Musical Attraction – {Vayerah 5777}

I love posh sounding words and phrases and remember teaching Chaya what ‘penultimate’ meant when she was just approaching her third birthday!


In this week’s Sedra its the concept of ‘cognitive dissonance’ that really makes me chuckle. No, I don’t know how to say it in Hebrew, but its actually the musical note utilised to represent that concept, that interests me. {Check out the word ‘liminal’ as well!!}


I’m referring of course to the ‘Shalshelet’ the longest musical note (trop) in the Torah, and used only 4 times; 3 in the Book of Breishis and once in the Book of Vayikra.


The very first use is in our Sedra when Lot and his family are fleeing the destruction of Sodom (19:16).


It is placed on top of the word ‘Va’yismamah’ – and he hesitated.


What is the cognitive dissonance here? It’s Lots’ hesitation. His mind knows that he must flee from his city; it and everything in it is being utterly destroyed in an upheaval from below and above. Yet his heart is still pinning for the wealth and honour that was accorded to him in Sodom.


He knows the right course of action, but he is being emotionally torn.


The Shalsheles, the long musical note {It is 30 notes long and it goes up and down the scale three complete times} on that word, poetically and beautifully describes the see-saw of emotions, the there-and-back journey of the mind and heart.


Whilst this musical note might only appear 4 times in the Torah, and only another 3 times across the entire Prophets and Scriptures, I believe that its message is one that resonates in our daily lives. Very often we are torn between what is intellectually/morally/religiously correct and what is emotionally strong. This is true in many areas of our lives; familial, religious, political, occupational.


Lot experiences it when he has to flee from Sodom. Eliezer (Avraham’s servant) experiences it when he has to find a wife for Yitzchak, as in truth he wanted his own daughter to marry him (24:12), and the most famous example is when Yosef is being seduced by Potiphar’s wife, he is torn between the physical and emotional attraction and the knowledge that what he was about to do was wrong (39:8).


The final example is when Moshe has to offer a Sacrifice before anointing his brother Aaron, when he actually wanted it for himself; his religious obligation was being torn by personal desires (Vayikra 8:23).


In every example, the Torah specifically tells us that this cognitive dissonance took place, that these individuals, ranging from Lot – a resident of Sodom, and Eliezer – a mere servant through to Yosef and Moshe, all struggled with it. Yet in the end, they all made the right choice. They didn’t obfuscate for too long, they struggled but in the end they elucidated the situation and did what was right!! (See what I did there!!)


No one is free from the emotional journey. No one is given absolute smooth sailing. Everyone struggles with what feels right and what is right.


Yet, just because you struggle doesn’t mean that you give up or that you are bad. It just means that you are human and that G-d trusts you, otherwise He wouldn’t have put you in the situation in the first place.


So next time you might struggle; grab that long musical note, sing the song of cognitive dissonance and know that you are not alone. Many have been there before you, many will be there after you, and please G-d you too will do what is right.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Dovid