their livelihood through their produce sacrifice a great deal by observing Shemittah. There is a promise the Torah makes that even if you are observing Shemittah in the seventh year, you will have enough food to eat by having a bumper crop in the six year that will provide for the seventh as well.

It is interesting to note that those who deny authorship of the Torah by G-d, i.e. it was written by a committee of men or that some were divinely inspired or even that they all ate the same hallucinogenic mushroom in the desert to explain the exodus from Egypt...will have a hard time explaining the verses that describe Shemittah. The reason is that if the Jewish people were not allowed to work the land in Israel on the seventh year and did not have great crops the year before, this could never have been transmitted.

Not only that but if that didn't happen in their own generation, then the Torah would have looked like a fraud which the people would have no interest in keeping! If that is true, then as Rashi brings in the first verse that just as G-d gave the laws of Shemittah and all its details on mount Sinai, so too He gave us all the laws of the Torah on mount Sinai!

We sometimes lose sight of this idea and certainly the detractors of Torah coming from G-d will attest that what proof is there that any of this happened? Maybe it was all a big game of telephone and that is how we our Jewish laws and customs!

There are various proofs, historically and socialogically that can prove a lot of things that the Torah tells us but it is by no means 100%. The reason could be because G-d still wants us to have free will and keep His Torah and mitzvos because we believe it is the right thing to do.

He therefore made it that we don't have all the proof that the Torah is true but we have enough evidence to make a strong case for it. The point we have to remember is that we have a rich heritage that has been passed down to us generation to generation and the Jewish people have only survived through Torah and the adherence to mitzvos.

As we see from the so called "Jewish movements" within Judaism, that the more you are attached to His laws and will, the more likely you will have the ability to pass it down to the next generation. With rampant intermarriage (in some places up to 85%) and assimilation, Judaism doesn't stand a chance to survive unless we keep to it's laws.

We say when we return the Torah to the ark, during the week, on shabbos and festivals that the Torah is a tree of life to those that grab it. This means that if I grab the Torah, it will have a positive influence on me which tells me it is not how much I put in to understand the Torah but it is how much of the Torah I put into myself!

If we would live our lives with this ideal, that everything comes from G-d and He runs the show (even if we don't understand why He does what He does) nonetheless our observance would be different, our lives would be transformed and we would all be doing G-d's will which will bring moshiach speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: MIshna 25: Reaching Goals in Learning

"Elisha ben Avuyah said, 'If one learns when he is young. to what is it like? To ink written on new (clean) paper. If one learns when he is old, to what is it like? To ink written on blotted paper'".

The purpose of education is to teach us (at least in theory) to think for ourselves and use the information to prepare us to be productive members of society. There is a major difference, though in learning when one is young and when one is old.

When a person is young, they remember things much better. Although we need to constantly review to make sure that we remember what we learned, nonetheless, it will stay with us much longer than if we started out learning if we were older.

Just ask any teacher after summer vacation and school starts how long it takes the students to get back in the swing of things in their new classes. They often have to do some review of what they learned the previous year so that they will be able to use that information to integrate it into their classes.

This is why the Mishna compares learning when one is young to new paper. Yes the paper can be erased but they will still remember better than when they are older. The reason is when a person learns later in life, it is that much more difficult to retain the learning since it becomes forgotten easily.

This is precisely the reason that learning Torah later in life is such a great challenge. Without having the proper base as a kid, it is an uphill struggle that takes great effort to achieve. Learning Torah in general takes great effort, but if the base is there earlier in life, it is much easier to succeed later.

We should not lose hope for those that have started learning at a later age as we can look to none other than Rabbi Akiva who only started his formal learning at the age of 40 and became one of the great sages of the Jewish people. Through great effort and diligence one can attain great goals even if they started learning later in life.

The Mishna wants to emphasize the importance of not only continued learning, but starting from a very young age. This is how we train our children in mitzvah observance by teaching them so young. Another reason is if we try and teach them when they are older, the yetzer harah (evil inclination) is much greater and they may not be interested. They will already be tempted by other things society has to offer and the pull may be too great for the Torah to have an influence on them.

If we get them used to mitzvah performance by educating them and living by the precepts of the Torah, we will be successful in transmitting its priceless message! That doesn't mean people cannot be successful later in life but they are at a disadvantage. If they put in the effort and really try, then even later in life they can attain great things!