Rebbe Avraham Yaakov of Sadigura zt'l taught: ראה is roshei teivos , ראש אלול היום, today is the start of Elul, the month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Arizal writes, "On these days, Hakadosh Baruch Hu becomes a friend…to the person who does teshuvah." As it states, , "I am to my Friend and my Friend is to me," and the roshei teivos spell אלול.
"How precious is Your friendship to me, Hashem." The Panim Yafos explains, "This refers to Elul, which the Arizal calls 'days of friendship.' This month atones for the sins of the entire year. Hashem is so kind, for He considers each hour of the twelve hours of Elul to be like a day…" So it is 12 X 30 days of Elul = 360, indicating that Elul atones for the sins of the entire year.
The Vilna Gaon ( 1:4) calls Rosh Chodesh Elul, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur the three , painful days, for the yetzer hara, because people do teshuvah on these days.
The Kedushas Levi writes, "On Rosh Chodesh Elul, Hashem reveals to the Jewish people that He is G-d…and that He leads the world."
One of the primary ways to prepare for Rosh Hashanah is to be immersed in Torah study. Reb Chaim Kreiswirth zt'l said that a segulah for hasmadah is to learn. The explanation of this pithy remark is that when one learns he becomes interested. The more one learns, the more passionately he will love the Torah. So if he studies for one minute, it will likely become two, five minutes turns into ten, because he becomes interested and inspired, and he wants to study more.
A young man bought a pair of shoes for two hundred dollars, but they were uncomfortable. He complained to the storeowner that the shoes hurt. The storeowner explained, "It takes a couple of weeks before the shoes break in and become comfortable." So the consumer put the shoes into his closet and waited two weeks, but when he put them on again, they still hurt. He returned to the shoe store once more, complaining that the shoes weren't good. The storeowner explained, "The shoes become comfortable if you wear them for two weeks. If you leave them in the closet, they will remain uncomfortable." The nimshal is, all beginnings are difficult. When a person starts out on the path of studying Torah it is hard, because he isn’t accustomed to the discipline of studying Torah. However, if one studies Torah every day, he will love the Torah, and it will become easy and a pleasure to study. But that will only happen if you learn Torah every day. It will not happen if you only study once in every two weeks, or so.
When Reb Issar Zalman Melzer zt'l didn’t understand a sugyah, he would wait for erev Shabbos after chatzos, midday. He said that since fewer people were learning Torah at that time, it's a time mesugal for understanding Torah. Studying Maharsha is mesugal for pure thoughts; learning Pnei Yehoshua is mesugal for joy.
A bachur told Rebbe Aharon of Belz zy'a that he was afflicted with bad, improper thoughts. The Belzer Rav told him to study two pieces of Maharsha each day, because this study is mesugal for having pure thoughts. A few days later, the bachur didn’t have those bad thoughts anymore.
Rav Yosef said (Pesachim 68:) "If it weren't for that day [of mattan Torah] there would be many Yosefs in the marketplace!" This can be explained as follows: The nations of the world act properly and respectfully in their house of worship. But when they leave their house of worship, they immediately become very different people: they sin, steal, etc. Lehavdil, Hashem gave us the Torah, which teaches us how to act at every moment of life. Therefore, we are the same upright persons in the beis medresh, at the workplace, and at home. This is Rav Yosef's intention, "If it weren't for that day of mattan Torah, there would be many Yosefs. There would be one Yosef in the market, and an entirely different Yosef would be in the beis knesses. His behaviors would vary depending on his location. Hashem gave us the Torah, so Rav Yosef said that now there is only one Rav Yosef, for he is the same everywhere .
Shulchan Aruch (581) states, "The custom is to awaken early and to say Selichos from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur." The Rema adds, "The custom for bnei ashkanez isn't so…" The Rema continues with the following: "Rather, from Rosh Chodesh Elul they begin to blow shofar after Shacharis (and some blow after Arvis too) and they awaken early to say Selichos from the first Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, and if Rosh Hashanah is on a Monday or Tuesday, they begin on the Sunday a week earlier…"
One should at least strive to come on time for tefillah in Elul, and throughout the year. Reb Zev Kahn shlita, the mashgiach of Meor HaTalmud, Rechovot, tells that his mother lived in Copenhagen until the ripe old age of 101. That wasn’t uncommon in Copenhagen. Many people of the Jewish community lived very long. The community members decided it’s because the entire community was careful to come on time to tefillah. The leaders of this community told the wonder of their longevity, with their explanation, to Reb Shmuel Wosner zt’l. Reb Wosner replied, “I was born in Vienna, and there too, people lived long. It wasn’t because of the location, because lehavdil the non-Jews weren’t living as long. Everyone wondered, which merit is causing their longevity. But then someone died at seventy years old, which was young for their community. This person wasn’t cautious to come on time to the minyan. That is when they realized that the long life that most of the community was enjoying was due to their caution to come to the minyan on time.
Reb Yohonoson Eibshitz (Yaaras Dash 1:1) writes, "In the brachah of Shema Koleinu [in Shemonah Esrei] a person should…pray for all his needs; for the minor and for the major issues; there shouldn’t be a matter that he doesn’t pray for from Hashem. If he needs a shidduch for himself or for his sons or daughters, he should pray to Hashem. For business, pray that Hashem give you success and lead you in the right way. The rule is: there shouldn’t be anything that you want to do that day that you don’t pray for it from Hashem, requesting that He grant you success, and lead you on the right path. Certainly, if there is some problem at home, chas veshalom, one must pray. Also, if there’s a simchah [such as a chasunah], one should pray that he doesn’t sin, chas veshalom, so that the simchah shouldn’t turn into a misfortune. Pray in your own words for every matter. Although your language is poor and you don’t know lashon hakadosh well, it is beloved to Hashem as if you prayed with many words, in a rich, clear and beautiful language. In the merit of this tefillah Hashem will listen to our voices. Such tefillos will be answered, and they will be to our benefit, because these tefillos are certainly said with kavanah. They are not said by rote – just with the mouth, while the heart isn't there - since each day he will pray for something else, for the matters that he needs at that time. These prayers are in your own words, and you can't say them without kavanah. Therefore, this is a perfect tefillah, because the primary tefillah is when it emanates from the depths of one's heart. As it states , 'I call to You from the depths…' from the depths of the heart."
The Divrei Yoel of Satmar zt'l (his yahrtzeit is the twenty-sixth of Av) said, "People say that one can choose his sons-in-law, but can’t choose his own children. I say the opposite. One can't choose his sons-in-law, because whatever was decreed forty days before the formation of the child will be. However, one can choose his sons, because one can pray for them, educate them, and be a good influence for them, so they will grow up to be tzaddikim, talmidei chachamim…"
A barren couple in Eretz Yisrael went to many fertility doctors, but after twelve years of hoping, the doctors told them they would never bear children. That's when they decided to adopt a child. When their child's class knew how to read, the cheder celebrated with a siddur party, and the adopted parents came to rejoice with their child, whom they loved like their own. At home, the parents noticed that their child was extremely happy, in a way they’ve never seen before. They asked him about that, and he replied, "I always wanted a brother, and now that I will be davening with a siddur, I will pray that you have another child, so I can have a brother." The father didn’t want to break the child's heart, so he said, "Very good, begin davening." Nine months later, they had a child. The tefillah and temimus of the child broke all barriers. Such is the power of tefillah.
The Yaaras Dvash continues, "A primary benefit [from praying in your own words] is that you will know in your heart that man and the Jewish nation aren't subjugated to the times or to occurrences. [For if everything was by chance] one wouldn’t have to pray, since success would be dependent on one's mazal, attempts, and caution. [His prayers remind him] that trying is falsehood ( ). Everything is planned by Hashem, Who arranges the steps of a Yid…"
A similar story happened with Rebbe Avraham Dov of Avuritch, the Bas Ayin zt’l. He arrived in Eretz Yisrael around Elul time. His plan was to stay in Tzefas until after the yomim tovim, and then move on to Yerushalayim. But on Chol HaMoed Succos, he changed his mind and decided to remain in Tzfas. This change of plans occurred when he heard a woman tell her son, "On Simchas Torah we will bentch geshem and I’m certain that Hashem will listen to the tefillos. Go up to the roof and bring the mattresses down, so they won't get ruined in the rain." The Bas Ayin said that he chose to remain in Tzefas, to be among people who believed so faithfully in tefillah.
Another form of prayer, which is customarily increased in Elul, is to say Tehillim.
The Rebbe of Gostanin zy’a was called by many the Tehillim Rebbe. When people came to him with their difficulties, he would prescribe a regimen of Tehillim — either the entire Tehillim, a section, or a few chapters — for them to say every day. Each person received a different ‘prescription’ which they would follow, and they were healed and saved from their hardships. Tzaddikim of Poland asked the Rebbe, “Rebbe of Gostanin, have you become a miracle worker?” “Not at all” he replied. “But I heard from the Rebbe of Kotzk zy’a that if Dovid HaMelech would have arranged the Tehillim in the order that he said them, Tehillim would have the power to resurrect the dead. Since Dovid HaMelech compiled the chapters in a different order, it doesn’t have that power, but all other salvations can still be attained by saying Tehillim.”
The Beis Ahron (Chanukah) writes, "One must believe that with Tehillim, one can be saved… from all troubles…"
The Noam Elimelech (Likutei Shoshanah, Shiru) writes, "Sometimes prayer doesn’t help, chalilah, because there is an accuser on him. Then he needs to become attached to the great world called Tehilah … That world is solely compassion, and [when one becomes bound there] everything is rectified. This is the reason the songs of Dovid HaMelech are called Tehillim [as these prayers brings the person to this world of compassion called Tehilah ]. One can accomplish everything with Tehillim. There is no Satan [that can stop those prayers]…"
The Pele Yoetz writes, "Saying a lot of Tehillim, banishes all castigations and afflictions from himself…from his household, and from his entire generation, and it bestows …abundance, brachos, goodness and success… There is a tradition from tzaddikim: If one is going through some form of hardship… he should read the entire Tehillim [from beginning to end] without interruption, with kavanah and humility, and he will see wonders. This is baduk and menusah, tried and proven. All of these benefits and many more will come to the one who reads Tehillim word for word, pleading joyously… because they are terrific prayers… wondrous praises… Even to those who don’t know what they are saying, their words are affective and accomplish much…"
People would come to Reb Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt’l (the rav of Yerushalayim) for all types of matters. Shalom bayis issues also arrived at his doorstep, and he had a record of helping many couples. He attributed his siyata dishmaya to his recital of the entire sefer Tehillim each day. The Brisker Rav zt’l asked him why he says so much Tehillim. Reb Yosef Chaim replied, "I was over twenty when I got married. Chazal say that when one marries after twenty, he has sinful thoughts each day. I therefore need to purify myself, and there is nothing that purifies the soul more than Tehillim…"
Several years ago, the week prior to Shabbos parashas Parah, the daughter of the Peshvorsker Rebbe shlita was niftarah (rachmana litzlan). For Peshvorsker Chassidim, Shabbos parashas Parah is a primary time to be with their Rebbe. The Rebbe told his chassidim to come on that Shabbos, although it was in the middle of his shivah. At the Friday-night tish, the Peshvorsker Rebbe repeated an old story of a tzaddik who once came to a city. The people asked him to tell them divrei Torah, and he replied that he would say divrei Torah on Shabbos. When Shabbos came, the tzaddik opened a Chumash, read through the entire parashah, and said, "I don’t have any questions, and therefore I don't have anything to say." The Peshvorsker Rebbe asked, "But this tzaddik said that he would say divrei Torah on Shabbos, and he didn’t say anything!? Apparently, if someone doesn’t have any questions, that itself is a dvar Torah." The Peshvorsker Rebbe was implying that he doesn’t have any questions on Hashem, why he took his daughter. This attitude by itself is a primary Torah lesson. We don’t ask questions on Hashem, because we can’t understand Hashem’s ways. We trust though that all of His ways are true and good — even when we don’t understand.
Rebbe Shimon of Yarislav zt'l was niftar at the age of ninety-two, which was considered very old in those years. People asked him how he lived for so long. He replied, "If a person asks a question on Hashem, Heaven brings him up to heaven, so he will see that everything was for the good. But I never have questions on Hashem, and therefore Heaven let me live long."
The parashah begins, . This line can be read, "It is a great blessing when one thinks about , today." This can be explained in two ways: 1) If things are good today, focus on that, and don't worry about tomorrow. 2) If things aren't good, keep in mind that this situation is only today, for a short time. It won't be forever. Both thoughts are a blessing, because it takes away the anxieties of life.
Someone told the Tchebiner Rav zt'l that he has very worried, as he has older children, and hasn't yet found a shidduch for any one of them. The Tchebiner Rav told him the following story: "Early in the morning on erev Yom Kippur, someone was going to the shochet to shecht his kaparos. He held the chicken in one hand, a machzor in the other, and then his eyeglasses fell to the ground. He stood there, wondering what to do. If he puts down the chicken, it will run away. He certainly can't put the machzor on the ground. So how could he pick up his eyeglasses?" "What did he do?" the man asked. The Tchebiner Rav replied, "I don’t know, but one thing I know; he's not standing there anymore." With this story, the Tchebiner Rav was telling him that life goes on. There are hurdles and challenges, but they pass. Think that it's only for today and that things will improve in the future. That optimistic attitude is a blessing.
When you’re going through hard times, remember that , it will pass, and the future will b’ezres Hashem be better. And when you’re going through good times, focus on the good of today, without worrying about the doom you foresee in the future. You can make an effort for the future, but don’t let the future worry you today. And Hashem will help you tomorrow just as He helped you today.
When one acquires these attitudes, and he frees himself from all anxieties, it is a segulah for success. Reb Yisrael Harten (an elderly Polish chassid) told that when he lived in Warsaw before World War II, he saw a very old glazier carrying a heavy pane of glass. Reb Yisrael offered to help. In a shaky old-man's voice, this old man replied, "Listen young boy, I’m over ninety, but as you can see, I'm still strong. I don’t need your help. And I'll tell you why. Many years ago, I did a favor for Rebbe Bunim of Peshischa zt'l. The Rebbe gave me the option to choose any blessing I desired. I requested the standard: to marry off all my children easily. The Rebbe said, 'My blessing to you is that you shouldn't worry, because Hashem doesn’t give to those who worry. He gives to those who ask.' I married off all my children with ease, and as you see, I still have strength. I attribute it to the blessing I received," and to the attitude of not worrying.
Similarly, Rebbe Mendel of Vitebsk zt'l taught his chassidim that they shouldn’t worry about parnassah. The worries only ruin the chances. In a public letter, he writes, "Every year, I've been receiving letters from the Jewish community of Beshinkawitz, who were always complaining that they don’t have parnassah. It was simply painful for me to read those letters. This year, they didn’t mention parnassah, therefore I'm certain they will be successful… This is because a person is where his thoughts are... This also applies to din and rachamim. Where his thoughts are, that is where his life-source comes from, and that is where he gets his parnassah from …" Therefore, when people trust in Hashem, they will have all their needs, but when people are worried, they will always be lacking.
Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk zy'a taught: A Jew can even sell tiny slivers of wood and become extremely wealthy, because it isn’t the profession that gives wealth, but Hashem’s blessings. The only condition is that he must enjoy this type of work. If he is happy with his business, Hashem can help him become wealthy from it.
The Gemara (Kiddushin 36.) teaches: Reb Yehudah said: When they act like children (by performing the mitzvos) they are called . When they don’t act like Hashem's children, they aren't called . Reb Meir says: regardless whether they act like Hashem's children, or whether they sin, they are always called , Hashem's children. The Rashba (teshuvah 194) writes that generally we follow Reb Yehudah's view over Reb Meir's, but in this instance, the halachah is like Reb Meir. At all times, regardless of what they do, they remain Hashem's children.
When one needs a salvation, there's a custom to give charity and to say , "The G-d of Reb Meir should answer me." The Satmar Rebbe zt'l explains this custom as follows: The Gemara says (Eiruvin 13:) "It is revealed and known to the One who created the world that there was no one equal to Reb Meir in his generation. So why wasn't the halachah like Reb Meir? It’s because his colleagues couldn’t fully grasp his thoughts." Heaven, however, certainly does understand Reb Meir's view, and therefore in heaven, the halachah is like Reb Meir. In heaven, therefore, the halachah is , no matter what Jews do, they are Hashem’s child, as Reb Meir taught. Therefore, when a person has a problem, he gives tzedakah and says "The G-d of Reb Meir should answer me." This implies, "Hashem, I am certain that in heaven, the halachah is like Reb Meir. Therefore, even if I've sinned, have compassion on me…"
The Aruch HaShulchan (247:5) writes, "I have received the kabalah that when one collects money for others, it will protect his future generations that they will never need to go around, door to door, collecting for themselves."