We find ourselves in an intense period within the Jewish calendar. Having passed Rosh Hashanah and it’s symbolism, songs and shofar sounding; the spiritual climb to Yom Kippur seems steep and uncertain. How can we approach this monumentous annual event considering the challenges of this past year and inevitable transition out of the global covid pandemic?
Perhaps one way is to not only use our mouths, thoughts and words, rather to use our hands.
So often in Judaism we are instructed to be watchful of our words. The gravity of speech can be so devastating that a mere misplaced sentence can destroy with devastating effect. The power of words is so commonly played out in our media-saturated existence, where tweets, posts, and quotes are used both positively and negatively. Whilst words and speech are the necessary tools needed for society’s everyday function, they lack the action that hands represent. One can say verbally promise to build a house, but until the construction is physically undertaken, its existence hasn’t been fulfilled.
Similarly, as we stand before the Almighty on this the holiest day in the calendar, praying with our mouths and speaking of resolve to improve; those changes aren’t actualised without a physical action. Saying you’ll get healthy, isn’t the same as going for a run and eating less ice cream.
A parallel of this idea, is the stirring poem featured in the Yom Kippur prayers Ki Hinei Kochomer Beyad Hayotzer – We are Clay in the Hand of the Potter.
A beautiful rendition is found here:
This prayer moves through various professions involving skilled handiwork such as Potters, Weavers, Masons and Blacksmiths, portraying Hashem as the Masterful worker who can determine our fate through the work of his “Hands”. These analogies aren’t quaint references to bygone days of manual labour, rather they are the pleas of vulnerable, physical beings that are easily misshapen and damaged by forces beyond their control. Life and it’s events can literally affect the physical well-being of an individual.
Despite the events of the past year across all levels; personal, communal, global – to a large degree our future is in our hands. We can and should resolve to change internally, verbally and thoughtfully. But equally we can apply external elbow grease and remake ourselves by doing more, acting as we ought to and lessening the burden for others. “Many hands make light work” isn’t just a proverb, it is a call to action. And by joining our hands together towards building a better future, we may even be given a helping hand from above to raise us all up towards a brighter future.
Wishing everyone a Ketiva Vachatima Tova and may your words and actions lead to goodness, success and healing!