Every week, I am blessed to work with students all across the South as each prepares for his or her Bar or Bat Mitzvah: from Arkansas to South Carolina, from Kentucky to Mississippi… thanks to the modern miracle known as Skype (and other online forums)!
Recently, during a Skype session with a student in Florida, my student noticed something. He pointed out the unique mark above one letter in his Torah portion. It was a trope (cantillation) mark, which had two dots like a colon and a straight vertical line next to it – like so:
“I know it’s not a vowel…” He said. And then: “It looks like an emoticon. It can’t be! Can it, Rabbi?”
For a brief moment, I thought about dismissing this notion, considering it just a crafty tactic of distraction in this particular student’s endless game of procrastination. But then, another thought came to me, and I said: “What?! You mean to tell me that you’ve never heard that Jews created the emoticon, hundreds of years before the advent of the computer?! I mean, think about it. What’s the purpose of emoticons?”
He answered, “To let us know the feelings behind what someone wrote.”
“Precisely, my dear Watson!* And the same could be said of these trope marks, written down in the year 1000 C.E by the Masoretes. They added these marks to God’s words in order for us to know not only how to read Torah, but also how to express the Torah, adding feeling and emphasis to the words.”
In that moment I became the father from My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding. Somehow, I found a rational way to explain how everything can be traced back to Judaism, of note here are emoticons. Yes, indeed, there is a direct line from Torah to our tweets, so that we can be ever mindful that – when it comes to words – what is important isn’t just what we say, but how we say it.
*Pseudonym used to protect student privacy, of course