Shalshelet is one of twenty-seven Hebrew cantillation marks. According to “The Concordance of Hebrew Accents in the Hebrew Bible” (pp 5,6), it is the second rarest of all cantillation marks, it appears only four times in the Torah of Moshe and a total of seven times in the Tanak.
Cantillation marks, like vowels, appear in printed editions of the Torah but never in a scroll. On the picture above you can see the red wiggly mark above the second mem. It has the appearance of a lightning bolt or a worm. Shalshelet is extremely important because it has an interpretive tradition attached to it.
This post is not explaining the cantillation marks of the Hebrew text. I mention it here because Rabbi Sack’s Covenant and Conversation, beginning on page 109, in the chapter entitled, “The Ambivalent Jew” discusses the interpretive tradition of the shalshelet.
I found his writing very elegant and easy to understand. Then I began an internet search. I discovered a treasure trove of information.
Shalshelet is a musical note, called arpeggio, it moves up and down. It creates an emphasis on the word it appears over. There are several traditions on how this is done. I found a website dedicated to chanting Torah – Ellie’s Torah Trope Tutor (ellietorah.com). Below is a musical score taken from Ellie’s site.
She also provided a downloadable recording of the cadence of shalshelet, according to one tradition. I am not sure which one she is teaching. Below is her recording.
Now, we know a little about the musical note and sounds lets investigate its appearances in the Torah.
Shalshelet in Torah
As previously stated, the shalshelet appears only four time in the Torah. Let’s have a look at them.
Genesis 19:16 – Parsha Vayeira, Aliyah 3
But he lingered; and the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him. And they brought him forth, and set him without the city.
Genesis 24:12 – Parsha Chayei Sarah, Aliyah 2
And he said: ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, send me, I pray Thee, good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham.
Genesis 39:8 – Parsha Vayeshev, Aliyah 6
But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife: ‘Behold, my master, having me, knoweth not what is in the house, and he hath put all that he hath into my hand;
Leviticus 8:23 – Parsha Tzav, Aliyah 6
And when it was slain, Moses took of the blood thereof, and put it upon the tip of Aaron’s right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot.
I found YouTuber bjb1836 demonstrating a chanting of the shalshelet note. She also does each word in the Torah. Watch it below.
ADDTIONAL NOTE: Shalshelet appears in three other places: twice in the Nevi’im prophets and once in Ketv’vim, writings – Isaiah 13.8, Amos 1.2, Ezra 5.15. I read the shalashelet note appears thirty-nine times in Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. I have not been able to verify these instances.
Many people like discussing mystical meaning. I am including it just for completeness. Shalshelet means chain. Kabbalists teach it connects the upper and lower worlds. I am sure there are many teachings on each instance, but this post is not focused on the mystical meaning.
A Quick Teaching
Here is a teaching from YouTuber “The Torah Reader” explaining each of the appearances of the shalshelet in the Torah. He is share some midrash on each appearance.
Hebrew cantillation – Wikipedia – Wikipedia has a good introduction to the Hebrew cantillation marks.
Shalshelet – Wikipedia – Wikipedia article about the Shalshelet mark
Shalshelet1 (divreinavon.com) – A downloadable PDF written by Mois Navon titled “The Shelshelat: Mark of Ambivalence. This paper explains there interpretation of each appearance in the Torah.