In one of the more famous passages in the Selichot service, we proclaim to God, “The soul is Yours, and the body is Your creation – have pity on Your handiwork; the soul is Yours, and the body is Yours – O Lord, act for Your Name’s sake!”
To explain the meaning of these seemingly redundant clauses, Chatam Sofer suggests that they refer to two different types of people. For most people, “The soul is Yours, and the body is Your creation” – the soul is God’s, but the body, though created by God, is now “theirs.” Their soul is pristine and heavenly, but the body has been “seized” by the person, in that he uses it for physical gratification and enjoyment. We nevertheless ask, “have pity on Your handiwork” – that God should have compassion on these individuals, because the body is, after all, God’s “handiwork.” Even if it has been misused, the very fact that the body is God’s special creation is a reason for God to treat it compassionately. We then pray on behalf of those whose both body and soul “belong” to God, in the sense that they devote themselves entirely to His service. With regard to such people, we pray, “…act for Your Name’s sake.” Since these righteous individuals live with pure devotion, assisting them and granting them continued life and success is beneficial, so-to-speak, for God’s “Name,” bringing Him honor and glory.
As we stand before God in prayer begging for forgiveness, we humbly recognize that we have misused our “body,” our strengths, our capabilities, our talents, our energy, and our very existence. We have been granted all this “for Your Name’s sake” – to serve the Almighty and enhance His world, but we have not always utilized these gifts properly, for the right purposes. But we ask that God nevertheless protect and help us because we are, after all His “handiwork.” He created us and gave us our strengths, our capabilities and our very lives so we can contribute to His world. Each and every individual is God’s “handiwork” – especially crafted to fulfill a certain mission, or numerous missions, during his or her lifetime. In this prayer, we “remind” God that we are His “handiwork,” we are here for a purpose, and even if we have to this point not fully achieved that purpose, we still want the opportunity to do so. We approach the new year with a firm resolve to redouble our efforts to live the lives we are meant to live, to use our God-given strengths and opportunities to achieve and contribute, so that the entirety of our beings, both body and soul, will truly “belong” to the Almighty.