Hugs R Us

...he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
— Genesis 33:4

Did you see the article in last week's Wall Street Journal on hugging? I had no idea that hugging had become such big business. For about a dollar a minute, you can be professionally hugged, cuddled, tickled or spooned. Some cuddlers make up to $80 an hour ,and if you have the Cuddlr App, you can find your own hugger. Of course, there are some boundaries lest anyone get the wrong idea. Many professional cuddlers have rules about showering and brushing teeth before a visit, but if you smell sweet and control yourself, it seems that if you're 'out of touch,' you're in luck.

Thousands of customers across the country are booking appointments with professional cuddlers in at least 16 states.
— Wall Street Journal, Jan 8, 2015

The article and subsequent online discussion around it raises the important issue of the human need for touch and affection. Medical and consumer research tells us you are likely to have a better experience in a doctor's office, store or restaurant if you have even been lightly patted or touched. Most people unconsciously register this as an act of concern and compassion. You're more likely to get better tips, be less likely to be called in a medical malpractice case and more likely to get a compliment for your service.

There are a few famous biblical hugs worth mentioning at this juncture. Disclaimer: none of them involved any financial transaction.

Hug Number One

Jacob and Esau reunite after a long separation and with a lot of anxiety expended preparing for the meeting. It not only went more smoothly than expected, it surfaced deep emotions for both sides, as we read in Genesis 33:4 - "Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept." There are negative rabbinic readings of this reunion, but the text plainly read is unmistakable. This hug was a real emotional embrace.

Hug Number Two

Here we look at another brotherly reunion in Genesis, one previously defined by rivalry and danger. Joseph reunites with his brothers who suspect him of revenge. They stand in quiet disbelief while Joseph reveals himself and says that he has come to terms with their difficult relationship and forgiven them. He sees his younger brother. He has ached for Benjamin, and we as readers cannot wait to see them unite with each other, as Genesis 45:14-15 record: "Then he [Joseph] threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him."

Hug Number Three

This famous female, platonic hug was preferred to a kiss. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law when parting, but Ruth held on with affection and admiration to the woman who taught her so much. As Naomi mentions how she feels punished by God and isolated - a woman who lost everything - the women weep: "At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her. 'Look,' said Naomi, 'your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.' But Ruth replied, 'Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.' When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her" Ruth 1:14-18 takes us to a moment of loss and hope communicated powerfully by the simple act of an embrace.

As we read about these non-professional cuddlers, we see three reasons that you could never pay for such a physical transaction: 1) each embrace was not about mere physical touch but about the acceptance of the other - in each case a non-obvious recipient of the embrace. The hug was the Bible's way of telling us that a significant fracture was on its way to healing. 2) Each embrace was followed by conversation. The hug came first but was immediately followed or pre-empted by talk, explanation or revelation. 3) Each hug signified the beginning of a new stage of relationship where the past was not forgotten but was put to the side to give space for a new relationship to emerge.

You can pay for a touch. But you cannot put a price on intimacy, and intimacy is not something you can buy. You have to earn it.

Your hugs may be worth up to $80 an hour. So find those worth hugging in your life who you'd never charge and show them through touch and talk how much you value them in your life. Hold that hug just a little bit longer than usual because... well, because you can.

Shabbat Shalom