- Dealing with a possible counterexample to the claimed Rabbinic nature of trop
לֹֽא־תִהְיֶ֥ה אַחֲרֵֽי־רַבִּ֖ים לְרָעֹ֑ת וְלֹא־תַעֲנֶ֣ה עַל־רִ֗ב לִנְטֹ֛ת אַחֲרֵ֥י רַבִּ֖ים לְהַטֹּֽת
The obvious meaning of the first half of the passuk is to caution against joining along with a large group to do evil. The second part of the passuk, after the etnaḥtah on the לְרָעֹ֑ת, seemingly repeats a similar theme. The second part has only one major pause, the tipḥa on the word רַבִּ֖ים. Placed there, the meaning is clear. Ḥazal, on the other hand, treats the phrase אַחֲרֵ֥י רַבִּ֖ים לְהַטֹּֽת in Ḥullin 11a as an independent command, to follow the principle of majority rule.
Given my claim concerning the trop’s adherence to rabbinic interpretation, this clear deviation requires some explanation. One possibility is that ḥazal gave an alternative explanation at the very beginning of Sanhedrin, which cautions against the reliability of a single witness; the trop conforms with that interpretation. However, the very popularity of the end of the passuk as requiring majority rule, would seem to make it primary. This leads to a second possibility. When ḥazal draw biblical support, they may not be suggesting a new interpretation, but simply finding a biblical phrase that will act as a reminder. How can you tell? To provide new meaning to a phrase leaving the rest of the passuk unclear implies that only an association with that phrase is intended as opposed to a new meaning. In such an instance, the trop continues to follow the literal interpretation.
2) Not just halakhic but also midrashic influence of ḥazal on trop
וְאַנְשֵׁ֣י סְדֹ֔ם רָעִ֖ים וְחַטָּאִ֑ים לַיהוָ֖ה מְאֹֽד׃
There are numerous ways to potentially interpret this passuk including:
- they were evil and sinned to God mightily.
- They were very evil and sinful to God.
- They were very wicked sinners against God.
None, however, match the trop which presents two difficulties:
- Why are the words לַיהוָ֖ה מְאֹֽד separated from the first half of the passuk?
- Why is each of the last 4 words followed by a major separator?
The initial phrase, וְאַנְשֵׁ֣י סְדֹ֔ם, seemingly applies to both pairs of words that follow:
- וְאַנְשֵׁ֣י סְדֹ֔ם רָעִ֖ים וְחַטָּאִ֑ים, as well as
- לַיהוָ֖ה מְאֹֽד וְאַנְשֵׁ֣י סְדֹ֔ם.
In this passuk the midrashic interpretation seems to be reflected in the trop read by applying ְאַנְשֵׁ֣י סְדֹ֔ם as above. The people of Sodom were evil to each other, רָעִ֖ים, engaged in licentious behavior, ְחַטָּאִ֑ים, worshiped idolatry, לַיהוָ֖ה, and murdered, מְאֹֽד, occurring in an early Midrash Tannaim, quoted as well in the Toseftah Shabbat, chapter 7, Lieberman edition.
3) My favorite example of an extraordinary trop.
Consider the encounter of Yaakov with Pharaoh (Berashit 47:7-10), where Pharaoh’s ostensible question about Yaakov’s age evokes a startling response from Yaakov including reference to the numerous travails that he has endured during his life. Why the recitation of his life’s history in response to a simple question about his age? Is this the basis for the Jewish tendency to kvetch? The trop, may suggest a basis for Yaakov’s surprising response.
וַיֹּ֥אמֶר פַּרְעֹ֖ה אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֑ב כַּמָּ֕ה יְמֵ֖י שְׁנֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ
The word כַּמָּ֕ה is separated by a zakeif gadol from the rest of the phrase and is perhaps suggesting that Pharaoh was asking not one, but two 
- כַּמָּ֕ה – “whoa” – what I am I observing?
- יְמֵ֖י שְׁנֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ – how old are you?
to which Yaakov responds, I am not as old as I look, having had an extremely hard life.
 See the interpretation of Ramban, which is almost identical to that described and is consistent with the trop.
4) The runner-up, a close second for favorite trop example:
וַיְהִי֙ מִֽמָּחֳרָ֔ת וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב מֹשֶׁ֖ה לִשְׁפֹּ֣ט אֶת־הָעָ֑ם וַיַּעֲמֹ֤ד הָעָם֙ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִן־הַבֹּ֖קֶר עַד־הָעָֽרֶב׃
Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening.
וַיַּרְא֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֵ֛ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא עֹשֶׂ֖ה לָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מָֽה־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתָּ֤ה עֹשֶׂה֙ לָעָ֔ם מַדּ֗וּעַ אַתָּ֤ה יוֹשֵׁב֙ לְבַדֶּ֔ךָ וְכָל־הָעָ֛ם נִצָּ֥ב עָלֶ֖יךָ מִן־בֹּ֥קֶר עַד־עָֽרֶב׃
But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?”
Two adjacent pesukim with an identical English translation. Note both sentence endings are translated “from morning until evening.” A look at Onkelos will indicate a similar translation. Not so the trop. In the first passuk, the trop places a tipḥa on boker, separating it from ha-erev. Indeed, when first told of Moshe’s day we know when it begins, but we do not know when it ends. Thus, the need to pause after the start awaiting the finish. However, having observed the entire daily process, it is known that the duration is from morning to night, and boker and erev are linked by a merḥa, a connecting trop symbol.
5. The following pesukim were addressed in the 2 papers published in the Lehrhaus.
a) Yehudah’s response to Tamar in Genesis 38:26.
b) Yaacov blessing to Dan praying for deliverance in Genesis 49:18.
c) Two pesukim from Oz Yashir with two different possible interpretations. Exodus 15:4 and 15:10.
d) As noted in the first paper, trop providing only syntax, can not often help decide between even very different semantic alternatives. Exodus 8:9 and Exodus 17:16 are clear examples.
e) Two examples of trop that illustrate its halakhic nature are Exodus 20:20 and Exodus 22:12; the former more conclusively than the first.
f) Related but decidedly different is Exodus 34:5. Halakhically, we follow the trop; I have had occasion to tell a hazan on Yom Kippur that his tefillah followed Onkelos, as opposed to accepted practice, first mention by Avudreham.
6) Does the land flow with milk and honey; I think not. The honey in question is date honey, which flows at best at a snail’s pace. Corresponding the trop separates milk from honey. Onkelos who disagrees translates zavat not as flowing but as producing; thus milk and honey are connected as both are produced.
7) The parshah of Sotah
וְהֶעֱמִ֨יד הַכֹּהֵ֥ן אֶֽת־הָאִשָּׁה֮ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָה֒ וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וְנָתַ֣ן עַל־כַּפֶּ֗יהָ אֵ֚ת מִנְחַ֣ת הַזִּכָּר֔וֹן מִנְחַ֥ת קְנָאֹ֖ת הִ֑וא וּבְיַ֤ד הַכֹּהֵן֙ יִהְי֔וּ מֵ֥י הַמָּרִ֖ים הַמְאָֽרֲרִֽים׃
וְהִשְׁבִּ֨יעַ אֹתָ֜הּ הַכֹּהֵ֗ן וְאָמַ֤ר אֶל־הָֽאִשָּׁה֙ אִם־לֹ֨א שָׁכַ֥ב אִישׁ֙ אֹתָ֔ךְ וְאִם־לֹ֥א
שָׂטִ֛ית טֻמְאָ֖ה תַּ֣חַת אִישֵׁ֑ךְ הִנָּקִ֕י מִמֵּ֛י הַמָּרִ֥ים הַֽמְאָרֲרִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה
וּ֠בָאוּ הַמַּ֨יִם הַמְאָרְרִ֤ים הָאֵ֙לֶּה֙ בְּֽמֵעַ֔יִךְ לַצְבּ֥וֹת בֶּ֖טֶן וְלַנְפִּ֣ל יָרֵ֑ךְ וְאָמְרָ֥ה הָאִשָּׁ֖ה
אָמֵ֥ן ׀ אָמֵֽן
וְ֠כָתַב אֶת־הָאָלֹ֥ת הָאֵ֛לֶּה הַכֹּהֵ֖ן בַּסֵּ֑פֶר וּמָחָ֖ה אֶל־מֵ֥י הַמָּרִֽים׃
וְהִשְׁקָה֙ אֶת־הָ֣אִשָּׁ֔ה אֶת־מֵ֥י הַמָּרִ֖ים הַמְאָֽרֲרִ֑ים וּבָ֥אוּ בָ֛הּ הַמַּ֥יִם הַֽמְאָרֲרִ֖ים לְמָרִֽים׃
The 3 words מֵ֥י הַמָּרִ֖ים הַמְאָֽרֲרִֽים occurs with merkha tipḥa sof passuk as in (5:18) or as מִמֵּ֛י הַמָּרִ֥ים הַֽמְאָרֲרִ֖ים a tevir followed by a merkha tipḥa in (5:19); a significantly different grouping of words dictated by the two sequences of trop. In addition (5:22) omits the word מָּרִֽים completely and (5:24) inverts the word order itself.
In his sefer Ve’yavinu Ba’mikrah, R. Gettinger proposes that the differences result from the circumstances before and after the woman is forced to drink.
Though I agree with R. Gettinger, I believe there is more to unpack. While the trop does not imply a specific semantic interpretation, it is useful to survey those semantic possibilities.
The term marim ostensibly means bitter because of
- the ingredients mentioned, dirt, ink, and parchment (Sifrei),
- the bitter items added (Sotah 20a)
- their bitter effect on a guilty woman, (Rashi, Sifrei),
- their impact on a guilty woman is bitter (Ramban,) though they are not themselves bitter.
The term me’ah’rah’rim may refer to
- their ability to cause a curse to a guilty woman (Onkelos),
- be discerning or shed light. (Psedo Jonathan)
It is the marim in the water in any of its interpretations that are me’ah’rah’rim. Once in process the term mei or mayim implicitly imply waters that have been modified, as in (5:22.)
In general, the term marim can link to either where it was placed, the mayim, or to its impact as being me’ah’rah’rimeach with a corresponding trop.
The final 5 words of (5:24) where the normal order with marim preceding me’ah’rah’rim is reversed should be read as the discerning waters enter with their ability to produce a bitter result.