Word of the Day Levarekh לברך

Though Americans are wary of referencing religion in daily speech, the phrase 'bless you' slips under the radar. The Hebrew word for blessing is similarly welcome, and widely used, in the public sphere.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Pope Benedict XVI offers a benediction at the Vatican. The Hebrew word for 'to bless' has many daily uses, many of which have nothing to do with religion.
Pope Benedict XVI offers a benediction at the Vatican. The Hebrew word for 'to bless' has many daily uses, many of which have nothing to do with religion.Credit: AP
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

A blessing in Hebrew is a brakha, but the infinitive form, “levarekh,” means more than “to bless.”

Much like “mabruk,” the Arabic word that comes from the root for “blessing” and means “congratulations,” “levarekh” can also, depending on the context, convey congratulations as well as good wishes or greetings and a sense of welcome.

The same word, therefore, is used to explain which Hebrew blessing to recite over bread (“mevarkhim Hamotzi”) or to say, as is de rigueur for public statements issued after a court hands down a ruling, that a given organization welcomes a decision (“mevarkhim et hahahlata”).

But while “blessing” a decision means welcoming it, applying the same word to the decision-maker carries the sense of congratulations, as in the statement earlier this month by Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz (who is also a former Israel Defense Forces chief and defense minister) that he “mevarekh” the prime minister and defense minister for their decision to resume assassinating terror leaders.

“Levarekh” makes a frequent appearance on birthdays, anniversaries, bar and bat mitzvahs and holidays as well. In this context, the word can mean “to congratulate” or “to wish,” as in wishing someone a happy new year (“levarekh shana tova”). Along the same lines, greeting cards are called “kartisei brakha,” meaning they’re cards filled with good wishes.

This variety of meanings is also reflected in the English to some extent. Merriam-Webster offers “blessed” as a synonym for “welcome.” But while many non-evangelical Americans object to the interpolation of “blessed” into phrases like “Have a blessed day” because they view it as having a religious connotation, in Hebrew “brakha” and its related words are an integral part of the language -- more in line with how "bless you" for a sneeze in English goes pretty much unnoticed. In Hebrew, too, these blessed words sneak in under the religious-secular divide.

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