Passing the Torch: Moshe’s Hesitation and the Responsibility of Transmitting The Torah Way of Life

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Our success in leaving a lasting impact depends on the successful transfer of knowledge, values, and traditions from one generation to the next. This weighty responsibility falls upon the shoulders of parents, teachers, and mentors, who act as guardians of our collective heritage. The Torah, through a musical  nuance found in Parashat Tzav, sheds light on the importance of this task. 

In Vayikra 8:23, the verse describes Moshe Rabbeinu passing on the Kehuna (priesthood) to his brother Aharon as he prepared a korban (sacrifice). The word וישחט (“and he slaughtered”) is marked with a shalshelet, a trop (cantillation mark) that denotes hesitation or uncertainty and struggle.

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

“and he slaughtered it; and Moshe took of its blood, and put it upon the tip of Aharon’s right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot.”

This use of a rare musical note invites us to ponder the significance of the moment and the weight of the responsibility that Moshe carried in preparing Aharon for his task. Vayikra 8:23

The shalshelet is not a mere random occurrence; it appears in three other pivotal instances in the Torah, each marked by hesitation. When Lot contemplates leaving Sodom (Bereishis 19:16):

וַֽיִּתְמַהְמָ֓הּ ׀ וַיַּחֲזִ֨קוּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֜ים בְּיָד֣וֹ וּבְיַד־אִשְׁתּ֗וֹ וּבְיַד֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י בְנֹתָ֔יו בְּחֶמְלַ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה עָלָ֑יו וַיֹּצִאֻ֥הוּ וַיַּנִּחֻ֖הוּ מִח֥וּץ לָעִֽיר׃

“Still he lingered. So the agents seized his hand, and the hands of his wife and his two daughters—in Hashems’s mercy on him—and brought him out and left him outside the city.”

When Eliezer prays for a suitable match for Yitzchak (Bereishis 24:12):

וַיֹּאמַ֓ר ׀ ה’ אֱלֹקי֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י אַבְרָהָ֔ם הַקְרֵה־נָ֥א לְפָנַ֖י הַיּ֑וֹם וַעֲשֵׂה־חֶ֕סֶד עִ֖ם אֲדֹנִ֥י אַבְרָהָֽם׃” 

“And he said, ‘O God, the God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham.'”

And when Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Yosef (Bereishis 39:8):

וַיְמָאֵ֓ן ׀ וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־אֵ֣שֶׁת אֲדֹנָ֔יו הֵ֣ן אֲדֹנִ֔י לֹא־יָדַ֥ע אִתִּ֖י מַה־בַּבָּ֑יִת וְכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־יֶשׁ־ל֖וֹ נָתַ֥ן בְּיָדִֽי׃

“But he refused. He said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, with me here, my master gives no thought to anything in this house, and all that he owns he has placed in my hands.'”

The shalshelet marks these crucial junctures, implying a moment of pause and reflection.  

In the case of Moshe Rabbeinu, the shalshelet suggests a hesitation born out of the immense responsibility he shouldered. As he prepared to pass on the mantle of the kehuna, a legacy that would shape the future spiritual fabric of the nation, he paused. He reflected on whether he had adequately prepared Aharon for this sacred duty. Did he impart the wisdom, knowledge, and values necessary to uphold this illustrious role? Had he instilled in Aharon all that he needed to succeed in his task? Had he done everything in his power to prepare Aharon?

This hesitation, this moment of introspection, highlights the importance of passing on a legacy. It is a responsibility that demands unwavering commitment, thorough preparation, and a deep sense of accountability. Parents, teachers, and mentors must continuously evaluate their efforts, ensuring that the next generation is equipped with the tools, knowledge, and values necessary to build a bridge between generations, guaranteeing that our traditions, heritage, and way of life are passed on to future generations.

The task of transmitting a legacy is not merely a transfer of information; it is a sacred trust that requires nurturing, patience, and unwavering dedication. Just as Moshe Rabbeinu paused to reflect on his role in preparing Aharon, so too must we pause and contemplate the extent to which we are fulfilling our duty to the generations that will follow. We must constantly assess our efforts to ensure the next generation possesses the necessary tools and values.

In a world that often prioritizes transient pursuits and is focused on fleeting trends, the Torah’s emphasis on the continuity of legacy serves as a clarion call to refocus our efforts on what truly matters. It is a reminder that our actions, our teachings, and our values will echo through time, shaping the course of history long after we are gone. As we navigate the challenges of our modern existence in upholding the faith and practice of our tradition, we must resolutely and wholeheartedly embrace the sacred responsibility of passing on the legacy with reverence and humility. Our ancestors made tremendous sacrifices and showed extraordinary devotion to preserve and transmit our hallowed traditions through unimaginable difficulties. To allow their immense efforts and struggles to be in vain would be an unforgivable betrayal. We must pause, reflect, and ensure the next generation has the tools to carry the torch, as Moshe Rabbeinu did. For in doing so, we make their lives meaningful and justify their toil and dedication by faithfully continuing the chain of tradition. Upholding this chain is our solemn duty – one we must pursue with unwavering dedication and commitment, so that the sacrifices of our forefathers were not for nothing, nor ours that we make for our children, appreciating the God-given way of life they have bequeathed to us and we attempt to transfer to our children. The musical note shalshelet should always reverberate in our minds, reminding us as parents and teachers to continually  critically  examine how we are upholding and continuing our holy  traditions and way of life.


About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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