In the English language, we have italics, either to draw attention to or to hint at an otherwise homonymic meaning. Sometimes, a word is placed in bold face or ensconced in quotation marks to achieve the same end. The Torah, on the other hand, seldom has extraneous enhancements of its words. Instead, in rare occasions, it leaves out letters, hinting to the hidden meaning.
On even rarer occasions, the Torah adds symbols, tiny ones, dots placed above the word. They tell us to look deeper, to search beyond the words. And this week, in the narrative detailing the encounter between Yaakov and his brother Esav, the Torah uses those dots.
They appear during an emotional encounter, Yaakov lifting his eyes and seeing “Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men. Fear and trepidation seized him as he positioned the women and children in safety. Then he himself went on ahead of them and bowed earthward seven times until he reached his brother” (Genesis 33:2). The Torah tells us that Yaakov’s fears seemed to be tenuous. “Esau ran toward him, embraced him, fell upon his neck, and he kissed him; then they wept.”
The word that means “and he kissed him” has small dots above it. It means that there is some something going on, in this case above the kiss.
Rashi quotes various opinions in the Medrash, each stating its interpretation of the dots. The Medrash tells us a fascinating reason for the dots. Esav’s intent was to bite Yaakov on the neck, miraculously Yaakov’s neck hardened and the pain in Esav’s teeth caused him to cry.
But, if that is the case, why does the Torah highlight the word, “and he kissed him” with dots? Let it just say and he tried to bite him. Just state what happened!
After the Munich Conference had ended on September 30, 1938, English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact with German leader Adolf Hitler. The pact acceded to Hitler’s demands for cession of the Sudetenland, a German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia, to Germany. Chamberlain was excited. He returned to England and on the steps of 10 Downing Street declared, “This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine.” Shouts of excitement erupted from the gathered crowd. To the cheering crowd he read the statement.
“We, the German Führer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe.
“We regard the agreement signed last night, and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.”
Wild cheers broke out, the crowd reiterating the last syllables of the Prime Minister’s statement. Chamberlain continued. “We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.”
He ended his short statement with the following words that would haunt him and his memory until this day. “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time… Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
Eleven months later, England was thrust into its bloodiest war, with the partner that was to bring “peace with honor.”
Perhaps, in its cryptic coding, the Torah is telling us a message for eternity. The kiss, the pact, the embrace and even the handshake of our enemy, must be looked upon with dire caution. Behind the ultimate kiss may lay the desire to bite. And though he ends up kissing you, you may never know what his original intent was and what made him change his mind. Esav kissed Yaakov, but his intent to harm was changed ; all Yaakov felt was a kiss. But the Torah warns us to watch the dots. Because the kiss of dot may just be the kiss of death.
Dedicated by Drs. Irving and Vivian Skolnick in honor of the 15th Wedding Anniversary of Dr. Blair and Andrea Tuttie Skolnick 15 Kislev
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.