The Bite of the Kiss

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


The Bite of the Kiss

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


This week’s portion features the epic meeting between Yaakov and his brother Esav (Jacob and Esau).

From the moment that Yaakov realizes he and Esav are destined to meet, we find crucial guidelines as to how we, the Jewish people, must act when we are with our non-Jewish neighbors.

After Yaakov leaves the house of his father in law Lavan, he realizes Esav still wants to kill him. He decides to take the initiative and prepare in three different ways: 1. He prepares for war. 2. He sends tribute to Esav, with the hope of appeasing him. 3. He prays to G-d.  These three things are the Jewish way when confronting an adversary.  If at all possible we want to avoid loss of life.  We therefore send tribute.  But we also must be realistic, and prepare for the eventuality of war.  And the third thing, prayer, is done in any event, because anything we do should be with our eyes and hearts towards G-d.

When Yaakov eventually meets face to face with Esav, Esav kisses him. Yet in the Torah a series of dots appears over the word Vayishakahu—and he kissed him. What is the meaning of these dots?  According to one opinion, Esav actually kissed him sincerely.  According to another opinion he kissed him, though it was insincere. A third opinion is that Esav actually bit Yaakov.

How do we reconcile the divurgent opinions of biting and kissing?  We can gain an understanding from the following dialogue between them: Soon after their embrace Esav asks Yaakov to join him: “Travel on and let us go—I will proceed beside you.” Yaakov answers back: “My master knows the children are weak” (Gen. Ch.33 V.13).

What is Yaakov saying to Esav?  Esav is asking Yaakov to join him.  Not merely literally, but also figuratively, to join him in his lifestyle, to live as he does. And Yaakov is telling him that the children are weak, a euphemism for the sad fact that Jews are often only too willing to assimilate into the culture of the dominant society (in this case, besides having more men, Esav and his band were also warriors, as opposed to the children of Yaakov). 

So in reality the kiss and bite of Esav are similar; while the bite is a physical blow, the kiss is an even more insidious weapon: the kiss of the melting pot - assimilation.

In the past 65 years the Jews have gone through both of these overtures from society. Each one in its own way has decimated the Jewish people.

We as Jews have to learn that, although there are many positive things to learn from the culture of whatever country we happen to be in, it is still not our culture; our culture is the Torah. So while it is okay to borrow certain ideas from other cultures, we cannot ignore our culture, or modernize it with laughable and (judging from the intermarriage rate) unsuccessful gimmicks.

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