Cantillation or trope has always mesmerized me. I know of no other religion that has a similar system for chanting sacred texts. For those unfamiliar with the process, there is a set of signs that accompany each word of Torah, Haftorah and other writings. Each of these signs represents a certain musical phrase. In chanting the text, one reads the word according to that melody.
Trope, in addition to beautifying traditional texts, helps to the tell the story contained in the writing. The end of each troupe phrase generally corresponds with the end of an content phrase. There is a trope to represent a comma, period, and end of sentence.
One will also find special trope signs that emphasize a specific word, usually to note an important moment in the story. For example, in the portion Lekh-L’kha, God promises Abraham the land of Canaan, if Abraham is willing journey to a land that God will later reveal. As Abraham leaves the only home he has ever known, his name is sung in an elongated trope, meant to break up the text and notify the listener that this is a crucial detail.
As one studies and leins text, the trope becomes an essential part of telling the story. I mention this today, because tonight is the beginning of Tisha B’av. To commemorate the destruction of the Temple, Jews read the Book of Lamentations or Eicha. The trope perfectly captures the sorrow mood mixed with the eventually hope that God will comfort the Jewish people.
If you haven’t had the opportunity, take a few minutes to listen to Eicha. Even without understanding any of the words, the trope says it all.