If anyone had told me that a gaggle of young kids, at a Christian Vacation Bible School in Leelanau county, would leave the story telling tent shouting “mazal tov!”, I would have thought she or he was crazy, but that is how my day at the Suttons Bay Vacation Bible School (VBS) ended earlier in the week.
Some months back my colleague Rev. Robin Long asked me if I would participate in in VBS and I agreed. Growing up Jewish metro Detroit, I had never heard of VBS but I figured this would be a great adventure for me and for the kids.
By the time the day rolled around, I was cranky. I have been overworking, and I was exhausted, so when it came time to show up for five hours of teaching, I was already spent. But then as one after another, six groups of 15 to 18 kids, aged from kindergarten to 6th grade, trouped into the story telling tent, things began to pick up.
The theme of the VBS was bible super heroes. How wonderful that the day was devoted to the book of Ruth — a favorite book of Hebrew Bible. Rev. Robin asked me to talk about Jewish weddings, so I told the story of Ruth and her later-in-life love Boaz. I love this story for many reasons: Ruth’s life has been so hard, and in the end it is redeemed through love. As someone who has suffered loss and found true love later in life, I appreciate the marriage of Ruth and Boaz as a redemption story.
Also, much to the amazement of the VBS kids, it is Ruth who first pursues Boaz, not the other way around. A powerful biblical woman!
So I decided we would reenact a Jewish wedding with Ruth and Boaz as bride and groom. We had all the trimmings: fabulous tin-foil wedding rings, plastic kiddush cups (the special cup used for sacred wine blessing), even a fake beard for the grandfather of the bride. The kids were great in their roles.
At the end when Ruth and Boaz were married, Boaz stomped on the glass as is our custom. There are many explanations for why we break a glass at the end of a Jewish wedding, but here is the one I like best. Like the glass, the world can sometimes feel shattered, broken, even irreparable, but once the glass is broken only two things happen at a wedding: the couple kisses and everyone wishes them and each other “mazal tov,” or “good luck.” So the broken glass reminds us that even though the world can feel fragile and broken, true love and the love of family and friends can always return us to oneness.
In the Jewish tradition, at the times of our greatest celebrations, we heartily wish each "mazal tov," usually translated as "good luck." When the glass is broken at a wedding ceremony, when the bat or bar mitzvah completes the coming of age celebration, when a new birth is announced — these are the moments we want to wish each other the greatest happiness.
The time honored phrase "mazal tov" evokes not only the feeling of the moment, but recalls, especially among Ashkenazi Jews, the homey world of our beloved bubehs and zaydehs (grandmothers and grandfathers). Our hearts are warmed, like with sweet wine.
The phrase is often translated as meaning a good constellation (literally a mazal) — May everything in the universe and the song of the spheres align for goodness at this moment of celebration — a moment, writes Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, when a person's root (mazal) shines with "special brilliance."
But the phrase "mazal tov" has deeper meaning as well. The term mazal comes from the root nazal, meaning to flow (not to be confused with nasal flow). In other words, when we intone a hearty Mazal Tov, we are opening to and inviting a flow of tov upon the person or persons we honor. We might think here too of the word baruch, translated as blessed, but which also comes from a root meaning fountain, pool or flow. While a mazal tov is not a formal bracha (blessing), there is an energetic connection between this wish and channeling blessing.
So whether we simply wish to give a simple "congratulations," or we wish to invoke cosmic worlds of association, mazal tov calls in the energy of blessing to those who utter and those who hear.
So wasn’t it amazing as the kids filed out of VBS to hear them shouting mazal tov to me and mazal tov to each other! It was humorous but also quite touching; in our community, we work to meet each other in places of blessing and celebration, and we have open-minded leaders who invite people from other traditions to teach their children.
So let me just say a hearty “Mazal Tov” to the Suttons Bay Vacation Bible School, its leaders and teachers. That day the storytelling tent became a real tent of meeting, the name given in Hebrew to the tabernacle of the wilderness in the Hebrew Bible.
Mazal tov, kids!