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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, February 25, 2016

Parshs Ki Tissa: Breaking Shabbos to Save Someone

"Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, 'Now you speak to the children of Israel saying, 'However you must observe My Sabbaths for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations to know that I am Hashem, who make you holy'" (Exodus 31:13).

The Or HaChaim HaKadosh in his commentary on the Torah learns from this verse that a person is allowed to break shabbos for the sake of a sick person whose life is in danger. The rationale is that you break shabbos for him now so that he will be able to keep shabbos in the future. This means that since his life is in danger now, we do what we can to save him because we know that saving his life will allow him to keep shabbos in the future. What if he doesn't observe shabbos though, is there still an obligation to save him?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit's in Chochmah V'Da'as brings a difference of opinion among the later commentaries whether we are allowed to do such a thing and it hinges on the fact of why they are transgressing the mitzvos if I am allowed to break shabbos.  If they transgress because they are not interested in G-d's law and are rebelling against Him then there would be no obligation to break shabbos to save them. If on the other hand they don't keep shabbos because they were never had a proper Jewish education then it should be allowed to save him. The issue is that even if we look at this person like someone who has not been educated properly at the end of the day they still are not going to keep shabbos so why would I be allowed to break shabbos to save him?

If for example there would be a child that's life is in danger and they live in a city where the majority people are non-Jews, there would still be an obligation to save him because of the command to live by the Torah and not die by it! Even if there is a doubt whether this person is a Jew or not, it seemingly would be important to save them because of this principle even if they won't keep shabbos in the future. There is another opinion that even if the person is truly evil, there is still a mitzvah to save them because maybe in the future they will repent and come back to Torah!

This is truly amazing because we see how far repentance can come for a person. We don't look at who they are per se but rather that by saving them, could change their whole perspective on life! How many times have we heard of people that have been in life threatening situations only to be saved and eventually come back to the fold. This doesn't always happen as the evil inclination doesn't want that, but it happens and awakens a person who could be so far from Torah.

From here we may say that the Torah is cruel G-d forbid.  How could there even be a question if someone's life is in danger that you wouldn't break shabbos to save them? The answer is that we don't understand how important shabbos is. If after all, they won't keep shabbos in the future, that gives me enough of a reason to save them? The answer is that we are allowed to save them but it is really based on a technicality. Not only that but the Torah says that you have to live by it and not die by it.

Therefore the Torah looks at shabbos observance as so vital that if a person doesn't keep it then if there life is in danger on shabbos, why should someone break it to save them? At the same time, we could say that if a person wouldn't do it and others see them walking away from it, that could cause a tremendous desecration of G-d's name and would therefore be permitted, whether it be a Jew or non-Jew.

This has often been misinterpreted and misunderstood by people to quickly retort that the Torah is cruel and backwards G-d forbid and doesn't make any sense. When we delve further and see how deep and important it is, we realize its sweetness and timely message!

Parshas Ki Tissa: Look out for that Spiritual Furnace

"The people saw that Moshe had delayed in descending the mountain and the people gathered around Aharon and said to him, 'Rise up make for us gods that will go before us for this man Moshe who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don't know what became of him'" (Exodus 32:1). 

After witnessing the miracles in Egypt, saw their destruction through the parting of reed sea and the miracles that occurred in the desert, how could the Jewish people, the greatest generation in the history of man have made such a mistake? Just because Moshe was delayed according to their calculation gave them the right to seemingly worship a calf and exclaim that this is the one that took us out of Egypt?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit"a in Chochmah V'Da'as  explains that the Jewish people had no doubts that G-d was the one who created the world and keeps it functioning but rather that G-d is too lofty for this world and doesn't really deal with it. Therefore G-d found someone like Moshe to lead the people in His name which was acceptable by the Jewish people. At the same time, they made Moshe into a god as if to say that he was the one who did the miracles that got them released from Egypt.

Moshe was then in heaven for 40 days but because of his delay they made the mistake that G-d took him and they now needed to find another intermediary that would serve instead of him as a god. Whoever they chose would act as Moshe's messenger knowing that Moshe could return at any time. They therefore did not appoint Aharon or Chur but they said in the meantime they will make an ox because its figure is embedded in G-d's throne and would be a good replacement.

When it was created it talked and walked so the people understood it had character traits not like anything they have seen and allowed them to make the mistake and use it as their intermediary to G-d!.  This in fact is idolatry even though they believed in G-d but they still wanted some intermediary like a god of gold and silver.The people were happy with this miracle and thought this was just a continuation of the miracles that G-d had done for them in the past!

Even so with this rationale, does it come to explain how quickly they fell from their elevated level so quickly after the Torah was given? A possible answer is that the evil inclination never rests. We have to constantly work against and fight it to help us reach our true potential. Here as the Jewish people were on such a high level, they were lied to so to speak and given a false impression that was not true. With that being said, they were able to fall and make this serious mistake.

We learn from here how careful a person must be in their service of G-d. We always have to be on the lookout and guard ourselves against things that may come to harm us spiritually. Just like a person would never go near a fire lest they get too close and get burned so too must a person be ever so careful of negative spiritual influences that can affect us. Fire can spread quickly and do irreversible damage; a spiritual fire is just as dangerous.

May we constantly strive in our service of G-d and be on the lookout for things that can harm us spiritually.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Parshas Tetzaveh: Be easy to Forgive and don't be Stubborn

"Aharon shall bring atonement upon its horns once a year from the blood of the sin-offering of the atonement's once a yeas shall he bring atonement upon it for your generations it is holy of holies to Hashem" (Exodus 30:10)

This is truly amazing that G-d gives us the ability to get atonement once a year for all our transgressions. This day is none other than Yom Kippur and the high priest enters the holy of holies to attain that atonement for us. This works with our transgressions between man and G-d but not our sins between man and man. As the Rambam tells us if one has wronged his friend he has to ask him for forgiveness before Yom Kippur, sincerely mean it, go through Yom Kippur and that is how one gets atonement for those sins. I was recently taken to task on the topic of forgiveness.

As someone quoted a number of sources on forgiveness, they told me "how can you not forgive someone if this is what the Torah demands!" I answered that the Rambam tells us in the laws of repentance that if someone comes to ask for forgiveness and they are sincere and you reject them and they come back a second time to ask for forgiveness and you reject and then come back a third time, this time with others to try and pacify you. If you reject this person that time then they don't have to come back to you and you are the one that now gets the transgression for this intransigence.

With that being said, forgiveness should be given when the person comes to you and admits (in my case there was no admittance to anything done wrong) they have done something wrong, thereby wanting you to pardon them for what they have done. If that is true then yes that person would receive the transgression if they did not accept their apology. After all, don't we want G-d to look the other way for things that we have done during the year? Is there a better way to find grace in G-d's eyes by overlooking what others have done to us?

This is true but not an easy thing to do. Nonetheless we should easily forgive others for what they may have done to us but at the same time, it does not mean we have to be best friends with them. For this to work, we have to get rid of the anger, frustration and all the other emotions inside us for this to happen. If a person has a real difficult time in accepting their forgiveness they should not dismiss them out of hand but tell them you need time so that you will be able to do this with a full heart.

Keep in mind, a halfhearted acceptance is also not good; it has to be done with a full heart! Also easier said than done. G-d knows the thoughts of man and understands that we are human and have a variety of emotions going on all the time. Nonetheless, He never puts us in a situation that we cannot handle (even though we don't think we can) and gives us the opportunity to work on ourselves and help us reach our true potential!

May we merit to always look at the good in others and not let our egos get in the way of our spiritual development!

Parshas Titzaveh: Does what we wear matter?

"You shall make the garments of sanctity for Aharon your brother for glory and splendor" (Exodus 28:2). 

The simple explanation of this verse would seem to mean that the purpose of the clothing are for Aharon's glory and splendor. This would show the importance of what he wears which adds to his honor. Is it really true that Aharon needed the honor by the clothing that he wore? Do we honor ourselves by the way we dress?

The answer is that what we wear says something about ourselves. Everyone would agree that we look at ourselves differently by how we dress. Do we really feel the same if we wear a three piece double breasted suit and when when we wear shorts and a t-shirt? Obviously not but then what do clothes tell us about ourselves?

This reminds me of a conversation that I once had with someone who told me that they were offended by the way I dressed. I asked them that the only difference between the way we dress is that I have a kippah (skull cap) on my head and I wear tzitzis, so how radically different do we dress anyway? I then asked this person (who by the way wore a three piece suit for work everyday) why they dressed in such a fashion. The answer was because that was the uniform they had to wear for work.

"Don't get me wrong, the first thing I do when I get home is change my clothes!" he told me. I then asked if that was true then the only reason for dressing up would be for the sake of money right? As I saw the smoke come out of his ears, he responded by asking me why I dress the way I do.

I answered very simply that we have a uniform to wear as well as part of the laws of modesty but the difference is that I dress up for G-d's honor and don't change my clothes after my "work" is done. These clothes are who I am and what community I identify with. At the same time, what we wear may be just something that is external.

This means that we could wear the right clothes, walk the walk and talk the talk but inside of us we are not that committed to G-d's law. Externals really don't mean that much but if we want to identify with a community then we need to have a dress code. The dress code is for us to adhere to a certain standard which elevates ourselves and honors G-d.

Aharon didn't need special clothing but because he was serving in G-d's house so to speak they had to be honorable for G-d and distinguish himself as well. In this case it was able to accomplish two things: showing the importance of the clothing for Aharon and honoring G-d.

We are not defined by what we wear but at the same time we identify with the community we want to be associated with by what we wear.

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, February 11, 2016

Parshas Terumah: Giving Charity

"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe saying 'Speak to the cildren of Israel that they bring me an offering of every man whose heart prompts him to give you shall take my offering" (Exodus 26:1-2)

The Torah here teaches that someone whose heart prompts him to give should bring money, gold...and have a part in the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). This means if they want to give they can and if not not. In the case of giving charity though this is not an option. There is an obligation to give ma'aser (a tenth) of what one earns to charity. A person if they want can even give up to 1/5 but no more lest they squander there money and then have to come upon people to help them.

The amount one has to give of their earnings is how much them make only after taxes. They can give more if they want but again only up to 1/5. A person also does not have to give ma'aser on a gift. This means if someone gave you birthday money or any monetary gift you do not have to give ma'aser on it. If you choose to do so you can but there is no obligation to. What if you yourself are poor? Do you still have an obligation to give?

The answer is that if you yourself are struggling to make ends meet then you would be exempt from giving. If you don't have, you can't give. While you cannot physically give you could help others in a different way. If a person does takes time and does chesed (acts of loving kindness) or let's say tutors someone...this is also an act of charity one can do for someone else.The most important aspect of this is to give.

The reality is if we make money and are successful, why should we help someone else? After all, is it my fault they don't have a better job? Should I have to be responsible for what other people can't do? The purpose of giving is to thank G-d for what He has given us and give us the opportunity to help others. Even if we can't give a lot, we need to train ourselves to put our hands in our pocket and give.

At the same time, a person has to give charity to a worthy cause. What is considered a worthy cause? Poor people, Torah institutions are just a few ideas. The reality is that charity can be given by helping someone find a job. That is also chesed because you are helping that person be self sufficient and get his self-esteem back by being able to provide for their family!

As we see, there are many aspects to charity here. It teaches us to realize how fortunate we are and that gives us the ability to help others. The more we give and are able to help, the closer it brings us to G-d which is our main purpose in life!

Parshas Terumah: The Sanctification of the Physical

"And let the make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:9)

Here G-d commands the Jewish people to build Him a place where He can show His presence in this world. Although philosophically this is a difficult thing to understand because how does an Omnipresent being put Himself in a box so to speak? After all, if He represents the entire world, how exactly does He bring Himself down to this world?

The purpose of the mishkan (tabernacle) which later became the Temple was for the people to have a connection to G-d in this world. The way the Torah describes this is interesting because G-d tells the Jewish people that for Him to come down to this world they have to take physical things, put them together for that to happen! G-d is in essence telling us that the way to the spiritual is through the physical.

The Torah does not look at the world as an evil place like the Christians do but realizes that man has certain needs, comes from the physical and can use it for spiritual purposes. When a person makes a blessing for instance on an apple, although a physical act, it allows G-d's heavenly influence to bless all fruit trees! Is this really true? After all, I just ate an apple, there are spiritual ramifications going on here?

Many think that what they do here in this world doesn't matter. This is as if to say there is no judge and there is no judgement! Not only that we realize that what we do matters and does have ramifications even if people don't think so! Even an event that happened many years can have tremendous consequences even years later!

The Torah is not G-d forbid a hypothetical work that has no relevance to us. It is about action, not thoughts. We have to do things. Either we are going up or down on the spiritual ladder; staying the same and being happy where we are are akin to death! Mediocrity is something that we don't strive for and are not interested in.

As we read these parshiot, we can't get lost in the details of the construction of the mishkan but have to realize we have an unbelievable job in this world. Our purpose is to even take the physical and make it holy. This is the power that G-d entrusted us with. We need to learn to speak properly, act properly...which effect our spiritual well being as well.

Even if we may think that G-d is so lofty that He doesn't care about our actions down here, they are tremendously relevant. They make us into the people that we are. This is why G-d will judge us each year where we are holding now and not what our potential is in the future, This is tremendous solace for us because it gives us the ability to change and grow and not get condemned for what we will do in the future.

May we constantly strive to take even the most mundane things and use them for spiritual purposes!

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, February 4, 2016

Lending with Interest to a Jew, Don't Do it!

This weeks Torah portion of Mishpatim has the most amount of laws of any portion in the Torah. Many of the laws have to do with damages and what a person owes someone else if they cause damage to their property or to their bodies or both. The Torah also tells us that you are not allowed to lend money to a Jew with interest. (Exodus 22:24) What is the rationale behind this?

The idea is that if a Jew is in need of money you certainly lend him if you are able to but you can't make him pay more than for what he borrowed. This does't make any sense because the way of the world is that if I lend you money and I can't use my money why should I lose out because my money isn't be used. I absolutely have the right to charge interest because I am "losing out" by lending it out!

The Torah tells us here that when it comes to our own people (and who doesn't look out for their own, right?) we have to help them in any way possible. This is an incredible way to behave and work on our character development by giving something to others and receiving no benefit except for the mitzvah itself! This is another instance where the Torah goes against the norm of the world!

Imagine what happens when this person helps his fellow Jew without any compensation what merit they get! You can't even remind him of it! The list goes on and on to the extent we can't embarrass anyone about this! What is the point of all this?

G-d gave us his Torah to help us reach the highest spiritual level that we can even if it defies logic and doesn't make any sense. After all, if He created the world and everything in it, He must know what He is doing right? How am I an a small piece of cosmic dust supposed to understand and fathom us? The fact that we understand anything in Torah is nothing short of miraculous!

This law and the laws of damages in general show us beyond the shadow of a doubt how different we are from the nations. The purpose of laws for the nations is that there should be order and not chaos in the world. Imagine a world without laws how much more chaotic the world would look? What are the purpose of the laws of the Torah?

Our laws are there not so there will be order per se but to change us and develop us into the great people that we can become! It is to help us reach our true potential that G-d designed them for us regardless of whether we understand them to the highest level or not!

This is our ultimate goal in life which we strive for on a regular basis. Sometimes we are more successful sometimes less but at the end of the day the question is how much we tried and the effort we made. This is what G-d wants to see from us! 

Parshas Mishpatim: What is the Purpose of Keeping Kosher?

"The first of the first fruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the L-rd your G-d. You should not boil a kid in its mother's milk" (Exodus 23:19)

The Torah here teaches the prohibition of eating milk and meat by stating that one is not allowed to cook a calf in its mother's milk. This verse is mentioned three times in the Torah to teach you that it is forbidden to cook milk and meat together (even if you don't eat it), you are not allowed to eat milk and meat and you are not allowed to derive benefit from it. The reality though is that this does not make sense from a logical perspective.

The reason is that milk by itself and meat by itself are both permitted to eat but when you put them in a mixture and cook them they become forbidden. This would seem to be a chok (a law that does not make logical sense like the case of the red heifer) which boggles the mind because this should not be an issue if both things are permitted separately. Not only that but if this mixture is mixed with something else, it makes that forbidden as well! Why is this so stringent?

This could be because once I have a forbidden mixture, then no matter what it is added to it makes it forbidden unless there is more of what is permitted that would nullify it. This is interesting because we then look at the mixture as actually not being there even though it is right here in this mixture. This is the underlying principle of how nullification works. Once we say that something is nullified we look at what we have in front of me as being totally permitted since the taste of what is forbidden is gone.

The laws of kashrus and mixing meat and milk are numerous and confusing. Many of the laws of not mixing milk and meat together is so that one will not come to that Torah prohibition. We have separate pots, that they don't get mixed up or used one for the other! Not only that but milk and meat should not be brought to the same table unless there is a clear demarcation separating them so they don't come in contact with one another.

Since these laws are G-d given we still have to try and understand them to the best of our ability even if it defies logic! We not only sanctify what comes out of our mouths but what goes into them and this could have a negative effect on our souls! This is one of the reasons we don't eat birds of prey because we don't want to take those negative character traits and put them in our bodies!

We keep kosher because these things can have a negative effect on our souls. After all, if we rely on G-d for everything even without understanding some things then we know that it is for our betterment! It is also to distinguish us from the nations. These laws should keep us away from them and stop the disease of intermarriage!

If we don't eat with the same things as them and have different customs as them then that should nip the problem in the bud! If we eat what they do and do the same things as them, is it no wonder that the intermarriage rate is so high? Ultimately we don't know the reasons for this but certainly there is a benefit that keeps the Jewish people in tact. It is the Torah and our adherence to it that has kept the Jewish people intact throughout the millennium and this long exile.

May we merit to continue keeping G-d's Torah and sanctify His name!

Shabbat Shalom