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  • Rabbi Max Davis

Mazal Tov! Yashar Ko’ach! What are we really saying?!

Source sheets for Great Jewish Questions Series

IDS Tower Lobby, Av 5779

Mazal tov! מזל טוב!

A. Melachim (Kings) II 23:5

And he (King Yoshiyah) suppressed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to make offerings at the shrines in the towns of Judah and in the environs of Jerusalem, and those who made offerings to Baal, to the sun and moon and constellations—all the host of heaven.

וְהִשְׁבִּ֣ית אֶת־הַכְּמָרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָֽתְנוּ֙ מַלְכֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה וַיְקַטֵּ֤ר בַּבָּמוֹת֙ בְּעָרֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה וּמְסִבֵּ֖י יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וְאֶת־הַֽמְקַטְּרִ֣ים לַבַּ֗עַל לַשֶּׁ֤מֶשׁ וְלַיָּרֵ֙חַ֙ וְלַמַּזָּל֔וֹת וּלְכֹ֖ל צְבָ֥א הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃

B. Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 156a-b

Rabbi Ḥanina said to (his students): Go tell the son of Leiva’i: It is not the constellation of the weekday that determines (one’s nature,) rather, the constellation of the hour determines. One (born under the influence of the sun) will be a radiant person; he will eat from his own resources and drink from his own resources, and his secrets will be exposed. If he steals he will not succeed.

One born under the influence of Venus will be a rich and promiscuous person. What is the reason for this? Because fire was born during the hour of Venus. [He will be subject the fire of the evil inclination, which burns perpetually…] One born under the influence of Mars will be one who spills blood. Rav Ashi said: He will be either a blood letter, or a thief, or a slaughterer of animals, or a mohel. Rabba said: I was born under Mars (and I do not perform those activities.) Abaye replied: My Master also punishes and executes (as a judge.)

It was stated that Rabbi Ḥanina says: A constellation makes one wise and a constellation makes one wealthy, and there is a constellation for the Jewish people that influences them.

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: There is no constellation for the Jewish people that influences them. The Jewish people are not subject to the influence of astrology. And Rabbi Yoḥanan follows his own reasoning, as Rabbi Yoḥanan said: From where is it derived that there is no constellation for the Jewish people? As it is stated: “Thus said Hashem: Learn not the way of the nations, and do not despair at the signs of heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them” (Jer. 10:2). The nations will be dismayed by them, but not the Jewish people.

And even Rav explained that there is no mazal for the Jewish people, for R. Yehuda said in the name of Rav: From where do we know that there is no mazal for the Jewish people? As (the Torah) states: “And (Hashem) brought (Avraham) outside”…

(Abraham) said before Hashem: Master of the Universe, I looked at my astrological (situation), and I am not destined to have a son. (Hashem) replied to him: Emerge from your astrology, for there is no constellation for Israel. What is your thinking?

Is it because Jupiter is situated in the west (that you cannot have children?!) I will restore it and establish it in the east.

אמר להו רבי חנינא פוקו אמרו ליה לבר ליואי לא מזל יום גורם אלא מזל שעה גורם. האי מאן דבחמה יהי גבר זיותן יהי אכיל מדיליה ושתי מדיליה ורזוהי גליין אם גניב לא מצלח. האי מאן דבכוכב נוגה יהי גבר עתיר וזנאי יהי מאי טעמא משום דאיתיליד ביה נורא...

האי מאן דבמאדים יהי גבר אשיד דמא אמר רב אשי אי אומנא אי גנבא אי טבחא אי מוהלא.

אמר רבה: אנא במאדים הואי!

אמר אביי: מר נמי עניש וקטיל.

איתמר רבי חנינא אומר מזל מחכים מזל מעשיר ויש מזל לישראל

רבי יוחנן אמר אין מזל לישראל ואזדא רבי יוחנן לטעמיה דאמר רבי יוחנן מניין שאין מזל לישראל? שנאמר: "כה אמר ה׳ אל דרך הגוים אל תלמדו ומאותות השמים אל תחתו" כי יחתו הגוים מהמה הם יחתו ולא ישראל

ואף רב סבר אין מזל לישראל דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב מניין שאין מזל לישראל שנאמר ויוצא אותו החוצה...

אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם נסתכלתי באיצטגנינות שלי ואיני ראוי להוליד בן אמר ליה צא מאיצטגנינות שלך שאין מזל לישראל. מאי דעתיך? דקאי צדק במערב?! מהדרנא ומוקמינא ליה במזרח והיינו דכתיב מי העיר ממזרח צדק יקראהו לרגלו

C. Zohar III 215b

תָּא חֲזֵי, כָּל בִּרְיָין דְּעָלְמָא, קוֹדֶם דְּאִתְיְיהִיבַת אוֹרַיְיתָא לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, הֲווֹ תַּלְיָין בְּמַזָּלָא, וַאֲפִילּוּ בְּנֵי חַיִּי וּמְזוֹנֵי.

D. Rabbi Moshe Miller’s translation & commentary on the Zohar

"Mazal" does not mean "luck", as is usually understood. Rather it refers to the sefira of keter from which divine energy flows forth (in Hebrew, "nozel", directly related to the word "mazal") to the other sefirot, and ultimately to the physical world. The practical implications of this outflow can be foretold using the science of astrology (as known to the Sages), which examines the position of the heavenly constellations (mazalot) at the time of a person's birth.

E. Ein Mazal L’Yisrael, Rabbi Heshel Shachter (Rosh Yeshiva Yeshiva University)

The entire existence of the Jewish people from its very outset was not natural. According to tradition, the avos and imahos were akorim; b'derech hateva none of us should exist. This is the simple meaning of the Talmudic statement (Shabbos 156), "ein mazal l'Yisroel." According to the Ramban, "mazel" is a reference to the natural rules of history. Jewish history is not subject to any of those rules. In Yaakov's fight with the malach, the malach succeeded in injuring Yaakov's leg, but Yaakov won the fight. The malach represents the laws of nature (as the Talmud tells us that every blade of grass has a malach causing it to grow) and Yaakov's victory over the malach represents the principle that Klal Yisroel is l'ma'alah min hateva.

F. Rabbi Aaron Moss (

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.

“Yashar Ko’ach!”

G. Shemot (Exodus) 34:1

Hashem said to Moshe: Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered.

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה" אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה פְּסָל־לְךָ֛ שְׁנֵֽי־לֻחֹ֥ת אֲבָנִ֖ים כָּרִאשֹׁנִ֑ים וְכָתַבְתִּי֙ עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֔ת אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר הָי֛וּ עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֥ת הָרִאשֹׁנִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר שִׁבַּֽרְתָּ׃

H. Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 87a

He broke the tablets. What source did he interpret (that led him to do so?) Moses said: If with regards to the Pesach offering, (which is merely) one of the 613 mitzvot in Torah, the Torah instructs “no alien shall eat of it,” all the more so (they are not worthy of receiving the Torah.)

And from where do we derive that the Holy One, Blessed be Hashem, agreed with his reasoning? As it is stated: “The first tablets which you broke [asher shibarta]” and Reish Lakish said: The word asher is an allusion to the phrase: May your strength be true [yishar koḥakha] due to the fact that you broke the tablets.

שבר את הלוחות מאי דריש? אמר: ומה פסח שהוא אחד מתריג מצות אמרה תורה וכל בן נכר לא יאכל בו, התורה כולה [כאן] וישראל משומדים על אחת כמה וכמה. ומנלן דהסכים הקב"ה על ידו? שנאמר: אשר שברת. ואמר ריש לקיש: יישר כחך ששברת!

J. Talmud Bavli, Berachot 42b

Rabba bar Mari visited the house of Rava during the week. He saw him recite a blessing over wine before the meal, and again recite a blessing on the wine after the meal. He said to him: Yishar! (Well done!) And so too said Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.

רבה בר מרי איקלע לבי רבא בחול חזייה דבריך לפני המזון והדר בריך לאחר המזון אמר ליה יישר וכן אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי

K. Hebrew Language Academy entry: יִשַּׁר כּוֹחַ

The accepted use of the verb יישר in this combination derives from the root Y-Sh-R (future tense, kal conjugation)... [implying straightness] However, linguist Ze'ev Ben-Chaim explains that it derives from the Aramaic root Sh-R-R, which is about strength like sharir v’kayam…Therefore there is a dagesh in the letter shin יִשַּׁר

הניתוח המקובל של הפועל '' בצירוף זה הוא מן השורש יש"ר בבניין קל עתיד...ואולם חוקר הלשון זאב בן־חיים סבר שמדובר בפועל ארמי מן השורש שר"ר, שעניינו חוזק (כמו שריר וקיים)...ניקודה אפוא בדגש בשי"ן: יִשַּׁר.

L. Message from a professor of classical and near eastern studies

...With regard to the (originally not) Hebrew word מזל I'm sure you know that it is a borrowing that only appears once in the Bible. It is a borrowing from an Akkadian word that goes back to the verb uzuzzu. If you're curious, I'd be happy to explain how in the world you get mazzal out of uzuzzu.

The Akkadian verb uzuzzu has a basic meaning of to stand, to to take a position. One of its many other meanings is to appear (used of a celestial body or a deity). One of the derived nouns (from the "בנין נפעל") pattern is manzaztu. You can ignore the final vowel "u" it is a case ending that indicates that the noun is being used a a subject and not an object. By the way, Hebrew used to have case ending too but in the course of its evolution it dropped them.

Here is where it gets a bit complicated . . .

The nun of manzaztu assimilates to the following zayin yielding mazzaztu (hence the dagesh in מזל and the zayin in front of the "t" becomes "L". By the way that is the reason that אור כשדים is known as Ur of the Chaldees.

So מזל is "a good position of a star" and thus good fortune or luck. The opposite of "Good fortune" is "disastre" and I deliberately spelled disaster that way to emphasize the connection with stars. Akkadian is the general name for the Assyrian and Babylonian languages.

Honorifics for the dead in Judaism – Wikipedia



זכרונו לברכה zikhrono livrakha

זכרונה לברכה zikhronah livrakha

of blessed memory; or may his/her memory be a blessing

rabbinical or non-rabbinical figure

David Randomberg Z"L or David Randomberg ז״ל or Rabbi David Randomberg Z"L or Rabbi David Randomberg ז״ל



עליו השלום alav ha-shalom

עליה השלום aleha ha-shalom

may peace be upon him/her

non-rabbinical or biblical figure

Albert Peretz A"H or Albert Peretz ע״ה or Avraham Avinu A"H or Avraham Avinu ע"ה

ZT"L or ZTz"L


זכר צדיק לברכה zekher tzadik livrakha

may the memory of the righteous be a blessing

a holy or a righteous person

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZT"L or Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZTz"L or Rabbi Moshe Feinstein זצ״ל



זכר צדיק וקדוש לברכה zekher tzadik v'kadosh livrakha

may the memory of the righteous and holy be a blessing

righteous and holy person, not necessarily a martyr

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Bloch ZTVK"L or Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Bloch זצוק״ל



זכר צדיק וקדוש לברכה לחיי העולם הבא zekher tzadik v'kadosh livrakha, l'chayei ha'olam ha-ba

may the memory of the righteous and holy be a blessing for the life of the world to come

outstandingly holy person

Rabbenu Tzadok Hacohen (may the memory of the righteous and holy be a blessing for the life of the world to come) or Rabbenu Tzadok Hacohen זצוקללה״ה



זכותו יגן עלינו zechuso yagen aleinu

may his memory be a shield unto us

outstandingly holy person

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneersohn ZI"A or Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneersohn זי"ע



השם יקום דמו Hashemyikkom damo

השם יקום דמה Hashem yikkom dama

May Hashem avenge his / her blood

Martyred Jews or Jews killed by anti-Semites

Hana "Hanička" Bradyová HY"D or Hana "Hanička" Bradyová הי״ד

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