Frequently Heard Hebrew Phrases

Both physically and psychologically, Israel is a very small country. We all feel connected. I told my class coordinator I would miss a scheduled tour because I was traveling to the US for a family wedding. His reply? “מזל טוב” –Mazal Tov, the Hebrew phrase extending congratulations. When I told the chair of a committee I was sick and couldn’t get to a meeting, she wrote back, “Refuah shlaimah!” transliterating the Hebrew phrase that means “May you have a complete healing.”

We’ve been hearing “Refuah shlaimah” often. My husband just completed radiation treatment for prostate cancer. We went to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem five times a week for a month. At the entrance to Machon Sharett, the

At the entrance to Machon Sharett, the oncology institute at Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem: A Hebrew sign wishes everyone a complete healing
At the entrance to Machon Sharett, Hadassah Medical Center: A Hebrew sign wishes everyone a complete healing

oncology building, a little sign proclaims Refuah Shlaimah. The cab driver wishes us Refuah Shlaimah as we exit his vehicle, and people walking out of the building say it to people walking in. Even the young woman in hijab, who speaks to her mother only in Arabic, says the Hebrew phrase to those still waiting for treatment as she and her mother leave the room.

The connectedness and concern is expressed in other ways as well. A neighbor says to me in the parking lot that he hasn’t seen my husband in a while—is everything all right? When I tell him Allen is having trouble walking because of knee pain, he offers to pick up groceries for me when he goes to the store. I give his wife a short list of items, most of which are too heavy for me to carry. I write it in my most careful Hebrew lettering. My fourth grade Hebrew teacher would be proud of it.

The next afternoon I get a call from him—I requested two bottles of Coke Zero, but it’s on sale. Would I prefer four bottles? We’ll drink four bottles by the end of the summer I answer. He laughs and then asks if I want grape juice for kiddush or grape juice for children. I assume that by “grape juice for children” he means sugary grape drink, and tell him it’s for kiddush.

Later, I answer a knock on the door, and his wife and one of his pre-teen sons bring in three bags of groceries. After putting them on the kitchen counter, she returns my list and credit card.

Tizku l’mitzvot,” I tell them.

May you perform more good deeds

Tizku l’mitzvot is another frequently used phrase. It means “May you merit to do more mitzvot.” Although in its most restrictive sense the Hebrew word mitzvot refers to the 613 commandments given by God, it is often used to mean a good deed. If you lend your phone to a stranger at the bus stop, when he returns it, he’ll say “Tizku l’mitzvot.” The teenagers who go door to door collecting cans of food for poor families, thank you for a contribution with “Tizku l’mitzvot.” The beggars on the street, collecting money for food for Shabbat, sometimes reply to a coin dropped into their hand or cup with “tizku l’mitzvot.”

Brachot are blessings

Some of the collectors on the street respond to a contribution with a bracha, a blessing. The blessings can range from the all-inclusive “May you know no sorrow,” to the specific. “May Hashem heal you from all afflictions” seems to fit most occasions. One man blessed me that my children all marry. I replied, “Thank you, my children are all married.” He quickly changed my bracha to “Your grandchildren. May your grandsons find virtuous brides and may your granddaughters merit good husbands.”

Giving and receiving brachot (blessings) is an almost daily occurrence. Brides and grooms, because of their state of elevated holiness, give individual blessings to guests . The bride blesses her friends that they should soon find their own shidduch (partner) soon. Her married friends receive brachot for healthy children. During our first year in Israel, two brides blessed me that Allen and I should have a rapid and easy absorption into Israeli life.
 
It is also common to ask elderly people for brachot. At a wedding, I saw a line of girls and young women near .a ninety year-old great grandmother waiting for brachot. One friend said that when she was a child, her mother dragged her all over the country to receive blessings. They visited friends’ grandmothers and elderly Rebbetzins.
 
I was with a young woman one day when she asked a 94 year old man for a bracha. He started by blessing her with good health, and that she should find her partner and marry this year. She and I answered, “Amen,” but he wasn’t finished. He continued that she should have many sons and daughters, and raise them in health, to learning, marriage, and good deeds. “Amen,” we said. He went on that she should know no sorrow, and her whole family should prosper with good living, and be preserved from illness, and injury, and bad news, and war, and catastrophe. “Amen!” we exclaimed as he finished.

So tizku l’mitzvot, and may Hashem shower you with only good things.

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