“L’Chaim!” The Double Blessing of the Hebrew Word for Life

Perhaps you have heard the Jewish exclamation, “L’chaim!” It means “To life!” and is said as a toast, where in English we might say “To your health!” or “Cheers!”

The Hebrew word for life has a special ending that is similar to the plural ending (im) but slightly different (ayim), specifically indicating that it is double, or a pair. The ending of the word chaim means specifically two lives, which speaks of God’s plan for our life here on earth, and the life to come.

In English we talk about a pair of sunglasses, a pair of socks, a pair of trousers, but in Hebrew this special sound that goes at the end of the word lets you know that there is a pair. It signifies plurality, but not more than two. A double, a twin, or a pair. Ready for a quick Hebrew lesson?

MichnasAYIM = a pair of trousers
MishkafAYIM = a pair of spectacles
GarbAYIM = a pair of socks

And so it goes on.
But here are a few other less obvious words with the same ending:

MAYIM = water
YerushalAYIM = Jerusalem
ChAYIM = life

A pair of waters? A pair of Jerusalems? A pair of lives?
Yes, yes and yes!

Water is dual because of the ‘waters above and the waters below’ which both burst forth during the flood (Genesis 7:11). Jerusalem is plural because of the Jerusalem here on this earth and the new Jerusalem to come (Revelation 21:2). There are two of them. This one and the next one. And the same with the word for life. This life in the here and now, and the life to come in the עולם הבא (olam ha ba), or world to come.

It is interesting that the word for life is of a pair – specifically two of them. Not one life. Not a plurality of lives, but just two – divided by the Day of the Lord and judgment. Hasidic Judaism has (tragically) incorporated reincarnation into its orthodoxy since the late middle ages, and that view is common in Israel today, and among many Orthodox Jews worldwide. But the ancient Hebrew word itself testifies to the simple duality of life.

Hebrews 9:26-29 tells us that Yeshua “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Most Israelis don’t stop to think about the special double ending on these words, but in this rich language of the Bible, there is so much to testify about the truth of God and his ways.

When we discover our Messiah and redeemer, Yeshua, we pass from death to life and enjoy the double blessing of life that God desires for us.

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