Like Clay in the Hand of the Potter / KeChomer B'Yad HaYotzer

What metaphor best describes the word of crafting and managing the world? This classical Yom Kippur piyyut (liturgical poem) compares our relationship with God to various kinds of craftspeople who shape and mold raw materials.

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּחֹֽמֶר בְּיַד הַיּוֹצֵר. בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מַרְחִיב וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְקַצֵּר. כֵּן אֲנַֽחְנוּ בְּיָדְךָ חֶֽסֶד נוֹצֵר. לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּֽפֶן לַיֵּֽצֶר:

כִּי הִנֵּה כָאֶֽבֶן בְּיַד הַמְּסַתֵּת. בִּרְצוֹתוֹ אוֹחֵז וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְכַתֵּת. כֵּן אֲנַֽחְנוּ בְּיָדְךָ מְחַיֶּה וּמְמוֹתֵת. לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּֽפֶן לַיֵּֽצֶר:

כִּי הִנֵּה כַגַּרְזֶן בְּיַד הֶחָרָשׁ. בִּרְצוֹתוֹ דִּבֵּק לָאוֹר וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ פֵּרַשׁ. כֵּן אֲנַֽחְנוּ בְּיָדְךָ תּוֹמֵךְ עָנִי וָרָשׁ. לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּֽפֶן לַיֵּֽצֶר:

כִּי הִנֵּה כַהֶֽגֶה בְּיַד הַמַּלָּח. בִּרְצוֹתוֹ אוֹחֵז וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ שִׁלַּח. כֵּן אֲנַֽחְנוּ בְּיָדְךָ אֵל טוֹב וְסַלָּח. לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּֽפֶן לַיֵּֽצֶר:

כִּי הִנֵּה כַזְּכוּכִית בְּיַד הַמְזַגֵּג. בִּרְצוֹתוֹ חוֹגֵג וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְמוֹגֵג. כֵּן אֲנַֽחְנוּ בְּיָדְךָ מַעֲבִיר זָדוֹן וְשׁוֹגֵג. לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּֽפֶן לַיֵּֽצֶר:

כִּי הִנֵּה כַיְרִיעָה בְּיַד הָרוֹקֵם. בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מְיַשֵּׁר וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְעַקֵּם. כֵּן אֲנַֽחְנוּ בְּיָדְךָ אֵל קַנֹּא וְנוֹקֵם. לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּֽפֶן לַיֵּֽצֶר:

כִּי הִנֵּה כַכֶּֽסֶף בְּיַד הַצּוֹרֵף. בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מְסַגְסֵג וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְצָרֵף. כֵּן אֲנַֽחְנוּ בְּיָדְךָ מַמְצִיא לְמָזוֹר תֶּֽרֶף. לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּֽפֶן לַיֵּֽצֶר:

(78) Like clay in the hands of the potter, if he wills, he can expand it, if he wills, he can contract it; so too are we in Your hand, Preserver of kindliness and not the accuser!

(79) Like stone in the hand of the mason, if he wills, he holds it [in position], if he wills, he smashes it; so too are we in Your hands, Causer of life and death. Heed the covenant and not the accuser!

(80) Like iron in the hand of the smith, if he wills, he puts it to the fire, if he wills, he removes it; so too are we in Your hand, Supporter of the poor and destitute Heed the covenant and not the accuser!

(81) Like the rudder in the hand of a seaman, if he wills, he holds it if he wills, he lets it go; so too are we in Your hand, Almighty, Who is good and pardons. Heed the covenant and not the accuser!

(82) Like glass in the hand of the glazier, if he wills, he shapes it, if he wills, he dissolves it; so too are we in Your hand, Absolver of intentional and unintentional sin. Heed the covenant and not the accuser!

(83) Like a tapestry in the hand of an embroiderer, if he wills, he makes it straight if he wills, he makes it crooked; so too are we in Your hand, jealous and vengeful Almighty heed the covenant and not the accuser!

(84) Like silver in the hand of the refiner if he wills, he adulterates it, if he wills, he keeps it pure; so too are we in Your hand, Who prepares a cure for our wounds. Heed the covenant and not the accuser!

Reflecting:

  • The prayer compares our relationship with God to material in the hands of many types of craftspeople. Which is your favorite metaphor and why?
  • Write your own verse to the poem...what metaphor would you add?

  • Throughout the Bible and in later sources, God is consistently referred to as a creator. The Talmud in Tractate Megillah extends this image and says that God is, in fact, the greatest artist ever known, as evidenced by all of God's creations. What acts of creating make you feel most empowered? Where in your life is creativity important?

  • The poem expresses a feeling of vulnerability. Over the past year, when have you felt this vulnerable? What have you found reassuring in those moments?