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The Power of Touch

The Power of Touch

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Florence came to me for a stiff neck. As my hands carefully massaged her frail body, the words poured forth from her mouth. I touched her eighty-four-year-old hand and she told me a story. I caressed her arm and I found out that her husband had suddenly died in a car accident two years ago. Her only two sons also tragically died. She moved a year ago from her home in the States to Jerusalem to be with her only daughter–in-law and grandchildren.

My hands didn’t stop as the touch of the skin touched the heart. Florence kept talking, I kept massaging. She told me that her daughter-in-law was leaving for a week-long trip. She had made arrangements for Florence. Florence wouldn’t be left alone for a minute. But I heard Florence’s voice filled with stress as she told me about the daughter-in-law’s trip. At the end of the treatment Florence praised my touch, the work I did on her neck. “You are wonderful, but I still feel some pain. When will it go away?”

The touch of the skin touched the heart“Florence,” I gently answered her. “The pain will go away when your daughter-in-law comes back from her trip.”

“You heard that, hun?” She smiled as I gave her a hug.

There is nothing so delicious as the hug I receive from my three-year-old daughter. I adore holding her tightly, putting her head on my shoulder and breathing the sweet smell of her hair. I kiss those adorable cheeks and close my eyes to the touch of the Garden of Eden. For my eldest son, I ask permission first before planting kisses all over his face, as he grows and matures into a little man who might just possibly be embarrassed by his mother’s touch. This doesn’t stop him, thank G‑d, from coming to me with a banged arm or leg for a healing massage, a soothing touch. I pass him something and I make sure to lovingly squeeze his hand. A child thrives on touch. Without food and water you can’t live; without touch you can’t grow. Sometimes, when I have no comforting words for friends or my students, I give them a hug which conveys more than words ever could.

As a massage therapist and reflexologist, I know a lot about the power of touch. Touch can heal, it can soothe, but when used improperly it can also destroy. I will never forget the painful touch I received at the age of fourteen. I was touched by someone whom I didn’t know and whom I didn’t want touching me; it was also in a place where I didn’t want to be touched.

As a twenty-year-old I discovered a new aspect of touch. I was studying in Paris. There it seemed like everyone was always touching. To anyone you greet you give two kisses, one on each cheek. There was one exception: at the family whose home I spent every Shabbat. There the father never touched me, never greeted me with kisses or a handshake, and neither did his sons. The mother gave me plenty of kisses, but she never greeted her male guests with kisses or a handshake, and neither did her daughters. There was plenty of warmth. Their home was lively and loud. But the men were more reserved in their touch, as were the women. I found it interesting, respectful. Touch was powerful.

Two years later I stood under the chuppah with my chatan (fiancé) in Mexico City. When I first arrived in his native land a few months prior to our wedding, he told his male friends, “You can’t touch Elana!” To his female friends he also said that he wouldn’t greet them anymore with the customary Latin kiss. He explained to them that even casual touch between the sexes was reserved between husband and wife and close family members. On one’s wedding night, the first time a groom and bride touch, the power of touch is then most clearly understood. I understood at last that touch was not only healing. It was not only soothing. And it not only had the potential to be damaging, but more than anything, touch was holy.

Touch can heal, it can soothe, but when used improperly it can also destroyIn the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple stood two keruvim, the mystical, golden cherubim. They were in the shape of a male and female embracing each other. The keruvim cleaved to each other in an embrace like a man and woman who love each other. This represented the love that G‑d has for Israel. When the Nation of Israel would ascend to the Temple in Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage Festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot), the curtain of the Holy Ark would be parted and they were shown the keruvim embracing. They were told, “See how you are beloved before G‑d, like the love of a male and a female!” In the Holy of Holies, the holiest place on earth, was an image of a man and woman touching, demonstrating the holiness and purity that can be obtained in the touch of a man and woman.

I think back to all the religious people I encountered in my youth. I had no idea what they were doing. No concept of why the rabbi never shook my hand or the rebbetzin never greeted the male congregants with more than kind words and a smile, never a touch. Now I know. Now I understand. Touch is transcendental. When touch is lovingly and respectfully kept between husband and wife, touch allows one to reach one of the highest levels of attachment and closeness, both to G‑d and to one another. Pure and simple, touch is awesome, it’s holy.

Originally from northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, writer, and author of Dancing Through Life, a book for Jewish women. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
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Anonymous January 24, 2016

very nice very good article:) Reply

Raymond Bastarache NB. Canada. October 23, 2015

touching soothes Wow! a beautiful article...yet so true "stress " in life not only causes pain in the mind but also in the body? concerning her daughter-in -law going away for a trip...till she returns safely? I still have somewhat.... pain mentally and physically? I always believed this? but now, after reading your article, I'm certain! thanks again ! Reply

Shana March 26, 2014

This is very true:) Its a very good advantage about not touching guys. Reply

Ann Canada November 12, 2013

The Impulse to Hug a Man Dear Mrs. Mizrahi, thank you for writing this insightful article. In our family, going back at least five generations, we have people whose touch is extraordinarily healing to others. Touch is indeed powerful. Recently, I had the joy of seeing a man with whom I had corresponded for six years and have always loved. When it was time to leave--we were in a theatre reception with many people around--we both were awkward as we shook hands. I began to walk away, but did the silliest thing of turning to him and quickly hugging him before hurrying off. I still feel embarrassed, now, even though we stood quite far apart for the hug. Your article has helped me to examine my behavior and understand that I can love a man without having to hug him--at least not until, G-d willing, he would be my husband. Thank you, B'H. Reply

KImberly Sheboygan, WI/USA March 23, 2011

Thank you Reply

TaylorM San Francisco, CA February 10, 2011

As a fellow massage therapist, I agree. Touch is very powerful! Thank you. Reply

sinle mom brooklyn, ny February 8, 2011

Thank U Thanx 4 reminding me how important this truely is. Reply

Caroline Pemberton Baytown, TX February 8, 2011

Touch This is so beautiful. It resonates in my nefesh. I worked 35 years in Nursing and came to realize the power of Touch but I had not thought of it as HOLY. It is indeed HOLY when set apart for the HOLY things of life like restoration and healing and renewal and bonding of family. When people know they are going to die, they never ask for gold or a new watch or a new car, they ask for their loved ones to kiss and hold. Baruch HaShem. Reply

Elsa Wainwright Cape Town, South Africa February 7, 2011

touch & torah Thank you for the very informative article and new insight given to me re touch and the holiness thereof. Much food for thought. May there continue to flow love & warmth from your hands in that which you are going. Reply

Mihal February 7, 2011

touch & torah A 'gut vort' great teaching -- thinking of you! Reply

Ilana Saada Paris, France February 7, 2011

Thanks Elana for sharing, it's giving a lot of strength... Reply

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