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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
March 20, 2009
© Rabbi Jack Moline

"Yad," the noun in this word, means "hand." "B" means "in," and "-ekha" means "your." "B'yadekha" means "in your hand."

How many different popular images can we conjure using the phrase, "in your hand?" There is the gospel favorite, that big hit for Mahalia Jackson, "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands." There is the insurance company slogan, "You're in good hands with Allstate." And everyone from heavy-metal group Judas Priest to massage therapists in a hundred cities suggests that you "put yourself in our hands."

And of course, there is the classic story of the man who sought to embarrass the sage rabbi by appearing before him with his hands gently closed around a bird. "Is the bird alive or dead?" he asks. The rabbi knows that if he says the bird is dead, the man will let it fly, and if he says the bird is alive, the man will crush it. So he replies, "The answer is in your hands."

The hand we intend in this case is, like the Mahalia Jackson song, God's hand. And of course, God has no hand in a literal sense. Nonetheless, we suggest that God holds our very life in the divine grip, gently, like the man in the story, able to give us wing or end our existence with the slightest movement. "Chayyeinu ha'm'surim b'yadekh," we say. "Our life delivered in your hand."

In a sense, the phrase is backwards. It is we who are entrusted with life from God – God's life entrusted in our hands. We are God's emissaries in this world, experiencing creation and facing daily opportunities to rise to godly levels or to fall short through neglect or willfulness. We come to the understandable self-deception that our lives belong to us in perpetuity, when in fact they are delivered to us each day, each moment by the generosity of God's symbolic open hand.

When life is in our hands – a trembling bird, a trusting child, our own souls – we should remember our gratitude that the One in whose image we are created has made us emissaries of divine protection.

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