One of the most compelling piyyutim poems in the Yom Kippur prayers (piyyut here) compares the relationship between Man and God through metaphors centering around crafts, such as pottery. God is the master craftsman and man is the raw material being shaped. During this season when God decides the fate of all His creatures, this depiction is especially fitting to describe God’s omnipotence – there is nothing which suggests power more than controlling fate.
It reminds me of a story in Jerusalem’s history. Over 800 years ago, on October 2, 1187 CE, Salahadin captured Jerusalem from the Christian Crusaders. The Moslem Ayubbid rulers were afraid the Crusaders would try to return. To address that fear, Salahadin’s nephew, Al-Mu’azzam ‘Issa rebuilt the walls and tower of Jerusalem in 1212. Remains of the towers and dedicatory inscriptions have been found east of today’s Zion Gate and south of today’s Jaffa Gate.
When Andrew II of Hungary, who led the Fifth Crusade, beat the Moslem army in Beit Shean, Al-Mu’azzam ‘Issa feared that the Crusaders would capture Jerusalem and use his own fortifications against him. So, to prevent this situation, he ordered the walls, the very same walls that he himself built, torn down in 1219 CE. By the end of his reign in 1227 CE, Al-Mu’azzam ‘Issa ordered the complete destruction of the walls of Jerusalem.
“Like stone in the hand of the mason,
If it is His will, He will support it;
If it is His will, He will smash it.
So are we in Your hands,
You who keep us alive and decree our death.”
-from the Piyyut Poem
The human imagery in this piyyut does not just speak about God’s power to decide the fate of the world, to do as He pleases, in my mind it also speaks to me. I have power, albeit limited, and it is up to me how to use that power. Al-Mu’azzam ‘Issa both built and destroyed in response to changing political conditions.
What will I do? Will I build, grow, learn, love, forgive – or the opposite?
The choice is like clay in the hands of the potter – it’s up to me and you what to do with it.
May we all be inscribed in the book of Life!