Wednesday, December 02, 2009

וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ Dotted Kiss in Parashat Va-yishlach


Be-reyshit/Genesis 33:4, Parshat Va-yishlach has a scribal peculiarity in the word וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ va-yishaqeyhu, "and kissed him". It can be found here in the following Chumashim:
Plaut p.219, Cohen p.201, Hertz p.125, Sforno p.181, JPS p.52, Jerusalem p.38, Stone p.176

Here we have Ya'aqov and Esav reuniting after decades of separation, having spent their lives competing against each other and defining themselves as so different from the other. The last time they saw one another was when Ya'aqov bought Esav's Firstborn Birthright for a bowl of lentils, after which Ya'aqov usurped Esav's blessing from their father Yitz'chaq and then hightailed it back to Paddan-Aram, to his mother Riv'qah's family, about ten miles east of Damascus.

Ya'aqov was returning home from exile to Israel, and to mend his relationship with his only sibling. A sibling with whom he defined what he was not. What am I? I am not him. It took twenty years of being away from each other for the brothers to finally meet as who they were, instead of who they were not. An intense narrative which many of us share.

וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ, וַיִּפֹּל עַל-צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ; וַיִּבְכּוּ.

And Esav ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and they wept.

Va-yaratz Eysav liq'rato va-yechab'qeyhu, va-yipol al tzavarav va-yishaqeyhu; va-yiv'ku.

The word וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ va-yishaqeyhu has six dots, one over each letter. Why?
What does this mean?

We are taught by several sources (Avot deRebbe Natan, Rav Hayim David HaLevi, among others) that where dots appear in our Holy writings that it means we are meant to either erase the word from the text altogether, or to apply its opposite meaning.

For example, perhaps the pasuq, the verse, is meant to read only, "And Esav ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck; and they wept", with no mention of a kiss.

Or, maybe this brotherly kiss was really something else? It is explained by the Rabbis that Esav did not sincerely kiss his brother Ya'aqov, rather he would have preferred to (Ba’al Ha-Turim; Avot deRebbe Natan 30b) give him a נְשִׁיכָה neshikhah, a bite - these two words have a similar sound. This was not a true reconciliation on Esav's part.

The root of the word "kiss", נִשֵּׁק, can also mean just to meet up with someone, or to get together casually (נָשַׁק). However, it can also mean "weapon", נֶשֶׁק, which is a word you'll be familiar with if you've ever entered an Israeli shopping mall, because the security guards with the metal detectors you have to pass through will search your bag and ask you if you have a nesheq, gun. It can also mean "to sting", like a scorpion.

Sibling rivalry is tough! Be-reyshit/Genesis 25:22-23 teaches us that these two boys had been fighting in utero! And now they embrace after so many years, and it stung them...

Alternatively, according to R' Shim'on ben Eleazar, this was the only time Esav was genuinely expressing his affection for his brother, and all other times it had been insincere.

So what do we do with this word? What do you think?

Copyright © A. Barclay.
Cross-posted on Facebook

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