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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, June 25, 2015

Parshas Chukas: Killing yourself for Torah

"This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent; anything that enters the tent and anything that is in the tent shall be contaminated for seven days" (Numbers 19:14).

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shit'a in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that the rabbis teach us that the Torah will not have continuity unless people are willing to sacrifice themselves to keep it. The Torah here is very specific when it uses the word tent to teach us that this world is a temporary one just like a tent is a temporary structure.

This world is like a corridor to the world to come; we toil in this world to reap the benefits of the next one. Therefore one should contain all his days in this world in the study of Torah and perfection of character traits. Why is this the model for Torah continuity?

The Torah is called eitz chaim (a tree of life) to those that grasp it. We see this verse every time we return the Torah to the ark. The language is a causative one which tells us that the Torah is the one that strengthens us, not the other way around.

The more we are involved in learning Torah and implementing its timely message the more it become part of us as we give these ideas over to our children. If we live like we should then the message gets through which will be the most important way that Torah will continue in the next generation.

The Jewish people without the Torah is like a body without a soul, it can't survive. This is why it is so important to keep the mitzvos so that it will last forever. We have unfortunately seen over the generations that a people that is not connected to its history will not continue. This has resulted in high intermarriage rates and assimilation.

The result has been millions of people that know nothing about Judaism! The question though is why do I have to kill myself over it; can't I just learn a little bit here or there, won't that be enough?
No. The reason is because if you do something half-baked, that is how it remains.

We have to put our full effort learning, reviewing the laws of the Torah otherwise it gets forgotten and then people forget why they are keeping it in the first place! We say every day in the morning prayers that G-d renews creation every day.

This means that if He wouldn't then the world goes back to the original chaos which everyone would agree is bad. The world's existence depends on the fact that the Jewish people accepted the Torah and wanted to keep it.

This is a tremendous responsibility. If we do what we are supposed to do by keeping G-d's law then everything is good and the world will be where it is supposed to be. It takes hard work and dedication. It's worth it right?

No one ever said keeping the Torah is easy,. but it is life and gives us life! May we merit to learn it properly and make our father in heaven proud!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fthers: Chapter 5 Mishna 3: Abraham breaks the idolatry mentality

"The ten generations from Noach to Abraham (are recorded) to make known how great is G-d's patience; for all those generations continued provoking him until our father Abraham came and received the reward they should all have been given (had they not forfeited their share).

The Mishna tells us that from the ten generations between Noach and Abraham, Abraham was able to receive the reward that those generation should have received. Ten generations seems to be a long time before someone would come along and find favor in G-d's eyes. How can we explain this?

The Rambam at the beginning of the laws of idolatry explains that the world at that time was steeped in idolatry. It was so rampant, that when Abraham came on to the scene and spoke about a G-d that he didn't hear from or see, they thought he was crazy! Abraham was a giant in belief in G-d speaking to the masses about this idea that flew in the face of what everyone else was doing.

There is a difference of opinion as to how old he was when he came to this realization but he could not fathom how such a complex world could have come into existence by itself.  If there is creation and everything that it entails, then there must be a Creator who made it! During this dark time, this was a foreign concept, especially since there was no Divine intervention in history (at least directly that people could see).

What made Abraham different from everyone else? He didn't care what other people did or what they thought; he questioned, thought, questioned some more to find out the truth. His generation and future generations for that matter were not interested in truth; they wanted to live their lives as they saw fit, not caring about the reality of the situation.

Unfortunately as true as it was in Abraham's time, it is even more true today. The reason is that people are involved in their every day live, living to survive and surviving to live. Most people do not think about what is true or not but are steeped in their own desires which rule their lives.

Life passes these people by. They are so caught up in their desire for wealth, fun or anything hedonist as to fulfill the idea of "eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow we die" mentality. There are individuals, though that can raise themselves above that which takes a tremendous amount of strength.

This is the power of baalei teshuvah (returnees to Judaism) and converts who give up everything and change their lives for the sake of truth. This would be an impossibility if not for the fact that Abraham did this and gave his offspring the ability to follow in his footsteps for all generations.

This is what the Mishna here is conveying to us. Those generation were so corrupt, absolute truth was the furthest thing from their minds. This is what makes Abraham so great. He went against the tide of his generation and previous generations by denying idolatry and bringing the idea of one G-d to the world.

This is why he merits the reward of those generations! He earned it by standing up for what is right and declaring what absolute truth is. We live in a world of falsehood where religion is scorned and morality is just a word in a dictionary that people give lip service to.

We need to learn from our father Abraham that it doesn't matter what people say or do; we have to serve G-d the way He wants us to, not the way we think we should! We are all created in the image of G-d, not the other way around.

This was a novel concept for that generation that was steeped in idolatry. Abraham came and gave everyone a different reality. May we continue to live that reality and implement the teachings into our every day life.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Parshas Korach: Dont be Jealous of Others

"And they shall keep the charge and the charge of all the tent..." (Numbers 18:3)

After Korach and the men that sided with him have been destroyed, the Torah tells us that Aharon and his sons will be in charge of the mishkan (tabernacle) later to be the beis hamikdash (Temple). We see from here that G-d has made clear His choice of who will be in charge of His house and who will serve in it.

The reason this is made so clear is that no one will make the mistake and think that they were given favortism from Moshe that they reached this position but rather from G-d Himself. The Torah warns us not to be like Korach and his group and think that Moshe and Aharon were acting on their own and taking power for themselves.

The Torah makes clear that nothing that Moshe and Aharon did was for themselves but rather directed from G-d above. The Rambam in the 13 principles of faith makes this clear that Moshe could not have acted on his own but his authority as law giver and prophet were stamped by G-d Himself! Therefore, anyone who goes against what Moshe wrote or wants to change it or even if they claim to have prophecy and can change the Torah, we label that person as a false prophet!

In essence, you go against Moshe, you are denying G-d! This is the fundamental principle that Korach failed to understand. He understood that Moshe was the law giver and G-d's trusted servant but he felt that he went too far by handing over the priesthood to Aharon when he felt he deserved it. He was angry and wanted what was rightfully his! Can we blame him?

Yes because if he internalized the message from living in Egypt and subsequently going into the desert, he would not have made such a mistake! His ego and desire for honor destroyed him and the people around him. Moshe had gone too far and Korach rallied the troops to defy him.

He paid a serious price but the Torah makes clear that he was wrong, proving once again that G-d runs the world and that nothing done on the behalf of the Jewish people was done for their sake but rather by direct command from G-d. It boggles the mind that after seeing all the miracles in Egypt and in the desert that Korach could think that Moshe was acting on his own!

The truth is that even if we were to witness miracles and we heard about many of them that occurred the previous summer during the war between Israel and Hamas. The question is did it change any of us or did we think about it for a little bit and interalized the message that changed us?

The more G-d does for us in a revealed way the more responsibility we have to act on this and change! If we see things and it doesn''t effect us, G-d will take us to task for wasting the opportunity in seeing His presence and giving thanks for that.

The whole parsha of Korach is difficult to understand. We see how far a person's desire for power and prestige can literally kill a person. May we continue to work on ourselves being satisfied with what we have and never desiring things that won't be good for us.

Shabbat Shalom!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 2: G-d's Infinite Mercy, don't Blow it!

"The ten generations from Adam to Noach  (are recorded in Genesis) to make known how great is G-d's patience; for all those generations continued provoking Him, until he finally brought upon them the waters of the flood"

The Mishna here explains that G-d has a tremendous amount of compassion but at some point, the patience wears thin and G-d has to exact punishment. We are not privy to understand how this works and what makes G-d do what He does but we can understand that His compassion is not forever. What is the deeper significance here?

One thing we can take from here is the fact that G-d never gives up on a person and wants them to succeed. He will give them many chances to change until He feels that He has been provoked too much and then will exact punishment as He sees fit.

For some people G-d will show compassion because He wants to give them reward for whatever mitzvos they have done in this world so that there will be nothing left of them in the next world. The reason is because these souls have become so corrupted that they are unworthy of being fixed up and transformed so that they may benefit in the next world.

This is hard to understand because every chapter of Ethics of our Fathers begins with the statement that all Jews have a portion in the world to come. If this is true, then how could G-d give some people their portion in the world to come in this world? Is it possible that they won't be able to do teshuvah? (repent)

The answer is that some people have corrupted their souls to the extent that they lose their portion in the world to come. This means that they have no help of basking in G-d's glory in the next world. The world to come is acquired by great toil in this world. After all, if someone doesn't prepare before shabbos, will they be able to eat on Shabbos?

Even though the Mishna states that all Jews have a portion in the world to come, at the same time we could do things that prevent us from entering there. For most people it won't be one action that will destroy them spiritually but it will be a culmination of many actions that G-d finally says "I have had enough!!!". What point that is we don't know but we must be very careful.

If we see things going well, we must always remember that this could possibly mean that we are getting benefit for the mitzvos that we are doing here. We have to be on guard lest we be complacent that things are going our way. We must not live off the fat of the land so-to-speak and forget all the good things that G-d has done for us.

That leads to an inflated ego which will take G-d out of the picture and make us think that all the good things that are happening are because of the work of our own hands! We must live our lives every second of every day thinking that what I do now has ramifications; either I am growing spiritually now or not!

Isn't that a bit extreme to think that everything we do can either be positive or negative and can have repercussions for many generations to come! This sounds depressing and very heavy for most people to bear. This is the ideal we need to strive for to realize that my actions matter and to what extent they can effect things!

We often think that we are an infestimal cosmic spec of dust that has no purpose in this world. Each person is a world unto themselves and we have to utilize the time as best we can. We need to live our lives every day as if they are our last, squeezing out every ounce of spiritual life that we can.

Although this is easier said than do, this is the meaning of the Mishna here. We need to fight for our lives on a daily basis and realize that nothing is handed to us on a platter; we never know what G-d has in store for us but we do not want to irk his ire. We want to continue receiving His blessing and compassion that He has for all his creatures!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Parshas Shelach: Don't stray after your hearts!

"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel and bid them that they make them fringes in the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue and it shall be to you as a fringe that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the L-rd and do them and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you go astray" (Numbers 15:37 - 40)

The Torah tells us here that the purpose of the commandment of tzitzis is that by wearing them it will remind you of all the other commandments but in the very next verse we are told that it will help us remember all the commandments so that you will not go after your own heart and eyes. Are these two statements mutually exclusive or part of the same reason?

The reason that we remember all the commandments through the mitzvah of tzizis is because the numerical value of the world tzizis is 600. If we add to this the 5 double knots and the 8 strings found in each tassel we get 613. This means if we would just look at our tzizis (all you men out there) then if we would just look at them every so often and be reminded of what G-d wants from us, we would be more likely not to transgress any of the commandments.

The Torah says that this may not be enough because by just looking at the fringes may not stop us in our tracks when we are about to transgress. The Torah then warns us not to go astray after our hearts or after our eyes. In essence if we look at them and it doesn't stop us then we would should remember not to stray after our hearts!

These statements then seemingly go hand in hand. While looking at the fringes should stop us from transgressing, if they don't remember that we have an obligation to keep all the mitzvos and not stray after our eyes. Hopefully that should be enough as a deterrant!

Why is so bad about going after one's heart or eyes? Aren't we emotional people that have needs and desires that have to be met? Should we just suppress our inner feelings and not let them come out to the forefront?

The Torah warns us that all desires in our heart and our thoughts may not be good for us. The Torah does not tell us that everything is forbidden and there is nothing permissible, but rather how to harness this world and enjoy it in the best way possible.

This means that although it is permissible to eat and drink it is forbidden to be a glutton or a drunk. We have to eat in moderation to guard our bodies and keep the body healthy. The Torah just warns us the most beneficial way to do things.

People mistakenly look at the Torah as a "man-made" book with a bunch of antiquated laws that are forbidden or permitted that are irrelevant to our "modern" generation. This could not be further from the truth. G-d himself gave us a book with running commentary in which to teach us how to live life to the fullest and how to enjoy this world.

This doesn't mean that we don't have to understand it to the best of our ability and delve into the complexities of it. G-d is a "metiv" and that He wants to give His goodness to us for us to enjoy in this world. He gave us specific instructions in how to do so.

Therefore, the Torah reminds us about the importance of keeping all the mitzvos but the way He wants us to follow them, not the way we think is best. The Torah warns us to be careful and not stray after our hearts or eyes because ultimately we will live in a world in which "we" created it and not G-d.

This will take G-d out of the picture and the purpose of creation will be thwarted. The more we keep His mitzvos and do what He wants then the more the world gets perfected. Each time we do something to perfect the world, the more His presence is with us and is shown to the world.

May we merit to continue to strive and live according to His will!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 1: Fulfilling the Purpose of Creation

"By ten divine utterances was the world created. Why does the Torah indicate this? Surely the world could have been created by one divine utterance. It means to emphasize that G-d will exact (severe) penalty from the wicked who destroy the world, which was created by (no less than) ten utterances, and that he will grant a rich reward to the righteous who maintain the world which was create by ten utterances"

The Mishna here is mind boggling! G-d, who is omnipotent and omniscient creates the world through words ("And G-d said let there be light and there was light..."). Is there such a difference between one utterance and more in G-d's eyes? The Mishna tells us that it is because G-d will exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world. What is the deeper meaning in this Mishna?

The Rambam tells us in Hilchos Teshuvah (the laws of repentance) that there is a very delicate balance to the existence of the world. Each person has to look at the world as it is in a state of flux and that my action right now has the ability to either have a positive or negative influence! That means if I do the right thing at this specific second, I can bring tremendous blessing to the world or G-d forbid destruction! How can this cause destruction?

When we don't do what we are supposed to do, then there is a negative influence that is created in the world. For example, if a person wronged another either through speech or any other means, before Yom Kippur they need to tell them that they are sorry for their actions otherwise no matter how much they fast or do teshuva (repent) on Yom Kippur it will not help.

The reason is that once we do something against our fellow man, if we don't ask for their forgiveness then it makes an imprint in the world and does not go away until forgiveness is granted. If a person doesn't care and tramples on the sanctity of the Torah, then G-d will punish them for the destruction they cause.

When we look at the decimation physical and spiritual which has occurred to the Jewish people over the millennium we can see that we have a lot of work to do. At the same time, the more good we do we minimize the negative influence of others. The problem is that if they continue to go in their ways and not repent then there will be a serious price for them to pay.

The purpose of our being in this world is to be the best people we can by following G-d's law. If we don't do what He wants us to then we have denied its ultimate purpose. G-d wants us to succeed and reach our potential but if we brazenly spit in his face, we undermine the purpose of all creation!

This is what the Mishna here is telling us. The fact that G-d could have created the world in one utterance or ten maybe has no significance to us but as the Mishna tells us not only does it have significance but there will be a serious price to pay if we don't follow the Torah's laws.

Each transgression weakens the spiritual world and causes it to be polluted. Only through proper observance and adherence to His laws will the world look like it should. That is our goal; do good deeds, observe the commandments and bring goodness to the world so that it will lead to the coming of the Messiah speedily in our days!
Thursday, June 4, 2015

Parshas Behaloscha: Don't Give up the Potential of your Learning

"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe says, 'This is that which belongs to the Levites, from twenty-five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service of the Tent of Meeting and from the age of fifty years they shall go out of the ranks of the service and not serve any more" (Numbers 8: 23-25)

Rashi asks how this can be that they start doing the service when they are twenty-five and in another place it states when they are thirty? From here we learn that they learns the laws of the Temple service for five years which teaches us that a student who learns Torah for five years and does not find success in his learning, will not find success in learning in the future. Does this mean that this is an impossibility for later in life that they will never find success in learning?

Many have the mistaken idea that if someone is educated in a Torah lifestyle and they have learned from elementary school, to high school, continuing when they are married, they should pursue the opportunity of getting a degree so they can make a proper living. While making a living is important, what about the opportunity to sit and learn to see if that person can make something of themselves in the Torah world?

Rashi here is telling us that this person should have the opportunity to learn these five years to see if they see success in their learning. These years a person has to do their utmost to see what their potential is in learning. As young adults, they are just getting their feet wet in learning and cutting themselves off because society says they have to have a degree which  is tragic.

In essence they are cutting themselves off in these important developmental years from their ability to become rabbinic scholars; they should at least be given the opportunity to shine! The problem is that there is a very strong push to make money and attain degrees with that goal in mind. Again this is not to say that livelihood is not important but we should not make it THE priority before ascertaining whether they have the ability to thrive in their learning.

 Rashi states clearly that if during this optimal time they haven't found success in their learning, then the future in learning for them is bleak.. This does not preclude them from ever being successful later but once they have not seen success at this point, most likely they won't in the future either.

This is why these formative years are so important. Once a person has kids and starts to raise a family the opportunity at success in learning is less forthcoming. Unless there has been success before, the burden of providing for the family will take precedence and a person will have to find the time to learn while pursuing those goals.

If we would listen to what society says, we wouldn't even give the person the opportunity to reach that potential because of the pull of the importance of making a livelihood. G-d determines how much a person will earn each year and there are those with higher degrees that struggle and those without that go into business and become successful.

The problem is that we get caught up in the rhetoric of how important that degree is and what it means in society. If we had learning that was focused like what occurs in England, then from a young age a person decides what they want to do and once they are finished, they will be able to go into the workforce.

Focused learning has the benefit that once you are finished, you have something in your hand that you can use which is more practical. This though does not come at the expense of the importance of one's learning which cannot be underestimated!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 29: Living for G-d

"He used to say, 'Those who are born are destined to die; those who are dead are destined to be brought to life again; and the living are destined to be judged. (It is for your) to know, proclaim and be sure that he is G-d. He is the Maker, He the Creator, He the Discerner, He the Judge, He the Witness, He the Complainant; it is He who will judge. Blessed be He in whose presence there is no wrongdoing nor nor forgetting, nor partiality, nor taking of bribes. Know that all is according to reckoning, and let not your imagination persuade you that the grave is a place of refuge for you. Perforce you were formed and perforce you were born; perforce you live, perforce you shall die, and perforce you shall have to give a strict account before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He'".

What a powerful Mishna! The first thing we have to know is that we are born and destined to die. The end of the Mishna tells us that we come into this world against our will and we will leave the world against our will but we still have to be part of this world and give an accounting of what we did here before G-d. Ethics of our Fathers teaches us tools for living; isn't this obvious, why does it need to be stated?

Every person knows that at some point in their lives they will die but we don't know when or how. We go through this world filled with its ups and downs but we often don't think of the bigger picture. As king David says in Psalms, we are here for 70 years, if we have strength we could be here for 80 years, not such a long time as the days, weeks and years seem to fly by!

One idea we can gain from this is not to take life for granted! Even though there are hardships and difficulties, we are here in this world to work on our character traits and reach our unlimited potential! G-d has to "cajole" the soul to come to this world as it is very happy where it is in the spiritual world.

At the same time, it is given a purpose coming here and we have to make the best of what we are given here. Some have it easier, some more difficult but at the end of the day we are placed here because G-d wants us here for whatever reason.

This is the crux of the middle part of the Mishna which speaks about G-d as the ultimate Creator, Judge... He doesn't forget, has no partiality and will make us be accountable for our actions. We often think that we are going to be here forever and we put off important things because we have all the time in the world (or so we think!)

As we get older we realize our immortality where our lives should be looked at very differently than when we are younger. We can't do the same things we used to do with the same vitality which means our bodies are slowly breaking down, preparing for its final destination.

This is obvious to us all the problem is that we don't live this reality. We think we can do what we want, will be on this earth for a long time and that our actions don't have repercussions. They will have repercussions if we break the law but in spiritual terms what I do doesn't matter because there is "no one" watching me. According to this philosophy there is no Creator, no Judge and everything that happens is just a result of chance!

 Throughout the millennium  there have been those forces that take G-d out of the picture either through evolution, humanism or any other ism that gives control to natural forces without anyone running them. This Mishna comes to dissuade that line of thought.

As Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin writes in his epic work Nefesh HaChaim our actions do matter and we have the ability to either strengthen or weaken the world. This world is only a corridor to the next and after we die, we will have to give an accounting for what we have done here. We are bombarded by those who would tell us our actions are futile and have no consequence!

Every second of every day we are given the opportunity to either do G-d's will or not. When we do His bidding, we create good influences while not doing what He wants causes destruction. These thoughts should not be in the back of our minds but right at the forefront so we can raise ourselves to higher spiritual levels and brings G-dliness to the world! That is the purpose of our soul coming to this world to bring awareness of G-d and everything that entails which will lead to the coming of the Messiah speedily in our days!