Halacha Date: 1 Adar 5779 February 6 2019
Question: Should one kiss the hands of one’s parents and receive a blessing from them on Shabbat night and does the same apply equally to one’s father and mother?
Answer: The Gemara in Masechet Avodah Zarah (17a) tells us that when Ulah (a sage who lived during the Talmudic era) would return from the Bet Midrash, he would kiss his father’s hands. Rashi there explains that it was customary among people that when one left the synagogue, one would kiss the top of the hands of one’s parents and those greater than him. The holy Zohar (Parashat Lech-Lecha) states that Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, as well as all other students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, would kiss his hands. Similarly, the great Ari z”l would customarily visit his righteous mother’s home every Shabbat night, kiss her hands, and she would subsequently bless him. Clearly, Rabbeinu Ha’Ari discovered a reason for this according to the Kabbalah that there is a great benefit in kissing one’s mother’s hands and receiving a blessing from her, especially on Shabbat night.
In his Sefer Sha’ar Ha’Kavanot, he explains the reason for this according to the Kabbalah; the Mekubalim stress the importance of this matter and write that one should kiss the hands of one’s parents on Shabbat night, especially one’s mother’s hands. Even if one does not reside with them in the same house, nevertheless, if it is possible for one to go visit them and request their blessing, it is proper to do so. Rabbeinu Ha’Ari indeed taught this to this to his disciple, Rabbeinu Chaim Vital. Similarly, Maran Ha’Chida writes in his Moreh Be’Etzba that when one kisses the hands of one’s parents, one should have in mind to fulfill the Mitzvah of honoring one’s parents and when one kisses the hands of one’s mother, one should also have in mind that there is a mystical reason for doing so.
There are varying customs as to when is the proper time to receive one’s parents blessing: Some do this after reciting “Shalom Alechem” prior to reciting Kiddush while others customarily do so after Kiddush is recited. Our custom is to kiss one’s parents’ hands (if one is in the same house as one’s parents) after Kiddush is recited, after tasting some wine. At this point, the parents bless their sons and daughters with whatever they desire. Following this, Netilat Yadayim prior to the Shabbat meal is performed.
Ashkenazim customarily do not implement all of these honorary measures as they are not at all accustomed to hand-kissing, although it is indeed an ancient custom. Similarly, they do not kiss the hands of their sages; rather, they suffice with a handshake and a blessing. Nonetheless, even according to their custom, parents should take care to bless their children every Shabbat night, as Hagaon Harav Yaakov Emdin attests in his Siddur that this is indeed the Ashkenazi custom. However, Sephardic Jews customarily kiss their parents’ hands and they should not neglect this custom, for it has deep and important roots. Rabbeinu Eliyahu de Vidas (a student of Rabbeinu Moshe Cordovero), the saintly author of Reshit Chochma (Sha’ar Gidul Banim), has already warned that all parents should train their children when they are young to kiss the hands of their parents as well as the hands of great and pious individuals. (See Sefer Shulchan HaMa’arechet, page 56, who quotes the words of several Acharonim regarding this matter.)