Albert Einstein quipped: “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”

The Hebrew Bible’s most famous kiss is bestowed upon Rachel by Jacob, when they first meet, standing beside a communal well (Genesis 29:11). Professor Nahum Sarna identifies this as “the only instance in a biblical narrative of a man kissing a woman who is neither his mother nor his wife.” Scandalized by such a public display of affection, Ibn Ezra insists Jacob merely kissed Rachel’s hand.

Jewish ritual includes frequent kissing: of the tallis when first putting it on, tzitzit at specific points in prayer, Tefillin when removing and returning them to their bag, the Torah Scroll before reciting blessings for its Reading or when it passes in procession, Prayerbooks or other sacred tomes when one closes them after use or should they be inadvertently dropped, the Mezuzah upon entering or leaving a house, the Kotel – the Wall – at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, etc.

This “lingering” pattern of kissing demonstrates “Chibuv Mitzvah” – loving devotion to God’s Commandments and Jewish practice. As with Jacob, it also expresses grateful recognition of God’s Providence for the blessings (human and spiritual) in our lives…. and the importance of giving those blessings all the attention they deserve.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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