What Is Torah For? By Rabbi Barry Gelman

One of the more beautiful and meaningful Jewish customs is the practice of  starting the Torah again right after we complete it on Simchat Torah. The reason we do this is so not to give the appearance that once done with the Torah we no longer have interest in it, that we have lost our love for the Torah.

At first glance, it does not seem to be a realistic fear. After all, before we read the Torah, we will dance with the Torah, hold the Torah close and even kiss the Torah. Such intimacy seems to be enough to remove the suspicion of losing our love for the Torah.

Rabbi Avraham Pam suggests that while all of the affection we show the Torah is lovely, it may not be enough.

He points to a fascinating midrash that talks about,  of all things, kissing.

אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה, כָּל נְשִׁיקוֹת שֶׁל תִּפְלוּת הֵן, חוּץ מִשָּׁלשׁ, נְשִׁיקָה שֶׁל גְּדֻלָּה, נְשִׁיקָה שֶׁל פְּרִישׁוּת, נְשִׁיקָה שֶׁל פְּרָקִים.

(Shmot Rabbah 5:1)

Our Rabbis of blessed memory have said: All kisses are silly, save three: The kiss of greatness, the kiss of parting, the kiss of meeting.

The midrash goes on to give examples of each type of kiss.

The Kiss of greatness refers to when Samuel anointed Saul as king. The Navis says that after he anointed him, he kissed him. 

.נְשִׁיקָה שֶׁל גְּדֻלָּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמואל א י, א): וַיִּקַּח שְׁמוּאֵל אֶת פַּךְ הַשֶּׁמֶן וַיִּצֹּק עַל רֹאשׁוֹ וַיִּשָּׁקֵ

The kiss of parting refers to when Orpah kissed her mother in law goodbye once she decided to part after he husband had died.

.נְשִׁיקָה שֶׁל פְּרִישׁוּת (רות א, יד): וַתִּשַּׁק עָרְפָּה לַחֲמוֹתָה

The kiss of reunion refers to Aaron going out to greet Moshe. 

.נְשִׁיקָה שֶׁל פְּרָקִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיִּפְגְּשֵׁהוּ בְּהַר הָאֱלֹהִים וַיִּשַּׁק לוֹ

Each three of these types of kisses is valued by our tradition as can be seen by the midrash.

Yet, there is one that seems to rise above the others – that is the kissing of greatness – נְשִׁיקָה שֶׁל גְּדֻלָּה. 

According to the Malbim this type of kiss is meant to transfer or to share some aspect of one person with the other.

When Samuel kissed Saul, says the Malbim, he conveyed some of sanctity to Saul.

The kisses of greeting and parting leave the recipient in the same state as they were before the kiss. The kiss of greatness elevates the recipient to greater heights.

Rav Pam continues that on Simchat Torah, all of the kissing may be misunderstood to be either the kissing of greeting or the kissing of parting.

Beginning to read the Torah again, right after we have finished it, defines the kissing of the Torah that we did as a Nishika shel Gidula -a kiss wherein we feel the Torah kiss us back and we absorb some of its greatness. We declare that as we danced , hugged and kissed the Torah, we will never be the same.

This is not only a lovely image, it is advice as to how to approach Torah study. Each time we study Torah, we should do it, not only with an eye towards mastering the material, but also towards absorbing ohw the messages of the Torah influence and alter our worldview.

We will never look at the world the same way again, We will never look at other people the same way again. Our outlook on life will be forever filtered through the lens of the Torah .

This is the plain meaning of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (6:1) that states:

שָׁנוּ חֲכָמִים בִּלְשׁוֹן הַמִּשְׁנָה, בָּרוּךְ שֶׁבָּחַר בָּהֶם וּבְמִשְׁנָתָם

רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר כָּל הָעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה לִשְׁמָהּ, זוֹכֶה לִדְבָרִים הַרְבֵּה… וּמַלְבַּשְׁתּוֹ עֲנָוָה וְיִרְאָה, וּמַכְשַׁרְתּוֹ לִהְיוֹת צַדִּיק וְחָסִיד וְיָשָׁר וְנֶאֱמָן, וּמְרַחַקְתּוֹ מִן הַחֵטְא, וּמְקָרַבְתּוֹ לִידֵי זְכוּת, וְנֶהֱנִין מִמֶּנּוּ עֵצָה וְתוּשִׁיָּה בִּינָה וּגְבוּרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי ח) לִי עֵצָה וְתוּשִׁיָּה אֲנִי בִינָה לִי גְבוּרָה. וְנוֹתֶנֶת לוֹ מַלְכוּת וּמֶמְשָׁלָה וְחִקּוּר ,

The Rabbis taught in the language (style) of the Mishnah: Rabbi Meir says: Anyone who involves himself in Torah for its own sake merits many things, and moreover the entire world is worthwhile for his sake…He is clothed in humility and reverence, and it prepares him to be righteous, devout, upright and trustworthy, and it distances him from sin, and draws him near to merit. We enjoy from him counsel and comprehension, understanding and strength, as it is said (Proverbs 8:14): “Mine is counsel and comprehension, I am understanding, mine is strength.” It gives him kingship and dominion, and [the ability to] investigate in judgement…

When we look at the world via torah tinted lenses, everything is different. Chance meetings becomes opportunities for kiddush hashem, eating becomes an opportunity to elevate what is seemingly plain in life to sanctified act. Even politics can be an opportunity to exercise the Torah value of V’ahavta L’reiacha Kamocha, and to activate the true meaning living in a society where everyone’s Tzelem Elokim – Godly image –  is recognized. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it beautifully when he wrote: “The awe that we sense or ought to sense when standing in the presence of a human being is a moment of intuition for the likeness of God which is concealed in his essence…The secret of every being is the Divine care and concern that are invested in it. Something sacred is at stake in every event”

If we truly connect ourselves to the Torah and take seriously the messages of the Torah then each encounter with it changes our life – like a nishika shel gedula – like the kiss of greatness.

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