The Sweetness of Words

When my nephew turned three he was introduced to his first day of learning Torah. Newly shorn, looking like a boy for the first time in his short life, he was bundled into his father’s tallis and set on his Rebbe’s lap, where his hand was guided to the first words of Genesis. “In the Beginning.” The first letter, Bet, was covered in honey into which, with his Rebbe’s aid, he sunk his barely formed pointed index finger, which he then rushed to his mouth. His eyes widened at the unexpected sweetness.

This is how we were introduced to reading.

At the end of the day’s lessons, entire classes of school-children bend young heads in unison, lips smacking softly. Once a kiss to the left page, twice, a kiss to the right, a soft flutter as twenty-something books close and heads bend again for the final gentle kiss upon the worn cover. Then, holding their sefer face up, they wait their turn to replace it to its reserved spot on the sacred book, the seforim, bookshelf.

There is no self-consciousness, hardly any awareness, this is a habit as routine as washing hands before sitting down to eat, of checking your pocket for your keys as you walk out a door. When I read a book I love I still perform that ritual instinctively, regardless of the unholy content I may be enjoying.

A writer dreams on. It’s what we do. There’s always the page to kiss, the cover to close, the book to put back on the shelf until we’re ready to taste its honey again.

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