The shalsheles cantillation, expressed in a long, wavering series of notes, occurs only four times in the Torah.
In three, the “wavering” may reflect a wavering of will. In Beraishis 19:16, Lot, about to leave S’dom, hesitates to forgo its wealth and pleasures; indeed, the shalsheles is on the word “And he hesitated.”
In Beraishis 24:12, Eliezer is beginning his prayer to Hashem to find the right wife for Yitzchak; the shalsheles is on the word “And he said.” He had wanted Yitzchak to marry his daughter, so, again, there is some hesitation at a crucial point, when he needs to abandon that hope and focus on the future.
Yosef, in Beraishis 39:8, is facing an internal conflict too, as he summons all his personal fortitude to resist the blandishments of Potifar’s wife. The shalsheles there is on the word meaning “and he refused.”
In our parsha, though, the shalsheles (Vayikra 8:23) is on the word meaning “And he slaughtered,” referring to the ram sacrifice that was part of the investiture ceremony installing Aharon and his sons into the kehunah. What wavering or hesitations is here?
For the previous seven days, though, Moshe had played the role of kohein. Might the shalsheles indicate Moshe’s being conflicted over being “deposed” from the kehunah?
I find that unlikely. The “most humble of all men” (Bamidbar 12:3) would be above so self-centered a feeling.
What occurs is that any wavering on Moshe’s part may simply have been born of the challenge every human has while facing a change of role. It’s discomposing to suddenly be thrust in a new direction.
Life is full of changes, many of them unsought and discombobulating. When we feel a shalsheles in our lives, though, we need, as Moshe did, to recover from the jar and do what we must to accept the change.
© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran