Many will remember that spirited song from Fiddler on the Roof, To Life. It’s opening lyrics, “To life! to life! l'chaim! L'chaim, l'chaim, to life!” and catchy melody may be resonating in your memory right now. Take note the Hebrew letter chet is spelled with a ch in English, but is pronounced with a guttural sound like the German achtung or the composer Bach.
The song is based on a common and traditional
toast when Jewish people are sharing a glass of wine, both in ordinary circumstances and special occasions like weddings. The implied meaning, may you have health and well being, is of course
found in many other cultures. While there are a few suggestions regarding the ancient origin of the toast, many believe it is based on the potential effects of drinking wine. Since drinking too much can have negative consequences, the toast expresses a hope for a positive outcome. On a simpler level, the words “To life” meaningfully stand on their own.
In Deuteronomy 30:19, God spoke through the Prophet Moses a challenge. He said, “I call Heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”
Furthermore, chai has a monetary significance in Jewish culture.
Since the Hebrew alphabet is alpha-numeric (the letters have a numeric value), the sum of the yod and chet which construct the word chai is eighteen. As such, the number eighteen is given spiritual significance. Jewish gift giving is often based on multiples of that number.
There is an Israeli slogan, which has also been made into a song, Am Yisrael Chai! It means, The People of Israel Live! Many sources attribute the origin of the phrase to a stirring event at the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp in Germany. In a BBC recording, survivors are heard singing, followed by the shout of a Jewish chaplain from the liberating British army. He proclaimed, “Am Yisrael Chai!”
Despite all the attention Jewish people give to the chai and chaim, they are missing the most important connection to God’s will. In John 10:10, Messiah Yeshua declared, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
Completed spiritual life is the key, and to have that, as Jesus said, we must be born again. In John 3:3, He unequivocally stated, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
So we continue to pray and work for Jewish revival. May it be that the next time my Jewish brethren lift a glass saying l’chaim, they will add, praise Yeshua for life!