Compiled by His Grandson, Harav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a
We now find ourselves in the month of Elul. Immediately following Rosh Chodesh, many begin reciting Selichot for the next forty days, the thirty days of Elul and ten days of Tishrei, for these were the days that Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to Heaven and beseeched Hashem to forgive the Jewish nation. Indeed, the verse states, “And I threw myself down before Hashem as before, for forty days and forty nights I did not eat bread nor did I drink water, for all of your sins which you have committed.”
Thus, these days were forever established as days of mercy. Every one of us, man and woman, must also perform some self-introspection to see how we fared during the previous year. Did we repent, perform Mitzvot, increase our Tzedakah? One’s Mitzvot and good deeds are the only things that will save one on the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah!
All of the Heavenly books are opened on Rosh Hashanah before Hashem. “The Books of the Living and the Dead” are opened, for even the deceased are judged on Rosh Hashanah. There are some people who left wicked children in this world and Heaven investigates whether or not the parents should be held accountable. Sometimes, this is because the parents did not teach their children Torah and this is why they grew up to be wicked. Hashem takes this into consideration, punishes the parents, and deepens Gehinnom for them. Even if an individual was fully righteous and is in Gan Eden, if his son sinned because the father did not educate him properly, they take the father out of Gan Eden and show him his son suffering in Gehinnom in order to show him that it is his fault for not having educated his son adequately.
There are those who send their children to public schools to be educated. How much do I scream about this and teach the public? The Torah states, “And you shall teach your sons and converse in them”; one must send his son to Yeshiva and teach him Torah! Some people just seal their ears and continue sending their children to public school. Such as person will bear great sin, even if he himself has fulfilled all of the Mitzvot, for of what worth are all of his Mitzvot if he does not educate his children according to the true path of Torah?! Woe unto him from the Day of Judgment and Reckoning!
Indeed, the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 32a) states, “The Heavenly angels asked Hashem, ‘Master of the Universe! Why does the Jewish nation not recite songs (Hallel) before you on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (since these days are considered holidays, ‘On the full moon for our feast day’)? Hashem replied, ‘Is it possible that a king sits in judgment and the books of the living and the dead are open before him and the Jewish nation recites songs?’”
We see that this day is a harsh Day of Judgment. One must fortify himself with as many Mitzvot and good deeds as possible, for these bring life to a person, as the verse states, “For it is your life and the length of your days” and “You shall keep my tents and my laws which a person shall fulfill and live through them.” One who does not amass Torah and Mitzvot before Rosh Hashanah is almost tantamount to committing suicide! How will he be judged? Heaven will see that all his actions are repulsive!
Just like seasoned businessmen take inventory and check when they gained profits and when they suffered losses, every person must likewise make an accounting of one’s spiritual state and see how the past year looked for him. The best time for this introspection is during the month of Elul, for the connotation of the word Elul is “searching” in Aramaic. One must check one’s deeds carefully to see if one has gone in the correct path or not.
Indeed, the verse states, “For man, there is no righteous man in the land who does good and does not sin.” One must therefore put forth maximum effort to better one’s ways.
Unfortunately, many people do not pray with utmost concentration. During this month of mercy and forgiveness, how can one stand before Hashem without focusing? One must therefore to pray with fervor during this time. This idea is hinted in the verse, “If there will be an impure man among you etc. And he shall exit the camp, he may not enter the camp. Towards the evening, he shall bathe in water and when the sun sets, he may re-enter the camp.” This alludes to one who is impure as a result of sin, what should one do? “Towards the evening,” is a reference to the eve of Rosh Hashanah, one should bathe in purifying waters, i.e., the waters of Torah, as the verse states, “Behold! All who are thirsty go forth to the water.” Even if one studies Torah, one should study even more during this month. One should increase one’s Mitzvah-observance and Tzedakah donation during this month, even if one is already doing so. Indeed, Elul is an acronym for the verse, “U’Mishloach Manot Ish Lere’ehu U’Matanot La’Evyonim,” which references giving copious amounts of charity to the needy. This will grant one a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah.
“Repentance, prayer, and charity remove the harsh decree!” If, G-d-forbid, Hashem decreed harsh decrees against an individual, Heaven will observe one’s good deeds now by educating one’s children in the path of Torah and one will enjoy fulfillment of the verse, “And Hashem your G-d will grant you prosperity in all your undertaking, in the matter of your womb.” This means that Hashem will allow one to remain alive because of the “matter of the womb,” meaning in the merit of one’s children. Sometimes, one does not even know but harsh decrees hover above him and prosecuting angels come before Hashem and want Him to decree death upon this individual. However, Hashem, in His infinite mercy, knows that this man has children who study Torah and if He takes their father, what will become of them and who will care for them? They will surely deviate from the correct path! That is why Hashem leaves this man alive!
The verse states, “When a lion roars, who does not fear?” The Hebrew word for lion, “Aryeh”, is an acronym for Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hoshana Rabba, which are all days of judgment, until Hashana Rabba which concludes the judgment. One should therefore make an effort to arise for Selichot as much as possible, even if it is not every single day.
Once, an IDF military base wanted to hold Selichot services at 10:00 PM. I told them that doing so was forbidden according to the Poskim, for the Selichot contain Hashem’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and reciting them at night is especially harmful, for this interferes with the Heavenly judgment taking place at that time. It is better not to recite Selichot at all than to do so at that time. After halachic midnight though, the Heavenly judgment sweetens and one may begin reciting Selichot at this time. Even if one cannot do so then, one may recite Selichot any time during the day, such as before Mincha. Reciting it during the first half of the night, however, is forbidden.