When Michal Oshman, an executive at Tik Tok UK, was just 18 years old, she hugged her parents goodbye and boarded a bus for the Israeli army. She had been chosen for Air Force intelligence, an elite unit. It offered many perks, such as nicer living quarters, better food, and, of course, many handsome pilots. All she had to do was get through a few weeks of basic training, and she was in.
In her book What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid, Michal relates how she had to transition from young girl to soldier overnight. The unit slept in tents, endured intense weather conditions, and had to quickly learn how to use and clean a weapon. They were exhausted emotionally and physically.
Every morning, their living quarters had to be spotless by 7:00 a.m. If the commanding officer determined that the room and bathroom were not up to standard, no one was allowed to go home for a visit, something they all looked forward to while enduring the challenges of basic training.
One morning, a toilet was backed up, making it impossible to clean the bunk. Each girl adamantly refused to clean the toilet. Minutes were ticking away, and inspection time was fast approaching.
Hope of going home slipped away as the girls bickered and pointed fingers. Michal realized no one was going to do it. Without thinking, she walked into the bathroom and pulled out the offensive blockage.
Everyone clapped and cheered. “Hooray! Now we can go home!”
She turned to toss the filth into the garbage and found herself face to face with her commanding officer. Michal shrunk in fear, assuming she would be reprimanded. Instead, the officer smiled and said, “Yup, you’re one of us.”
Michal was promoted to commanding officer that day.
The army had noticed Michal’s humility and willingness to step up. She had proven herself to be an asset to the leadership team. She began training new recruits, although she was barely older than those soldiers.
Imagine a movie about Michal Oshman’s life. Background music would indicate to the viewer when something major was taking place. Music helps build suspense and can foreshadow change and climax.
In synagogue, we use a tune to carry the words of the Torah reading, called the truppe. This “music” sometimes indicates what is about to happen. There is a truppe called shalshelet, which represents a climactic moment, one where an existential crisis is about to take place. When this long tune is used, the “protagonist” is faced with a dilemma of whether or not they will step up to do the right thing.
Michal had no idea that cleaning toilet blockage would lead to a major life change. She simply did what she felt was right in the moment. So too, the individuals in the Tanach didn’t realize the ramifications of their decisions, or that they would be written about in the Torah.
Because of the Torah’s rich storyline, one might assume there are many shalshelaot throughout. However, they are utilized only four times in the Chumash. It takes place in the stories of Lot, (Bereshit 19:17), Eliezer (Bereshit 24:12), Yosef (Bereshit 39:8), and Moshe (Vayikra 8:238).
Some of these shalshelaot don’t really seem like big moments until we look deeper.
For example, the shalshelet occurs when Eliezer is assisting Avraham.
Avraham asks Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak. Earlier on in the story, Avraham states, “If I am childless, who is going to inherit from me? Eliezer, my servant?” He sends Eliezer on the errand that will preserve his legacy through children of Yitzchak.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that Eliezer thought, “Wait a minute, if I don’t succeed, I’ll most likely receive the inheritance. If I do in fact find Yitzchak a wife, my chances at the inheritance will disappear. But I also have loyalty to Avraham… ” The decision to choose chesed over his own advancement merited the use of a shalshelet and a story worthy of being read by future generations.
Although Michal’s example is more graphic, it conveys a similar message. Like her teammates, Michal could have remained self-absorbed, and refuse to do something beneath her. Instead, she chose to step up. She took one for the team and became elevated.
So too, Eliezer didn’t decide based on what was right for him; he chose based on what was right for his team and remained loyal to something greater than himself.
This is what constitutes greatness – when one can humble oneself to do whatever it takes for the greater good.
Now we must ask ourselves, are we able to do the same?
Our lives are filled with shalshelet moments – times we may not realize will have a big impact on our future. We too are being watched over by HaKadosh Baruch Hu. May we all listen to the inner calling of our own truppe shalshelet and make the proper choices at those pivotal moments.
Her new book Is it Ever Enough? by Feldheim will be released soon.