We are the Skilled Ones – Yom Kippur 2019/5780

We are the Skilled Ones – Yom Kippur 2019/5780

Dr. Jane Shapiro, Founder Orot: The Center for New Jewish Learning

Many of the prayers for the High Holiday season bring challenges when you may be in the midst of treatment or trying to figure out how to quiet that fear that always lives within you that the cancer may return. 

Sometimes, though, a prayer can be turned over on its head a little and perhaps help in some small way.

That is what was like for me this year when I prepared to teach an online class for the Sharsheret community. Going to a prayer that I look forward to all year, Ki Hinei KaChomer, a prayer for the evening of Kol Nidrei night, which is built upon a line in Jeremiah 18:

הֲכַיּוֹצֵ֨ר הַזֶּ֜ה לֹא־אוּכַ֨ל לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת לָכֶ֛ם בֵּ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נְאֻם־יְהוָ֑ה הִנֵּ֤ה כַחֹ֙מֶר֙ בְּיַ֣ד הַיּוֹצֵ֔ר כֵּן־אַתֶּ֥ם בְּיָדִ֖י בֵּ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ 

O House of Israel, can I not deal with you like this potter?—says the LORD. Just like clay in the hands of the potter, so are you in My hands, O House of Israel!  In the poem the image of God as a craftsman working upon us like clay is expanded to include a stone mason, blacksmith, glazier, sailor, glazier, weaver and silversmith, bringing strength, skill and beauty to their materials. It is a lovely example of medieval piyut (Jewish liturgical poem), reminding us not just of God’s power but also the connection we have with God called the brit/covenant.

In this year when I have also become a cancer survivor, it occurred to me that at many times throughout the year I had the feeling that I was just a lump of clay myself, being poked, prodded, acted upon, operated upon, zapped by all sorts of machines and tools. The prayer was no longer a poem about God but became even more dramatically a description of how I had truly felt.

But I did not want to give up on this prayer because of a sudden disconnect.

So I imagined all the amazing craftspeople: techs, nurses, doctors and caregivers who had been artfully working, shaping, sewing and weaving my body and my life back together so I could arrive at this moment. And I was able to open up to the possibilities of the prayer once again.

It also gave me a chance to ponder how I could see myself and my life as more than just “a lump of clay.” So it was great to come across a new rendition of the prayer that I am glad to bring to the Sharsheret community. In this version we can pray to take our transformed and crafted-upon selves in some way that can hold love, be a sanctuary, upholding truth and peace, beautify and keep our purest essence.  

And that seems like something wonderful and beautiful to pray for, don’t you think?

Shanah Tovah and Gemar Hatima Tovah

Click here for Odelya Berlin’s rendition of the Piyut

Ki Hinei Kachomer

September 30, 2014

Yom Kippur: If we are the clay
If we are the clay in the potter’s hand,
may we mold of ourselves a vessel
in which to hold Your love.
If we are the stone in the mason’s hand,
may we build of ourselves a sanctuary
that You may dwell within.
If we are the iron in the blacksmith’s hand,
may we forge of ourselves a foundation
upholding truth and peace.
If we are the tiller in the helmsman’s hand,
may we steer the ship to safety
across tempestuous seas.
If we are the glass in the glazier’s hand,
may we make of ourselves a mirror,
to reflect Your boundless light.
If we are the cloth in the weaver’s hand,
may we make of ourselves a tapestry
to beautify Your world.
If we are the silver in the silversmith’s hand,
may we shed our dross in the crucible,
yet our purest essence retain.

Source: https://parashapoems.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/yom-kippur-if-we-are-the-clay/, by Elizabeth Topper