One of the most metaphoric and beautiful piyuttim (poems) included in the Yom Kippur prayer service is Kee Hinei Kachomer. In English, it is known as “Like the Clay in the Hand of the Potter,” which are the opening words of the first verse:
Like the clay in the hand of the potter
--he expands it at will and contracts it at will--
so are we in Your hand, O Preserver of kindness.
Look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.
The subsequent verses (“Like the stone in the hand of the cutter,” “Like the ax-head in the hand of the blacksmith,” etc) follow the same pattern as the first verse. The anonymous author of this piyut wished to express the omnipotence and omniscience of God in concrete terms, and therefore used professional analogies.
Have you ever watched a professional potter at work? An experienced potter who takes the clay into his or her hands seems to “know” that clay. He/She knows whether the clay will be easily pliable, whether it is strong enough to form the desired shape, whether it will hold the proper glaze. Knowing about the raw material that is in his/her hands, the potter takes the clay and works with it, feeling its every movement. Indeed, as he/she works, the potter knows whether to expand or contract it. The potter, through his/her knowledge of the clay in his/her hand, is able to transform that clay into the best possible creation -- whether a bowl, a sculpture or a vase.
Every person is like that clay. God knows us and is trying to form us into the best possible person that we can be.
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