And Moshe's Final Act as High Priest
The Talmud teaches in Nedarim 37b that the "te-amim," the cantillation
notes with which the words of the Torah are read are one method of interpreting their meaning. For example, at the end of Parshat
Miketz, one feels the dramatic intensity of the conflict between Yoseph and his
brothers rising to fever pitch. At the peak of the intensity (where there is a break until
the beginning of Parshat Vayigash), appear the words "Vayigash Elav
Yehudah," cantillated with a "Kadma V'Azla" and translated very inadequately as "And Yehudah approached him," describing Yehudah's
rise to challenge Yoseph. The notes of the "Kadma V'Azla" suggest charging forward into battle.
Another example is the use of the "Shalshelet" note, the symbol for which looks like a chain or a ladder, with interconnected links or rungs, and which is sung that way, rising and falling, turning sharply this way and that, seemingly suggesting internal struggle. This note appears only four times in the Chumash, and the context lends itself to this interpretation in each case.
I found a beautiful elaboration of these four occurrences in "Jewish Thought - a Journal of Torah Scholarship," published by the OU in conjunction with Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim, and edited by Rabbi Moshe Chayim Sosevsky. The specific essay, "The Shahshelet Cantillation," was written by Mois A. Navon, and appeared in Volume 4, No. 1, 5755-6. Three "Shalshelaot" appear in Bereshit; one in Vayikra, in the Parshah we read this Shabbat. Navon discusses each.
Lot in Sodom
The first involves Lot, nephew of Avraham. Lot has chosen to live in the plain of the Yarden, "for it was abundantly watered everywhere," (Bereshit 13:10) a physical environment conducive to the enhancement of his flocks and material possessions, in general. When Hashem determines to destroy the city of Sodom, because of the uniquely inhuman attitudes that have developed there, he decides to spare Lot, for the sake of Avraham. But when Hashem's angels urge Lot to leave immediately because destruction is imminent, Lot hesitates, struggling with an inner conflict.
The word which expresses the conflict is "vayitmahmah," (Bereshit 19:16) "And he hesitated," the word containing the double-interrogative "mah", meaning "what?" as in "what is happening?" Lot could not bear the loss of his monetary wealth, and he struggled against leaving it all, even in the face of imminent physical destruction.
Eliezer, Servant of Avraham
A second instance is found in Bereshit 24:16, in connection with Eliezer, the servant of Avraham. Eliezer has been sent by his master to the homeland of the Patriarch to find there a suitable bride for Yitzchak. Upon his arrival, the Chumash places a Shalshelet on the word "Vayomar," "And he said," as Eliezer formulates a scheme to identify a suitable bride.
In this case, CHAZAL explain that Eliezer was torn by his desire to have his own daughter become the bride of Yitzchak. This conflict of interest was interfering with his carrying out the mission that he had sworn to undertake for Avraham.
Yoseph - Torn by Physical Desire
When Yoseph was serving in the House of Potiphar upon his arrival in Egypt, he became the object of a determined seduction attempt by the wife of his master. Shaken though he was to his core by the intensity of his desire for the woman, the "Shalshelet" on the word "Va-yemaen," "And he refused (her advances)" indicates his successful struggle with his "Yetzer Hara," his "Evil Inclination," which threatened to tear him away from every moral teaching that he had learned in the home of his parents. It was this success that entitled him to the description "Yoseph HaTzaddik," "Yoseph the Righteous."
Moshe's Final Act as High Priest
To some extent, Sefer Bereshit is the story of humanity's struggle with a basic psychological force - that of sibling rivalry; the jealousy that exists nearly universally between brothers. Beginning with Kayin and Hevel, the first brothers, the result of whose interaction was the first murder - that of Hevel by Kayin; proceeding to Yitzchak and Yishmael, where the elder brother viciously mocked the younger; followed by Yaakov and Esav, who engaged in an intense struggle for the birthright, climaxing in the intense hatred of Yaakov by Esav, a hatred that has been transmitted down the ages.
This nearly universal phenomenon was manifested again in the struggle between Yoseph and his brothers, as a result of which his brothers sold Yoseph into slavery, a crime for which the Jewish People is still paying. But we are shown that it might not be universal after all, by the behavior of the brothers Aharon and Moshe!
When Moshe stubbornly refused to accept the mission with which he was charged at the Burning Bush, to lead the Jewish People out of Egypt, Hashem told him that he would be assisted by Aharon, who was coming to meet him, and when Aharon would become aware of Moshe's greatness, he would "see you, and rejoice in his heart." (Shemot 4:14) That a brother could rejoice in the greatness of his sibling was a "chiddush," a new phenomenon, that was introduced into the world by Aharon.
But, at the same time, Moshe would be punished for his rejection of Hashem's command to lead the Jewish People out of Egypt by losing the Priesthood to Aharon. And that event is portrayed in Parshat "Tzav."
In our Parshah, we see a description of the process of "Miluim," Inauguration of the Priests, over an eight day period. For seven days, Moshe serves as the High Priest. But on the seventh day, he is informed by Hashem that Aharon will be the Kohen, and Moshe the Levi. In verse Vayikra 8:23 we read of the final ritual slaughter performed by Moshe, and on the word "Vayishchat," "And he slaughtered," we find a Shalshelet.
Tanya Shemini:3 illustrates Moshe's behavior and attitude at that time:
"Moshe said (to Aharon), 'So has the Holy One, Blessed Be He said to me to appoint you Kohen
Gadol.' Aharon said to him, 'You toiled in the Mishkan, and I am made Kohen
Gadol?!' (Moshe) said to him, 'By your life! Even though you have been made Kohen Gadol, it is as if I have
For just as you rejoiced in my greatness, so I rejoice in your greatness.' "
The Shalshelet is placed upon the final act of "Shechitah," "Ritual Slaughter," performed by Moshe. Navon explains beautifully the full meaning of the Shalshelet. "The first rung of the Shalshelet suggests his anguish; the second, his resolve and forbearance; and the third, the greatness of his humility and self-sacrifice."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU