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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, November 26, 2015

Parshas Vayishlach: Don't budge one inch!!

"And Yaakov sent messengers before him to Esav his brother to the land of Se'ir, the country of Edom. And he commanded them saying, This you shall speak to my lord Esav: Your servant Yaakov says I have sojourned with Lavan, and stayed there until now: and I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants and women servants and I have sent to tell my lord that I may find favor in your sight" (Genesis 32:4-6). 

Yaakov tells Esav about the wealth that he has accumulated to find favor in his eyes. We know that the fight for the birthright between the two brothers was about this world and the next world. Yaakov wanted to show although he was given blessing in this world Esav shouldn't worry that he had forsaken spirituality. In reality we are allowed to use this world for our benefit but we have to realize that the main thing we have to focus on is spirituality!

For the sake of livelihood or other things in the secular world we may have to do things we don't like or may even have to compromise. Spirituality is not like that! This is what Yaakov means when he tells Esav that he lived with Lavan. Rashi there says that he lived with Lavan but he kept all the commandments. Do we really think Esav cared that Yaakov remained religious despite living with the evil Lavan?

Yaakov made Esav understand that even though he lived by Lavan, his closeness to G-d and his level of religiosity did not change. Although Esav was far from this ideal, he grew up in the house of Yitzchak so he understood what spirituality was. Yaakov makes clear that Esav too will not have a bad influence on him just as Lavan did not!

This is important for us today on many levels. We may be out in the workforce and come in contact with many types of Lavan that want to weaken our spiritual resolve. We have to know that regardless of where we are and what we are doing we still have to do what G-d wants us to do at all times. This is not easy when we are given different trials and tribulations.

At the same time, our spiritual resolve has to remain strong and unyielding. Once there is a chink in our spiritual armor, the evil inclination clenches its claws on us to make us weaker. We have to constantly strengthen ourselves in that area so that it cannot have its negative affect on us!

As we get closer to Chanukah we realize that this is exactly what the Greeks wanted to do to us. They didn't care if we wanted to be religious but they desired that we should partake in their gymnasium's and learn in their schools and be like them. We have seen the "Greeks" of today that advocate the same thing which has given the Jewish people a 60% intermarriage rate and rampant assimilation. May we take Yaakov's strength in being unyielding and strong in our religious pursuits and bring out the light of Torah!

Shabbat Shalom!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 22: Who do you want to be like, Balaam or Avraham?

"Whoever has the following three traits is among the disciples of our forefather Avraham and whoever has three different traits is among the disciples of the wicked Balaam. Those who have a good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul are among the disciples of our forefather Avraham. Those who have an evil eye, an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul are among the disciples of the wicked Balaam. How are the disciples of the wicked Balaam? The disciples of our forefather Avraham enjoy the (fruits of their good deeds in this world and inherit the world to come as it is aid: 'To cause those who love Me to inherit an everlasting possession (the world to come) and I will fill their storehouses (in this world). But the disciples of the wicked Balaam inherit Gehinnom and descend into the well of destruction, as is said 'And you O G-d shall lower them into the well of destruction men of bloodsheed and deceit shall not live out half their days; but as for me, I will trust in You'".

 Avraham's great character traits shows that he wanted to help others, was humble and didn't think he was anything special, just wanting to serve G-d the best way possible. We see that he desired to have guests to the extent that he was looking for them just three days after he was circumcised. He was no doubt exempt from this but the importance of this mitzvah is so great that we learn out that having guests is more important that even speaking to G-d directly!

His way of treating guests was unparalleled. We can understand this because when he had guests he served them what they wanted to eat not what he wanted to serve them. This shows how much desire he had to serve others and how much he wanted them to enjoy his hospitality.

He was also humble in spirit which means that he did not consider himself so special, just a person who dedicated himself to G-d in a world filled with idolatry. G-d gave him many difficult trials which he was able to overcome solidifying his legacy with the binding of Yitzchak! They made him stronger and gives us the ability to withstand trials and tribulations because of what he did

He is also meek soul which Rabbenu Yonah explains that he had no desire to do evil and was of such a pure soul that he continually strove to grow in spirituality regardless of what he was going through. He understood that G-d demanded a lot from him and was willing to do whatever was asked of him. Considering all the difficulties that he went through, he never questioned G-d's ways and successfully reached his potential!

Balaam on the other hand was just the opposite. He was greedy and arrogant and even though he communicated with G-d, it didn't change him for the better! This is incredulous to understand because we can't imagine that someone at that level who G-d communicated with could act in such a way.

He continued to do evil and didn't care about anything except himself. It turned him into a selfish person whose sole purpose was to look out for himself and give in to desires as he saw fit! Isn't that what most people do anyway, you may ask?

That may be true but he had tremendous influence over others. This is truly scary because he was able to corrupt others to go against G-d and live a wayward life. Someone who is subservient to their desires and does not work on them is never truly free because they are constantly busy just fulfilling the next desire...The truly free person though is someone who learns Torah and goes in its ways,

The Misnah compares both Avraham and Balaam showing how they represent to opposite ways of how to live one's life. A person can decide to go in the direction of Avraham, constantly rising up the spiritual ladder, willing to do anything to have closeness to G-d. Balaam, on the other hand, went after his how desires which destroyed his soul and those around him. The choice is ours to make: do we want to be like Balaam or Avraham?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Parshas Vayeitze: Yaakov's struggle with Lavan and Realizing that we can only rely on G-d!

"Then Jacob became angered and he took up his grievance with Lavan; Jacob spoke up and said to Lavan, "What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me? When you rummaged through all my things what did you find of all your household objects? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen and let them decide between the two of us" (Genesis 31:36-37).

Imagine after everything that Yaakov has done for Lavan that Lavan has the audacity to accuse him of stealing something from him. After all, everything that Lavan had was blessed because of what Yaakov had done for him. What is the deeper meaning here? 

Lavan was a swindler par excellence and knew how to manipulate people very well. Even though Yaakov tried his best to get Rachel, he was outfoxed by him. At the same time, Lavan seemed to know no bounds on what he was willing to do to get what he wanted. This is why when Yaakov confronts Esav he tells him that he lived with Lavan and guarded the 613 commandments. Do we think that Esav really cared that he still stayed righteous living with the evil Lavan?

Even though Yaakov was tricked, nonetheless he was able to retain his righteousness. This is incredible considering all the things that happens to him! Nonetheless since Yaakov tricked Esav to get the blessings (which he undoubtedly deserved) he is deceived by Lavan measure for measure. Even so, he passed this trial but could not contain his anger when confronted by Lavan.

As we know the patriarchs are human but they knew that they were building the Jewish people and giving them the basics for them to survive throughout the generations. Yaakov had to go to Lavan to understand how to deal with crafty people and still stay true to his creator and go in the path that he needed in order to reach that unlimited potential! It certainly wasn't easy and he suffered along the way but he learned a valuable lesson that he was able to give over to his kids and pass that down to future generations!

Lavan himself is the paradigm of a person and a mentality of wanting to do bad things to the Jewish people. This has not changed throughout the generations just taken different forms. The Jewish people remain strong and united only through their commitment to Torah and mitzvos. A nation not connected to their heritage and their past certainly will have no future. Regardless of what the zionists have tried to achieve over the years, they like other Jewish (non-religious) groups are dying out because they are giving their constituents something that cannot be passed down to the future generations!

The reason is because it is like having a body without a soul. When you don't get that spiritual nourishment the body atrophies and dies. Even if the person is alive, they are just lacking burial since once they continue to go after physical things without anything spiritual that is akin to death itself.

We are living in difficult times where we see the tragedies occur because we in fact exist! We can't help that but we must realize that everything comes from G-d and we need to wake ourselves up that our great army will protect us or other nations will help us because this is the type of war we cannot win. G-d is telling us to only rely on Him because there is nothing else to do. We must internalize this message and live it!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 21: Influencing others has Consequences!

"Whoever leads the people to righteousness, no sin shall occur through him; whoever leads the people to sins hall not be enabled to repent. Moses was righteous and let the people to righteousness, hence the merit of the people is attributed to him as it is said: 'He performed the justice of the L-rd, and his ordinances with Israel." Jeroboam the son of Nebat, sinned and caused others to sin, hence the sin of the people is attributed to him, as it is aid,: 'For the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned and caused Israel to sin'". 

People who are in positions of leadership have the ability to influence others for good and bad. If they lead people to go in G-d's ways and strengthen them, then the Mishna tells us that no sin will befall them. This is incredible because according to this it would seem that their evil inclination is kept at bay because of the great work that they are doing!

What this means is that although this may be true, the evil inclination does not rest and constantly works to ensnare a person into its web so that they can reach their true potential. That being said, working with others and influencing them positively can have a tremendous effect on a person and actually save them from sin.

Rabbi Eliahu Lopian z"l a Torah giant of the last generation and leader in the mussar movement explained that when a person works with others and helps them, bad judgement upon them is avoided because of their gracious acts. This means that if a person wants to guarantee long life (even though there are no guarantees in this world) they should work with people and help them. Why is this so?

If we work with others and try and help them in any which way, we gain tremendous merit because we are doing such a selfless act. We are not doing this because we want merit for our portion in the world to come but rather it is genuine because we are helping them and guiding them to greatness in spiritual things.

This has a tremendous power to protect us because if we are needed in this capacity then G-d will make sure that they are able to continue their holy work making sure that nothing bad befalls them. Although there are other factors involved that could override this, nonetheless it is a good way to protect ourselves.

 It also helps us in giving to others which will result in us wanting to help even more. This is what the Mishna in Ethics of our fathers teaches us that when we do a mitzvah, it causes us to do more mitzvas because we are not only used to doing it but it has a positive influence and causes us to do other good things as well.

If G-d forbid we lead others to go astray, there is nothing worse than this. The reason is because not only are we not helping them to go in G-d's way but we are leading them astray and causing them to rebel against Him. Therefore it is as if their sins are attributed to the one causing them to go in that direction. The question is if everyone has free will, why is it the person causing them to go in that direction is more severely punished than the one who transgressed in the first place?

The one who transgressed will surely be punished but if they were influenced by someone to go in that direction and do just that, the person who caused it is influencing them to go in the wrong direction. This is why the punishment for them is so severe.

This is the reason we have to be careful who we befriend and what influences we allow in our lives. Some are very good and can keep us on the straight and narrow path while others will destroy us and take us away from what we need to do!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Parshas Chayei Sarah: G-d runs the World!

"And it was when he had not yet finished speaking that suddenly Rivka wa coming out she who had been born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nachor, brother of Avraham with her jug upon her shoulder" (Genesis 24:15)

After saying a prayer that he should find a wife for Yitzchak, the Torah then tells us what happened to Eliezer, Avraham's trusted servant. This is uncanny as the story unfolds because Avraham commands him and makes him swear that he is only allowed to find a woman with certain character traits from his family and not from the cursed Canaanites. What are the odds after this prayer is said that the one chosen to be Yitzchak's wife, "just happens" to come to the well to draw water? One in a thousand, a million?

Judaism certainly doesn't believe in coincidences! Everything is run by G-d and has His influence whether we understand it or not. There is a command for all Jews to believe in G-d. Where do we know this mitzvah from? The first of the 10 commandments which states, "I am the L-rd your G-d who has taken you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:2)

The commentators are bothered and ask why don't we have proof from the fact that G-d created the world, why does the Torah say that it is because He took them out of Egypt? The answer is because there was no one alive at the time that could verify that G-d created the world whereas by the giving of the Torah, we have 2 - 3 million people who saw G-d face to face on Mount Sinai.

You may ask but how do I know this is true? The answer is because we have many many things in Judaism that correspond to the exodus from Egypty. The whole Passover seder commemorates that by having three matzah's, four cups of wine and the fifth cup of Elijah...We have kiddush Friday night that commemorates the coming out of Egypt as well as the entire evening service...

So there are many things that we do that perpetuate this and it shows how G-d intervenes in history which is most important. Therefore the belief in G-d as a Jew is because is to know Him through knowledge and by a flippant I believe in G-d!

This is an important lesson we learn from the story of Eliezer finding a wife for Yitzchak. G-d runs the world and we should never forget that. We may not always understand His ways but He is there pulling the strings. We sometimes get a glimpse and when we do it makes it that much sweeter!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 19: What Jewish Marriage is all About

"All love which depends on sensual attraction will pass away as soon as the sensual attraction disappears, but if it is not dependent on sensual attraction, it will never pass away. Which love was dependent on sensual attraction? The love of Amnon and Tamar. And which depended on nothing selfish? The love of David and Jonathan"

There is a difference between love and infatuation. Infatuation is something that is fleeting and will not last because once it disappears, then it is gone. Love is something that lasts forever if it is harnessed properly and worked on. This is the way marriage works and has been successful throughout the millennium in the orthodox Jewish community.

When a man meets a woman for the sake of marriage, they need to see if they are compatible and that their life goals are the same. After a number of meetings they will get engaged and prepare for the wedding. After they are married, that is when the real work starts and that is where love will develop. Don't you need love to make the marriage work at the outset?

The answer is that you have to be attracted to your spouse and see them before one is married. Love will develop and if the marriage is strong, no matter what trials and tribulations they will go through then it will last. Marriage, though is something that always needs strengthening. It is like a flower, if you don't water it and take care of it, then it will surely die.

People sometimes feel that the system of dating in the orthodox world seems to be outdated and strange, at best but if we look deeper then we are able to see the beauty in it and why it has been so successful. The main reason that men and women are separated in schools and other things is because these friendships with physical contact always seem to get in the way.

This is why when they date, it is not just about having fun but rather to meet your soul mate, dedicating yourselves to them and vice versa. This can only occur when they are ready for such a relationship. Anything before that is antithetical to Torah and clearly doesn't work as statistics have shown.

At the same time,  if a marriage doesn't work out and cannot be saved then there is a mitzvah to get divorced. This is unfortunate and can happen but when we look at the bigger picture, the divorce rate in the orthodox community is minuscule compared to the greater world.

Another reason that marriages are so successful is because of family purity laws. This means that neither can treat the other like an object because there are certain times during the month where they cannot be together so there must be a deeper bond there! That also means that after being separated and coming together again rejuvenates the marriage and keeps it strong.

Both factors combined lead to a happy vibrant marriage which the secular world has no clue about! it has worked over the centuries and will continue throughout the generations. When it is used properly and implemented then we see the results, otherwise a person is just subject to their evil inclination and will end with infatuation rather than true love!