Gathered from the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztzvk”l (from the years 5744-5772)(written by his grandson HaRav HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
By Studying Torah and Observing the Mitzvot we Ensure that Eretz Yisrael Remains Am Yisrael’s, and That we Shall Merit to Angels Advocating on our Behalf Especially Over Rosh Hashanah. As Well as an Inspiring Story About Rebbi Ezra Sarim z”l the former Gabbai of Yeshivat Porat Yosef
It states in the Parshah, “When you come to the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you as a heritage, occupying it and settling it, you shall take the first of every fruit of the ground produced by your land that Hashem your G-d is giving you. You must place it in a basket etc.” (Devarim 26:1-2).
At first glance we see what appears to be a repetition in the passuk, it states, “to the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you as” and then it further states, “you shall take …produced by your land”. It can only be referring back to the land, for the mitzvah of Bikkurim (First Fruits) is only relevant to the land of Israel, so why state it again?
The intention is that if you shall observe Hashem’s mitzvot, including the mitzvah of Bikkurim, only then will it be considered “your land”, only then will it be good for you! But for one who doesn’t observe the mitzvot, then he will also lose the land, the land is not his!
And so our chachamim (Berachot 35a) expounded the pessukim, one passuk states: “The heavens belong to Hashem and He gave Earth to mankind” (Tehillim 115:16), implying that the Earth is mankind’s. But another passuk states, “To Hashem belongs the Earth and all that is in it,” (ibid. 24:1), implying that the Earth is Hashem’s and not mankind’s. How may these two pessukim be aligned? Our chachamim explain, one is before a person recites a berachah and the other after a person recites a berachah. Meaning that prior to reciting a berachah on the food, the food belongs to Hashem and concerning this the passuk states, “the Earth is Hashem’s”. But once a person recites a berachah and fulfils Hashem’s wish, then he has permission to partake of the food, and regarding this it states “and He gave Earth to mankind.”
Consequently our chachamim stated that anyone who benefits from this world without a berachah has stolen from Hashem [lit. “meilah”, the term used for benefiting inappropriately from sacrifices and the Temple] and he is an associate of a destructive person, namely an associate of Yeravam ben Nevat, who destroyed [the spiritual wellbeing of] Am Yisrael in their relationship with their Father in Heaven.
However, we need to delve further. Why is it considered so severe for a person not to recite a berachah to the extent that he is considered an associate of Yeravam ben Nevat, who not only sinned himself but also caused Am Yisrael to sin?
The explanation is that when the Bet HaMikdash stood, Am Yisrael offered sacrifices and would confess their sins, and through this abundant blessing descended to the world. But after Yeravam ben Nevat placed idols everywhere and demanded that they bow down to the idols and cease to go on pilgrimage to the Bet HaMikdash, he prevented the abundant blessing descending to the world. And now that due to our sins, we have no Bet HaMikdash, we bring down the abundant blessing through our berachot and prayers. This is the way of drawing down abundance. And so a person who benefits without a berachah becomes a partner of Yeravam ben Nevat, because through his behaviour he too prevents abundant blessing descending to this world. It is therefore paramount to recite each berachah with concentration and not to swallow any word.
Especially during the month of Ellul, we must be especially meticulous and careful with all our berachot and prayers, to concentrate appropriately and to pronounce the words correctly. Likewise, we must strengthen all mitzvah observance and especially Torah-study, as we have learnt that there is nothing quite like the Torah and there is nothing that helps a person more on the Day of Judgement, on Rosh Hashanah, more than Torah-study. As we learn “Torah-study corresponds to all the mitzvot” (Peah 1:1). A person should convey these important principles to his household, to study, teach, observe and do.
Every person should have books in his home, after all he is Jewish! And a Jew is obligated to study Torah! And so a person who tries to exonerate himself by arguing, “I already attend a shiur”, this alone isn’t enough! For when he returns home, he must study Torah at home too. If he knows how to study the Shulchan Aruch, he should learn the Shulchan Aruch, and if he knows how to study other halachic works, aggadic works, he should study what he knows, for every Jew is obligated to study Torah, as it states, “You shall toil in it day and night” (Yehoshua 1:8).
A person who acts so, studying Torah, especially during the month of Ellul, should know that through this he saves his life! For so the Torah declares, “This is your sole means of survival and long life” (Devarim 30:20), one who studies Torah lives longer. “The angel of Hashem encamps around His reverent ones and he releases them” (Tehillim 34:8), through Torah and mitzvot, angels are created which oversee the person, and advocate on his behalf.
About twenty years ago [this period is now longer since the shiur was given] there was a gabbai in Yeshivat Porat Yosef when I studied there. His name was Rebbi Ezra Sarim z”l and he was a tzaddik and loved talmidei chachamim with all his heart.
Every month Rebbi Ezra would go from rich person to rich person and speak with them convincing them to donate to Yeshivat Porat Yosef. Each one would donate according to their means. And so every Rosh Chodesh, Rebbi Ezra would pay all the yeshivah’s rabbanim, the teachers, members of the Kollel, each one received their payment on time.
One Rosh Chodesh, Rebbi Ezra came and when he opened the yeshiva’s money chest he was shocked to see it empty! How was he going to pay the yeshivah’s rabbanim. What will he do now? He thought, there is a donor, a banker called Daniel Riknati who lived in Tel Aviv, I’ll go and seek his help, I assume that he will be able to assist the yeshiva.
Rebbi Ezra approached the taxi rank in Jerusalem and ordered a cab for Tel Aviv. He sat in the cab and the journey began. But the driver was confused and on one of the bumps near the Lipta neighbourhood, he lost control of his vehicle and the car strayed and went over a cliff. The people who were there ran to see if they could help. However they quickly saw that the car was smashed to pieces and assumed that no one had survived. A policemen went down the cliff and to his shock he saw Rebbi Ezra Sarim, getting up and brushing down his clothes as if nothing had happened! The policeman asked him, “Tell me, are you made of steel? How can it be that the car which is made of metal disintegrated yet you escaped unharmed?” Rebbi Ezra responded, “The accident was awful, but the Torah teaches us “Praiseworthy is he who considers the needy, on the day of evil Hashem will save him!” (Tehillim 41:2). This refers to the mitzvot that shield a person from all bad! There is nothing higher than the Torah, it shields and it saves, this was bad, but “on the day of evil Hashem will save him!” How good it is for a person during these days. He should sanctify part of his time, and one who increases, life will be added for him. The month of Ellul is “[a] long [period]” ahead of the judgement in order to allow us to establish for ourselves good advocates.
Know, that we have no other tactic ahead of the Day of Judgement! Nothing will help! Only effort in Torah and mitzvot! Teshuva, prayer and tzedakah. Through this may we merit to that which is stated, “He will heal us after two days, on the third day He will raise us up and we will live before Him” (Hoshea 6:2). “He will heal us after two days” refers to Rosh Hashanah, “on the third day He will raise us up” is Yom Kippur, for one who makes teshuvah, being meticulous with prayer, mitzvot and Torah, HaKadosh Baruch Hu blessed is His Name, signs this person for good life.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin) writes as follows: One of the Jewish kings called Achav, who was wicked, worshipping idols, wanted to wage battel against Ben Hadad, king of Aram because he had previously captured from him Ramot-Gilad. Achav call his in-law, Yehoshafat king of Yehuda, who was a righteous king, and asked him to accompany him in battle against Aram. Yehoshafat replied, “…I [will be] like you; my people [shall be] like your people, my horses [shall be] like your horses” (Kings I 22:4). But he first required him to heed the words of the prophets, to ascertain if it is appropriate to wage war with Aram? Achav summoned 400 prophets that he had under his influence, who were all liars, prophets of Ba’al, and asked them, shall we go out in battle against Aram? The prophets replied to him, “And they said, ‘Go up, for Hashem will deliver [them] into the hands of the king’” (ibid. 6), Go up! And succeed! Yehoshafat asked him, is there not here another true prophet, a prophet of Hashem? Achav replied to him, there is one other, a prophet of Hashem, “but I hate him, for he never prophesies good for me, only bad – Michiyahu ben Yimlah” (ibid. 8). They called Michiyahu that he should come and testify, is it worth to go and wage war against Aram? Michiyahu responded, “I have seen Hashem sitting upon His throne, with all the host of Heaven standing by Him, on His right and on His left” (ibid. 19). Those on the right, advocate merit for Achav for he honoured the Torah, but those on the left are his adversaries, because he worships idols. “Hashem said, ‘Who will lure Achav to go up [to war] that he may fall in Ramot-Gilad?’” (ibid. 20). “Then the spirit came forth, (this is the spirit of Navot the Yizraelite who Achav had murdered), and he said, ‘I shall lure him!...I will go out and be a spirit of falsehood in the mouths of all his prophets’! And [Hashem] said, ‘You will lure him and you will succeed! Go forth and do so’” (ibid 21-22).
Michiyahu concluded his words, at this time Achav, indeed you see, that in truth “’Hashem has put a spirit of falsehood in the mouths of all these prophets of yours, for Hashem has decreed evil upon you’” (ibid. 23). Yet Achav refused to listen to Michiyahu and imprisoned him. The reality was that both Achav and Yehoshafat went to wage battle against Aram. There Achav was killed by Aram.
If only Achav had listened to Michiyahu he would have been saved from death. A person must realise that Hashem has angles before Him, to the right and left. Those to the right always are advocates for merit whilst those to the left are adversaries for guilt. These good angels, on the right, came through the power of the Torah, from the energy of mitzvot and good deeds, and will advocate merit on Rosh Hashanah. HaKadosh Baruch Hu will sweeten the judgement and write a person for a good and peaceful life.
May HaKadsoh Baruch Hu, Bless you, may you merit to many pleasant and good years, may you be written and signed for good and peaceful years.