Sunday, April 01, 2007

Darshening trop

Some months back, I plugged the book _Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Art of Cantillation_, by Joshua Jacobson. The book describes the logic behind the trop in terms of how the syntax of the passuk governs the cantillation that is used to parse it. This is clearly seen by pausal t'amim like esnachta and zakeif-katon, but even with t'amim that indicate weaker pauses, such as pashta and tip'cha. On the other hand, there are a number of d'rashos made by gedolim of past generations regarding the trop. Two classic examples of this phenomenon are the GRA's drash of the trop of the first passuk of P' Vayigash ("Kadma v'azla r'vi'i zarka munach segol") as referring to Yehuda stepping forward for fear of losing his chelek in olam haba and the drashos made on the infrequent use of the "shalshelet" (Jacobson notes that the shalshelet serves the same purpose as a segol, despite their very different sounds, and is used whenever the segol phrase is too short to incorporate the mandatory zarka before it).

Rather than these two approaches being contradictory, I believe that one does not necessarily preclude the other. It seems to be true that the purpose of trop is structural. However, being that every word of the Torah was specially chosen by HaShem, we can say that one motivation behind His choice of wording could be to create the syntax necessary in order to possess the trops that display certain messages - e.g., the word Vayitmahmah in P' Vayeira is purposely a one-word phrase that would usually need a segol due to the structure of the rest of the passuk, so that it would carry a shalshelet that contains in it a given hidden meaning. These messages contained within a deeper layer of the text shed light on a different question that I've been long wondering about regarding what messages we can derive from the Torah's choice of words in cases in which the text itself does not seem to have any advantage in being phrased one way over another.

(The question would still exist in cases where there are different traditions as to the terms for a given trop - or, indeed, simply being that the names of the trop may arguably being artificial. Nevertheless, the names given to the t'amim - as well as their symbols - do reflect in some way their usage and their musical form, so that the specific date of the codification of the names of t'amim, or the lack thereof, need not cast aspersions on an attempt to darshen them.)



At 4/11/2007 8:06 AM, Blogger Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

The point about the shalshelet being identical to segol in function is interesting. In Yerushalmi style reading, the shalshelet is a very short note followed by a pause, unlike Ashkenazi trope in which it is extended.


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