Wednesday, January 20, 2010

894. Shalshelet

Three things I have not yet done in the course of my Torah chanting odyssey:

1. Chant the end of a book of the Torah and say "Hazah, hazak." (Just about every other adult who reads Torah at my synagogue has done this! I want to, as well, for no reason other than it would be cool. My timing seems to be lousy.)

2. Learn High Holy Day trope (I have too much stuff keeping me busy on days when one would chant this).

3. Chant a shalshelet, a rare, long, and baroquely ornate trope that appears just four times in the entire Torah. Here's what it sounds like, an entire song unto itself.

There was a shalshelet a few weeks ago in Pararshat Vayeshev, and a very smart friend noticed it was on the same word I chanted the following week, shalshelet-less: vayima'ein, "and he [Yosef, when tempted by the seductive advances of his master's wife] refused." We did some research in The Biggest Book Ever (aka Chanting the Hebrew Bible, by Joshua Jacobson), and learned that the trope name, which means "chain," probably—maybe—alludes to the long, drawn-out, waffling back and forth nature of the refusal. Jacobson's theory is that the purpose of trope is to clarify and support grammar, and secondary meanings are nice to speculate on but never a sure thing, so who knows.

Wikipedia led me to a fascinating paper about the shalshelet that analyzes each usage and ties them into a grand theory of struggle, confusion, and delay:

The Shalshelet: Mark Of Ambivelence

"The shalshelet arouses our attention at these four incidents," writes the author, Moise A. Navon, "which incisively illustrate the archetypal struggles which man must battle within himself."

This is what I love about Jewish learning: that meaning can be found in every detail, letter, sound, and sigh to help us become more self-aware and, in the process, a little better at repairing the world.

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