Rojeh, 11, is autistic and non-verbal. It is very difficult for him to express himself.

His mother, Yael, studies with me. She attends every class, sits in the front row and her electric smile lights up the room. When you meet her, you’d think she doesn’t have a care in the world.

Rojeh

Yael has shared with me a most beautiful, almost mystical moment that she has each day with her son. Despite his autism and his inability to utter a word, somehow his soul has a love for Shabbat that transcends the invisible shackles that bind him.

Taking out her phone, Yael opens to a clip of Rojeh. He is walking around the kitchen. “How many days till Shabbat?” I hear her say. “How many days until we have Shabbat, neshamah (soul)?” Yael repeats the question. Rojeh stops. He looks at his mother. Slowly, he holds up his hand. Finger by finger opens until he is done. “Three!” Yael says triumphantly. “Three more days till Shabbat. I love you my neshamah.”

The moment Shabbat is over Rojeh begins his count anew. Each day he approaches his mother wanting to show how many days remain until Shabbat is once again celebrated. He is always correct. He is never off by a day. When Rojeh visits his grandma’s home he brings his communicative iPad. Each time he visits he points to the pictures about Shabbat: lit candles, grape juice, challah, Shabbat dinner. This young boy who is locked in a world of silence, communicates the foods and atmosphere he is waiting for each week as Shabbat arrives once again.

Yael’s eyes glisten with tears. “This child has no hate. No judgment. No lies. He has only his pure soul and so I call him neshamah. That’s who he is. My sweet boy loves Shabbat. His soul is connected despite it all. And for me, it is amazing to watch.”

We are in the month of Elul. These days are set aside for reconciliation between God and the Jewish people. We are given time to reflect upon our lives before the High Holidays arrive. When the Jewish nation committed the sin of the golden calf and the two tablets were shattered, Moses ascended the mountain once again. He pleaded to God to forgive His children and grant Divine mercy so that the nation could live on. The date that Moses ascended was the first day of the month of Elul. He remained atop Mount Sinai for 40 days, until the 10th day of Tishrei, Yom Kippur. On this day, Moses brought down the second tablets, attaining atonement for his people.

We have been granted these 40 days to repent and seek rapprochement with God. There is an inherent, hidden energy which we can seize during this time period. It is the energy of teshuvah, returning to the person we were meant to be. Although genuine teshuvah is always accepted, these moments in the month of Elul are especially charged with greater energy of spiritual connection. God’s hand is outstretched awaiting us. There are no impediments. We just need to genuinely want to come closer – to God and to our true selves.

Sometimes we doubt our spiritual strength. We believe that we have strayed too far, done too much damage or don’t possess the required stamina or knowledge to return. The mountain looms and we cannot fathom climbing higher. It is easier to simply give up or leave it for others to conquer.

To all of us who doubt ourselves, (and who hasn’t?), think of little Rojeh. To the naked eye he seems shuttered from the daily dynamics around him, in his own world.

Yet this deep soul has burst through the invisible walls that seem to limit him and he connects to profound spirituality of Shabbat, counting each day until the magical day arrives.

What about us?

More than simply doing a mitzvah by rote, imagine if we could anticipate the joy of the moment. The joy of lighting Shabbat candles, the delight of creating peace with another whose heart has been hurt, the pleasure of setting time aside each day to study Torah and living life with added serenity and meaning, the satisfaction of calling a parent or grandparent who is waiting to hear from us; knowing that we have made a difference in this world.

This is what teshuvah is all about. Creating a path to return, reconcile, recalculate. What is my life all about? Where do I put my energy? Whom have I hurt? How can I live better this year?

Yael, thank you for sharing your son with us. He is an inspiration. He is a gift of innocence and truth.

My dear readers, Yael asked that I share this message with you: Please say a prayer for her son, Mordechai ben Yael. May God watch him always and grant him healing, a refuah shelaimah, so that he live a complete Jewish life and bring out his full potential.

Shanah tovah, a year of peace and blessing to all.