Magen Avos (Shalsheles)

October 22, 2021

The JMN family would like to extend a heartfelt mazal tov to our member Debbie G. on the marriage of her son, and are also sending special bar mitzvah blessings to our member Nosson K. upon the occasion of his son’s Aliya l’Torah this Shabbos! Mazal Tov to Yehuda Binyamin נ”י and to his entire mishpacha!!

Hashem appeared to Avraham and told him that the people of S’dom were wicked and would be destroyed. The only ones who would be saved were Lot and his family. Hashem then sent two malachim, Gavriel and Michoel, to accomplish this task. When they arrived on the scene, they explained to Lot that they were on a mission to wipe out the city, and he was to take his family and flee.

Yet when the destruction began, he didn’t move. “Vayismamuh” – “He hesitated” (19:16). While he clearly understood the consequences, he remained glued to the spot. Finally, the malachim grabbed him by the hand and pulled him and his daughters away to safety.

The “trop” – the musical note – over the word “Vayismamuh” is a shalsheles, a long, drawn-out sound that rises and falls three times, and suggests lingering or stalling. It fits perfectly in the pasuk since the word is translated literally as “and he hesitated.” The shalsheles only appears two other times in Sefer Bereishis – when Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, is about to begin the search for a suitable bride for his master’s son, Yitzchok Avinu, (Chayei Sarah 24:12) and when Yosef rebuffs the advances of Potiphar’s wife in Egypt (Vayeishev 39:8).

R’ Yitzchak Meir Goodman (There Shall Be Light) writes that all three of these instances are worthy of a shalsheles – a chain – because in each instance, the very chain of Jewish survival was at stake. How so? Lot may have delayed his departure from S’dom because of his fears or doubts, but he had to be saved one way or another – not because of his righteousness, but because he was destined to be the father of Moav, the ancient ancestor of Dovid HaMelech, an indispensable link in the Jewish chain!

So, too, did Eliezer forge another vital link by enabling the joining of our matriarch Rivkah and Yitzchok Avinu in marriage! And had Potiphar’s wife succeeded in corrupting Yosef, causing him to lower himself by succumbing to her immodest advances, she would have most certainly changed the course of Jewish history. Thus, we see clearly that the tradition of the musical “trop” that we use when we read the parsha are not just random notes, but correspond appropriately to the meaning of the word to which they belong.

In ancient times, the shuls were often located outside the towns in which people lived, and walking home from shul alone at night was dangerous. Chazal therefore instituted a bracha after Shemoneh Esrei, thereby delaying the end of davening so that someone who arrived late would be able to complete his davening and return with everyone else and not be left to walk home alone. The bracha Mei’ein Sheva – colloquially referred to as Magen Avos – is recited by the chazzan after we conclude the Friday night Shemoneh Esrei, and is a synopsis of the seven brachos that comprise the Shabbos tefillah.

Although there are other reasons given for the inclusion of the bracha Mei’ein Sheva in our tefillos, the truth remains that the entire minhag teaches a lesson of paramount importance in both the strength of our traditions and in the respect we show Chazal. The establishment of this bracha takes us back to a period of time thousands of years ago, to a set of circumstances that pretty much no longer apply. And yet, we continue to observe this mitzvah every Friday night, notwithstanding the fact that the reason for its establishment no longer exists.

In a world where change has become a constant phenomenon, and opinions become obsolete almost more quickly than they come into style, Magen Avos is a perfect example of the fact that Chazal’s wisdom is timeless and eternal, relevant in all times and places, giving the Jewish people a stability that every individual, and all the other nations so desperately crave. How fortunate we are to be able to follow the words of Chazal, and by doing so, become integral links in the chain of Jewish continuity.

One of my favorite Shabbos albums has been and still remains Raza D’Shabbos from back in 2001. Following the success of his first Shalsheles album in 1999, composer Yitzchok Rosenthal put his talents and abilities on full display in creating yet another masterpiece. Magen Avos was composed by Rosenthal and was performed by the songwriter, along with the group that has since become his legacy. As the name suggests, Shalsheles has since adequately proven to be a significant link in the chain of Jewish music tradition.

Wishing all of you a historic Shabbos!

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