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Why do we say "Mazel Tov" when something good happens to a person? Doesn't that mean "good luck?" Are we saying that what happened, happened because of luck?

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    Good question! I've wondered about this too. – Isaac Moses Apr 13 '10 at 2:12
  • Both the Nitei Gavriel and R. Shimshon Dovid Pinkus (Shabbos Malkesah p. 74, Tiferes Avos p. 42-46) both assume that this is a prayer or a blessing, not a statement of fact. See there for further discussoin – הנער הזה Sep 23 '16 at 12:32
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    "Oh, you just had a baby? Good luck." – DonielF Apr 6 '17 at 1:25
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"Mazal" stems from the root "nazal," meaning "to flow." The basic meaning of the word, then, is not "luck" but rather "something that causes a flow." (It is therefore applied to the heavenly bodies, which in classical Jewish thought are the conduits designed by G-d to exert certain influences on earthly affairs. This then became conflated with the pagan idea that these bodies are independent powers that cause good or bad "luck" - hence the semantic drift.)

R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in one of his Chassidic discourses (Likkutei Torah, Haazinu 71d), develops the idea that "mazal," as applied to Jews, refers to the soul's higher spiritual root (compare Talmud, Megillah 3a and Sanhedrin 94a). Through this "mazal" the bearer of the corresponding soul receives the Divine energy that powers his or her physical life, and through it also comes the spiritual awakening that one sometimes feels.

In short, then, when we congratulate someone with "mazal tov," we are acknowledging that he or she has received a heightened level of G-dly bounty, channeled through their "mazal." Possibly, too, we are also thereby implying that we hope that this state of affairs will continue, and that their "mazal" will from now on be more attuned to G-d and will thus be a continued source of blessings.

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    the root "nazal," meaning "to flow." - Is that why my nose is referred to as nasal, and my nose runs? – Moshe Oct 12 '10 at 1:35
  • A bit unlikely. "nose" and "nasal" both come from the Latin word for nose, "nasus". – Avi May 9 '12 at 4:17
  • It is a very nice explanation, but it does not hold much water, there are so many times that the word 'Mazal' means star and the 'Siman Tov' that is added to the 'Mazal Tov' sefaria.org/… – eliavs May 16 '16 at 7:30
  • How does this answer the question? Hazra qushya ledukhta: shouldn't we be thanking God, not conduits for human affairs? – mevaqesh Jul 29 '16 at 5:05
  • @eliavs "It is therefore applied to the heavenly bodies which in classical Jewish thought are the conduits designed by G-d to exert certain influences on earthly affairs." Why is it surprising that Mazal means star? Are stars not heavenly bodies used to exert influence on earthly affairs? Is "a good sign" not an appropriate addendum to such a definition? – DonielF May 14 '17 at 13:18
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The full phrase is "siman tov umazal tov yehe lanu ulchol yisrael."

May this good thing be a good, auspicious sign for us and all of Israel. So congratulations to you, good luck to everyone.

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    How exactly does this answer the question? – mevaqesh Oct 9 '16 at 1:07
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Rashi in Shabbos 156a, explaining the meaning of the meaning of the Gemorah "There is no Mazel for [Bnei] Yisroel", says that because we can pray therefore Mazel is not final. This suggests that we are bound by mazel, just that there is no finality to it. My teachers explain this to mean that Mazel in this context is a divine decree, therefore when we say "Mazel Tov" what we are saying is that they should merit a good decree from Hashem.

Therefore, we shouldn't ask why aren't we asking Hashem, because we are.

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Rav Yosef Messas in his Otzar Michtavim(Siman 362) writes a very similar idea that @Alex mentioned. He notes thathat the phrase was מנזל טוב like the word nozal mentioned in @Alex's answer. However ,since it isn't easy to say מנזל it was changed to מזל,like משיב הרוח was supposed to be מנשיב הרוח originally.

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Indeed, Rabbi Yosef Qafih z"l writes the following in a responsum found here:

. שאלה: האם יש להמנע מלברך "מזל טוב" או "שיהיה בשעה טובה"?

תשובה: כן, אבל המון העם לא מתכוון למזל ממש, ולכן אין למחות בו.

Question: Should one avoid wishing "Mazal Tov" or "It should be in a good time"?

Response: Yes. However, most people don't refer to actual astrology, and therefore one should not protest against this. (translation my own).

So yes; we should definitely thank God and not ascribe success (or failure) to the stars.

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Rashi to Shabbos 53b (ד״ה מזליה) says that a person's mazel is his angel that advocates for him in Heaven. Perhaps Mazel Tov means that this angel should be in one's favor.

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