A well-known Jewish expression tells us that luck is never the whole story of a positive moment or achievement.
Posted in , Mar 2, 2022
If you are familiar with only one Yiddish phrase, it’s likely, “mazel tov,” the exclamation of joyous congratulations offered at milestone moments from weddings to graduations to births to “smaller” achievements like the completion of a large project or success at a recipe that long eluded the chef.
What you might not know, if you’ve ever wished anyone “mazel tov,” is that the literal translation of what you’re saying is not “congratulations.” It’s actually, “good luck.”
Tov in Hebrew and Yiddish means “good.” And mazel (in Yiddish; the word is mazal in Hebrew) has several possible translations, the closest being something like “fortune” or “luck.”
At a time of year when “luck” is on the minds of those who celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, this linguistic treat has something inspiring to tell us. If “mazel tov” means “good luck,” what are we to make of its nearly-ubiquitous usage as “congratulations”?
After all, reaching an achievement, milestone or any accomplishment often has something to do with the good fortune to be in a position to attain a goal and do something worthy of congratulations.
But passive “luck” is never the whole story of an accomplishment. When we see and use the resources available to us, when we persevere beyond what we initially thought possible for ourselves or when we recognize how precious and fragile our achievements are—that recognition is an accomplishment in and of itself.
And it is surely worthy of a full-throated “congratulations.” Lucky us, to have such a crisp, joyful term to celebrate the good things that come our way.
What would you wish yourself “congratulations/good luck” for today?