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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 (58)
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
March 5, 2015
I will rate this a great

Shalom
Lori Lyn Lemieux
NH
January 14, 2015
That was the best answer to a question I've ever read here! Very informative :). Thank you!
Teresa
Florida
August 13, 2014
Mazel Tov
My rebbi explained it this way: "It's kind of like the Hawaiian word 'Aloha.' It can have two meanings, depending upon context. Most of the time, think "A blessing upon you/yours/your house." Other times, well, think "Good Riddance."
Jubal
New Mexico
July 25, 2014
NICE answer! Thank you. :)
Mailani Rivers
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
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