A Kiss Is Still a Kiss – VaYetze 5784

D'var Torah | Genesis

Despite the fact that Song of Songs (1:2) speaks of how deep love is expressed with kisses on the mouth, centuries later Rabbi Akiva speaks admiringly of the early Persians (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 8a) who preferred kissing hands. Call it the changing nature of social mores. The Torah, however, seems to align itself with the earlier practice. When Jacob saw Rachel at the well, he kissed her (Genesis 29:11). Perhaps it is a contemporary bias, but readers will probably imagine this report of love at first sight as one requiring a kiss on the lips rather than the hand.

In any case, what should not be overlooked is the fact that the Hebrew root for kiss (nashak) is the same root for watering the flocks mentioned one verse previously!  Rather than assigning this dual use of a verb to coincidence, ascribing it to the author’s intent yields more than one insight.

The author of Ha’amek Davar, Rabbi Naftali Tzi Yehudah Berlin, comments that by watering the flocks, Jacob revealed that he must have been a relative of Rachel. Thus, kissing her would not be out of line. The implication here is that particularly in public it is important to observe the customs of propriety.

For romantics, there is an alternate insight. To be sure, Rachel was beautiful, as the text itself acknowledges (Genesis 29:17). But her beauty, contra RaShI, at least in Jacob’s eyes, was more than skin deep. Jacob saw in her the paragon of responsibility. She was the one her father Laban put in charge of the sheep even though she was not the oldest. He fell in love with Rachel and kissed her seeing how she earnestly carried out her duties. By using the same verb, the Torah implies that love is contingent on more than physical attraction.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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