Kiss of Disclosure, Kiss of Death
Students would kiss the hand of their master after a learning session, symbolically acknowledging the hand that “fed” them spiritual sustenance (PdRE 2; Zohar III:147a). Masters would kiss disciples on the head as a kind of initiation ritual (T. Chag. 2:2). In the Zohar, in particular, masters would kiss students, often on the eyes, when they had demonstrated an insight or high attainment of wisdom.
In the highest heaven, the angels who serve before the Throne of Glory kiss God during the afternoon worship (Hechalot Rabbati). A special category of kiss is the “kiss of God” (Meitah be-nesikah in Hebrew or mise binishike in Yiddish). This refers to death directly at the hands of God (or the Shekhinah):
930 kinds of death were created in the world...The most difficult is plague, the easiest of all is a kiss. Plague is like burr being pulled through a wool fleece or like stalks in your throat. A kiss is as gentle as drawing a hair out of milk (T. B. Ber. 8a)
The concept arises from the death of Moses, where it is said he died al pi Adonai, "at God's command", but literally "by God's mouth" (Deut. 34). This easiest of all deaths circumvents the dreaded Angel of Death. According to the Sages, only six people have died this way: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Miriam, Aaron, and Moses (B.B. 17a; S of S R. 1:2; Tanh., Va-Etchanan). In later Jewish mystical writings, a number of kabbalistic masters die in ecstasy via the “kiss” (Zohar III: 144b; Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim 39). Jewish mysticism also equated the “kiss” with devekut, mystical fusion with God (Zohar II: 53a).
Zal g'mor - To learn more consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050
1. Arthur Green, “Introducing The Pritzker Edition Zohar,” at 2004 Conference of the
Central Conference of American Rabbis, Toronto.