In the printed Chumashim, sometimes above and sometimes beneath the words, there are cantillation signs known as trop or ta’amei haneginah. When the Ba’al KorehTorah reader — reads the weekly reading in public, he sings it according to these notes.

Some date these notes back to Moshe Rabbeinu, and at one time in history, some of the details were forgotten by much of the Jewish community. Ezra the Scribe reintroduced them again after the return from the Babylonian exile.

They function as a means for avoiding run-on sentences, and many times help in the interpretation and clarify the meaning of words, phrases, and also grammatical issues.

Some trop symbols appear frequently, while others are rarely used. The trop known as shalshelet, which means a chain and which appears in the form of a chain above the word, is found only four times in the Torah. Three occur in Bereishit and one in Vayikra. The third of the three in Bereishit appears in Vayeishev on the word “vayema’ein” — “he adamantly refused” (39:8).

The wife of Yosef’s master Potiphar attempted to seduce him to commit an immoral act. The cantillation of shalshelet on the word suggests that she was firmly refused, that his refusal was absolute and definitive. The shalshelet is a chain, and chains have a number of links, indicating that there were a number of reasons for his reaction, and the realization that he wanted to remain “chained” and united with his father and not, G‑d forbid, detached.

The message of vayema’ein with a shalshelet is the following:

When Yosef came home, Potifar’s wife tried to persuade him to violate the Torah. Before his eyes was the image of his father warning to him, “If you commit a sin your name will not be mentioned on the choshen — breastplate — worn by the Kohen Gadol (Sotah 36b).” So he flatly rejected her advances.

The cantillation of shalshelet indicates that the word should be sounded with a three-tiered tremolo tone. Accordingly, the word "וימאן" is an acronym for the three reasons Yosef turned down Potifar’s wife:

"וַיַרְא יוֹסֵף מַרְאֶה אָבִיו נֶגְדוֹ" — “Yosef saw his father’s image in front of him.”

"וַיֹאמֶר יַעַקֹב מֵחֹשֶׁן אַתָּה נִמְחָק" — “Yaakov said, ‘Your name will be omitted from the breastplate.’ ”

"וַיִרָא יוֹסֵף מִטַמֵא אֶת נַפְשׁוֹ" — “Yosef was afraid he might defile his soul.”

Rashi (39:11) writes that he ran out of the house because “nir’eh lo demot deyukno shel aviv” — “the image of his father appeared to him.” Superficially, in lieu of nir’eh — it appeared to him, it should have said “ra’ah” — “he saw.”

In the writings of my father, Harav Hagaon Shmuel Pesach z”l Bogomilsky, he offers another interpretation to these words.

“Nir’eh lo demut deyukno shel aviv” — is that “es iz im gefelen gevaren” — “he took a liking to” — “the image of his father” — (as in Gemara Ketubot 109a “ro’eh ani divrei Admon” — “I see/like the words/opinion of Admon”) and came to the realization that a Jew’s appearance should resemble that of Yaakov. Contrary to his attempts to modernize himself (see Rashi 37:1), Yosef now realized that the better way for a Jew is to emulate the lifestyle of Yaakov, which will protect from assimilating in a society which is alien to the Torah way of life.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the story of Yosef’s encounter is the common phenomenon of every Jew’s with his Yeitzer Hara. The wicked Yeitzer Hara will attempt to convince you that his way is the right way, and the widely accepted way. He will do it cunningly and stealthily. He is a master in his craft. We pray that you will have Yosef’s strength and conviction to vayama’ein — tell him adamantly, “I like the ways of Yaakov Avinu: I want to be chained to him and attached to his lifestyle.”

By emulating the approach of Yosef Hatzaddik you will merit that just as Yosef was blessed with hatzlachah — success (39:23), Hashem will bless you too, to be an ish matzliach — a successful person — begashmiyut uberuchniyut — materially and spiritually.


When Yosef served as a slave for a year at the home of Potiphar, his wife slandered him that he allegedly committed an immoral act with her, for which he was incarcerated.

In prison he met Pharoah’s butler and baker, who were distressed about a dream they had dreamt, and Yosef ended up being the interpreter. He told the butler that he would be returned to his position and told the baker that he would be killed. The Torah indeed attests that “the butler was returned to his position and the baker was killed in accordance with Yosef’s interpretation” (40:22-23).

What clue in their dreams led Yosef to this interpretation?

Yosef carefully studied their words. The butler said, “The cup of Pharaoh was in my hand; I took the grapes; I squeezed them; I placed the cup on Pharaoh’s palm” (40:11). Yosef saw that the butler dreamt about doing things. Since one can only do things if he is alive, Yosef saw in his dream a sign of life.

The baker told Yosef, “On my head were baskets full of baked goods and a bird was eating from the baskets.” The dream was lacking human activity. He did not say who baked the goods, who put the baskets on his head, nor did he do anything to chase the bird away. Moreover, a bird is usually afraid of a person and will not come near food that a person holds.

Yosef said to the baker, “You were carrying a basket of baked goods and a bird was eating from them. Obviously, the bird did not consider you to be alive. Consequently, your dream indicates that Pharaoh will soon put you to death.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, undoubtedly you were looking forward to your Bar Mitzvah with much excitement and enthusiasm. You were dreaming about how you will become the Chassid, yirei Shamayim G‑d fearing Jew — and lamdan — Torah scholar the Rebbe gave you a berachah to be. Well, let me tell you something: Dreaming will get you nowhere. Action is the key to your success.

Someone once said that dreamers are available for a dime a dozen, but doers are priceless.

We hope that in the coming years you do not dream, but do all that is necessary to become a Chassid, yirei Shamayim and lamdan. Much hatzlachah on this great mission.