Chukat: The Kiss Of Death ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshas חֻקַּת

The Kiss of Death

שֹׁקֶה: irrigate, saturate, quench

תְּשׁוּקָה: desire, longing

מַשְׁקֶה: liquid, drink

שׁוּק: market

שׁוֹק: calf (part of body)

נֶשֶׁק: weapon

נְשִׁיקָה: kiss

וַתָּמָת שָׁם מִרְיָם וַתִּקָּבֵר שָׁם
And Miriam died there, and she was buried there.

Rashi comments that she also died with a kiss from Hashem. 

In Parshasמַסֵעי , in connection to the death of Aharon, it says the words עַל פִּי הַשֵׁם/through the mouth of Hashem. Rashi says that this teaches us that he died with a kiss. So too Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, and Miriam all died with the kiss of Hashem.

What is the nature of a kiss, and what does it mean to be given the kiss of death?

שֹׁקֶה: Irrigate, Saturate, Quench

וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל הַסֶּלַע לְעֵינֵיהֶם וְנָתַן מֵימָיו וְהוֹצֵאתָ לָהֶם מַיִם מִן הַסֶּלַע וְהִשְׁקִיתָ אֶת הָעֵדָה וְאֶת בְּעִירָם
And you shall speak to the rock in front of their eyes, and it will give its waters, and it will come out for them water from the rock, and you will quench the congregation and their livestock.

After Miriam dies, the well dries up, and again the people complain to Moshe to quench their thirst. Rashi comments that dying of thirst is one of the most painful of deaths.

תְּשׁוּקָה: Desire, Longing

וְאֶל אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל בָּךְ
And to your husband will be your yearning, and he will rule over you.

The commentaries explain that תְּשׁוּקָה/longing is such a strong yearning that it is equivalent to a deep yearning, like to be quenched from thirst.

Like with any desire, תְּשׁוּקָה is a movement, a flow of energy, a life force, a driving force, with a deep longing to be satisfied. In essence, anything that moves has a desire to connect.

מַשְׁקֶה: Liquid, Drink

The Midrash Rabbah explains that the rain has a תְּשׁוּקָה/a yearning to quench the land. מַשְׁקֶה/liquids, unlike solids, express movement, like water’s desire to quench the land.

וְאָדָם אַיִן לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה. וְאֵד יַעֲלֶה מִן הָאָרֶץ וְהִשְׁקָה אֶת כָּל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה
And man had yet to work the adamah, for the clouds to go up from the land and quench the face of the earth.

For the whole of creation to proceed, it was necessary to wait for man to be created in order that Adam would pray to Hashem for rain.

Although we consider the manna in the desert to be a miracle in that food rained down from Heaven, we never stop to reflect on the idea that rain is also a miracle from Heaven. We are just accustomed to the fact that it rains (perhaps too much in some areas!) and we don’t give it a second thought. But in reality it is no less a miracle. In the Land of Israel, rain is very much a barometer between us and Hashem, to gauge whether Hashem is pleased with us or not. 

שׁוּק: Market

Given our definition of movement in order to quench one’s thirst, the שׁוּק/market is a bustling place, a movement of goods and people, all in search of satisfying their desires.

שׁוֹק: Calf

The calf, one of the strongest muscles in the body, is a sign of strength and moves the body, where the leg is symbolic of running after one’s desires.

נֶשֶׁק: Weapon

In Hebrew, the definition of נֶשֶׁק is כְּלִי זַיִן, which means a tool that gives sustenance. In the Gemara in Brachos, the wise men come to King David to seek advice on how to sustain the poor. The advice given was to go to war. In this respect, the weapon of war, the נֶשֶׁק, rather than being a tool to kill, is ultimately being used in order to sustain life, hence the term כְּלִי זַיִן.

The roots מֶשֶׁק and נֶשֶׁק are clearly related in the pasuk describing Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, as it says:  וּבֶן מֶשֶׁק בֵּיתִי/the one who is given charge of all the needs of Avraham’s house, and the pasuk describing Yosef also as the one in charge of the needs of all the people in Egypt says:וְעַל פִּיךָ יִשַּׁק כָּל עַמִּי. In other words, the one who has the נֶשֶׁק is able to hunt and מַשְׁקֶה/quench the needs of the people.

נְשִׁיקָה: Kiss

נְשִׁיקָה is more than just a movement of two bodies. It is much more ruchani/spiritual, which is why we don’t find that animals kiss each other. In order to give a נְשִׁיקָה/kiss, one must first have a תְּשׁוּקָה/yearning.

The first kiss described in the Torah is when Yitzchak blesses Yaakov, yet immediately before the blessing, Yitzchak asks Yaakov to give him to drink. The next kiss in the Torah describes the first kiss between man and woman, namely Yaakov and Rachel. The word וַיִשַׁק appears twice in adjacent pesukim.  In the first verse, וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת צֹאן לָבָן אֲחִי אִמּוֹ, the word is used to mean “watered,” in the sense that Yaakov gave water to the sheep of Rachel. In the next, וַיִּשַּׁק יַעֲקֹב לְרָחֵל, it refers to when Yaakov kissed Rachel. 

It seems from both cases above that before one is really able to kiss, one must first take care of one’s physical needs. This fits nicely with the idea that a kiss is predominantly a ruchani expression, and also teaches that in order to be able to express one’s ruchniyus, one must first quench one’s gashmiyus.

יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ כִּי טוֹבִים דֹּדֶיךָ מִיָּיִן
Kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, because your love is better than wine.

The highest level of a ruchniyus kiss is the kiss from HaKadosh Baruch Hu. This is the kiss desired by Shlomo HaMelech, a deep longing to receive the highest accolade of coming face-to-face with Hashem. This can only be achieved by preparing oneself through ruach hakodesh and prophecy, to the point where one is fitting to be kissed by Hashem, where, mouth-to-mouth and ruach-to-ruach/spirit-to-spirit, the soul leaves this earthly domain to connect with the Kodesh HaKadashim.

“Your love is better than wine” — although wine has the power to satisfy the heart of man, it is still only a temporary pleasure. Since wine affects the soul of man by way of the body, it only has the power to temporarily uplift, yet it cannot be sustained and is always followed by the inevitable letdown. In contrast, the love and joy one receives through a higher level connection, e.g., through being spiritually elevated by the Holy Torah, results in a much more real and lasting pleasure, hence “your love is better than wine.” 

Towards the end of the parshah,the Bnei Yisrael sang a song in thanks for the return of the well. The commentaries explain the deeper significance of the song, which is that it was in gratitude to being satisfied by the living waters of the Torah, as it says:   כָּל צָמֵא לְכוּ לַמַּיִם/all who are thirsty come to the waters, meaning that the only way to truly satisfy one’s thirst for living is through the thirst-quenching waters of the Torah.

This is referred to in the verse that states, כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי ה’ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם /not on bread alone does man live, but upon what comes out from the mouth of Hashem does man live. This is the life-giving waters of Hashem.

Indeed, the first kiss in the Torah is when Hashem breathed into man his living soul:וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים. When Hashem gave us the kiss of life, it was through the nose, where the nose has two openings, symbolizing that Hashem breathed into us two yetzers: the good and the bad inclinations. Our job is to purify ourselves through the life-giving waters of the Torah, so that when it comes time to leave this world, we can be worthy to receive the  יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ/the kiss of death from the mouth of Hashem that Shlomo HaMelech so longed for. In this way, we do a tikkun/correction by reversing the kiss that Hashem gave us at the onset of life, which was through our nose and was split up into two ruchos/spirits, the good and the bad, and instead we return to Hashem as one purified ruach, symbolized by the mouth-to-mouth kiss of death reserved for the tzaddikim.

Kiss of Life/Kiss of Death

When you give water to someone or something, you are giving it life.
When you breathe air into someone, you are giving him life — this is the kiss of life.
When you teach Torah to someone, you are giving him life in the World to Come. 

When Hashem kisses someone, He is not taking a life, but giving life in the World to Come. 

This is the “Kiss of Death.”

1 Bamidbar 20:1.

2 Bava Basra 17a.

3 Bamidbar 20:8.

4 Bereishis 3:16.

5 See Radak to Yeshayah 33:4.

6 Bereishis Rabbah 20:7.

7 Bereishis 2:5.

8 Brachos 3b.

9 Bereishis 15:2.

10 Ibid., 41:40.

11 Ibid.,29:10–11.

12 Shir HaShirim 1:2.

13 For further reading, see the Malbim to Shir HaShirim loc. cit.

14 Yeshayah 55:1.

15 Devarim 8:3.

16 Bereishis 2:7.

Chukas: Afraid of Fright or Ready to Fight? ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

Afraid of Fright or Ready to Fight


The social sciences like psychology and sociology seek to quantify man’s reactions to various types of hostile situations and systemize a way of pre-determining such responses. These efforts have brought about such ideas as Game Theory and other theoretical ways of measuring dangerous situations and man’s reactions. As we will see, the eternal wisdom of the Torah has already “contemplated” such matters and the very language it uses exhibits an awareness of these nuances.

After the miraculous splitting of the Red Sea, Moshe and the Jews broke into song extolling G-d’s greatness and praying for their future success. They said about their potential rival nations occupying the Holy Land, “May fear (aimah) and fright (pachad) befall them…” (Exodus 15:16). In this passage, the Jews ask G-d to render their enemies too scared to fight, but they use two different words to refer to that frightfulness: aimah and pachad. What is the difference between these two types of fear? Furthermore, there are at least two more words used in the Bible to refer to “fear” (morah/yirah and daagah); what do these words exactly mean and how do they differ from each other?

Rashi (to Exodus 15:16) explains that aimah and pachad denote different sorts of fear in that one refers to fear from a faraway threat and one refers to fear from something close-by. Which one is which is subject to dispute, as different versions of Rashi and other commentators cite this explanation in various ways. Either way, man reacts differently to hearing news of something threatening than he does to actually experiencing or encountering a threat. Those different fight-or-flight responses are reflected in the Hebrew language by these otherwise synonymous words. In another passage, Rashi (to Deuteronomy 11:25) repeats this distinction when delineating the difference between pachad and morah, but also adds that pachad refers to a sudden fear, while morah refers to a fear which has remained pent up for some time. This time factor features prominently even in contemporary thought.

Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer explains that morah is a more intense type of fear because it is continual and builds on itself, while pachad is a less intense form of fear because it is sudden, but short-lived. He also notes that the word pachad can only be applied to humans, who have the intellectual capacity for understanding the implications of certain dangers, while other words for fear can also apply to animals whose animalistic instincts react with fear even if the animals do not have the intelligence to fully comprehend their situation

Ibn Ezra (to Exodus 23:27) explains that aimah is the emotive feeling of being afraid, while pachad is the outward manifestations of one’s fears.

Rashi (to Yoma 75a) defines daagah as the fear of losing something which one has, while elsewhere (to Gittin 70a), he defines it as the fear of the arrival of a scary situation (like a famine or an enemy invasion).

King Solomon, in his great sapiential sagacity, offers the most practical advice in dealing with daagah: “[When there is] Daagah in one’s heart, he shall converse with others” (Proverbs 12:25). Daagah refers to a certain type of worrying which can be assuaged by simply speaking out one’s fears (because constricting those immeasurable fears into finite words shows the worrier that his fears are not limitless). Another understanding of King Solomon’s counsel is “Daagah in one’s heart, he shall distract himself with other [idea]s”.

How does daagah differ from morah/yirah? Rabbi Yosef Dov Solovetchik (1820-1892), author of Beit haLevi (Parshat Vayigash) writes that yirah refers to fear from something which one anticipates might occur, while daagah refers to worrying about that which one foresees will occur. Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer explains that daagah does not refer directly to worrying, but to the resulting despondency of someone steeped in anxious fright. This explanation echoes the famous words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his inaugural speech, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”

Chukat: Settling on a Bite – Yehoshua Steinberg




Num. 21:5-6 – …there is no bread and no water, and we are disgusted with this accursed bread. The Lord sent against the people the venomous snakes, and they bit the people, and many people of Israel died.


The root נשך in the sense of a physical bite[1] appears more times in this week’s Torah portion (3x) than in all the rest of the portions combined. Our Sages expressed puzzlement in general over the benefit to the snake of its bite:


Deut. Rab. 5:10 – The serpent was asked: ‘ What benefit do you derive from biting? ‘ He replied: ‘ Instead of asking me, ask those who engage in slander, as it is said: Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment, neither is there profit for the slanderer  (Eccl. 10:11), which means: What benefit does the slanderer derive from his slander?


While the question could just as easily have been posed to e.g. the bee or the scorpion, the snake is different from the stingers in that it sinks it teeth into the flesh of its victim from above and below. Since other beasts biting in this manner would naturally remove and devour the flesh “while they’re at it,” the snake’s disinterest appears especially peculiar. [2]


In any event, there certainly seems to be a unique aspect to the snake’s bite being hinted at in this Midrash and indeed in the singular use of the term נשך only in relation to the serpent among all brutes. The author of Yeriot Shlomo (1:110a) terms the snake’s bite as “settling” (משכין) its teeth in its prey, and thereby connects נשך with other words bearing the two letters ‘שכ’, such as: ‘משכן’   (Tabernacle/abode), ‘נשכה’/’לשכה’ (rooms on the Temple Mount),  ‘שכם’  (shoulder), ‘אשך’ (male privates).


With this as a point of departure, we have added other words containing the ‘שכ’ string to this group to test if the gamut of these words shares a common theme. In total, we found eleven such words/roots: 1. ‘שכך’ 2. ‘נשך’ 3. ‘נשך’/’לשך’ 4. ‘שכן’ 5. ‘חשך’ 6. ‘שכב’ 7. ‘שכם’ 8. ‘שכח’  9.’אשך’[3]  10. ‘שכר’  11. ‘משך’. We suggest that all these words share meanings related to: Settling/resting, as well as the related themes: embedding, sinking, descending, retreating, waning, receding, and pacification/sedation. We will now examine them one at a time:


  1. ‘שכך’ – This word denotes sinking[4] (Gen. 8:1), pacification (Est. 2:1, 7:10), putting to rest (Num. 17:20, T. Onk. ad loc.). Note that T. Yon. on the Pentateuch and the Targum Sheni in Esther render שכך with derivatives of the Aramaic שדך (the source of שידוך, [5] for only marriage can bring a calm, settled state). Other words sharing this Aramaic translation are שקט (quiet, [6] calm; [7] vis. T. Yon. Josh. 11:23, 14:15, Ju. 3:11, 3:30, 5:31, 8:28, IIK 11:20, Is. 14:7, Ez. 16:49), שוב (pacification; see T. Yon. Gen. 27:44) and שכב (lying down; see T. Yerush. Num. 23:24).
  2. ‘נשך’ – This word means embedding fangs/teeth in prey, rendered משכין –settling– by Yeriot Shlomo, as above.
  3. ‘נשך’/’לשך’ – The term לשכה/נשכה (Neh. 12:44, 13:4, 7, Ez. 40:17) refers to various discreet rooms on the Temple Mount. This designation is derived from their purposes and activities comparable to “dwelling” (שכונה/לשכון]], see Yeriot Shlomo 1:110a; Maim. Beit Habechira with R. Shalom Tzadok’s commentary).
  4. ‘שכן’ – This word means dwelling/settling (e.g. Gen. 14:13. Note that Onk. renders the word שרי, a word related to לשרות, immersing – because the term indicates “dropping anchor”/ “sinking roots,” similar in meaning to להשתקע [settling permanently] from שקיעה [descending/sinking]).
  5. ‘חשך’ – Darkness comes with the descent of the sun, bringing with it calm and lying down to sleep). [8]
  6. ‘שכב’ – The time of lying down –descending to one’s bed– is a time of peace and calm. As cited above, T. Yerush. Num. 23:24 renders שכב with the same word –שדך– as שכך and שקט.
  7. ‘שכם’ – A synonym for shoulder, the only naturally horizontal part of the human anatomy, upon which a load may rest[9] (hence: “to shoulder a burden”). Yeriot Shlomo (ibid) and RSR Hirsch (Gen. 9:23) explain that the word השכם (to awaken early) derives from rousing the resting shoulder to return to its toils. See also Ohr Chadash (Gen. 19:2) for an alternate explanation of השכם.
  8. ‘שכח’ – Forgetting. Manot Aharon[10] (Esther 2:1) compares שכח to שכך [i.e. both refer to a thought, intention or memory waning and receding].

9.’אשך’  – This word (denoting male privates) is rendered פחתין by Onk. (Lev. 21:20). פחתין is also the Targum of שקערורות (depressed, sunken, vis. Lev. 14:37). A pit (a depression in the ground) bears a similar rendering by T. Yon. in various places. This lower part of the anatomy is given to sinking downwards according to the forces of gravity. It is interesting to note that Chanania ben Antignus (Bechor. 7:5) equates אשך with חשך (similar to the equation of to ויאבק to ויחבק see Ramban Gen. 32:23). See Etz Yosef (Shir Rab. 11:11) for explanation of Chanania’s position. [11]

  1. ‘שכר’ – Drunkenness. Inebriation causes a waning and deadening of one’s awareness and senses. The Targum of “drunk” is רוי (see Gen. 9:21). The Aruch (entry מרוא) brings a second meaning of the word (from Targum to Nachum 3:14) – “mud”/“muck” – perhaps underscoring the level to which the drunkard can sink. [12] Along these lines, רעל, poison, carries the same Targum (Zech. 12:2).
  2. ‘משך’ – Pulling, dragging, removing. This word appears to bear an opposite meaning to the permanent sinking and settling denotation characteristic of the other ‘שך’ words. Here again we turn to Yeriot Shlomo (1:110a), who simply explains that while משך indicates removal, all matter removed from one place eventually is transplanted elsewhere; משך denotes simply removal of an object from one abode to another. [13]


Alternatively, Yeriot Shlomo (1:116a) cites other examples of a leading מ changing the meaning of a word to the opposite; for instance: 1. While נע denotes movement, מנע means halting and impeding progress. 2. While עד indicates eternal endurance (e.g. שוכן עד, Is. 57:15), the definition of מעד is falling/collapsing. Similarly, שך means settling permanently while משך indicates uprooting and removing.

May G-d extend (ימשוך) His kindness to His people, such that the biting fangs of our enemies be forgotten forever, and darkness will be replaced with light. May He establish His Temple as a permanent abode, and we will ascend shoulder to shoulder, speedily in our times. Amen.


[1]  [בניגוד למובן  ריבית שמופיע ארבע פעמים בפרשת כי תצא].

[2]  [ואכן לא מצינו פועל ‘נשך’ במקרא אצל שום בעל חי חוץ מהנחש, אלא רק בהשאלה אצל מלווים בריבית, אצל נביאי שקר (מיכה ג:ה), ואצל מלכודת בעל שינים (יר’ ה:כו)].

[3]  [ראה י”ש א:י,ב-יא,א (הקדמה); קט,ב-קי,א; קטז,א; ג:יז,א].

[4]  [ומכאן נגזרת בלשון חז”ל המלה “שייך”, כלומר ענין המתחבר עם ענין אחר, היינו ש”נח” עליו, “חל”, “נופל” עליו (כטעם “לשון נופל על לשון”)].

[5]  [ומכאן “שידוך” בל’ חז”ל, שמושאלת לענין  סידור קידושין – דבר המשקיט רוחו של אדם]: שבת יב. – אין משדכין את התינוקות לארס. [כי האדם חש מנוחת הנפש ושקט, ומסוגל להשתקע – רק עם מצא אשה, מצא טוב].

[6]  [ראה ת”י יהושע יא:כג, יד:טו; שופ’ ג:יא, ל; ה:לא; ח:כח; מ”ב יא:כ; ישע’ יד:ז; יחז’ טז:מט].

[7]  [ת”י בר’ כז:מד].

[8]  [וע’ אור חדש (ר’ דוד שלוש) לבראשית א:ב].

[9]  [בדומה לביטוי בלע”ז: to shoulder a burden].

[10]  [בדומה לביטוי בלע”ז: to shoulder a burden].

[11]  [ומצינו “פחתין” כתרגומו של “שקערורות”, שפרש”י: “שקועות”. “שוחה” (בור) מתורגם “פחת”. “פחתת” ת”י “שקיעא”. “פחד ופחת” פרש”י: גומא ליפול בוץ עכ”ל רש”י, וכולם ענין שקיעה ושככה עד למטה. מעניין להעיר גם שהתנא חנניה ב”א השוה “אשך” ל”חשך” (אולי מעין השוואת “אבק” ל”חבק” [ע’ רמב”ן לפסוק “ויאבק איש עמו”])]: בכור’ ז:ה – מרוח אשך חנניה בן אנטיגנוס אומר כל שמראיו חשוכים. [ומביא העץ יוסף (ש”ר יא:יא) את דברי הערוך (ערך ‘חשך’): בבכור’ מד: כל שמראיו חשוכים פי’ מי שיש לו מרוח לעולם פניו חשוכים].

[12]  [גם רעל מתורגם “מרוי”, כלומר חומר שפל וירוד]: זכ’ יב:ב – סַף רַעַל; ת”י – מָן מְלֵי מַרְוֵי.

[13]  [ולהלן מסביר י”ש את הענין על פי האות מ’ בראש המלה]: י”ש א:קטז. (ת”ד) – כבר הראנוך בשמות… ‘מנע’, ‘מעד’… ודומיהם מנוספי מ’ האמנתי”ו בראש המלה המורות על היפוכן… שם ‘נע’ המציין תנועה, ושם ‘מנע’ – על בטול תנועה… שם ‘עד’ המציין וועד [היינו  פעילות מתואמת (לשון “מועד” ו”ועד”)  והמשכיות (כלשון “עדי עד”)], ושם ‘מעד’ – על העדר הוועד [כלומר  התמוטטות… כך גם] שם ‘שך’ מורה על השכונה, ושם ‘משך’ – על נתוק השכונה.