Hebrew Word: Mazal Tov

Posted by on Feb 5, 2024

The word mazal is often translated as “luck” or “fortune” as in the phrase מזל טוב mazal tov or mazel tov with the meaning of “good luck” or “good fortune”. As such, mazal tov is similar in usage to the word “Congratulations!” According to this translation, the phrase mazal tov or mazel tov is seen as good luck, something that happens by chance. But is this the intention of the phrase? For there is no such a thing as good or bad luck in the Hebrew Scripture, for there is no Hebrew word for luck. Nothing happens by accident or coincidence. The literal translation of the word mazal means a constellation of stars, also planets. This word appears in the Hebrew Scripture as מַזָּלָה mazzalah, which means a constellation, as it is found only in 2Ki 23:5, and only in the plural: Mazzalot. The word mazallah comes from the primitive root נָזַל nazal, which means to drip, trickle, flow, or pour down. The idea of mazzalah perhaps is that a constellation flows slowly in a circular motion on the night sky. A related word to mazzalah is מַזָּרָה mazzarah, which also means a constellation and appears in the Scripture only in Job 38:32 in its plural form, Mazzorot, as a collective term for the zodiac. We read,

Do you bring out the constellations in its season? Or do you lead the Bear (the constellation “Bear”) with its sons? (Job 38:32)

Therefore, mazal tov or mazel tov literally means “good constellation”. What does it mean?

At the fork of the road, Mazal Tov!

At the fork of the road, Mazal Tov!

The universe has a strict order. Since there is no luck in the Scripture, the Hebrew word mazal implies fate or predetermination, thus alluding to the idea that the creation of the stars and constellations were first decreed in heaven and then created to be visible from the earth. The other idea that the word mazal alludes to is that as a constellation follows a predetermined path on the heavenly canvas, so does fate follow a predetermined path on the earth. Interestingly, mazal is a derivative of another Hebrew word nozal, which means a downward flow. It comes from the idea that the stars rise and set in the night sky, as we explained above.

“Fate” is decreed “above”, but “destiny” is determined by humans’ actions “below”. The concept of mazal is the active mediation between these two boundaries, the manner in which what is decreed above in the heavens is brought down on earth in the form of blessings or its opposite: curses. The expression mazal tov, therefore, is not an expression of one’s good luck. Rather, it expresses the will of the Eternal that what is stored up in heaven for mankind should materialize on earth. Based on the above, the Hebrew mazal is not something to be passively received (like “good luck” is) but something that is proactively achieved through our efforts. When we say mazal tov, therefore, it is not an expression of random development beyond our control. Instead, it is our goal that what has been written in heaven for us, comes down upon us as blessings here on earth.

With that being said, how does the Hebrew mazal happen to refer to constellations?

Between the Lamb and the Kid Goat

Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, generally known by the name of his work, “Chatam Sofer”, explains why a lamb or a kid goat were chosen as the Passover slaughter in Egypt. He points out that both Lamb and Kid are constellations of the zodiac created by the Eternal. In the pagan astrology, they are known as Aries and Capricorn, but their Hebrew names are Taleh and Gedi—the Lamb and the Kid Goat.

There are twelve constellations, envisioned as a ring circling the earth every 24 hours with a slight lag. Due to this lag, each month the sun travels across the sky in another constellation of the zodiac. In Hebrew, these constellations are called mazzalot plural of mazzalah. Here is how they line up on the night sky:

Hebrew Name


Jewish Month


1 Taleh 




2 Shor   




3 Te’omim 




4 Sartan




5 Aryeh  




6 Betulah




7 Moznaim




8 Akrav




9 Keshet 




10 Gedi 

Kid Goat 



11 D’li




12 Dagim 




In the month of the Aviv, the month in which Passover occurs, the sun travels within Mazal Taleh, that is Constellation Lamb. That means that the Constellation Lamb would be in the midst of rising over the horizon at dawn (6 o’clock). At 8, Shor, Constellation Bull, rises, and at 10, it is time for Te’omim, the Twins. By midnight, Kid Goat rises. When a constellation is on the rise, it is considered to be dominant.

The Exodus from Egypt was triggered by the plague of the firstborn Egyptians. This happened at midnight, as Mazzalah Gedi, “Kid Goat”, was rising. Pharaoh immediately ran to release the Israelites, but they did not actually start to leave Egypt until the morning, as Mazzalah Taleh, “Lamb”, was rising, that is about 6 o’clock. At that time, the firstborn died of the plague from which they had been suffering all night: between the Goat and the Lamb. Therefore, Israel left Egypt on the morrow of the fifteenth day of the first month early in the morning. However, Deu 16:1 states that Elohim brought them out of Egypt by night. How could that be? Since during the night Pharaoh gave them permission to leave, as it is said, ‘Rise up, go out from among my people…’ (Exo 12:31), therefore, here it says by night because the permission to leave was given by night, when Kid Goat was rising, but the actual escape occurred in the morning, when Lamb was dominant. Thus, the Israelites had the choice either to leave Egypt and go to the mountain of the Eternal to receive the Covenant or stay in slavery; many chose to stay.

Predestination (fate) vs Free Will (destiny) paradox

How does this explain mazal tov?

The terms “fate” and “destiny” can easily become confused because both of these terms deal with the future, and in casual conversations they are used interchangeably. Yet, they are different. While fate is determined by outside forces beyond human control, destiny involves choices. Fate is the preordained path of life despite the choices one makes. In modern languages, it came from the Latin, fatum, meaning “what has been spoken”, thus it is outside of our control.

However, unlike fate, one can shape destiny with the choices he/she makes. Because destiny is an event (or a course of events) that will inevitably happen in the future. It comes from the Latin destinare, which means what is intended, hence the term “destination”: the ultimate goal for which efforts have been made. Therefore, the changes that one makes affects life. Another difference between fate and destiny is that destiny is not something that has already been determined, because one has the choice to change by choosing differently. To make destiny is like walking a path and coming at the fork of the road. The choice one makes changes his path. If he chooses to take the left path, the path that leads away from the Eternal, he will encounter all sins and predicaments that comes with this choice. But if he takes the right path, his fate will be according to the promise of eternal life. Hence, we see that our predetermined path is based upon the choices we make and not upon forced reality, much less upon “good luck”.

Yet, the religion created a paradox: Predestination (fate) vs Free Will (destiny); a paradox created by men. It is created by the protestant theologians who say that from the very same clay the Creator created two pots, one had already been predestined for honor and the other for dishonor. What it means is that, according to them, God had predetermined some to go to heaven and others to hell before they were even born. How can God want salvation for all, if He had already predestined some to hell? Or, if others are predestined to heaven, where is their free will? This cannot be!

The Creator makes His plans for us according to our choices. If a person chooses to act in a certain manner, according to his own will, then the plan in heaven for his choices is determined to materialize around his will. In other words, when one makes a choice, His plan works for this particular choice. If he makes other choice, then his fate will be different.

The most prominent example of free will is in the Torah. Mosheh advised the people thus,

I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day. I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, so that you may live, both you and your seed. (Deu 30:19)

Mosheh says that even though we have free choice, which is a gift given from above, nevertheless, he instructs us to choose the right path. Regarding this, the psalm says, “The Lord is my allotted portion and my cup. You guide my lot” (Psa 16:5). The last clause, literally means “You uphold my lot.” That is to say: “You guide my hand upon the good destiny, saying, ‘Take this lot for yourself!’

The sole object, therefore, of all the difficulties we go through our lives is to teach us that the actual trials that befall us as we approach the fork of the road is a way to guide us to make the right choice. We need to make that choice; Elohim will not make the choice for us. There are many examples in the Scripture to support this. The choice will not be forced upon us against our will, nor are we programmed to make that choice. Yet this all develops within the framework of predetermination; it has been predetermined that the world will exist 6,000 years, and then the Kingdom of Elohim; this is fate. But within this framework we choose our path, our destiny. Mazal tov is our constant choice between doing good or bad.

Thus, fate and destiny are words dealing with a predetermined and destined future, respectively. That is why they are so easily confused. While fate is concrete and determined future in heaven, destiny depends on the choices we make in life. And studying Hebrew language comes to help.

Suggested reading: Predestination vs Free Will Paradox – Time of Reckoning Ministry.

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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!


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