I can’t believe this is happening again.

The Jewish people are still twisting in pain over the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli yeshiva students back in June, and now we find ourselves in the same situation once again: examining forests, turning over stones, searching ceaselessly for an innocent yeshiva student.

Twenty-three-year-old Aaron Sofer, a yeshiva student from Lakewood, New Jersey, has been missing since just before Shabbos. He disappeared in the middle of hike with a friend in the Jerusalem Forest. Police, assisted by thousands of volunteers, have launched an extensive search for Aaron. His parents have flown to Israel to be a part of the desperate search for this Jewish neshama (soul).

Once again, it is time to step up the prayers and acts of kindness, as we beseech the Almighty to protect Aaron and return him to his parents’ embrace. With the Jewish month of Elul upon us, we can dedicate the spiritual growth attained during this auspicious time of the year to the merit of Aaron ben Chulda. We cannot just show up on Rosh Hashanah and expect to have a transformative and inspiring High Holiday experience. We need to engage in a spiritual inventory of our past year and an honest assessment of how we can fulfill our potential for the year that lies ahead of us.

A little time, some hard work and meaningful contemplation is the essence of Elul and is the only way to ensure a meaningful New Year.

I try to carve out 20 minutes a day during this month for some serious introspection and spiritual accounting. I use the time to reconnect to my true priorities, to clarify my unique purpose in the world and what I am trying to accomplish in this short life of mine. I try to be honest about my strengths and weaknesses and create an authentic and realistic plan for becoming better. Maximizing the days of Elul transforms my Rosh Hashanah experience. When I don’t, I walk away from the High Holidays feeling frustrated and unsatisfied.

Our job during the month of Elul, as the Days of Awe approach, is to send out a search party and launch an extensive search for the pure neshama within each of us.

These are days of repentance, the time to return to that deepest, most authentic place inside ourselves. The mistakes and miscalculations we make in our lives may corrupt and debase us, but only on the surface. That deepest, pure spark called the neshama remains perfectly intact. Taking time to think about what we may have done wrong, whom we may have hurt and how we want to live in the upcoming year allows us to recalibrate and come closer to who we’re ultimately meant to be.

May our spiritual return storm the Heavens and merit the physical return of Aaron Sofer. We hope and pray that our efforts will be fruitful and Aaron will be returned to his parents who lay awake at night and cry out for his return.

 

A SAD ADDENDUM

Seven hours after posting this article, the body of Aaron Sofer was found in the Jerusalem area of Ein Kerem. We are shocked and saddened by this terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family.

Readers can express their condolences in the comment section below.