April 29, 2011
Kiss Me Kate: A Jewish Meditation on Prince William and Kate Middleton’s Royal Kiss
Katie Couric captured the spirit of the moment when she said, “I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but that’s it?”
Yep, that was it. Epic hype, legions breathless in anticipation, and it was over in an instant. And still, the minutest moment, the tenderest touch, taps into something deep and profound in the human psyche that causes us to spin, whirl and wonder. Yearn for more.
The royal kiss seen-round-the-world was sweet, as dew, the way Tennyson preferred: “Once he drew, with one long kiss my whole soul through, my lips, as sunlight drinketh dew.” But it wasn’t legendary, like the airport kiss in “Casablanca” when two lovers forever parted by way of puckering up: “A kiss, and all was said,” wrote Victor Hugo.
For a kiss can be a language, a poem and a longing. It contains multitudes, as Whitman might have said. It can even contain Torah.
In Song of Songs, the putative love poem between God and Israel, which Jews read every Pesach, the very second line speaks of a kiss. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,” it goes, “for your love is sweeter than wine.” It seems there can be no love without a kiss to seal the deal. But while a kiss is an embrace, it can also be an education.
There are many midrashim (stories) about the ways in which the Jewish people either learn or forget the teachings of Torah. One commentary on Song of Songs Rabba (which is basically a commentary on the original) suggests that God’s kiss could itself transmit Torah.
In Exodus, the Israelites fear divine revelation and ask Moses to be an intermediary between them and God: “You speak to us,” they said to Moses, “and we will obey; but let not God speak to us, lest we die…So the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.” The people were too cowardly to come close; they feared the intimacy of God’s love, and instead spurned God. (It’s too bad God didn’t know Shakespeare at the time, because after such unabashed rejection, the bard’s line may have been of use: “Teach not thy lip such scorn, for it was made for kissing, lady, not for such contempt.”)
But while kisses can be fearsome, they can also illuminate. Derek Leman (a self-identified “messianic Jew”, but let’s put that aside for the moment) suggests a kiss is the answer to the people’s longing for Torah and for God.
God’s kiss is utterly restorative, returning to the people the wisdom and love they have longed for. With a kiss, their world is redeemed.
Because, a kiss is never just a kiss. It is its own solar system: “‘Twas not my lips you kissed but my soul,” said Judy Garland.
Our regret at this morning’s fleeting bliss is because a kiss is an unquenchable thirst. One is never satisfied (though I say the Richard Gere/Julia Ormond kiss in “First Knight” comes eerily close). And while the presence of kisses lights the world, the end of a kiss is the end of life itself: “What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?” wrote Robert Browning.
For the royals, I’d like to think, the petite peck was nothing but a prelude—which of course bodes very, very well for the activities of their wedding night.
Because a good kiss is worth wreckage. Or as e.e. cummings wrote, “Kisses are a better fate than wisdom.”
[hat tip to kissing quotes]