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A Direct Line to Heaven

Uh oh.

Ezriel, my cowlicked five-year-old, is standing over my infant’s bassinet with an impish grin, and alarm bells start going off in my head.

Did he fill the baby’s bottle with soda? Did he slip a Lego piece into the baby’s clenched fist? Do I need to call poison control?

Frantically, I search the bassinet for signs of sabotage but find no evidence that anything is awry.

“Are you up to something, Ez?” I ask cautiously. “Is everything okay?”

He nods – but he’s smirking – and his eyes stay glued to the bassinet like he’s seeing it for the first time. 

“Ma,” he finally announces. “Did you know that we have baby Yehuda because of me?”

I actually did not know that.

“How so?” I ask with amusement.

Before he answers, Ezriel darts off to the living room and comes running back with a photo album clutched under his arm. It’s the photo album from my son’s bar mitzvah in Eretz Yisrael.

His lips pursed in concentration, he flips through the pages until he finds the picture he’s looking for.

“See!” he crows triumphantly, pointing to a close-up of himself. It was taken on the morning of the bar mitzvah: he’s dressed in his tiny blue suit, and he’s standing on his tippy toes, reaching to kiss the cool stones of the Kosel. 

My heart squeezes.

I love that picture. I love his intensity, his joy, his sense that this was a big moment even if he was too young to really know why. But I’m not sure why this photo matters now.

“What does that picture have to do with baby Yehuda?” I ask, genuinely confused.

Ezriel looks up at me, baffled by my obtuseness. “Ma, when we were at the Kosel, I davened for you to have a baby – and now, here he is! Hashem gave him to you because of me!”

I fight hard to stifle my laughter.

So it seems my little guy hasn’t looked too closely at the rest of the pictures in the album. If he had, he might have noticed that I was already visibly pregnant when we were standing at the Kosel.

When he asked Hashem for a baby, baby Yehuda was already well on his way. But this is no time for a reality check.  Instead, I grab Ezriel into the tightest hug and declare exuberantly, “Thank you so much! You davened for the best present in the world!”

Ezriel struts off, his chest puffed out proudly, and I laugh out loud. Forget regular sibling rivalry – poor Yehuda is going to grow up thinking he owes his older brother for his very existence!

It’s a cute story, one that makes me want to eat Ezriel’s cheeks, but it also makes me a little jealous of my preschooler.

In Ezriel’s mind, davening is so simple.

He asks. Hashem answers.

He requests. Hashem grants.

He davened to Hashem for a new baby – and POOF! – a new baby came into his life only a few months later. 

How sweet?

I don’t want him ever to lose that innocence, that emunah peshutah, that simple belief that he has a direct line to shamayim to ask for whatever he lacks. But here’s the big question: Why don’t I have that simple belief anymore? Why don’t I feel the same sense of closeness – the same sense of immediacy – in my relationship with the Ribbono shel Olam?

I think back to last Yom Kippur. As I stood with an open machzor, pouring out my heart, the new year rolled out before me like a blank page. There was so much to daven for, so many unknowns and so much to worry about.  As the day passed too quickly, I cried, I pleaded, I vowed, and I resolved to do better, and as the gates of Neilah closed, I could only hope that my tefillos has been accepted.

Now, nearly a year later, the page is no longer blank.

Instead, the page is scribbled with writing, telling the story of a year, a year of blessings my family and I were so fortunate to experience.

Here’s just a few of those blessings:

My husband and I both received job offers – out of the blue – opportunities we needed but never imagined would fall right into our laps.

Thank you, Hashem.

Then, only a few days after I found out I was expecting, I received a letter informing me I was eligible for a new health insurance plan – one significantly better than the plan I was already on – enabling me to see a superior doctor and deliver at a superior hospital, a huge relief because I am a high-risk patient.

Thank you, Hashem.

And then, at the end of the summer, our son Naftali had a frightening health scare, one that could have had a terrifying ending. His life was saved by the efforts of a quick-thinking Good Samaritan – someone who wasn’t supposed to be there but – somehow – he was exactly where he needed to be. 

Thank you, Hashem. 

Looking back, I should feel just like Ezriel.

I asked for parnassah, and it was granted.

I asked for good health, and it was granted.

I asked that my children stay healthy and safe, and chasdei Hashem, it was granted.

So why don’t I connect the dots the way Ezriel does? Why don’t I believe, wholly and completely, that it was my tefillos that made the difference?

I think I know why.

It’s not that I don’t believe, chas v’sholom, in the power of tefillah. It’s that I don’t always believe in the power of my tefillos. Certainly, I am not worthy, I tell myself. Certainly, my tefillos are not worthy. I’ve done too many aveiros. I’m too stained. I’m too sullied. I’m too small.

I feel deeply grateful to Hakadosh Baruch Hu for all that He has given me, but I also feel undeserving. It had to be in the merit of someone else’s tefillos. Maybe my husband’s. Or my kids’. Definitely not mine. But this year, Ezriel has put me in my place. With his innocence, he knows what I’ve forgotten.

Hashem loves me. Hashem loves me despite my shortcomings. He is listening to me, no matter how small I feel. He is waiting for my tefillos, and He will answer them l’tova, even if I don’t feel deserving. Because that is the power of tefilla. That is the enormous, unbridled, and unchecked power of our prayers.

So, this Yom Kippur, I will strive to see my tefillos with Ezriel’s sweet innocence.  

I will strive to believe, wholly and completely, the words of U’nesaneh Tokef: Uteshuvah utefillah u-tzedakah ma’avirin et roa hagezerah

Our direct line to Heaven enables us to eradicate even the worst decrees.

We are not weak.

We are not small. 

Our prayers make us powerful, tall enough to reach the Heavens. 

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