She is all alone.

The only nourishment she receives is a small trickle, without any consistency.

She cries out constantly, but no one hears her.

She wonders if anyone even knows she’s alive.  

Every day that passes, she gets a little weaker. She knows she cannot go on like this forever.

I am not referring to one of the 136 hostages still held in captivity. I am referring to a hostage-taking that we are partly guilty of ourselves. I am referring to the captivity of our soul.

As Jews, we believe in a soul; she’hechezarta bi nishmati, we thank G-d every morning for returning our soul to our body. As Jews, we believe there is some level of tension that exists between our body, meaning, our physical drives, and our soul, our spiritual yearnings. And as self-aware and honest people, we could probably all admit that our body is often times holding our soul captive; not giving her the nourishment she needs, not listening to her cries, and in doing so, allowing her to whither away.

I’ve struggled to imagine what those hostages in Gaza feel like until I realized I have an all too perfect example living inside of me. My soul can relate to the pain and loneliness that the hostages are experiencing every day.

“Will they ever come for me?” she asks. “Will my voice ever be heard?” “Will I be constrained in the darkness for all of eternity, or will I have the opportunity to thrive and to blossom?”

Our collective soul is no stranger to this feeling of being held hostage; it goes back thousands of years to the sunbaked fields of Egypt. Our ancestors were so beaten down, so overwhelmed that they had no capacity to dream of a different life. “V’lo shamu el Moshe, and they could not listen to Moshe, mikotzer ruach umei’avoda kasha, due to a shortness of spirit and their all-consuming difficult work.” Does that not sound familiar? Are we not, at times, so beaten down, so stressed, so focused on survival, that the notion of change seems impossible?

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, an 18th century Kabbalist, saw in the story of our Egyptian slavery a mirror to our modern lives. In his magnum opus, Mesilas Yesharim, he interprets Pharoah’s insistence on increasing the Jewish People’s workload after Moshe arrives, as a model for the tension between body and soul. When our body senses that our soul is starting to awaken from her slumber, when it senses a flash of inspiration, the body’s response is to overwhelm her; with stress, anxiety, busyness – anything that will distract her from making any real changes of a spiritual nature.

In 2024, with the busyness of life, the incessant interruptions beeping out of our pockets, the stress and anxiety that seems to be in the air we breathe – our soul is being beaten down at every moment.

Have you ever gone on a walk or started driving your car in silence and felt uncomfortable? Uneasy with the quiet? That’s our Neshama trying to speak to us, to awaken us, to remind us that there is more to do, that there is greater depth to life, to stop living so superficially. Our soul is not as abstract as we may think. Our soul is that magnetic pull we sometimes feel towards being a better person, to wanting more meaning in life, the desire to transcend the mundane and the meaningless.

But what do we too often do in response to that gnawing feeling? We distract ourselves. We turn on a podcast – maybe even a Jewish podcast, but it’s still a distraction. We turn on some music; anything to prevent us from sitting there with that pull of our soul.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, a man who spoke about the soul in his writings probably more than any other Jewish writer describes the great need for solitude, for allowing our soul to feel free: “The greater the soul a person possess,” he writes, “the more time such a person needs to be on their own.” To allow their soul to soar, to be unencumbered by the noisiness around us; to allow their soul to be free.

Imagine how rich our lives would be if we would spend just a few minutes daily in solitude, in reflection, in touch with our spirit.

But G-d in His infinite wisdom recognized that solitude is not easy and so He instituted a daily practice to give our soul the nourishment that she needs.

Rav Kook writes in Olat Re’iyah, that our soul is constantly talking to G-d. But her soft voice is usually drowned out by all the noise and distractions in our lives. However, when we pray, we are opening the door to her prison, we are giving her a microphone, we are giving her the expression she so desperately yearns for.

Now of course, Rav Kook is not referring to when we mumble the words while we daydream with a siddur open in front of us. That doesn’t do it. They say the Baal Shem Tov once walked into a shul and immediately turned around and walked out. They asked him why he didn’t go into the shul, and he explained that there was no room for him; it was too stuffy. So they cleared some tables, they gave him a lot of space, but he still wouldn’t enter. Until he finally explained to them that the room was filled with prayers; prayers that were said without any meaning, without any focus, without any reverence and without any love. And so, those dry prayers remained grounded, in the shul, they never went up to G-d in Heaven.

I shudder to think of how many of my own prayers are still down here in this room because I never gave them the wings to fly.

And it doesn’t take much. The Torah describes the prayer that was the catalyst for our ancestors’ redemption. Vayiz’aku min ha’avodah, they cried out due to their hard work, and G-d heard them. It was a wordless prayer that was born out of their pain. It was a krechtz, a deep sigh. But it was sincere. It was genuine. And that’s all it took to break them free.

There are times in history when our collective soul is stirred. After the six-day war, there was a spiritual awakening. Many Jews who grew up rejecting a Jewish life, or at the very least, grew up apathetic to an observant lifestyle, changed their lives around. A similar phenomenon is on display right now. Jews, who otherwise would hide or downplay their Jewishness, are proudly embracing it.

One example of many is the Shabbat of Love. The Federations, meaning, the umbrella for the Associated and all the Jewish Federations country-wide are pushing for a full-fledged Friday night observance for next week. They’re encouraging people who otherwise would not be observing Shabbos to light candles, to say kiddush, to share divrei Torah and have meaningful discussions at their meal. In the past, there have been movements like Project Inspire and the Shabbat Project. Those were Orthodox-led initiatives, but this is not. This is the largest collection of Jewish organizations coming together on their own to create a spiritual space for their awakened souls. Are we taking advantage of this spiritual awakening? Are we enhancing and elevating our Shabbos observance?

I’ve been reading the literature they’ve been producing about the beauty of Shabbos and it makes me wonder how many weeks have gone by that I have squandered this incredible gift of 25 hours to let my soul recharge…


She is indeed all alone.

The only nourishment she receives is a small trickle, without any consistency.

She cries out constantly, but no one hears her.

She wonders if anyone even knows she’s alive. 

Every day that passes, she gets a little weaker. She knows she cannot go on like this forever.

Tomorrow marks 100 days since our brothers and sisters were taken into captivity in Gaza. We are limited in how we can help them. We can and we must continue to place pressure on our elected officials. We can and we must continue to support the soldiers of the IDF. But as Jews, as Jews who believe in the power of prayer and in existence of a soul, as Jews who look to the story of the Exodus as a model for a future redemption, it is critical for their sake and ours that we give our Neshama the sustenance she needs. By spending time each day in silent contemplation, by engaging in heartfelt prayer, and by experiencing the beauty of Shabbos. 

In that merit, may every hostage, those inside of us and those in Gaza; may they all break free.