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Mazal Tov!
‘They Recited Shema Yisrael’
(Pesachim 56a)



As we know, a child is forbidden to call his parents by their first names (Yoreh De’ah 240:2). The Ben Ish Chai (Torah L’Shma 264) raises an interesting question: What if a person’s mother’s name is Mazal Tov (which is a somewhat common Sephardic name)? May her children say “Mazal tov” to her when she has a baby?

In answering this question, the Ben Ish Chai cites our sugya. The Gemara tells us that before Yaakov Avinu passed away, he called together his sons to reveal to them what would occur at the end of days. However, the Shechina left him and he lost his prophetic inspiration. He feared that perhaps his sons were lacking in emunah and therefore unworthy to hear his prophecy. Responding to this concern, his sons all said in unison, “Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one.” In other words, they were assuring their father, Yisrael, that their faith was total.

But how were they able to call their father by his first name? The Lechem Yehuda (Hilchos Krias Shema 1:4) answers that they preceded his name with the respectful titles of “Our master, our father.” Therefore, using his first name was not considered disrespectful. When we say Shema Yisrael today, we recite a shortened version of their statement, leaving out the titles.


‘Yisrael’ Itself Is a Respectful Title

The Shelah (Parshas Vayechi, Derech Chaim 3) suggests that the name “Yisrael” carries the memory that Yaakov struggled with angels and men and was victorious. Therefore, the name itself serves as a respectful title, symbolizing mastery. Thus, when Yaakov’s sons called him Yisrael, it was as if they were calling him “Our master.”

A similar explanation helps us understand why Yitzchak once called his father by his first name. When he blessed Yaakov, he said, “May Hashem grant you the blessings of Avraham” (Bereishis 28:4). Why was he allowed to say this? Because “Avraham” carries the meaning of “the father of a multitude of nations.” In other words, the name itself is a respectful title (Teshuvos Tirosh V’Yitzhar 69).


Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov!

In any event, based on our sugya, the Ben Ish Chai derives that if it’s permitted to use one’s parents’ names as titles of respect, it’s also permitted to use their names as tefillos on their behalf. Therefore, he ruled that the children of a woman named Mazal Tov may wish her “mazal tov” upon the arrival of a new baby.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.