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Shalshelet

Shalshelet mark in Torah

Shalshelet Introduction

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.

Cantillation

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.

Shalshelet Note
Fig.1: Shalshelet Note

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 19:16Parsha Vayeira, Aliyah 3

Shalshelet mark in Vayimah'mah in Genesis 19.6
Shalshelet mark in Vayimah’mah in Genesis 19.6

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.

וַיִּתְמַהְמָ֓הּ ׀ וַיַּֽחֲזִ֨יקוּ הָֽאֲנָשִׁים בְּיָ֣דוֹ וּבְיַד־אִשְׁתּ֗וֹ וּבְיַד֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י בְנֹתָ֔יו בְּחֶמְלַ֥ת יְהוָֹ֖ה עָלָ֑יו וַיֹּֽצִאֻ֥הוּ וַֽיַּנִּחֻ֖הוּ מִח֥וּץ לָעִֽיר

Genesis 24:12Parsha Chayei Sarah, Aliyah 2

Shalshelet mark in Vayomer in Genesis 24.12
Shalshelet mark in Vayomer in Genesis 24.12

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.

וַיֹּאמַר֓ ׀ יְהֹוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י אַבְרָהָ֔ם הַקְרֵה־נָ֥א לְפָנַ֖י הַיּ֑וֹם וַֽעֲשֵׂה־חֶ֕סֶד עִ֖ם אֲדֹנִ֥י אַבְרָהָֽם

Genesis 39:8 Parsha Vayeshev, Aliyah 6

Shalshelet mark in Vay'maen in Genesis 39.8
Shalshelet mark in Vay’maen in Genesis 39.8

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;

וַיְמָאֵ֓ן ׀ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר֙ אֶל־אֵ֣שֶׁת אֲדֹנָ֔יו הֵ֣ן אֲדֹנִ֔י לֹֽא־יָדַ֥ע אִתִּ֖י מַה־בַּבָּ֑יִת וְכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־יֶשׁ־ל֖וֹ נָתַ֥ן בְּיָדִֽי

Leviticus 8:23Parsha Tzav, Aliyah 6

Shalshelet mark in Vayishchat in Lev 8.23
Shalshelet mark in Vayishchat in Lev 8.23

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.

וַיִּשְׁחָ֓ט ׀ וַיִּקַּ֤ח מֹשֶׁה֙ מִדָּמ֔וֹ וַיִּתֵּ֛ן עַל־תְּנ֥וּךְ אֹֽזֶן־אַֽהֲרֹ֖ן הַיְמָנִ֑ית וְעַל־בֹּ֤הֶן יָדוֹ֙ הַיְמָנִ֔ית וְעַל־בֹּ֥הֶן רַגְל֖וֹ הַיְמָנִֽית:

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.

The Kabbalah

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.

Additional Resources:

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.

Under Duress in VaYeshev: The Shalshelet | JewishBoston

The Meaning of the Shalshelet – Jewish Theological Seminary (jtsa.edu)

hebrew – How many taamim/cantillation/trop marks are there? – Mi Yodeya (stackexchange.com)

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