The Kabbalistic Secret of Kissing

What the Zohar teaches about love-making and the coming of the messiah.

“Please do not forget to let people know what the Baal Shem Tov said about the reason that Mashiach’s [messiah] coming is delayed,” the rabbi told us.

The year was 2005. My partner Dawn Cherie and I had just decided to launch KabaLove, a school of love and Jewish mysticism, and we had come to the home of our teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, to ask for his blessing.

Reb Zalman was referring to a passage from Toldot Yaakov Yosef, the first book to record the mystical teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, who would later be considered the founder of the Hasidic movement. His disciple, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnonne, writes:

I have received the teaching from my master the Baal Shem Tov, what he himself was told from the heavens, the reason for the late coming of Mashiach, because people do not take a long enough time in Ahavah Rabba (Great Love) in the secret of kissing before intercourse, to arose the desire of the female so she will orgasm first. (Toldot Ya’akov Yosef, Parashat Va’era)

The Orthodox way of understanding this statement is that the Baal Shem Tov was not talking about human love-making at all. He was talking about the blessing known as Ahavah Rabba (Great Love), which is part of the morning prayers. What he was saying is that people do not take enough time in this part of the prayers – not in bed!

Indeed, in Kabbalah prayer is seen as a process of love-making between the feminine and masculine aspects of the divine. The silent part of prayer is considered a time of divine intercourse, while all the blessings that come prior to that are considered the kissing. According to many conservative rabbis, there is a danger when people who study Kabbalah take these sexual expressions literally rather than metaphorically.

Reb Zalman was of course aware of all this. He was also aware that if people follow the Baal Shem Tov’s instructions in prayer, but not in bed, it is hollow and ridiculous. In fact, Reb Zalman was always making jokes about kabbalists who forgot that this life, in the flesh, is sacred — not only the letters in holy books.

What then is the secret of kissing? There is a wonderful teaching in the Zohar about this: “A kiss of love is spreading to the four directions, and the four directions are being connected by it as one.” (Zohar V.2 146b)

The word in Hebrew for the four directions is ruach, which also means “wind” or “spirit.” Kissing, according to the Zohar, is a unification of the four spirits of the lovers. All human beings, regardless of gender, have masculine and feminine energies within them, which are two spirits in the eyes of the Zohar. (Many Native American tribes traditionally related to LGBT people as “two-spirited people,” yet the Zohar says we all are two-spirited.) The two spirits of each of the lovers gather through the kiss and become four spirits, which then open up to the four directions.

The Zohar goes on in that teaching to discuss how these four spirits unite into one and this one is the spirit of the messiah. This is what inspired the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching. But what does it actually mean for us?

In my experience, both as a lover and as a teacher of sacred sexuality, when lovers reach a level of real intimacy, an inner feeling of redemption bursts out in the heart. Real intimacy shifts us from the world of separation, where our hearts suffer constantly, to the world of unity, where a deep aspect of our soul finally feels liberated.

In my understanding, that is the meaning of the spirit of the messiah revealed in a kiss. The messiah is not a person, but a high level of awareness that can be reached when our souls are awakened. Yet, for that to actually happen we need to take our time in the secret of kissing, falling deeper and deeper into union beyond our separate egos.

It is not enough to just kiss briefly and move on to sex. Are we rushing somewhere? Rushing to fulfill an aim is a more masculine quality, though it exists within us all. This quality is encouraged biologically by testosterone, the main male sexual hormone. Our inner feminine side is not rushing toward an aim. The feminine side is concerned more with being than with doing. “Because being is in the woman,” says Sefer Hapli’ah, a Jewish mystical book from the 14th century.

When we take our time to connect deeply with the secret of kissing — sharing our breaths together, tasting and learning each other, seeing each other with open eyes, relaxing deeply into each other — the feminine side in us all feels seen and respected. As a result, she opens and her well drips with waters.

What the Baal Shem Tov learned from pure spiritual insight now has support from modern neuroscience. We know that for a woman to reach orgasm the amygdala, the part of the brain that constantly scans for potential dangers, needs to deeply relax first. The secrets of kissing with Great Love are a pathway to the relaxation of the amygdala, hence to woman’s orgasmic waves.

In good love-making, there is no such thing as foreplay, there is only play. Consider seeing every single act of love as part of love-making, from the way lovers talk to each other when they have just met to the cuddling after the hot high of orgasmic ecstasy. It is all one long path of love. So kiss and take time in it. Let the lips sing the glory of the divine as they learn the taste and texture of your lover’s divine body.

“Lord, open my lips so my mouth will recite your praise,” the psalmist wrote. Make love-making a sacred ritual of sinking together into the divine realms by taking the slow road, the scenic route, not rushing to intercourse and not pushing toward orgasms. The Baal Shem Tov’s advice can shift one’s love life and enable a “messiah consciousness” to shine.

Discover More

How to Have Mindful Sex

The secret is not to scratch the itch of desire as soon as it arises.

The Earth as a Source of Wonder

The Jewish practice of blessing natural phenomena awakens us to the fact that the earth is a wonder, a witness, and a spiritual mystery.

How to Experience God in Your Body

Jewish wisdom isn't just meant to be intellectually understood, but embodied. Here's how.

The Power of Hebrew Chant

Chanting brings the sacred phrases of Jewish tradition alive and enables them to be known in the body.

What is Jewish Meditation?

"Truly, you are where your mind is,” taught the Baal Shem Tov.

How to Talk to God

The Hasidic prayer practice of hitbodedut -- talking to God freely in one's native tongue -- helps to build intimacy over time.