Gathered from the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztzvk”l (from the years 5744-5772)
(written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Ellul is the Time to Engage in Battle Against the Yetzer Hara, to Increase Torah-study, Mitzvot and Good Deeds. Additionally, to Realise that Our Livelihoods are Determined on Rosh Hashanah and Moreover, What we Spend on Torah and Mitzvot we get Back from Hashem
It states in the Parshah, “When you go out to wage war against your enemies, Hashem your G-d will give you victory over them” (Devarim 21:10). The straightforward meaning is that if Am Yisrael are worthy, Hashem says to them, you don’t have to do anything, it is just sufficient that you go to war against your enemies, and I will deliver your enemies into your hands. All you must do is to go out! But there is something indicated here regarding the inner struggles of a person, the war with the yetzer. The Torah says, if a person will declare a war against their yetzer hara (evil inclination)! They goe to war against it! Then Hashem will deliver the yetzer into their hands.
It states, “When you go out!” The Hebrew word for “when” (-“ki”) has a numerical value of 30, corresponding to the 30 days of the month of Ellul. Parashat Ki Tetze always falls in the month of Ellul and so if a person wishes to engage in battle with their yetzer hara, to elevate themself, to repent, then during these days there is a unique assistance from Heaven, “Hashem your G-d will give you victory over them”.
But to succeed in this war, literally a battle, a person must prevail against their yetzer and to increase Torah and good deeds. These days are very important days, very serious days. A person prepares themself to meet the days of judgement. Hashem, through His kindness revealed the secret, He informed us how we may merit in judgement.
It is stated regarding Rosh Hashanah, “It will be said about the countries, which by sword, which for shalom, which for starvation, which to be satiated, people will be remembered, to mention them for life and death, who won’t be remembered on this day?” We have heard though the year how many great tragedies befell many countries. Hurricanes, floods, all types of tragedies and in each tragedy so many died. All of this was decreed on Rosh Hashanah, for then decrees are made what will happen in each country. But the nations of the world don’t know what Rosh Hashanah is, they don’t know what Yom Kippur is, only to Am Yisrael did Hashem reveal the secret.
When a person sins, destroying angels are created from their actions and they are adversaries against them in their judgement. When they perform mitzvot, good angels are created, which advocate on their behalf, promoting merits for them.
If we reflect, a person makes an effort to perform mitzvot, even though they have sinned. They sinned because the yetzer hara loosened the person’s grip and weakened them and so due to their weakness thy were tempted to sin. If so, the angel that was created from the bad things that they did is a weak angel, a small angel, there is no strength here and therefore the angel too is feeble. Alternatively, when a person prevails in battle against the yetzer hara, they arise and strengthen themself and performs mitzvot, and detaches themself from sins and withdraw from sinning, then the angel who is created from their actions is strong and powerful, great and mighty.
So when the small angel stands in heaven as an adversary and speaks against the person, then the great angel silences him, contradicts him and shuts his mouth. He stands and says, Ribono shel Olam, I was created from this person’s Torah and mitzvot, “silence Satan’s mouth! And then, “may the good advocate arise to our credit.”
How good it is for a person to increase mitzvot and good deeds so that they may have good advocates above and they won’t, G-d-for-bid, arrive empty handed to the Day of Judgement. For if they shall come empty from mitzvot, how will they judge them? They will decree their judgement for ill fate, G-d-for-bid. Even if they won’t decree death, they may decree afflictions, illnesses, and if not illnesses, they may decree upon them poverty that they will be poor and wandering. Therefore a person should strengthen themself to perform more good deeds. They should strengthen in the battle against the yetzer hara and pray that they should have a good year, a year of good life, a year of health, a year with a good livelihood.
Above all, it is a mitzvah for a person and a great kindness for them, that they increase Torah-study during these days. As our chachamim said, from the 15th of Av one who increases shall add, meaning, one who increases their Torah-study shall have years of life added, because the Torah grants life to those who observe it both in this world and the next [see Ta’anit 31a, Bava Batra 121b and Rashbam z”l ad loc.]. Therefore when they toil in it, they create for themself advocates which will protect them, they will stand in their merit on Judgement Day.
When these advocates stand on their behalf on Judgement Day, they assist the person, not just that they be written for life, but they also beseech Hashem that they merit to a good livelihood. This is because livelihood is also decreed on Rosh Hashanah, as the passuk states, “For it is a statute (- chok) for Yisrael, a judgment of Yaakov’s G-d” (Tehillim 81:5). “A statute” refers to livelihood, as the passuk states, “They ate the [food] allotment (- chock)” (Bereishit 47:22), what did they eat? Did they eat the statute? Rather a statute refers to a person’s livelihood, as another passuk reflects this meaning, “provide for me my allotted (- chok) bread” (Mishlei 30:8).
As shown, a person’s entire livelihood is determined during these days of judgement. Hashem decrees for a person how much they will earn during the year [see Beitza 16a]. From Tishrei this year until Tishrei of the next year, as is indicated to in the passuk, “It is therefore a land constantly under Hashem your G-d’s scrutiny; the eyes of Hashem your G-d are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” (Devarim 11:12). The Hebrew word “from the beginning” – “reshit” is written without the letter aleph that it is normally spelt with. “Reshit” therefore indicates the spelling of the Hebrew month “Tishrei” because Hashem decrees the livelihoods from Tishrei until Tishrei, for then it is determined how much they will have available to spend and so their deeds are examined.
A person who is miserly, is given a little, for the bread of their “statute” is a little and therefore a little will suffice for them. So it is a pity for a person to be tight for they will gain nothing from this behaviour. But if they are generous and if Hashem graced them with some money, they should give to their household that they may eat, drink and dress like respected people, for none of this will detract from their lot. But if their whole life they eat stale bread with chai tea, then also on Rosh Hashanah they will decree upon them that they eat stale bread with chai tea. Each person is dealt with according to their wealth and status.
This is what the passuk means, “For it is a statute for Yisrael”. However, this is just the current budget for the year. However, what a person spends on Torah, mitzvot and good deeds, has a specific budget, this is “unique”, money exclusively for mitzvot. If a person purchased for their son mehudar tefillin, they really pushed themself to buy them, then from Heaven they will observe their actions and give them [in return]. Likewise if they purchased a mehudar etrog, they will give them [in return]. If they have a son studying Torah and they assist him with his livelihood, they will give them [in return]. There are specific funds for all these things. Hashem’s hand is open to accept repenters. A person who does [good things] then Hashem gives them.
These are precious days in which each person girds themself in strength, to go out in battle against the yetzer hara, during which Hashem declares, “Open for me one opening of teshuva, as small as a needle’s hole, and I will open for you an opening as big as a hall” [based on Shir HaShirim 5:2 and in Sefer Chareidim, Rav Naftali of Ropshitz z”l, see also Pesikta D’Rav Kehana 5:8 and Midrash Rabba Shir HaShirim 5:3], “When you go out to wage war against your enemies, Hashem your G-d will give you victory over them”.