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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, August 27, 2015

Parshas Ki Tetze: Keeping the Sexes Apart

"Male garb should not be on a woman and a man shall not wear a woman's garment, for anyone who does so is an abomination of Hashem" (Deteronomy 22: 5)

What exactly is the prohibition over here and why is it so severe that anyone who does so is considered an abomination to Hashem? Is the way I look or dress really matter all that much to the extent I am considered disgusting in G-d's eyes?

Clothing and the way a person looks defines them and a person feels different by the different things that they wear. If a person wears a three piece suit they definitely will not feel the same as if they were wearing shorts and a tank top or jeans for that matter. This is precisely why people who "dress up" for work will quickly change out of their clothes after work to show that they are just wearing them for the job but the real "me" wears more comfortable, casual clothing.

In Judaism on the other hand, clothing defines who we are. This is our uniform and we wear it whether it is hot or cold and we don't change them because they are our work clothes but rather these are our clothes!!

At the same time, we must not get caught up in externals. Just because a Jew wears the right clothing and "walks the walk and talks the talk" does not make them an upstanding Jew; they are conforming to what the community wants them to wear. On the other hand, we do have a uniform that defines who we are and who we want to identify with.

Once we go outside those parameters not only do we lose our identity but we are subjected to the ways the non-Jewish society views things and influences us what we should or shouldn't wear. The question we must ask ourselves is what does our clothing mean to us and how do we view ourselves in them?

This leads to the explanation of this verse. A man and woman were created differently and were given different roles to fulfill. Therefore, their mode of dress is different as well. A man cannot be a woman and a woman not a man; two distinctive creations with different functions.

It follows suit then if that premise is true we would not be allowed to wear the others clothing or do things that are specific to that one gender. Under this category is that a man is not allowed ot look in a mirror for an extended amount of time to see how they look like a woman does.

A man is allowed to look into a mirror to make sure that they look ok but that's it; they shouldn't be priming themselves so much like a woman does; that would come under this category. Any of these things make sense because the Torah wants to make clear this separation.

We live in a world of cross dresses, transvestites an the like that want to blur the image of what is acceptable in today's society. Judaism has clear guidelines of what women and men do; the things that are mutually exclusive to one the other is not allowed to do.

There is tremendous wisdom in this way of thinking that sets out to make clear delineations between the sexes. The reason the Torah does this is to make sure there is no crossover and that the roles for women stay for women and the roles for men stay for men.

May we learn to live within the boudnaries that G-d has created for us all!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 11: World Disasters are because of our Actions

"Pestilence comes to the world to inflict those death penalties mentioned in the Torah, the execution of which is not within the function of a human tribunal, and for making forbidden use of the harvest of the Sabbatical year. The sword comes to the world for the suppression or delay of justice, and for the perversion of justice, and on account of those who misinterpret the Torah. Wild beasts come to the world on account of perjury, and for the profanation of G-d's name. Exile comes to the world on account of idolatry, incest, bloodshed, and for not allowing the soil to rest in the Sabbatical year". 

If a person has transgressed and is liable for the death penalty but for technical reasons a human rabbinical court will not be able to try them, then pestilence will come to the world as well as forbidden usage for Sabbatical year fruit or vegetables. The first part we can understand because someone that is liable for the death penalty has done something very severe but because of a technicality they cannot be judged.

G-d certainly has a variety of messengers that He can send to mete out justice but we learn an important idea here. The way the system has been set up, G-d cannot go outside those boundaries to the extent that a person obligated for the death penalty cannot be put to death unless certain criteria are met. We see from here that G-d has set up boundaries in this world which even He himself cannot go back on and change.

What though is so bad about using Sabbatical fruit that pestilence must come? There is a command in the Torah that land in Israel must lay fallow every seven years. One is not allowed to work it (except for things that are crucial to keep it alive) or do business with produce that was harvested during this year. The Sabbatical year in general teaches us the importance of how G-d runs and keeps the world functioning.

G-d also promises that the previous year will give a bumper crop to make up for leaving the land fallow. This is one of the proofs that G-d must have written the Torah because if there was no food to eat in that year and everyone starved, this could never have been passed down to the next generation because they would have seen Moshe G-d forbid as a fraud and fraudulent actions and promises do not get passed down to the next generation!!

The next part of the Mishna explains the punishment for perversion of justice or delay of justice and misinterpretation of the Torah. Justice must be meted out to keep order in the world. The difference between the laws of the Torah and laws in the secular world is that the laws of the secular world keep peace otherwise there would be utter chaos even worse than we see today! People would plunder, steal and kill if there was nothing insuring the repercussions for these actions. Torah laws on the other hand are designed to make a person better and help them reach their potential. Societal order is important but according to the Torah character refinement and good deeds are what a person is remembered for.

Perjury and a profanation of G-d's name are tremendous transgressions. Lying to save one's self from punishment means that a person refuses to take responsibility for their actions and will do whatever it takes to get out of it. This shows just how low a person can get!

A profanation of G-d's name is also a tremendous transgression. This means that a person uses His name for no reason or desecrates it! The Rambam in the laws of repentance tells us that for a desecration of G-d's name, one has to repent, go through Yom Kippur, suffer in this world and then die to receive repentance for the desecration of G-d's name. Severe indeed!

Incest, bloodshed and idolatry are the three main things (incest meaning immorality) that a Jew must give up their life for rather than transgress them. Therefore if a Jew or non-Jew puts a gun to a Jew's head and says bow down to this idol or I am going to kill you, whether it is done in public or private under any circumstances a Jew must give up their life!

Not leaving the land fallow during the Sabbatical year shows that a person doesn't believe in G-d or the fact that He runs the world. This is the strongest form of heresy and that is why it is included over here.

We must constantly strive to do G-d's will even when things are difficult. We also have to understand that our actions matter and the results of our actions can have major repercussions in the world!
Thursday, August 20, 2015

Parshas Shoftim: Rabbinic Court Judges can't Take Bribes!

"You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not respect someone's presence, and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked" (Deuteronomy 16:19).

The Torah here is warning rabbinical court judges that they should not take bribes and respect someone's presence and be partial when judging a case. Isn't this obvious that it would be a perversion of justice? Why does the Torah need to mention this?

The Torah warns us about many situations that we must be careful about, for the average Jew to the Levi and Kohen. The Torah also warns rabbinic court judges to be careful in their judgements. A rabbinic court judge must have tremendous working knowledge of Jewish law and how it is applied in the laws of damages. Not only that, they must be of refined character and have fear of heaven as well.

There is an issue today that should be addressed about people becoming rabbis and rabbinical court judges. While a person must study the material and show proficiency in it, they also have to have fear of heaven as well. Passing the test, getting the piece of paper does not insure that this person is "rabbi material.

This means that they have to always have a mentor that they can get guidance from and help them grow in spirituality. If a person wants to go further and has the qualifications of a rabbinical court judge, they should be chosen by great rabbinical authorities instead of just relying on their certification. A ritual slaughterer is no different because in both cases they must possess yiras shamayim (fear of heaven) in their work!

A person has to know their limitations and know when to bow out and have someone with more concrete knowledge deal with the issue at hand. Even if they know the material but have had some interaction with one of the sides, they should withdraw from the case because of any small level of bias they have.

They also should withdraw from a case if they have received a gift from one of the sides as well. The reason is that if there is anything tinge of bias that they may have, they are not allowed to judge the case. The incredible thing here is that it is not talking about the average Jew but of great rabbinical authorities.

If the Torah comes out so strongly against people that have impeccable character traits and knowledge, all the more so for the average Jew how much we need to worry about our dealings with others! The Talmud tells us that there are three ways to test a person: how they get angry, how they drink and how they deal with others in monetary matters.

When something affects our pockets, we have all the rationalizations in the world why it is permitted. We will find the leniency because we want to justify our actions! We are very good at that but at the same time we must honestly account for what we do.

In the month of Elul and as we are getting closer to Yom Kippur we must realize that our actions between man and man have to be worked on. Interpersonal relationships are crucial to the rebuilding of the Temple and having the messiah come. We are our own worst enemy and we must concentrate on overlooking what others have done to us.

Many commentators tell us that to have a good judgement for Rosh Hashana, if we overlook what others have done to us, then G-d will overlook what we have done to Him. This is easier said than done, but crucial in the repentance process. We also need to realize that when things happen to us, the people that cause them (although having their own free will) are messengers.

G-d sends these messages so that we will wake up and respond. We shouldn't make the mistake like the dog when he is hit by the stick goes after the stick and not the person. This is an important realization that G-d is giving us an opportunity to succeed and reach potential through these trials. If we only understood how crucial these things were, we would ask for more of them!

May we succeed in all our endeavors and use these times to work on ourselves, making us closer to Him!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 10: Natural disasters are caused by our actions!!

"Seven kinds of punishment come to the world for seven kinds of transgressions. 1) If some people tithe and others do not, a famine caused by lack of rain ensues, some go hungry and others are satisfied 2) if all decided not to tithe, general famine caused by both armed bands and drought ensues; and 3) they also decided not to separate the challah, a famine by destructive drought ensues 4) pestilence comes to the world for the death peanalties prescribed by the Torah that were not carried out by the court and for illegally using the fruits of the sabbatical year 5) the sword of war comes to the wold for the delay of justice, for the perversion of justice and for interpreting the Torah decision in opposition to the halacha 6) wild beasts come upon the world for vain oaths and for desecration of G-d's name 7) exile comes to the world for idolatry, for immorality, for bloodshed, and for working the earth during the sabbatical year". 

Natural disasters are anything from natural. We see from the Mishna here that there are transgressions that we do that could lead to these types of catastrophes. When we look at what happens with destructive weather patterns in the world or with earthquakes, typhoon, tsunamis and the like, we are awed by the sheer destruction that they cause.

We have to keep in mind that these things occur because of our actions. Although we don't see the direct results for what we do, G-d has his scorecard and metes out justice as He sees fit. The Rambam in the laws of repentance tells us that each city, town, state, country...have an equilibrium to them where the scale between good and evil is always in flux. Each action can turn the scale to the other side at any given time which could cause havoc.

G-d has a tremendous amount of compassion and restraint but at a certain point, unbeknownst to man, He will strike, not because He wants to, but because He has to. The reason is simple. Our actions have consequences and what we do matters, in the physical world and the spiritual world as well.

G-d judges each action of each person, good or bad from its source. It will depend why the person did it, where they are holding in the world...and then G-d will take all that into account and then "slap" the repercussions of that action back into this world physically and spiritually. This means that whatever we do, will have an effect upon us and upon the people around us.

We make the mistake and think since we are an infinitesimally small spec of cosmic dust that we are insignificant in His eyes, thereby making our actions irrelevant. This couldn't be the furthest from the truth. As the Rambam lays this out in the laws of repentance, we have a hard time relating to this idea.

How could what I do right now have an effect on others? After all, isn't G-d too busy running the world and everything that entails to care what I do or not? The answer is that G-d gave us the ability to tap into his world to the best of our ability. We are all created in His image which means we have the ability to accomplish great things even if we don't think we can or are worthy of it.

This Mishna puts this in perspective and makes us realize just how much control of what happens in the world is dependent on us! This is a tremendous responsibility that we must take with us every day which will lead us to be more introspective of our actions.

As we continue in the month of Elul, may we take stock of what we do and realize that we need to change. May the call of the shofar that we hear every day wake us up from our slumber and allow us to be the great people we can be!
Thursday, August 13, 2015

Parshas Re'eh: Doing G-d's will because He said so!!

"You shall not eat any abominable thing. These are the beasts which you may eat: the ox, the sheep and the goat, the deer, and the gazelle and the fallow..." (Deuteronomy 14:3-4)

The Torah here mentions the animals we are allowed to eat and not allowed to eat and what are the criteria for eating what we do. What is the reason behind these laws? After all the anti-semites (Jews and non-Jews) make the argument that these laws make us different from the non-Jews and therefore they disparage us for not being like them. Is this really fair?

The answer is that it is true the laws of the Torah distinguish Jews from non-Jews. G-d when He chose us and we chose Him wants us to be different than everyone else. In fact in verse one of the same chapter the Torah tells us that we are children of the L-rd your G-d...and you are a holy people and that the L-rd has chosen you to be a special possession to himself out of all the nations that are upon the earth. So yes there is a connection between the two.

G-d has chosen us for the purpose of making us different from all the nations. One way to do so is by what we eat. Not only are their specific species that we are allowed to eat but there are a myriad of halachos (Jewish law) that tell us how they are supposed to be killed and what makes them ineligible for eating and what disqualifies them! This could be a potential reason that G-d gave us the laws of kashrus.

At the same time according to some commentaries there are animals we are not allowed to eat (that are predators or carnivores) because when we eat them, we take their character traits inside us. When an animal is killed it's nefesh (soul) is taken away and when we eat the meat, we ingest it in ourselves. This would mean that we are what we eat. Is this really true, though?

Does that really mean that if we eat that type of animal we will start being predators ourselves or take on other bad character traits? The answer is that even though science has not proven this, yet, it does not mean that it won't be proven in the future. After all, science has barely scratched the surface of what it does know so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that this could be true.

Another reason that G-d could have given us these laws is because He gave them to us for His own reason that we cannot fathom. There are many times that the Torah gives us reasons for doing things but it doesn't mean that it is the only reason; there could be a myriad of reason for why different mitzvos have been given but we still have to keep them to the best of our ability.

If we would look at all the mitzvos this way, then we would perform them at a total different level. The reason is that if we saw the mitzvos as a Divine decree and not because we understand so to speak why these mitzvos were given, our observance would be at a totally different. We would subjugate ourselves to Him which would underscore the importance of our relationship with Him and demonstrate our connection to Him.

The problem is that we often try and rationalize things and try to make it easier on ourselves. That being said, being subservient 24/7 is not always so easy as practical things can get in the way of that!

As we enter the month of Elul, may be subjugate ourselves as much as we can to Him as we prepare ourselves for the day of Judgment!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 9:The differences between a wise person and a fool

"There are seven characteristics of a stupid person, and seven of a wise man. The wise man does not speak in the presence of one who is greater than he is in wisdom; he does not interrupt the speech of his companion; he is not hasty to answer; he questions and answers properly, to the point; he speaks on the first point first, and on the last point last; regarding that which he has not learned he says: 'I have not learned'; and he acknowledges the truth. The opposites of these traits are to be found in a  stupid person'"

The Mishna here mentions the differences between a wise man and a stupid person (golem). .A golem the commentaries tell us is something that has not been finished or completed. If someone learns from another person but cannot himself make inferences or reason practically then they are called a golem because their wisdom is not recognizable. At the same time, they will not possess these character traits that make them into a wise person.

A wise person has many different characteristics that make him wise. One is that he does not speak in the presence of someone greater than he is in wisdom. This is important because we all have egos and want to express our important opinions and have influence over others. If there is someone greater than us, we then have to lay ourselves down, so to speak and nullify ourselves to them. This is a true act of humility because it shows that we respect others greater than ourselves and we don't put ourselves in a position of thinking we are something we are not!

The wise person also does not interrupt the speech of his friend. This means that when a person speaks, we let them finish even if we have something to say while they are talking. This is a good character trait to have because it not only shows patience but it displays respect we have for the other person even if we disagree with them. We don't cut them off from what they are saying but we listen, be attentive and then speak.

Answering questions is also an important aspect of a wise person. They have to know how to answer questions firstly and then answer them in order, point by point. This shows clarity of what is being spoken about and give the listener the ability to digest what they are being told in a clear, precise manner. There is nothing worse than asking a question and getting an answer that is above them or doesn't make sense or is not the order which the person asked it.

The last part of the Mishna explains that a person should never give an answer they are not sure about. They should admit that they are not sure or have to research it or send it to someone who is more knowledgeable in that particular subject. We want to show people our vast knowledge but we have to admit when something is out of our league and pass it on to someone more qualified.

This does not show a lack in us but it reflects honesty about the subject at had where the person can get what they need. If we try and give information on something we are not sure about or think we have certain ability that we don't then we are not only short changing people but we could cause them tremendous damage. The true wise person knows their place and when to say that this is above them and they should be referred to someone else!
Thursday, August 6, 2015

Parshas Ekev: The Holiness of Eretz Yisrael

"And then the L--rd's anger be inflamed against you, and he shut up the heaven that there be no rain and that the land yield not its fruit and you perish quickly from off the good land which the L-rd gives you" (Deteronomy 11:17)

We say this twice a day as part of the Shema basically reaffirming that if we, the Jewish people, don't keep our end of the bargain of being the keepers of the Torah then G-d will be angry with us, not give us rain and take us away from the land of Israel. After two thousands years of exile and not having the land of Israel in Jewish hands and finally getting it back, do we really think before the Messiah comes that we will not be in the land?

It would seem that after all the struggle, tears and blood that G-d would forsake us and send us out of the land. There is a midrash in Tehillim (Psalms) that explains when the messiah comes, he will gather the Jews in the desert and bring them back to the land because the Jews will be thrown out of the land. Although we don't know what the future holds, we do know that having the land is conditional on fulfilling G-d's will and if we don't then there will be tremendous repercussions!

Because the land is so holy, we are not allowed to contaminate it, spiritually and physically. Therefore anyone living in the land has to be very careful how they act because they are living in the palace of the king. Although transgressions are bad where ever you do them, it is more severe if they are done in the land of Israel.

When Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a wanted a blessing for coming to the land of Israel from Rav Mordechai Pogramansky (the great Telzer genius), the rav told him that he had to be aware of the holiness of the land and how careful he must be when living there. He said over and over that he was not on the level and was terribly afraid he would not be able to be on the level of such holiness.

Rav Sternbuch was not deterred and continued to ask for a blessing to go there and after Rav Pogramansky saw that he was aware of the possible repercussions for his actions, he gave him a blessing to go. We learn from here not only the importance of doing what G-d wants us to do especially in His backyard but also we can't stand around and must voice our protests to actions that can cause G-d's ire!

Although we may think that if we protest and no one will listen, what is it worth? It is worth millions because in the end if we don't make the protest then we could cause a great desecration of G-d's name if no one says anything. We need the permissibility from our rabbis to be able to do such a thing and we should never act on our own! At the same time, what a person is protesting is the abomination that goes on and shows G-d how much it hurts them by seeing this go on!

 Protesting means that we speak about the seriousness of the matter and we certainly do not get violent or throw rocks...The purpose is to show G-d the seriousness of the actions being taken place and that we wholeheartedly disagree with what is happening. After all, we don't want to get upstairs after 120 years and find out that we could have stood up for G-d and didn't do so.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 8: Things Created at Twilight: The Bigger Picture

"Ten things were created o Sabbath eve, at twilight. They are: The mouth of the earth; the mouth of the well; the mouth of the donkey; the rainbow (which was Noach's sign that there would be no future floods); the manna; the staff; the shamir worm; the script; the inscription; and the Tablets. Some say also destructive spirit, Moses' grave and the ram of our forefather Abraham, and some say also tongs which are made with tongs"

The obvious question with all these things is why didn't G-d just create all these things with creation instead of creating them at twilight? Rabbenu Yonah explains that everything that G-d created on condition would change their nature at some future date in history when G-d needed them. He also tells us that there is nothing in the world that G-d did not think about creating or using in this world that didn't enter His mind by creation.

He uses the example that on the fourth day G-d decreed that there should be heavenly lights, i.e. the sun, the moon...and in the future the sun will stand still for Yehoshua and Chizkiayahu. The seas are also created and in the future the Red Sea will split for the Jewish people is yet another example of this! This is why they needed to be created before shabbos at twilight because in the future they would change their nature as G-d chose fit. What is the deeper meaning here?

Anything that was needed for creation G-d did within 6 days and rested on the seventh. This means He set the world in motion and continually keeps it running smoothly as we say everyday in our prayers that G-d renews creation; in the present everyday, not just He created it all and let nature take over. Everything else that would be needed in the future but was created on condition was created just before shabbos.

Twilight is that time which is neither day nor night, an in between time so to speak. In this case before shabbos, we are not allowed to do any melacha (those categories that are forbidden on shabbos) but it is not quite shabbos yet unless we take it on either with candle lighting or with the evening service. Therefore since we have this in between state it would seem that if it was needed for the future and its nature would change then this would be the best time to create it.

Yes it is part of creation and like everything else that was part of creation certainly was on G-d's mind during creation. It's just that it wouldn't be solidified until a future time later .Twilight is also not solidified because it is neither day nor night, therefore these things were created at that time.

Another interesting thing we learn from this and that there is nothing new under the sun. This means that there will be no new creation in history that G-d did not have in mind during creation; it just depends when it will be discovered. A case in point is about the reason we keep kosher.

Many commentaries explain that we are what we eat and Jews are not allowed to eat carnivorous animals because of the bad character traits that we will ingest from them. We don't want to eat predators because their actions have the ability to contaminate a person and therefore stop them from reaching their true potential while at the same time dulling their senses.

You may ask though that this has not been scientifically proven so how can we make such an assumption? The answer is that just because science hasn't discovered it yet, doesn't mean that they won't in the future discover it. Even though science has uncovered and discovered many things, it has only begun to scratch the surface!! It is not a big leap of faith to say that is true and eventually these things will be proven, again showing how true the Torah is!!