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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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Followers

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, January 28, 2016

Parshas Yisro: Yisro shows why he is the real deal!

"And Yisro rejoiced for all the goodness which the L-rd had done to Yisrael whom he had delivered out of the hand of Egypt . And Yisro said, 'Blessed be the L-rd who has delivered you out of the hand of Egypt and out of the hand of Paraoh who has delivered the people from under the hand of Egypt" (Exodus 18:9-10)

Yisro came and heard about the miracles that took place in Egypt. He now wants to become part of the Jewish people and convert. The question is why would he be allowed to convert to Judaism in these circumstances? After all, in the time of David and Solomon no one was allowed to convert because the Jewish people were on top so to speak and if a person would be allowed to convert their free will would be taken away. So too, when the messiah comes and all the miracles are going on, they also won't be allowed to convert for the same reason so how is Yisro allowed to convert here or anyone for that matter at this time?

We have to remember who Yisro was. He was the main priest of Midyan. There was no idol in the world that he had not worshiped. The fact that he leaves Midyan to be give thanks to G-d and be part of the Jewish people shows that he was truly sincere. This is the reason that when someone wants to convert to Judaism they cannot convert for ulterior motives; not for marriage, not because of all the miracles that happen to the Jewish people, not because the Jewish community can help them financially....This is the reason that the beis din (rabbinical court) will continually make sure before they convert someone that their motives are for the sake of heaven!

At the same time we cannot truly know the nature of why a person may convert to Judaism but the criteria must be first and foremost to ascertain that there are no ulterior motives. Once that can be determined then we let the potential convert learn and get the guidance they need to finish the process. Although this may be a difficult and long process. part of it is to see the sincerity of the person. This is the reason that it could take a number of years before the person finishes the process.

Another reason is that converts have not given the Jewish people such a great name over the last millennium and therefore the Jewish community will be skeptical to accept converts unless they feel that they are the real deal. After all, since the Jewish people have been murdered, gassed...and are on the low end of the totem pole so to speak, why would anyone want to convert in the first place? Also if they see what goes in a Jewish community and see how Jews act and they still want to convert either they are the real deal or crazy or both!

This is why the beis din will want to know why they want to do such a thing and take on all these laws! After all they could have a place in the world to come even if they don't convert and be a noahide. That certainly is an option and an obligation for all non-Jews even if they decide they don't want to convert. It may be an easier option than having to move to a Jewish community and have to change their lives drastically!

At the same time, the non-Jew has the option to go either way. If he wants to be a Jew though, then they are going to have to prove themselves to the community that this is the case. This is what we learn here from Yisro. He has everything to lose in Midyan and he gives it all up to be part of the Jewish people. He shows that he is the real deal and what a Jewish convert is all about!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 6 Mishna 5: Don't Live on Automatic Pilot

"Do not see greatness for yourself, and do not crave honor; let your performance exceed your learning. Do not lust for the table of kings, for your table is greater than theirs, and your crown is greater than their crown; and your employer is trustworthy to pay you remuneration for your deeds"

Isn't the purpose of learning Torah to become close to G-d? After all, if G-d gave us the blueprint for how to live our lives how could a person think that they are so great that they deserve honor? Even if they have learned a lot of Torah they should not think they are so great because that is what they are created for in the first place!

A person is supposed to live their lives the best way they can while serving G-d. That is enough for us. We are not looking for titles or honor; these things certainly can make a person feel haughty and cause them to lose their share in the world to come. Thinking that a person is so great will lead them to look down on others and forget all the good things that G-d has done for them. They will live off the fat of the land so to speak and say that everything they have is because of the work of their hands. They will end up denying G-d and His important role in their lives.

We sometimes lose sight of this simple idea. We want wealth, fame and greatness in this world. It gives us tremendous self esteem and inflates our ego as to all the good things that we have done and can do. It also can corrupt us to no end because when one has wealth and fame, they think they can do anything and morality goes out of the window.

The real issue here is that a person loses sight of reality and the real purpose of life. It is not about money, sports, entertainment or anything that takes us away from G-d. We are so sucked into what goes around us we forget about Torah and doing mitzvos. It shows a tremendous lack on our part and shallowness as well.

Even if we understand the purpose of life and what we need to do, we always have to work hard to make spirituality a reality for ourselves. This means that when we make blessings for instance we should be cognizant of the fact that we are giving thanks to G-d for the food that He gives us. When we get benefit from something we have to show gratitude.  Keeping Shabbos and the festivals shows that G-d runs the world and cares about what goes on down here!

We have to be careful not to do things just by rote because then even if we are doing the right thing, we minimize its importance if we are on automatic pilot! Torah has to be fresh on a daily basis and we have to look at each day as if G-d gave us the Torah anew. This is a difficult challenge but one that is necessary for us to continue to grow in spirituality even by doing mundane things. We need to prioritize and constantly think in G-d's ways and then go out and do it!
Thursday, January 21, 2016

Parshas Bashalach: We are Subservient to G-d

"And the L-rd said to Moshe, 'Why do you cry to me? speak to the children of Israel that they go forward" (Exodus 14:15)

After everything the Jewish people go through in Egypt, they escape, go through the desert and now are faced by the obstacle of the sea in front of them and Egyptians close behind! G-d here asks Moshe why he is crying out! Just speak to the children of Israel and tell them to move forward. How can they move forward if the sea is right in front of them and the Egyptians right on their heels?

This is yet another test for the Jewish people to work on their belief in G-d. They witness the plagues, the killing of the first born...and they even kill the Egyptian god the lamb and slaughter it in front of their very eyes! What more does G-d want from them?

The answer is that G-d goes out of His way to work on the emunah of his people in Him. After all, they are going to live in the desert for a while and live on a very high spiritual level having G-d sustain them miraculously while being there. This is part of the bigger plan of getting them on that level to accept the Torah and then go into the promised land. The problem was that the Jewish people did not think they were on the level for such a thing!

That is why they complain in the desert "missing" the watermelon and fish of Egypt. Did they really miss those things and have this strong desire to return to the place where they suffered so much? After seeing all the miracles and going through the sea and receiving the Torah, they felt that they were not on a level to live that way. Obviously G-d thought otherwise and was expecting  great things from them which would make the transition to the land that much easier.

In essence that is what G-d wants from us. He puts us in situations that help us to reach our true potential. They may be difficult trials and tribulations but they are the best way for us to do things that we didn't think we were capable of! Isn't better we don't have these things? Yes, but at the same time without them we don't grow!

At this time when the Jewish people come to the sea and they see the Egyptians right behind them, they cry out to G-d to save them. They had no other choice. They were not going to fight the world power at the time and had no one else to turn to. This is a very valuable lesson we have to learn for ourselves.

No matter what we do or what is thrown at our way, we have to be thankful for whatever G-d puts us through because at the end of the day the purpose is to strengthen us in our belief in Him! The other thing to realize is that in all our endeavors there is no one else but Him! If we would realize this very simple idea, our lives would be different because we need this realization that everything comes from Him, for good and for bad.

We may not always understand why things happen the way it does but when we turn our lives over to Him for all our needs, we will live and look different!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 6 Mishna 4: Know how to Curb your Desires!

"This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, lve a life of deprivation - but toil in the Torah! If you do this, 'you are praiseworthy, and all is well with you'. You are praiseworthy in this world and all is well with you in the world to come".

Is this really the way that we are supposed to live? Am I not allowed to enjoy things in this world or is everything just forbidden and bad? The Torah outlook is that we live in this world and we need to make the most of it. Although there is great temptation and we certainly could use the warning to be careful of not enjoying things too much in this world, nonetheless we are allowed to get benefit of things here we just need to know how to use them!

The Ramban at the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim tells us that there are plenty of things that are permissible in this world. The problem is that if we use too much of them or do things in abundance, it could be detrimental to our physical and mental health. One example is that it is permissible to eat.
The reason is otherwise we would die! We need to sustain our bodies and keep ourselves healthy so that we can function. Although this may be true, we are not allowed to go overboard and be gluttons! We have to do thing in proportion to how we can use and utilize them! Just because a person has different desires doesn't mean we always have to go after them!

G-d gave us these desires so that we would work on our self control. Many will say "eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow you die". Get as much out of this world as possible and enjoy life to the fullest since we don't know what tomorrow will bring. That may be true but don't we have other obligations in this world besides our physical needs?

One of the reasons that we make blessings for example is to give gratitude for everything that G-d does for us. We learn this out from Moshe that he was not allowed to hit the sand for the sake of making lice as one of the plagues in Egypt and he was not allowed to smite the water (because it protected him as a child) for the plague of blood. If Moshe had to show gratitude for inanimate objects all the more so we have to have gratitude to G-d for the fact that He sustains us!

Not only that, but the blessings that we make has a physical and spiritual purpose as it gives blessings to all fruit trees...(if that is the blessing we are making). We show gratitude for what G-d gives us and He responds by blessing the source of what we ate from! Mind boggling if we think about what can happen when we make a simple blessing over an apple or a peach!

The Mishna here speaks of the idea of living with the minimal. The reason is because if we do that we will better be able to serve G-d and work on our desires. Again, this does not mean we shouldn't eat or enjoy things but we need to know how to do so otherwise we could be caught up in all that which would take us away from our real purpose and that is working on our relationship with G-d and becoming the great people that we can be!
Thursday, January 14, 2016

Parshas Bo: Sacrifice for Torah

"Then Moshe called for all the elders of Yisrael and said to them, Draw out and take your lambs according to your families and kill the passover offering" (Exodus 12:21)

After all the plagues and the decimation of Israel, G-d tells Moshe to tell the Jewish people that the last thing they have to do is kill the lamb and sprinkle the blood on the doorpost of their home so G-d can pass over their homes during the plague of the killing of the first born. If the sheep was a god for the Egyptians, how could G-d command them to do this if it meant killing their god right in front of their eyes? Hadn't the Jews gone through enough to be redeemed?

We know that in the plague of darkness their is a discrepancy as to how many Jews died. Some say it was 50% some say more. The reality is that it could be that only 20% of the Jewish people actually made it out! Even so, G-d wanted the Jewish people to go through one last test and this was it. They had to show beyond the shadow of a doubt that they would be G-d's people by putting their lives in danger by killing the Egyptian god.

Is this what the Torah demands from us? To this extent a person has to be willing to give up their lives for its sake? There is a famous story the Talmud tells about Rabbi Akiva. The Shema says that we should love the L-rd our G-d, with all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all of your might. With all of our soul Rabbi Akiva understood it meant that even if we have to give up our souls for the sake of Torah!

As he was being killed, his students asked is this really what the Torah meant? The Talmud then tells us as he said the Shema his soul left him. Not everyone agreed with how Rabbi Akiva interpreted this verse but he understood that in the back of our minds this certainly could happen and what we have to be willing to give up for Him! Are we any different?

Don't we know that at some point there may be a time when we would have to give up our lives for His sake? No one wants to go through this but if we are forced to then we will do that. This is the sacrifice that Jews have made throughout the millennium and we learn this out from the Jews in Egypt! This event shaped the Jewish people into who they became on the way for them to accept the Torah!

We have a lot to learn from this. We can take this important message and put it in our everyday lives. Nothing is more important than learning Torah and keeping its mitzvos! Regardless of the difficulties we may have.we still have to keep the mitzvos to the best of our ability! We have to keep in mind and be willing to give up our lives for our precious heritage!

Shabbat Shalom


Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 6 Mishna 3: Respect for those that have taught us

"He who learns from his fellowman a single chapter, a single halachah, a single verse, a single Torah statement or even a single letter, must treat him with honor. For this we find in the case of David, King of Israel, who learned nothing from Achitophel except for two things, yet called him his teacher, his guide, his intimate, as it is said: 'You are a man of my measure, my guide and my intimate. One can derive from this the following: If David King of Israel who learned nothing from Achitophel except for two things, called him his teacher, his guide, his intimate one who learns from his fellowman a single chapter, a single halacha, a single verse, a single statement, or even a single letter, how much more must he treat him with honor! And honor is due only for Torah as it is aid, 'The wise shall inherit honor...' and the perfect shall inherit good. And only Torah is truly good, as it is said, 'I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake My Torah'". 

This Mishna teaches us the importance of showing respect to our teachers even if they only taught us one verse of Torah or even one letter all the more so if they taught us more! The reason is very simple: we have to show gratitude to those that gave us the ability to understand and know His knowledge! For that alone, don't they deserve honor?

We see today more than ever how much teachers and rabbis are castigated for what they do. They could have years of success bringing others closer to Torah while at the same time having detractors trying to cause them harm. A rabbi who doesn't have people striving against him is not a rabbi! This will ultimately make the person work harder to achieve their goals. Why though, if these people are trying hard to educate others, why should they have enemies?

The answer is that many times they may speak about a topic or give over information that for some people is hard to hear.and they will fight tooth and nail against them because they don't want to hear the truth. While that may be true, it does not give anyone the right to chastise the rabbi or speak out against him.

There are laws of lashon hara (speaking badly about others) that we all have to know and review. There are times that it is permitted to speak out against someone if that person for example is causing others to go astray or not keep the Torah and there are times that we should be quiet. Most people are not aware that even if something is in the news and it is true it is still lashon hara!

We are quick to make accusations and give our opinions when we don't even know what the facts are! Haven't we regretted things we have said because of a knee-jerk reaction? That also can happen but the reality of the situation is that even before we know what has "truly" happened we are judge and jury!

What if the person is a Torah scholar? After all, if he has taught us something, even one thing as the Mishna tells us don't we have to show them honor? Shouldn't they be given the benefit of the doubt before they are sacrificed by the social media? Unless the person is a heretic (which has specific guidelines as to what one is) is it permissible in any way to destroy them after all the good that they have done?

If we only learned this Mishna and nothing else, then that would tell us how careful we must be when we speak about our religious leaders. The Vilna Gaon stood for the rebbe that taught him the alef - beis because that knowledge allowed him to begin to learn Torah! If the Vilna Gaon had that much respect for the one who taught him that, then we should have as much if not ore respect to those teachers that have taught us!
Thursday, January 7, 2016

Parshas Vaera: Look at the Goodness G-d does for us!

"Hashem said unto Moshe, 'Say to Aharon Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt; over their rivers, over their canals, over their reservoirs, and over all their gatherings of water, and they shall become blood; there shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in the wooden and stone vessels" (Exodus 7:19)

The plague of blood is the first of the plagues that will go on to decimate Egypt. When we read about the plagues and hear about the miracles that occurred in Egypt, we may wonder what was so great about them in the first place? G-d is the one in charge of nature and controls it, so can't He change things if He so desires for whatever reason? Certainly He can and did but what is the deeper message here?

When we hear about the miracles we are astounded as to their tenacity and utter destruction of this nation where the Jews were seemingly unaffected by it! At the same time it was to show G-d's power in the world and instill in the Jewish people the idea that not only does G-d run the world but He interferes in history. This is the concept of Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) which is a major tenet of Judaism.

It is so important that the mitzvah to believe in G-d is so strong that we are obligated to believe in Him through knowledge of His existence because He took us out of Egypt. This means that not only does G-d care for us and what happens to us but He control nature and can change it at His will! Another important lesson we learn from here is that when Moshe told Pharaoh that this or that plague was going to occur it did!

This is nothing short of miraculous because isn't it true that we may sometimes promise to do things but somehow we get sidetracked or bogged down with other things and don't end up doing it? Even with the greatest of intentions we may fail in this. The Torah here teaches an important lesson.

When Moshe told Pharaoh that G-d was going to do something it happened. Not only that it happened each time! How could it be after the first few plagues that Pharaoh could still deny G-d's existence. When Moshe said something would happen it did. How could Pharaoh deny this?

The answer is that this is why G-d hardened his heart and did not allow him to do teshuvah. He took away his freewill because after witnessing G-d's miracles he still rebelled against Him. G-d gave him an opportunity and Pharaoh basically spit in G-d's face. G-d then decided well if that is the case then He is going to make an example out of Pharaoh and his people by showing His might against him.

If this is true, then all the more so we have to be careful if G-d does something for us and we witness or hear about a miracle and it doesn't change us. The reason is because now we have a higher awareness of Him which now should change us to do teshuvah and become better people. If we don't do this and acknowledge what is happening then the repercussions can be that much worse.

If we say that with everything going in the world we see tremendous Divine Providence and miracles all around us, how can it not change us and if it doesn't change us, how much worse it will be for us! We have to wake up and see what is happening and realize all the chesed G-d does for us and continues to do for us!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 6 Mishna 2: The Truly Free Person is one who learns Torah

"Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Every day a heavenly voice resounds from Mount Horeb , proclaiming these words: 'Woe to the people for their disregard of the Torah! For whoever does not occupy himself with the Torah is considered rebuked as it is said, 'Like a golden ring in the snout of a swine is a fair woman lacking in taste'. The Torah says, 'The tablets were the work of G-d and the writing was the writing of G-d, engraved upon the tablets.' Read not here charut meaning engraved but heruth which means freedom, for none can be considered free except those who occupy themselves with the study of the Torah. Anyone who occupies himself with the study shall be exalted, as it is said, 'Through the Torah gift one attains the heritage of G-d; by the heritage of G-d one is raised to high places'". 

The first part of the Mishna explains that there is this heavenly voice that goes out every day bemoaning the fact that the Jewish people disregard the Torah. The first question is who hears this heavenly voice and what does it mean that the Jewish people disregard Torah?

If we would be on the spiritual level that we could be on, spiritual things would manifest themselves in a way that we could fathom. There are unique individuals that may be on this level but the vast majority of us are certainly not. At the same time, hearing this voice would be like hearing someone speak between two mountains, Rabbenu Yona tells us. This is difficult for us to fathom but the idea remains that we are lacking in our observance of Torah.

Even though today there is more Torah learning going on than in the second Temple era, nonetheless the level of scholarship today is not comparable to what it once was. It doesn't mean that G-d forbid, people are not learning it is just that the level of learning is not the same as it once was. This is certainly a rebuke against the Jewish people as to how far we have fallen.

Although this may happen on a daily basis whether we hear it or not reinforces the idea of how much more we have to work to reach our potential. The Mishna then continues to speak about the importance of learning Torah and how the truly free person is one that is occupied with Torah. If that is true, do we say that the vast majority of the world not occupied in Torah are mere slaves?

The Mishna here means that if we are occupied with Torah, learning its mitzvos and trying to reach the highest spiritual level we can, then we are really considered free. The reason is because if we don't do that, then we are in reality slaves to our wants and desires. Although we are given free will to act and do as we see fit, nonetheless we see that the more we engage in the everyday without stepping back to "smell the roses" and do what is really important, we have surely missed the boat!

The purpose of our lives is to realize that we are put in this world to struggle and overcome our evil inclination. We do mitzvos and keep Torah because that is the best way to become closer to G-d since this is the book that He manufactured Himself. Although we are given many trials and tribulations over our lifetime, we nonetheless strive to become better and sanctifying G-d's name!