Chukat: The Kiss Of Death ~ Tzvi Abrahams
The Kiss of Death
שֹׁקֶה: irrigate, saturate, quench
תְּשׁוּקָה: desire, longing
מַשְׁקֶה: liquid, drink
שׁוֹק: calf (part of body)
וַתָּמָת שָׁם מִרְיָם וַתִּקָּבֵר שָׁם And Miriam died there, and she was buried there.
Rashi comments that she also died with a kiss from Hashem.
In Parshasמַסֵעי , in connection to the death of Aharon, it says the words עַל פִּי הַשֵׁם/through the mouth of Hashem. Rashi says that this teaches us that he died with a kiss. So too Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, and Miriam all died with the kiss of Hashem.
What is the nature of a kiss, and what does it mean to be given the kiss of death?
שֹׁקֶה: Irrigate, Saturate, Quench
וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל הַסֶּלַע לְעֵינֵיהֶם וְנָתַן מֵימָיו וְהוֹצֵאתָ לָהֶם מַיִם מִן הַסֶּלַע וְהִשְׁקִיתָ אֶת הָעֵדָה וְאֶת בְּעִירָם And you shall speak to the rock in front of their eyes, and it will give its waters, and it will come out for them water from the rock, and you will quench the congregation and their livestock.
After Miriam dies, the well dries up, and again the people complain to Moshe to quench their thirst. Rashi comments that dying of thirst is one of the most painful of deaths.
תְּשׁוּקָה: Desire, Longing
וְאֶל אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל בָּךְ And to your husband will be your yearning, and he will rule over you.
The commentaries explain that תְּשׁוּקָה/longing is such a strong yearning that it is equivalent to a deep yearning, like to be quenched from thirst.
Like with any desire, תְּשׁוּקָה is a movement, a flow of energy, a life force, a driving force, with a deep longing to be satisfied. In essence, anything that moves has a desire to connect.
מַשְׁקֶה: Liquid, Drink
The Midrash Rabbah explains that the rain has a תְּשׁוּקָה/a yearning to quench the land. מַשְׁקֶה/liquids, unlike solids, express movement, like water’s desire to quench the land.
וְאָדָם אַיִן לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה. וְאֵד יַעֲלֶה מִן הָאָרֶץ וְהִשְׁקָה אֶת כָּל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה And man had yet to work the adamah, for the clouds to go up from the land and quench the face of the earth.
For the whole of creation to proceed, it was necessary to wait for man to be created in order that Adam would pray to Hashem for rain.
Although we consider the manna in the desert to be a miracle in that food rained down from Heaven, we never stop to reflect on the idea that rain is also a miracle from Heaven. We are just accustomed to the fact that it rains (perhaps too much in some areas!) and we don’t give it a second thought. But in reality it is no less a miracle. In the Land of Israel, rain is very much a barometer between us and Hashem, to gauge whether Hashem is pleased with us or not.
Given our definition of movement in order to quench one’s thirst, the שׁוּק/market is a bustling place, a movement of goods and people, all in search of satisfying their desires.
The calf, one of the strongest muscles in the body, is a sign of strength and moves the body, where the leg is symbolic of running after one’s desires.
In Hebrew, the definition of נֶשֶׁק is כְּלִי זַיִן, which means a tool that gives sustenance. In the Gemara in Brachos, the wise men come to King David to seek advice on how to sustain the poor. The advice given was to go to war. In this respect, the weapon of war, the נֶשֶׁק, rather than being a tool to kill, is ultimately being used in order to sustain life, hence the term כְּלִי זַיִן.
The roots מֶשֶׁק and נֶשֶׁק are clearly related in the pasuk describing Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, as it says: וּבֶן מֶשֶׁק בֵּיתִי/the one who is given charge of all the needs of Avraham’s house, and the pasuk describing Yosef also as the one in charge of the needs of all the people in Egypt says:וְעַל פִּיךָ יִשַּׁק כָּל עַמִּי. In other words, the one who has the נֶשֶׁק is able to hunt and מַשְׁקֶה/quench the needs of the people.
נְשִׁיקָה is more than just a movement of two bodies. It is much more ruchani/spiritual, which is why we don’t find that animals kiss each other. In order to give a נְשִׁיקָה/kiss, one must first have a תְּשׁוּקָה/yearning.
The first kiss described in the Torah is when Yitzchak blesses Yaakov, yet immediately before the blessing, Yitzchak asks Yaakov to give him to drink. The next kiss in the Torah describes the first kiss between man and woman, namely Yaakov and Rachel. The word וַיִשַׁק appears twice in adjacent pesukim. In the first verse, וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת צֹאן לָבָן אֲחִי אִמּוֹ, the word is used to mean “watered,” in the sense that Yaakov gave water to the sheep of Rachel. In the next, וַיִּשַּׁק יַעֲקֹב לְרָחֵל, it refers to when Yaakov kissed Rachel.
It seems from both cases above that before one is really able to kiss, one must first take care of one’s physical needs. This fits nicely with the idea that a kiss is predominantly a ruchani expression, and also teaches that in order to be able to express one’s ruchniyus, one must first quench one’s gashmiyus.
יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ כִּי טוֹבִים דֹּדֶיךָ מִיָּיִן Kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, because your love is better than wine.
The highest level of a ruchniyus kiss is the kiss from HaKadosh Baruch Hu. This is the kiss desired by Shlomo HaMelech, a deep longing to receive the highest accolade of coming face-to-face with Hashem. This can only be achieved by preparing oneself through ruach hakodesh and prophecy, to the point where one is fitting to be kissed by Hashem, where, mouth-to-mouth and ruach-to-ruach/spirit-to-spirit, the soul leaves this earthly domain to connect with the Kodesh HaKadashim.
“Your love is better than wine” — although wine has the power to satisfy the heart of man, it is still only a temporary pleasure. Since wine affects the soul of man by way of the body, it only has the power to temporarily uplift, yet it cannot be sustained and is always followed by the inevitable letdown. In contrast, the love and joy one receives through a higher level connection, e.g., through being spiritually elevated by the Holy Torah, results in a much more real and lasting pleasure, hence “your love is better than wine.”
Towards the end of the parshah,the Bnei Yisrael sang a song in thanks for the return of the well. The commentaries explain the deeper significance of the song, which is that it was in gratitude to being satisfied by the living waters of the Torah, as it says: כָּל צָמֵא לְכוּ לַמַּיִם/all who are thirsty come to the waters, meaning that the only way to truly satisfy one’s thirst for living is through the thirst-quenching waters of the Torah.
This is referred to in the verse that states, כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי ה’ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם /not on bread alone does man live, but upon what comes out from the mouth of Hashem does man live. This is the life-giving waters of Hashem.
Indeed, the first kiss in the Torah is when Hashem breathed into man his living soul:וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים. When Hashem gave us the kiss of life, it was through the nose, where the nose has two openings, symbolizing that Hashem breathed into us two yetzers: the good and the bad inclinations. Our job is to purify ourselves through the life-giving waters of the Torah, so that when it comes time to leave this world, we can be worthy to receive the יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ/the kiss of death from the mouth of Hashem that Shlomo HaMelech so longed for. In this way, we do a tikkun/correction by reversing the kiss that Hashem gave us at the onset of life, which was through our nose and was split up into two ruchos/spirits, the good and the bad, and instead we return to Hashem as one purified ruach, symbolized by the mouth-to-mouth kiss of death reserved for the tzaddikim.
Kiss of Life/Kiss of Death
When you give water to someone or something, you are giving it life. When you breathe air into someone, you are giving him life — this is the kiss of life. When you teach Torah to someone, you are giving him life in the World to Come.
When Hashem kisses someone, He is not taking a life, but giving life in the World to Come.
This is the “Kiss of Death.”
1 Bamidbar 20:1.
2 Bava Basra 17a.
3 Bamidbar 20:8.
4 Bereishis 3:16.
5 See Radak to Yeshayah 33:4.
6 Bereishis Rabbah 20:7.
7 Bereishis 2:5.
8 Brachos 3b.
9 Bereishis 15:2.
10 Ibid., 41:40.
12 Shir HaShirim 1:2.
13 For further reading, see the Malbim to Shir HaShirim loc. cit.
14 Yeshayah 55:1.
15 Devarim 8:3.
16 Bereishis 2:7.