Blog Archive

About Me

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.
View my complete profile


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, July 23, 2015

Parshas Devarim: Am I allowed to give up my life on something other than the three cardinal sins?

"But hear the small as well as the great; do not be afraid of the face of any man; for the judgement is G-d's and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it to me and I will hear it" (Deuteronomy 1:17).

The Torah tells and warns us that a person should not be afraid that someone may do something bad to him or his property but it could be maybe a small thing he will do to me and that I should guard myself against it and worry. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in Emes L'Yaakov explains from this we can learn that a person even be obligated to give up their lives for the sake of judgment.

This is hard to understand because nothing stands in the way of saving the life of a Jew except for the three cardinal sins of murder, idolatry and immorality, nonetheless this may come under the category of sanctification of G-d's name! If in cases of judgment a non-Jew would ask something about what the Torah says which would result in the Jew having to give up his life, then they are still obligated to give over their lives to give the information knowing that this non-Jew will kill you!!

The issue here though is from the very verse itself if there is worry that someone may kill you then you don't have to give up your life, then we don't have to put ourselves in danger and can guard ourselves against this. It could be if it is not clear where this is going to go, then one can guard themselves even to protect their property or assets. Although it is not so clear, we see a tremendous lesson from this.

The Torah has placed high demands on the Jewish people. Although there is an obligation for a Jew to give up their lives for the three cardinal sins, it could be under other circumstances they would have to give up their lives sanctifying G-d's name. There is a question if one gives up their life in a situation where they are not obligated to but do so anyway, whether or not this is called suicde.

We hold that it is not called suicide because there are certain times and situations that a person may have to do so and feel it is the right thing to do rather than acquiesce to what is about to befall them. That being said, the Torah allows us to guard ourselves but we have to be prepared to lose money or even our lives to uphold the statutes of the Torah! While I have heard many converts to Judaism say they will do whatever it takes to be a Jew even if means giving up their lives, they have to understand what is at stake in becoming a Jew in the first place.

A non-Jew was not allowed to convert to Judaism in the times of David and Solomon and will not be allowed to convert when the Messiah comes. The reason is because since the Jewish people will be on such a roll, if they convert it is like their free will is being taken away from them and only joining because the Jewish people are on top! At the same time, if we look at Jewish history and see the utter destruction through pogroms and such, we have to explain to the non-Jew before conversion that they understand exactly what they are getting themselves into!

The Torah is not G-d forbid a book of fairy tales or a five year option to renew; it's about real issues and life itself! May we never have to come to such things but we must be prepared if we did, then we are ready to put our lives on the line! That is the least we can do to sanctify G-d's name in this world.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 7: The Miracles of the Temple and the lack because we don't have it!

"Ten miracles were done for our fathers in the Temple: no woman miscarried from the scent of the sacrificial meat; the sacrificial meat never became putrid; no fly was seen in the slaughterhouse; no unclean accident ever happened to the high priest on the Yom Kippur; the rain never extinguished the fire of the wood pile (on the altar which was under the open sky); the wind did not prevail against the column of smoke (from the altar fire so that the smoke was not blown downward); no disqualifying defect was ever found in the Omer (of new barley, offered on the second day of Passover), or in the two loaves (baked of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, or in the shewbread (which was change weekly, on Shabbos); though the people stood closely pressed together they found ample space to prostrate themselves; never did a serpent or scorpion do injury n Jerusalem; and no man ever said to his fellow: 'I do not have a room to lodge overnight in Jerusalem""

 These miracles of the Temple are truly miraculous!! With everything going on with the sacrifices, the only explanation of these truly incredible things is because of the holiness of the place itself. We may only have a small remnant left today i.e. the western wall but to have such open miracles during the time the Temple existed is beyond our comprehension!!

The thing most missing from the destruction of the Temple is that we are not able to witness these miracles! The last revealed miracle on record was during the time of the Maccabees and the story of Chanukah. Although we may get glimpses of G-d's presence in the land, it is not openly revealed and harder to see.

Even though the Jewish people have returned to the land, the Messiah has not come and we are still lacking so many things!! As we are now the day before T'sha B'Av, the fast that commemorates the destruction of the two Temples and many other tragedies as well, we unfortunately continue to witness the infighting that has destroyed the Jewish people!!

The Talmud explains that the Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam (unlawful hatred) between people!! Hatred is never permitted although we are allowed to hate the act  a person may do but not the person himself! Many will claim that they are speaking against others for the sake of heaven when in reality they are just trying to make themselves look better in the eyes of others.

Sinas chinam means that if someone is less religious than me, then I can still be friends with them, just not learn from their actions. If someone (G-d forbid) is more religious than me, how do I feel when they want to hold to a higher standard of kashrus or shabbos; does it inspire me or cause me to be insecure and jealous and just think that they are fanatics upholding stringencies that don't need to be adhered to!

The Talmud also tells us that any generation that doesn't have the Temple rebuilt, it is as if they themselves destroyed it. How can we understand this in such a weak generation as ours? After all, greater generations before us didn't have the merit to rebuild the Temple so how can we?

While in reality that may be true but they have paved the way through their righteousness and dedication to Torah that even a weak generation like the one we live can do just a little bit to bring the Temple back! That means we can step on their coattails so to speak and just become better people in all aspects of our lives!!

Even the little that we may do, will have an impact on those around us and in heaven as well. May we merit that we don't have to fast this year and it will turned from a sad day to a day of great rejoicing!
Thursday, July 16, 2015

Parshas Matos/Maasei: The Importance of the Mitzvah of Living in the Land of Israel

"And you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it for I have given you the land to possess it" (Number 33:53).

Rashi here learns that when the children of Israel went into the land they were to get rid of the nations that lived there so they could dwell and establish themselves there. This means that if they get rid of the nations that live there, then they will be able to dwell there. The Ramban, though learns from here that there is a mitzvah to live in the land of Israel for all Jews.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch in Taam V'Da'as explains that according to the Ramban,  that we are not obligated in living in the land unless we get rid of the inhabitants there. The reason is because the seven nations that dwelt there caused great impurity to the land through the worshiping of idols and immorality that as long as they were there they caused great spiritual danger to the Jewish people and must be removed.

The foundation of this mitzvah Rav Sternbuch explains is that there must be opportunity for the Jewish people to live in the land with holiness! This is to show why the Torah needed to tell us first that the nations should be displaced and only then should the Jewish people dwell there. Therefore the exemption of living in the land is not because of onus but rather this is way the mitzvah is set up in the Torah.

The Ramban here explains that the mitzvah of living in Israel applies today to a person that is sure that by living there a person will not blemish his kids in their belief in G-d and the way He runs the world. Rav Elchanan Wasserman (may his blood be avenged) explains in his work Epochs of the Messiah that if the government of Israel's goal is to uproot tenets of Judaism and make it extremely difficult for religious Jews to live there, then there is no mitzvah to dwell in such a place!

Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnefeld z"l lived in Israel before the state was founded explained that the mitzvah of living in the land of Israel we can learn out from the mitzvah of circumcision. The mitzvah of circumcision is no less important than the mitzvah of living in the land because circumcision supercedes shabbos and if someone died because of circumcision, a younger brother is exempt because of the danger it poses.

So too if living in the land of Israel is going to cause spiritual danger to a person's family and children, spiritual death is worse than physical death! If that is true, under those circumstances there is no mitzvah to live there and put yourself in danger to do so.

People make the mistake and think that the mitzvah of living in the land corresponds to all the mitzvot! Many great people were not able to live here and if a person will have difficulty with livelihood in Israel or it is better for them to learn outside the land, then they are allowed to do so. This does not make them any less of people but the reality is that if those circumstances are true and they can't get there, then there is no obligation for them to live there.

If a person wants to come there and live, they have to take into account the family situation and how it will affect their children. The biggest mistake people make is that they come when their children are too old and then they don't fit into the system and have great difficulty!

The other issue is that living in the land comes with a higher degree of responsibility. If you are living in the palace of the king, then we have to act accordingly otherwise the repercussions could be disastrous. Where we have the greatest amount of holiness there is also a great amount of impurity as well. We are better off being Jews living outside the land who have a strong desire to be there than a Jew in Israel who desires to live outside the land!!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 6: Living up to a higher standard

"With ten trials did our ancestors test the Holy One, Blessed is He in the wilderness as it is said: 'They have tested Me these ten times and did not heed My voice'"

 There are ten trials that our ancestors tested G-d. When the Mishna mentions the word tested it means that G-d got angry for them doing so. The question is how the greatest generation in the history of man who saw G-d on Mount Sinai, witnessed the miracles in Egypt and in the desert could have tested G-d in the first place!

When  we read the stories about the spies and Korach we are baffled how such great people could speak against the land of Israel and Moshe and Aharon. After all, weren't they are Mount Sinai as well? We see though as great as they were, they still made mistakes which needs to be clarified.

One thing we need to understand is that the miracles they witnessed in the desert was to strengthen their belief in G-d so that they would inherit the land of Israel. G-d wanted the Jewish people to live at a very high spiritual level that they themselves did not think they were on the level to keep which caused them great anguish!

G-d though did believe they were on that level and had the spies not sinned, the commentaries tell us they would have entered the land of Israel straight away instead of taking forty years! This means that even though they understood what G-d had done for them in the land of Egypt, the crossing of the sea and the miracles in the desert, could not this same G-d have helped them in defeating the nations in the land of Israel for them to inherit it?

One explanation is that they thought that many of their merits had been used up and that they weren't able to overcome such great odds! Yehoshua and Calev understood that G-d would still be there for them and nothing was too big for Him to do! Others who may have held the same belief, in this case just didn't think they could rely on Him for such a great miracle!

At the same time, they seemed to complain about things that they missed, how could Moshe have brought them there just to die in the desert...It is hard to fathom such things how it works since they could not have really wanted to go back to life as it was in Egypt, could they? The reality is that life in Egypt was not good for them and almost destroyed them but they didn't feel they had the spiritual makeup to live at the level that G-d thought they could.

This is the theme behind all the complaints they had, thinking that they weren't on a level to raise themselves to a higher standard! We learn a tremendous lesson from this. We have to remember that G-d puts us in many difficult situations and we often think that we don't have the ability to overcome them.

G-d never puts a person in a situation they cannot handle. We sometimes don't think we can handle them but the reality is that we sell ourselves short. We realize after a difficult test how that solidifies who we are and what hidden abilities we have that we didn't think we had in the first place!

If we would live our lives this way and relish the trials that we have making us into the people we are, we would look different and think differently! If we were on a higher level in general, we wouldn't need these tests and we would be doing G-d's will as we are supposed to!
Thursday, July 9, 2015

Parshas Pinchas: Do what you have to do and don't worry what others say!

"Now the name of the man of Yisrael that was slain with the Midyanite woman was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a father's house among the Shimoni" (Numbers 23:14)

The Torah tells us that not only did Pinchas kill these two people because of the terrible desecration of G-d's name but Zimri was none other than a prince of the tribe of Shimon. The Talmud tells us that there were a number of miracles that occurred for Pinchas when he did this but had Zimri killed, he would have been justified in what he did as the Torah tells us that if someone comes to kill you, you can defend yourself and kill him if need be!

 This is an incredible lesson for us to learn. Pinchas acts for the sake of heaven in this situation to the extent that he could have been killed for his actions and his death would have justified! That being the case, we have a lot to gain from Pinchas's actions.

How many times have we been put in situations that we have had to strengthen ourselves and adhere by the standards of the Torah only to be made fun of or other difficulties associated with it. The Torah teaches us that we must adhere to its standards even if it is hard or may cause us other problems.

We have to keep ourselves upright and do what G-d wants us to, to the best of our ability even though there will be forces against us that want us to capitulate to societies standards or to go with the flow and compromise. There are times when we may have to compromise but it can't be at the extent of taking Jewish law and turning it into a pretzel, making it "fit" in to our lifestyle or "adapting" it for the times!

How many times do we hear that we don't have to be so stringent or that we can lower our standards for other things. Yes we have to live in this world but there are standards that G-d has for us that we must adhere to! It is like being in a standard army; there is a commander and a commandee!

G-d is our commander and He has given us a blueprint for us that will lead us to develop a connection to Him! This gives us the ability to reach our true potential by fulfilling the mitzvos! The more we learn about them and incorporate them into our lives the more meaning it will have for us!

The Torah is about action and implementing its timeless lessons. If we learn it like any other subject, then it is just mental gymnastics that has no intrinsic meaning, just studying another academic topic!

As we go further into the three weeks and the nine days, we realize more than ever that the most important thing we are lacking in this world is that we do not see G-d's presence directly. The more we do and grow brings G-d's presence back to this world.

May we do what we need to do and help bring the Messiah speedily in our days!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5: Mishna 5: How miracles effect us!

"Ten miracles were performed for our fathers in Egypt and ten at the Red Sea (the plagues did no harm to the Israelites). Ten Plagues did the Holy one, blessed be He, bring upon the Egyptians in Egypt and ten at the sea"

After mentioning the ten trials that Avraham went through, this Mishna tells us about the ten miracles that were performed for our fathers in Egypt, the ten at the Red Sea and the ten plagues that G-d brought upon the Egyptians. The ten plagues against the Egptians were exacted measure for measure against them (for the pain that they caused the Jewish people)  and the miracles of the sea revealed just how powerful G-d is and what He can do in this world. What is the purpose and deeper meaning of mentioning them here?

In general, these miracles that G-d performed for our nation undoubtedly show that He intervenes in history, so much so that the mitzvah to believe in G-d comes from the first of the ten commandments that G-d took us out of Egypt. The commentaries ask why should this be a proof that G-d exists; why don't we say that G-d exists because He created the world?

The answer is that no one was there when the world was created to give witness to the fact that G-d did it!! On the other hand, there were more than two million people who witnessed the miracles and came out of Egypt! We know this because this was passed down from generation to generation and we relive it during the Passover seder! We know the story to be true because our parents tell us this story every year.

How did they know about the story? Because their parents told it to them. How did their parents know the story? Because there parents told it to them... We therefore have an unbroken chain from previous generations that goes back to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

We also learn from here that the miracles of what happened in Egypt are that much greater because Moshe tells the Egyptians what is about to take place and it actually happens! Yes G-d changed nature and made miracles occur to get the Jews out. At the same time, Moshe said exactly what was going to happen and shortly thereafter it did!

We can take out from this that the Jewish people were deserving of miracles and merited to receive the Torah. The fact that G-d did the miracles is nothing short of amazing but the fact that Moshe said what was going to happen and it occurred gives us tremendous food for thought.

We live in a world where cynicism rules; the more cynical a person is the more he is to be praised. The Torah teaches that there is absolute truth and that we have the ability to be close to Him. How do we do this? Through the blueprint that He himself has given us, the very Torah itself!
Thursday, July 2, 2015

Parshas Balak: Learning Torah for the Wrong Reason can Backfire!

"And Bilam said to Balak, 'Build me here seven altars and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams" (Numbers 23:29)

The Talmud in Nazir 23b tells us that in the merit of the 42 sacrifices that Balak gave, he merited to have a descendant the caliber of Ruth, who was the forebear of king David and the Davidic line! We learn from here the Talmud explains that if one learns Torah and keeps mitzvos not for their own sake but for whatever reason, then in the end he will keep the Torah and its mitzvos for its own sake.

When we speak about not doing the mitzvos or keeping Torah for its own sake it means either to be called a rabbi or for any other reason. If someone though wants to keep mitzvos or Torah to be able to disparage others or curse them it would be better that they weren't created. If this is true, how could the Talmud tell us that Balak gets the merit of having Ruth descend from him if his intentions were less than altruistic?

Rav Yaakov Kamentzsky in his work Emes L'Yaakov explains that in this case if someone wants to learn Torah for an ulterior motive i.e. to curse or conquer his friend or foe then this idea would not apply but the intention of Balak was that through the merit of his sacrifices he should be able to have merit and have his prayer answered to be able to curse the Jewish people.

This Rav Yaakov tells was Balak's intention and it is as if a person does something so that it will help them have merit to enter the next world. Even though he wants his prayer answered to get what he wants, in reality he is doing something for an ulterior motive.

Normally we would say in such a case that this ulterior motive will not help here and certainly won't bring a person to keep the Torah for its own sake. The novelty Rav Yaakov explains is that even though he wanted to curse the Jewish people it is as if he wants the merit for something good and he prays that Hashem will listen to him!

One thing we can take out from this is that Torah should be learned for the right reasons and that it should have the positive influence on us and help us reach our true potential. If a person though learns and treats the material like another subject but it doesn't affect their lives then what the person is doing is mental gymnastics and not learning Torah!

Even so, a person could learn Torah for the wrong reason and not have intention to implement its teachings but the Torah though could influence the person positively to go in its ways. How many times have we heard people say they wanted to learn the "old testament" to be able to "prove" that their way of thinking was right and true only to have been upended by the sweetness and clarity that a Torah lifestyle brings.

A person with an open mind can still let the Torah influence them. Even if his mind is closed, the Torah can still influence a person which is why a person even with the wrong intention can still come back to their heritage.

May we always merit to learn the sweetness of the Torah and always do what G-d wants us to.

Shabbat Shalom