For the week ending 3 December 2005 / 2 Kislev 5766

A Kiss on the Head

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Martha in Pennsylvania

Dear Rabbi,

My question for you is very short and sweet. I have seen a lot of rabbis kissing young children on their foreheads. Is there a reason for that? I had a number of dreams where I was kissing someone's forehead and received some interpretation, but I would like to know if there is a scriptural/spiritual reason for it? I'd like to know this so I can compare/confirm what was told to me by this individual and what G-d says about it. Thank you.

Dear Martha,

Your question brings me a fond memory of my father-in-law of blessed memory who used to bless the children, as is customary on Sabbath evening, by placing his hands on their heads while blessing them. The children would then kiss his right hand and he would in turn kiss their foreheads. May G-d bless and embrace his soul in eternal light and life.

There are numerous examples of kissing the forehead in ancient Jewish sources. Lets explore some of them to get an inkling of its meaning and significance.

Our Sages taught that after Pharaoh decreed all male children be thrown in the Nile, Amram decided it was futile to have more children and divorced his wife; the other men followed his example. His daughter Miriam, who was only five at the time, criticized her father saying, Your decree is harsher than Pharaohs: his is only against boys, yours is also against girls; his is only in this world, yours applies also to the next; his may not be executed, yours offers no chance. Amram accepted her rebuke and remarried his wife; the other men followed suit. She then prophesied, My mother will soon give birth to the savior of the Jews. When Moses was born, the house became full of light and Amram kissed Miraim on her forehead and said, My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled (Sota 12a,13a).

However, this gesture is not only reserved for parents to children. The Talmud relates that once Shimon HaTzadik saw a nazir with attractive eyes, a goodly countenance and curly hair. The rabbi asked, Why do you want to cut your lovely hair? The man replied, I went to draw water from the spring. I saw my reflection and became haughty. Then I said to myself, why are you being arrogant about something that is not yours, and which tomorrow will be in the grave? It was then thatI decided to cut my hair for the sake of Heaven. The rabbi kissed him on his forehead and said, May there be more people like you! (Nedarim 9b).

There are even some instances when one rabbi kisses another on his forehead. Rabbi Elazar ben Arach was speaking about Maaseh Merkava, part of the secrets of Kabbalah, to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai. Fire came down from heaven and encircled the trees among which they were sitting. Then an angel called out from within the flames and concurred with what the rabbi was saying. At that point, Rabbi Yochanan stood up, kissed Rabbi Elazar on his forehead and said, Blessed is the G-d of Israel who gave such a son to Abraham who knows to expound on Maaseh Merkava (Chagiga 14b).

I think what characterizes all of these cases is the use of ones mind, each according to his own level, to subjugate and harmonize oneself with the will of G-d. Miriam was not as concerned about her parents separation aswith the continuation of the Jewish people. The nazir realized the fallacy of ephemeral physical beauty compared to spiritual splendor. Rabbi Elazar penetrated the deepest secrets of Kabbalah to bring down Divine Energy into this world. Since this represents bringing ones thoughts in line with G-ds will, it deserves a "kiss on the forehead".

This can be understood on a deeper level as well. According to Jewish mysticism, the forehead is associated with the inclusive of Keter (including Chochma, Bina and Daat). This is related to the verse, "The gold plate shall be on Aarons forehead before G-d" (Ex. 28:36), since the plate was engraved with the Tetragrammaton, G-ds Holy Name. In addition, the Zohar (Tikkunim 13b) compares the rest of the head to the Menorah of the Sanctuary of which it is written, "When you [Aaron] light the Menorah, its seven lights shall shine toward the center" (Num. 8:2). The seven lamps emanating light from the oil correspond to the seven apertures of the head: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth, which radiate the light of the mind. This light should be directed toward the Center, in the service of G-d. Lastly, these four sets of organs correspond to the four letters of the Divine Name, where the mouth relates to the last heh and the last of the sefirot, Malchut.

We see then that the Ten Sefirot permeate the head, from Keter in the forehead on high to Malchut in the mouth. Subjugating and harmonizing ones thoughts to the will of G-d brings one into the spiritual loop such that he becomes a conduit for the flow of Divine energy cascading from on high down below. This is symbolized by a kiss on the forehead that originates in the mind of the bestower, is transmitted down through the mouth, and received by the mind of the recipient who is now resonating in harmony with G-d.

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