Vayeshev - SHALSHELET
THE CANTlLLATIONS which appear above the printed Hebrew text of the Torah are known in Hebrew as taamei hamikra , and in Yiddish as tropp. These cantillations were intended to help clarify the meaning of words, phrases and sentences of the Bible. Some tropp such as pashta, munach and etnachta appear frequently. Others, like pozer , are rarely used.
It is related that a reader of the Torah, who was not especially proficient in the art of a baal koreh , was approached by a "smart aleck" who nudged him and said, "Reb Yankel, I suggest that you sound a pozer every once in a while. It will make your performance more colorful and will awaken some of your dozing audience."
The cantillation known as shalshelet which means a chain and appears in the form of a chain above the word, is sounded in a long and tremulous tone. It is seldom used and appears only three times in the Book of Genesis. In each of the three instances the shalshelet denotes a clash of deep emotions, hesitation and anxiety.
The first time the shalshelet appears above the word vayitmahmah , "And he tarried." Lot hesitated to leave the sinful city of Sodom when it was about to be destroyed. Were it not for the angels who forced him to leave, he and his family would have perished in the flaming city (Gen. 19:16).
The second time the shalshelet is on the word vayomar , "And he said." When Eliezer was commissioned by Abraham to choose a suitable wife for Isaac, he prayed, "And he said: O Lord, God of my master Araham, send me, I pray Thee, good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham" (Ibid 24: 12).
The third time is in our sidrah on the word vaymoane , "And he refused." When Joseph was tempted by the wife of his master Potiphar to commit an immoral act, he refused (Ibid 39:8).
Let us review these three stories briefly and see what lessons we may derive from them.
Why did Lot hesitate to leave Sodom when he was warned that it was about to be destroyed? Rashi provides the answer. Kdei lehatzil et momono , "In order to salvage his wealth." Lot gambled with his own life and the lives of his family because he wanted to save his possessions. It is only when he was ordered himalet et nafshecha ,"escape for your life," that he consented to flee the burning city.
A doctor will say to his patient, "Sam, I feel that you are under too much physical and emotional stress. My advice is, that you drop everything and go away for an extended vaction." Vayitmahmah , "And he tarried." The shalshelet just wouldn't let him go. His momon at stake and keeps him from complying with sound medical advice. So he tarries, hesitates and debates with himself until it is too late.
It is difficult to understand why a person will not go allout to preserve his most cherished possession, namely physical and mental health. It can be said that one is a true millionaire when he is blessed with a good digestive and circulatory system; when he can do a day's work without being physically and emotionally exhausted; when he can fall asleep easily and arise in the morning refreshed and eager to face the chores of a new day. Lacking all these, even if one has millions, he is poor, for money cannot avert the calamities of life, bring back wasted years, or heal past sorrows and regrets. What a thing to do to oneself and to one's loved ones to gamble health, happiness and peace of mind for momon , as did Lot of old!
Think of a man who has made an investment, and his financial adviser urges him to sell at a reasonable profit, but the shalshelet of more momon is keeping him from doing what he should do. And so he waits greedily for more profit only to be "caught" in a bad market and to lose not only the profit but a good portion of the original investment.
A third example of vayitmahmah is that of the Arab world. For years the Arab governments have tried to escape the responsibility for the acts of terror and bloodshed of Palestinian guerillas by saying that they deplore the murderous deeds of individual Arab criminals. But the truth is known to all that the Palestinian grievances were used by the Nassers, Sadats, and Assads to further their own short-sighted political ends in the shalshelet of hostility, insecurity and indecision.
They now have an opportunity to come to terms with Israel and usher in an era of blessedness and prosperity for themselves and the entire region. Will they crack the shalshelet, the chain of hatred and vacillation, or will they tighten and reinforce it and thus doom the Middle East and a large portion of the globe to years of terror, poverty and war?
The second instance of shalshelet is in the prayer of Eliezer who entreated the Almighty to help him find a proper mate for Isaac, one who would fit into the household of Abraham. He is anxious for the successful culmination of his mission to find a young woman who will possess the qualities of cheesed -- kindness and compassion -- and emet -- truth. He prayed for a kalah for Isaac who would be an exemplary matriarch of countless generations. Eliezer, the first biblical schadchan (marriage broker), was under oath to ignore wealth, position and power in favor of kindness and true piety.
That this is not the general practice of shadchanim is illustrated by the following Jewish anecdote. A marriage broker had taken a young man to see a prospective bride. As they left the house, the shadchan said, "Did you see what wealth there is in that house--the expensive dishes and the silver utensils?" "Yes," came the reply of the young man. "But it is possible that the dishes and the silverware were borrowed from neighbors in order to make an impression on us!" "lmpossible!" cried the broker. "Who would lend anything expensive to those thieves!"
In the third instance of shalshelet we have the inner struggles of a young man. Joseph, who was badly treated by his brothers and endured many hardships, has at long last found a good home. His master is pleased with his services and Joseph senses that there is a great future ahead. Suddenly the mistress of the house becomes enamored of him and begins to tempt him with her affections. The clash between passion and duty must have been painful to Joseph, but vaymoane , "he refused." He would not yield to evil, recalling the shalshelet , the bonds tat tied him to the moral teachings of his father Jacob.
While shalshelet occurs infrequently in the Torah, it appears regularly in human experiences. There are moments of perplexity and bewilderment, of anxiety and doubt in everyone's life. The question is, what are the causes and the problems that induce the shalshelet , the clash of opposing emtioms and of irresoluteness in our hearts and minds? Is it material avarice of Lot who would gamble with his own and his family's well-being for the love of money, or is it the anxiety of an Eliezer who yearns to perform his mission in life faithfully and well, and of a Joseph who, torn by conflicting desires, remains true to the demut diyukne shel aviv , the teachings and traditions of his father?