The True Meaning of Mazel Tov
Consider a term that virtually every Jew knows and uses; the term “Mazel Tov.” It is a term that most Jews define as ‘good luck.’ Yet a closer look at the phrase reveals how the language reflects the people and their connection to the natural world. ‘Mazel’ means constellation and ‘Tov’ means good. The phrase is used around instances of happiness: The birth of a child, weddings, Bnai Mitzvoth, a new job, etc. These instances are instances of some type of departure, arrival, or travel. The major travel times for Jews living 2000-3000 years ago were the pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkoth; when Jews took their bikurim (first fruits/offerings) to the Temple in Jerusalem. What time of day did people travel in the Middle East 2000-3000 years ago? To avoid the heat of the day (and enemies and bandits) people traveled at night. What “technology’ did travelers use to travel, to find their way? The stars. The term ‘mazel tov’ reflects a common truth of 2000+ years ago: Good constellations were needed for route finding when traveling
in the dark. When we wish someone a mazel tov today, what we are wishing them is that this event becomes a star that enables them to find their route better, that this event (whatever instigated the mazel tov is yet another constellation in their lives that will guide them to the temple in Jerusalem.