The Hebrew toast “L’Chaim–to life” is known to many from the Broadway show Fiddler On the Roof. While having said it innumerable times during my life, I actually began to think about it in a new light.
It is interesting that the toast is “to life” and not “to a long life”, “a happy life”, “a successful life”, “a content life”, “a fulfilled life” etc., etc. Why is that? Did Jews not want those more favorable qualifiers for their lives? Of course not. So why just “to life”?
Perhaps it has to do with acceptance rather than wishful thinking. Perhaps it reflects the group memory of persecution, destruction, harassment and genocide. Yet despite all of this, life is felt to be a divine gift.
Perhaps it is a recognition that the bad times are opportunities for growth and transformation. Perhaps it is an understanding that this “human experiment” is supposed to be difficult. The mystics understood this. The rest of us struggle with it on a daily basis.
So by simply stating, “l’chaim, to life”, we acknowledge the good with the bad, the happy with the sad, all our triumphs and failures. It is the entire package called life that we celebrate when we toast each other. It is about pure acceptance and gratitude.