This morning I awaken early, thinking of hands — human hands.

How marvelous the anatomy and dexterity of the human hand! Four lithe fingers, each possessing three separate joints, and one thumb allow a firm grasp for manual labor or those delicate manipulations necessary for artistic expression. The same hands that clasp the wrench and shovel also finger the frets of the guitar and pluck the taut strings of the bass viol. How invaluable the fingers for the keyboard, that universal tool through which the written word captures our deepest and most lofty thoughts! Small wonder that a significant section of our motor cortex is devoted exclusively to control of the hands.

Silently, I mourn the stroke victim who at his side cradles a withered hand, firmly flexed and gnarled; unable to extend; useless.

As I take my morning tea, my hand encircles the mug, grateful for the warmth that permeates fingers, palm and thumb.

I thrust my hands beneath the spigot and begin to wash. Before donning sterile gown and latex gloves a surgeon takes care to scrub up and down each finger, dorsum and palm, even wrist and midway up the forearm. In the surgical theatre clean hands are a necessity.

The same hands that created those majestic paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel also squeeze the trigger of the Kalashnikov rifle. I imagine Michelangelo working to rub the paint stains off his fingers with a rag at eventide, while Lady Macbeth struggles to scrub the horrific blood stains from her hands in the middle of the night.

“Wash your hands!” cried Semmelweis to his medical colleagues, as they raced from the autopsy room to the labor and delivery suite, unwittingly transferring virulent microorganisms to mothers and infants. Once his mantra took hold, this simple ritualistic act produced a precipitous drop in the incidence of puerperal fever and saved countless lives.

“Dirt makes your hands strong,” the old man used to say, he who worked second shift in the slaughterhouse where I spent a summer of my youth . The farmer’s steeled hands are caked with dust and dirt to such an extent that water in the sink turns yellow-brown with washing.

“I will wash my hands in innocence,” declares the Psalmist.

Centuries later Pontius Pilate attempted a public demonstration of his declaration.

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place?” asks the Psalmist.

He who has clean hands and a pure heart.