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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, October 29, 2015

Parshas Vaera: This is where the Messiah Comes from?

"And the first born said to younger: "Our father is old, and thee is not a an in the earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth: come let us make our fahter drink wine and we will lie with him that we may preserve seed of our father". (Genesis 19:31-32).

After the destruction of Sedom the daughters of Lot thought that everything was destroyed and there were no men left. Knowing that neither of them had children, they decide to sleep with their father so that the world would continue. We could ask, why didn't they just travel and see if there were other inhabitants? Not only that but one of the children is called Moav whereby Ruth comes out from him many generations later and she is the harbinger of king David five generations later! This absolutely boggles the mind that this is where kingship and the future messiah will come from!

The lack of foresight and understanding of the daughters is incredible. It seems from here that instead of traveling and seeing what the truth of the matter was they would rather get their father drunk, sleep with him and have kids that way. We could look at it though that they truly thought that the world had been destroyed and it was their obligation to have children so the world would be populated even if that meant that they had to sleep with their father.

It could be for this selfless act they merited that the future king of the Jewish people and the messiah who would redeem the Jewish people from their exile! Normally we would think that any discussion of a future king or redeemer would come from the best stock, richest family...but lo and behold he is descended from an incestuous relationship. How can we understand this better?

When the Torah speaks about the people who helped form the Jewish people, it makes clear that even at their high spiritual level, they are somewhat flawed and not perfect. We do see how a person certainly can raise themselves to a higher spiritual level regardless of who their family is!


At the same time time, the ways of G-d are hidden and we humans cannot fathom how He runs the world. It does not mean we have to sit back and just take things as they are but we have to delve into them and try and understand them to the best of our ability.

This can lead us to a tremendous amount of humility knowing that there are things that are beyond our comprehension. At the same time there is an obligation to believe in Him, not just with a leap of faith but through knowledge. This is a major thing that distinguishes the Jewish people from other so called religions!

The difficult part is seeing the chaos in the world and trying to make sense of it. As my rebbe told me if you are happy with the way G-d runs the world 95% of the time the 5% you don't understand you won't understand in 10 lifetimes. You still have an obligation to serve Him even if we don't understand His ways.

In these days before the messiah comes, let us work on our belief in Him and let Him run the world the way He needs to while we serve Him still!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 18: Retain what you Learn!

"There are four types that sit and learn in the presence of the sages: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, and the sieve. The sponge  absorbs all; the funnel receives at one end and spills out at the other; the strainer lets the wine through and retains the dregs; and the sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour".

The first part of the Mishna describes someone who listens to all the opinions but does not know how to distinguish between what is correct and what is not, The good thing is that this person has the willingness and eagerness to sit and learn but at the same time, they lose out because they can't make any distinctions between the ideas and is lost in the learning.

This is truly tragic because he won't understand what is in front of him and won't know what to do. Eagerness to learn is very important but it must come with proper understanding. Without that, one will not know what or how to keep the Torah!

The second person, the funnel receives at one end and spills out at the other. This means that he accepts what he is being taught but he doesn't understand it at all. This is different than the sponge because someone like that understands what he is being taught but they can't make a decision as to what is right or not This is a step ahead of the funnel because at least he has some level of understanding!!

The third one is a strainer that lets the wine through and retains the dregs. This means that although he listens to what he is being taught, he quickly forgets it and then retains the wrong idea. This  is also not good because although he listens, it goes in one ear and out the other retaining the wrong ideas and going in the wrong direction.

The last one is the sieve who lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour. He listens to what is being taught and can distinguish between what is right and what is not. This person will really grow in their learning because they are able to retain what they need and let what they don't need go.

This is important because there are many times that we hear many different views and don't know exactly how to handle them. This is why we have to be methodical and take things step by step, carefully analyzing what is in front of us. We need to digest ideas, think about them and then grill them to a certain extent to see if they hold water or not.

We want to learn things fast and then move onto the next subject quickly so we can cover ground. That is good but one must make sure that before they move on they clearly understand what is in front of them otherwise it will be just a waste of time. Take things slow but carefully analyze the subject and then move on. This will lead to success and our ability to retain our learning!
Thursday, October 22, 2015

Parshas Lech Lecha: Was Avraham's Going to War Foolhardy?

"And it came to pass in the days of Amrafel king of Shin'ar Aryokh king of Ellasar, Kedorla'omer king of Elam and Tid'al king of Goyim that these made war with Bera king of Sedom" (Genesis 14:1)

The war of the 4 kings verses the 5 kings is told here because Avraham risked his life so that he could save his nephew Lot! This was one of the ten trials that Avraham went through. Was there an obligation for Avraham to do such a thing and if he would have died would that have been called suicide?

A person is allowed to put their lives in danger to help someone else if there is a doubt whether it is a real danger or not; for a real danger it is forbidden. For example, if a person knows how to swim, he potentially can try and save someone drowning if it not life threatening to him; if he doesn't know how to swim and he tries to save the person, he is held accountable. There is also a 614th commandment which is don't be stupid!

In this case, there was formidable danger for Avraham to try and save the life of his nephew. Although he firmly believed that G-d would help him in this endeavor it is not called fool hardy or stupid; just the opposite! He showed the world how an all powerful G-d can help you in times of great distress!

We shouldn't learn out from here that if Avraham could do we certainly could do this as well. The Vilna Gaon held that someone who lives their lives at an extremely high level and rely on G-d for everything, do not have to put their best foot forward for their needs. He made clear though that this individual relies on G-d for EVERYTHING! Otherwise, we have to try and use our own resources and do what we need to do.

For Avraham, this was a tangible as eating; it was clear to him that G-d would help him in this endeavor and that no harm would come to him. This is the same mentality the Maccabees used when they fought against the Greeks in the story of Chanukah. Did they really believe that a rag tag bunch of Yeshiva students would fight the world power at the time and be successful? They did and won!

If there is a doubt about the danger, one is allowed to proceed and if something does happen, they are not held liable because the danger is not acute but they must be careful nonetheless. Avraham took a great risk in what he did but the belief that G-d would help him was so strong that to him there was no danger in this endeavor.

He passed this test successfully by showing how strong his belief in Him was and spreading that to the world!

Shabbat Shalom

 

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 17: Come to the Study Hall and Learn or Become a Fossil!

"There are four types of those who go to the study hall: He who attends and does not practice (the teachings of the study hall) secures the reward for attending; he who practices (leading a good life) but does not attend (to acquire knowledge) secures the reward for practicing; he who attends and practices is saintly; he who neither attends nor practices is wicked"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that one who goes to the study hall but does not practice what he learns gets the reward of going. Rabbenu Yona explains that this person is truly evil because it is bad enough that he transgresses but also he prevents others from doing mitzvos as well! What is the purpose of his going to the study hall if he doesn't intend to practice what he learns?

The purpose of Torah is to change a person. We don't learn Torah like we would any other discipline i.e. mathematics. It is not mental gymnastics and intellectual stimulation we are looking for but a way to implement these ideas into our lives. A person like this Rabbenu Yonah explains is better that they did not come into the world in the first place. Although it is possible that they can do teshuvah (repent) at the same time, this person is clearly showing that what he is doing has no affect on their lives which is the opposite of what the Torah is trying to convey to us!

If a person learns but they don't go to the study hall gets the merit for doing the mitzvos. He doesn't know how to properly keep the mitzvos but he does them according to his understanding. He will certainly receive merit for what he does but without the proper guidance, he won't be able to serve G-d properly. The merit of the mitzvah he will receive but the way to properly do them and apply them to his life will be surely lacking!

If he goes to the study hall and practices what he learns is saintly because he utilizes the proper learning and applies it to their lives. This is what Torah is; learning what G-d wants him to do in this world and applying it to their lives to the best of their ability! Although we may fail this is in some way, nonetheless we make the best effort to learn, review and implement these timely teachings.

The person who doesn't go to learn or practice the teachings of the Torah is wicked because even if by some chance they would come by the study hall, it won't matter because they don't have any intention of learning or keeping the mitzvos. This person is against what the Torah wants from him and seemingly doesn't care. This will surely lead to assimilation, intermarriage and the ultimate destruction of the Jewish people.

We have seen this first hand that when their is little Jewish education, then everything else falls by the wayside. If Torah education isn't important, is there any reason someone born Jewish will be able to pass this priceless heritage down to the next generation. Just like a mule is a very strong animal (a hybrid between a horse and a donkey) it is sterile and can't reproduce. A Judaism without Torah will do the exact same thing!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Parshas Noach: Robbery is the final seal of man's destruction?

"The earth also was corrupt before G-d and the earth was filled with violence" (Genesis 6:11)

G-d decides to destroy the world and we see from this verse that the reason is because the earth is filled with violence. Many of the commentaries tell us that this was the final nail in the coffin for mankind so to speak but they also transgressed more severe things like immorality and idolatry so why is the final decree because of violence or robbery in this case? Robbery is not even one of the big three sins that a Jew has to give up there life for under any circumstances?

There is a major difference why there are secular laws and Torah laws. Secular laws keep society running (even though it seems that society is crazy even with them!) smoothly and functioning where as Torah laws are there to help us reach our true potential and become great people! What a major difference between the two.

G-d foresaw that because people stole from one another in such great proportions society would not be able to function. Although it is not one of the mitzvos we would have to give up our lives for, nonetheless when these laws break down or people take other people's property without any repercussions, then the morals and ability to live will not be possible.

G-d understood very well the nature of man and knew that this would happen but he created man anyway knowing their failures! There will be some that will make the right decisions and become truly righteous people and this is what G-d's intention was but the way the world was at this time, He had  no choice but to destroy man.

What happened after the flood? Did all mankind become righteous after that? Obviously not but G-d understood that He had to leave man alone by promising that He would never wipe them out again! This is not so simple because G-d knows the future, past and present so He foresaw this.

Even though at the end of Parshas Bereishis it seems that G-d has regret for creating man, this in and of itself is a tough philosophical question to grapple with because if G-d is omnipotent and omniscient then He seemingly cannot have regret now can He? This means that G-d saw the future and even though man would ultimately sin and do the wrong thing, He still hoped they would utilize the good and become the great people they can.

Rashi explains this with the following story: a non-Jew asks one of the rabbis about this verse and wonders if G-d knows the future how can it be that He is sad at having created man? The rabbi answers did you ever have a son born to you? The non-Jew answered yes. The rabbi retorted, "when he was born what did you do?" The non-Jew answered that he made a great party. The rabbi responded, "But don't you know that this child eventually will die?"

The non-Jew replied even though that is true, I am happy when he was born and will celebrate that and if G-d forbid he dies in my lifetime, I will be sad but the two thoughts are not diametrically opposed. This is what the verse means at the end of parshas bereishis.

Since G-d knows the thoughts and actions of man He can still be sad if they choose to make the wrong decisions but He gives them freewill to do so! In our verse G-d saw that if He would let things go as they were society would destroy itself. Better I G-d destroy them before they do it to themselves!

As for the future G-d will allow man to do what he wants but will intervene in history when He feels it is necessary. Even if we do things to ourselves, He will sit back so to speak and let things go even though He is orchestrating everything from behind the scenes.

In these troubling times we have to understand there is a divine plan, we are just not privy to what that is. As my rebbe said to me many times, if you are happy with the way G-d runs the world 95% of the time, the other 5% you won't understand in 20 lifetimes. You still need to learn and focus on doing what you need to do and let G-d does what He needs to do. A lesson that should not be forgotten!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 16: Giving Charity is worth it!

"There are four types of donors of charity: He who gives and does not want others to give begrudges others; he who wants others to give but will not give himself begrudges himself; he who gives and wants others to give is saintly; he who will not give and does not want others to give is wicked"

The Mishna here describes people who either give or not give charity or want others to give charity or not. An interesting point that the Mishna makes is that whatever a person does is his own decision but why try and convince others not to do something? Why is it that one will go out their way to influence others not to give as well?

The Torah obligates every Jew to give ten percent of their earnings after taxes. If a person wants to they can give up to twenty percent but no more lest they become dependent on others if they give too much. After we have worked hard for our money it is not such an easy thing to want to give to others. We can say that if they work hard as well they will earn enough of a livelihood, so why should I help them?

It could be the person has entered a difficult period or there are other expenses that are dragging them down or they are sick or any number of maladies that could cause a person to need help from others. If we are doing our best to make ends meet and we are doing ok, what a mitzvah it is to help someone else if we can.

G-d teaches us a tremendous lesson by obligating us to give to others. He gives us the opportunity to understand whatever we have is only temporary and we won't be taking any of it in the next world! We are allowed to use it in this world but we can elevate it by helping those less fortunate than us even though we may not have that much to give. It teaches us to appreciate what we have and be benevolent to others.

Rabbi Akiva was once asked if G-d has all the power in the world to give people money, why are there poor people? Rabbi Akiva answered that it gives the opportunity to those that have money to give to others which will save the from any troubles in this world and uproot bad decrees as well G-d forbid that may come upon a person!

A person has to learn from a young age that money they have or whatever they have in this world is only temporary. Yes you need it to live and survive but it has the potential to do so many good things like helping sustain Torah scholars or help out schools...Imagine the holiness of this money when it is used for the right purpose. We can also encourage others and help them with this great mitzvah which they themselves benefit from in so many spiritual ways that we cannot even fathom!

When we encourage others we become partners with G-d. We want to help give of our ourselves which inevitably will make us more humble and have a greater appreciation for everything that G-d has done for us! We must never forget this and always remember what we have is on loan and G-d can take it back whenever He wants!

If G-d forbid we discourage people from helping even though they have free choice to do what they want, we potentially harm others as well. If someone were to have given even a minimal donation and we convince them not to do it, then the tremendous benefits of giving to charity are taken away from them which the Mishna calls evil! Who knows how many bad things that could have been uprooted had this person given charity!! It saves lives and help others at the same time? Isn't that alone worth it?
Thursday, October 8, 2015

Parshas Bereishis: Man's Creation: The Pinnacle of Creation or no better than an Animal!

"And G-d said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth" (Genesis 1:26)

As the beginning of the book of Genesis discusses what was created on each day, the Torah tells us that G-d creates man after He has created everything else. The question here is the language that is used i.e. that it is used in the plural. Who, if anyone is G-d speaking to here?

Rashi tells us that through G-d's humbleness, He discusses with the angels and heavenly court about the making of man and seemingly asks their opinions of whether it is a good thing to do or not. Rashi also tells us that this language can be problematic because people could make the mistake that there are other gods besides Him. Why would the Torah allow people to make such a mistake and because of their own knowledge, be considered a heretic?

Very simply, G-d gave man free will and the ability to either make the right or wrong decision. When he breathes in the spirit of life into man, the Aramaic translation Unkelos explains that he gave man the ability to speak, think and reason. This means that he did not want to create robots but give people the opportunity to make the right decision of action and sanctify themselves exponentially while living in this world. That free will though may be somewhat limited as well.

 This means that although we have the ability to choose whatever we want to do, we are somewhat limited in that. The reason is because G-d has already put into motion where we came from, who are siblings are, socioeconomic status will be so not everyone starts out the same. Some will have some things easier than others while others will have difficulty in other areas. No two people have the same trials or tribulations and come out of it the same since the source of their soul is not the same.

This tells us that since the soul makeup of each person with their own "baggage" that they are given will react to situations in a different way. The reason for this is because of the life experience that they have been put through here on this earth. With that been said, two people could react very differently to the same situation.

If a person was miraculously saved from a serious illness or was in an accident and they realize how fortunate they have been to survive, another person could look at it as luck since they could say that there was someone in that same situation or similar that didn't survive from what they went through and this person came out of it through luck!

Judaism doesn't believe in luck and life has a purpose, not just based on chance. This philosophy of luck and chance was lived by the people of Amalek and that is what they brought to this world. The idea that things happen, have no purpose and everything is chance.

This ultimately led to Haman's downfall as he was pinned down by angels on Esther's bed as the king came in. How could Haman say he hadn't tried to do anything because he was pinned down by angels! This very statement is the antithesis of everything that the people of Amalek stand for and he was killed because of these beliefs!

G-d gives two eyes for every person to see. We need to learn and continue living through the eyes of the Torah. When we do the right thing, we uplift our body and soul; if not the body and soul are debased. This is the challenge we constantly face.

In this case, man is created last either to show he is the pinnacle of creation or if he acts just according to his animalistic nature, then he is not so great because all the animals were created before him!! His creation depends upon what they do with their lives, either a life of sanctification or pure hedonism.

As we start the first book of the Bible, let us renew our commitment to learn it and become the great people we can.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 15: Don't forget your Learning!!

"There are four types of students: 1) One who grasps quickly and forgets quickly, his gain is offset by his loss; 2) one who grasps slowly and forgets slowly, his loss is offset by his gain; 3) one who grasps quickly and forgets slowly, this is a good portion; 4) one who grasps slowly and forgets quickly, this is a bad portion"

The Mishna here speaks about the importance of how a person should study. They should be eager to learn and do what they can to understand while at the same time do proper review so that they will retain it.  After all, what is the point of learning if in a very short amount of time you will forget it! Not everyone will have the ability to understand things quickly; for some it will come easier to others it will not.

What will determine one's level of learning will be on the amount of time they spend trying to understand the material at hand while constantly reviewing what they learn. Without review, how is a person supposed to retain what they learn? We may not find reviewing our learning and constantly going over it fun but at the same time, the more we have thoroughly exhausted the material the more we will acquire the learning at hand.

Many people feel that they have spent a great amount of time learning but they have not mastered it! There are a number of reasons why this might be true. It could be lack of focus, depth or insufficient time to properly review or all three of these things put together. Learning Torah is hard, no question about it but if we live what we learn and love what we do, then the extra time to master it will give us tremendous self-confidence!


 We may give up at the start because learning Torah seems as vast as the sea or as expansive as the heavens above. Nonetheless, we have an obligation to the best of our ability to master it. This means that if someone would ask us a question, we should readily have an answer at the tip of our fingertips!

Forgetting what we learn should be an embarrassment to us because it shows that yes we are interested in the learning but it doesn't stay with us for so long so it doesn't stay with us. The idea of in one ear and out the other comes to play here. The following story with my rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a will help us understand this idea.

I once was giving over to him something I had prepared and in the middle of my presentation he told me to stop because I had quoted one of the commentators wrong. I had mentioned a different name of one of the rabbis that the text did not quote. He told me that I should go back and look it up because I had not quoted it properly and if I didn't quote it properly then he had no obligation to listen!!

"After all, how could you forget who said this," he shouted at me. "Isn't the Torah important to you enough that you should at least remember who said what?" Taken aback, I told him that I had just seen this commentary the other day and didn't think I misquoted it.

I took the Talmud off the shelf, opened it up and sure enough it was not as I had quoted it. The rav was vindicated and made a very strong point to constantly review and don't forget what you learned! This story will be forever etched in my memory because I can't say when the last time he had seen this commentary but I bet it wasn't very recent!

I took great pride in what transpired here because it taught me a valuable lesson. The Torah is so holy, so precious, can it be we would forget some aspect of it that we learned? The goal is as the Mishna clearly tells us, be eager and quick to learn and love to learn but constantly review so that you retain it and have it at the tip of your fingers. A true lesson for life!