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What Does “Mazel Tov” Mean?

What Does “Mazel Tov” Mean?

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Question:

I always thought Mazel Tov meant “congratulations.” I recently heard that it actually means “good luck.” But I thought Jews don’t believe in luck . . . ?

Answer:

Your confusion is understandable. The Talmud—the ancient encyclopedia of Jewish wisdom—seems to contradict itself on the issue. In one place it states, “On your birthday, your mazel is strong.” Elsewhere the Talmud reports, “The Jewish people are not subject to mazel”!

The word mazel literally means “a drip from above.” Mazel can have different connotations depending on its context, but they are all connected to this basic definition—something trickling down from above.

The signs of the zodiac are called mazalot. Jewish tradition sees the constellations on high as directing the destiny of individuals and nations down below. Thus mazel is the influence dripping down from the stars. (Over the years, bad or good mazel came to mean luck more than destiny.) When the Talmud says that we are not subject to mazel, it means that we are not limited to our destiny; rather our own actions determine our fate.

There is another meaning of the word mazel that is more relevant to the phrase Mazel Tov. Mazel is the term used in Jewish mysticism to describe the root of the soul. The mystics say that only a ray of our soul actually inhabits our body. The main part of the soul, our mazel, remains above, shining down on us from a distance.

Have you ever experienced a sense of spontaneous intuition, where out of the blue you suddenly feel at peace with yourself and the universe? Or a sudden flash of inspiration that makes you see life in a new light? Occasionally we may receive an extra flux of energy from our soul above. It can happen at any time, but is most common at a time of celebration—a birth, birthday, brit, bar/bat mitzvah or wedding. It is especially at these times of joy that we are able to see beyond the mundane and the petty and to sense the deeper truths of life.

When we tell someone Mazel Tov, we are giving them a blessing: May this drip of inspiration from your soul above not dissipate, but rather have a positive and lasting effect, that from this event onwards you should live your life with higher consciousness. You should be aware of the blessings in your life and be ready to receive more and more.

In other words: Good Mazel!

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman.
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Discussion (51)
December 21, 2013
Firstly, I would like to thank Rabbi Moss; I have always wondered about the meaning of this phrase. I've always loved culture & never avoid an opportunity to learn from another culture. I thank you, Rabbi, for using your gift to enlighten others.

As a devout cradle Roman Catholic, I would also like to thank Mr. Fink for his contribution - I roared with laughter!! True contraception keeps a woman from conceiving. My cycle was erratic so I couldn't do the Rhythm Method or "Catholic Contraception", so I had to use Man-made contraception. I don't however, believe in any device or method that murders an already living being with a soul.

The Church must realize, tho, that all women aren't physically capable of using the Rhythm Method; all couples must be responsible about the number of kids they have, tho. That said, if God really wants a couple to have a child, Man won't stop Him; but the Church must realize a couple must be, that God expects them to be, responsible, nonetheless.
Peggy
November 23, 2013
My grandmother G-d bless her, before she passed away suffered from dementia, the only thing she could say, the only thing, we would repeat over and over again.
Mazel dof min hobin, mazel means good luck, when you have a little mazel, you will always have a buck.
barbara
September 15, 2013
Mazel Tov
Mazel- sign, zodiac (astrological); Tov- good. Good Sign.
So then thinking on D'varim/Deuteronomy 18:10, maybe "Simcha!" שִׂמְחָה would be better.
Vicky
August 2, 2013
Mazel Tov
A couple other notions to consider.
First, many Yiddish phrases have fallen into our common vernacular where they tend to take on a life of their own, their meanings evolving, as all living languages do.
Second, to say Jews don't believe in luck is like saying Catholics don't believe in contraception!
Keith Fink
July 10, 2013
thanks
This and other pages - particularly Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe's "Astrology and Kabbalah" lecture gave me such useful insight into my relationship with G-d and the stars. The planets and stars may have a role in determining our character, but keeping the commandments and obeying G-d's promptings puts us on a higher path so we can over come our astrological and natural short comings.
Anonymous
Tallahassee, FL
March 30, 2013
Hi
Mazel (from Manzel = houses), and tov (from twelve).

MAzel Tov is short for : "may the twelve houses (the twelve constellations) be favorable to (whatevere) the occasion is.
Ramin Golbang
Norway
March 11, 2013
Fate / Destiny
Mazel Tov means congratulations on having this good fortune, or good thing that's happened to or for you. As Aristotle pointed out in this world of opposites there's always going to be a little bit of the irrational inevitably included in what is otherwise rational. So that's destiny, the way it is. Fate is what happens to us in the larger context of destiny. To a certain extent we can affect our fate by our actions be they more rational or more irrational. But we can't affect destiny or the way it is, i.e., the context in which we all *are. Everything is history, this moment, this post that's just gone by, etcetera.
Phil
Tempe, AZ
October 26, 2012
If that's what he's saying....
The belief that our actions can change predestined fate (pardon me for being redundant here) makes for a nice theme for a novel. But to be realistic, unless we wish to rewrite Greek tragedy with happier endings, the whole concept of "kismet" or "fate" is idiotic unless we believe in astrology. Our actions and those of others, combined with circumstances and perhaps our genetic makeup, are what matter. If you're rational, you can't have it both ways.
Robert Amsel
Steelton, PA
October 25, 2012
I think he is saying that everbody has A certain date. But through our actions we can change that fate even before it takes its place in time.
Adam Isayev
October 14, 2012
You Are Literal in the Extreme
"Our actions don't 'determine' our history? The way that you are using this in the sentence makes no sense. You can't deterimine history... it's already happened."

When a baby is born, he or she will hopefully grow up to have a history. That history has not happened yet, but either the parents' actions, the baby's actions, or other actions will determine that history or it will be determined by destiny, which is another word for fate.

You're stating that the baby will have it both ways, which is what makes no sense. Which is it? The baby's future history will be determined by actions or by fate?
Robert Amsel
Steelton, PA
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