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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.
Artwork by Sefira Ross, a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Discussion (65)
May 13, 2016
Mazel Tov
My mother, may she rest in peace, frequently said Mazel Tov. She always felt that any good events in our lives & those of others were a precious gift &'should be acknowledged. I'm keeping that tradition in my family also.
Cheryl
New Jersey
May 12, 2016
Mazel Tov
Thank you so much! Really enjoyed the read as it gave me more beautiful insight and understanding into this expression which I have heard and used throughout my life (but not so much with the awareness of its deeper significance.) Now when I see it, hear it, and use it, it will have even greater meaning!
Anonymous
Dom. Rep.
May 12, 2016
How did we stray so far from Torah?
Tovah
South Africa
May 12, 2016
do you believe in luck, or miracles?
is every thing you see happening luck, or a miracle from HaShem?
yehoshooah adan
denver 80218
May 12, 2016
Thanks for the meaning of the word mazal tov which is a term used for interactions on occasions.It seems it helps spiritually as the wish itself makes one positive and merry.I practice saying peace to you and to strangers and even at times praying as this makes you realise that even smiling and wishing makes everyone happy and in turn you also become happy.These aspects it seems also comes under charity.
sunil subba
India
May 11, 2016
there is more to luck than just what happens to you
there is also the attitude of the recipient to the variation in fortune
ie do you see the glass as half full or half empty
Hypatia
UK
December 23, 2015
Sounds a bit like grace.
Jon Awbrey
Michigan
May 14, 2015
It's expected, from experience, that the administrators of this site won't permit dissenting opinions and theology, nevertheless I'm giving you an opportunity here to delete truth again...It is quite the space cadet who wills to believe that the soul of a person floats in outerspace above, dripping lasting inspirational effects upon them. The soul (mind, will and emotion) doesn't randomly float around in space. Also, intuition is a part of the Spirit (communication, conscience and intuition). God orchestrates everything, and yes, He will communicate with us. Even father Abraham asked He not destroy Sodom and He agreed, had enough been found to make it worthy; yet He still graciously saved his nephew Lot (ultimately God already knew). It's not our actions, as we don't communicate with God by our actions, but our spirit via His Spirit. I feel sorrow now for those who don't accept the truth but time is growing short for this world, which is passing away, and God has been more than patient.
Anonymous
April 16, 2015
I love, love this answer! Beautiful!
Theresa
New Jersey
April 6, 2015
Mazel Tov
While etymologically Hebrew, the phrase is Ashkenazi. Don't know about today but historically, Sephardic Jews, Persianate Jews (Iranian, Mountain, Bukharan), Romaniotes and the various Arab Jewish communities (Iraqi, Syrio-Lebanese, Yemeni, Egyptian Karaite, Maghrebi) never used that phrase.
Anonymous