From the Head of Jewish Life
Kisses – betraying or bestowing
It is not happenstance that in Hebrew the root word for kiss is the same as that for weapon (נשק). Kisses can hurt and kisses can heal.
Ya’akov kissed his blind father, Yitschak, in an act of betrayal, to secure the blessing of the firstborn (which was to go to the older Eisav). ‘And, he (Ya’akov) kissed him (Yitschak) and he (Yitschak) smelled the scent of his clothes, and he blessed him’. The clothes, in fact, were Eisav’s, and so the Rabbis say “don’t read ‘his clothes’ but ‘his betrayals’”, as the Hebrew root word for clothes and betrayal is the same.
In this week’s parashah, VaYishlach, Ya’akov encounters his twin Eisav for the first time, since his kiss of betrayal. Their reunion, like their disunion, features a kiss. ‘And, Eisav ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling upon his neck, he kissed him and they wept’.
As the masoretic text has dots (‘Puncta extraordinaria’) appearing over the word VaYishakeihu – ‘He kissed him’, a commentator, punning on the root word נשק/nashak meaning kiss or weapon, says Eisav ‘bit him’. (Keeping in mind, as well, that the root word נשך/nashakh – bite is similar to that of נשק/nashak – kiss) Eisav, he posits, could not possibly be as forgiving as the text presents.
Clearly, however, this is a moment of reconciliation. Even more, Eisav’s kiss is linked to a reversal of Ya’akov’s betrayal and his taking of the firstborn’s blessing. Right before the kiss, we read that Ya’akov ‘bowed down to the ground, seven times, until he was near his brother’. The blessing bestowed upon Ya’akov was ‘Be master over your brothers and may your mother’s son bow to you’. Ya’akov goes on to say to his brother Eisav: ‘Please take my blessing that I have brought to you’
Both good intentions and bad are sealed with a kiss. Ya’akov learns, and the Torah teaches us that the truly blessed are those who bestow rather than betray brotherly love.