The Shalshalet of Ambivalence, The Week's End: November 3
Nov 2nd 2023

When planning our oldest daughter Ziva’s Bat Mitzvah, she made it clear that she wanted Parashat Vayera as her parashah. Why? Because it contained a Shalshelet, a rare Torah cantillation trop and she very much wanted to read it.

In the parashah, two of the Angels who had visited Abraham now come to Lot to inform him of the pending doom of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. But Lot delays, וַֽיִּתְמַהְמָ֓הּ . The Shalshelet emphasizes the hesitation in its melody – 3 pazer notes in a row. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks describes the note as “going up and down, up and down, up and down, as if unable to move forward to the next note.” (Vayera 2008) And he brings the commentary of Rabbi Joseph Ibn Caspi to explain what it is meant to convey, “namely a psychological state of uncertainty and indecision.” (Ibid.) Sacks calls the Shalshelet the music of ambivalence.

Wednesday night we hosted Israeli families whose family members have been murdered or taken hostage by Hamas. Irwin Cotler reminded us that every day these 240 people – children, adults and the elderly – remain taken from their homes, is a war crime.  The only response for this moment is, therefore, to demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages. As much as I enjoy the Shalshelet, this is not a time for ambivalence, hesitancy, or delay. This is a time for action and moral clarity.

Or to say it another way, at this moment we should be more like Abraham and less like Lot.