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.