I don’t share Rabbi Waxman’s ambivalence about whether kissing the Torah smacks of the very idolatry Judaism has always been so vigilant against. I think of it more like kissing a love letter: a physical expression of a passion for the writer, in this case God.
Idolatry is when something takes the place of God as Number One on our priority list. We may have many idolatrous relationships in our lives: with our credit cards, our stock portfolios, our jobs, our looks, our electronic toys, all sorts of things we give higher priority to in our lives than to God. But when we show reverence for the Torah, we are directing our attention to the One who is the reason why we are here as Jews in the first place.
That is why kissing the Torah is not idolatry in my book: because the Torah is not a substitute for God. It is what God has left us with. Therefore, it represents the closest most of us can come to “hearing” God’s voice in our lives.
If you have ever lost a loved one, you may know what I mean. There is power in my holding the sweater my late mother wore and breathing in her perfume one more time, or seeing her handwriting on a letter she sent me. Touching these things brings her closer to me. L’havdil (to make a distinction), this is how kissing and hugging the Torah works for me: it is an expression of my love for God. All we can do is hold what God has left us, this Scroll with its ancient words, dressed in a way that shows our respect and reverence. That is also why hugging the Torah and dancing with it this weekend on Simhat Torah is such an act of true spirituality and piety.
Perhaps we would be a stronger Jewish community if more of us made an effort to leave our credit cards and computers alone one day of the week and made more of an effort to kiss the Torah more regularly.