Understanding Common Jewish Words & Phrases (Part 2): ‘L’Chaim’
Shabbat, Festivals & The Year
Lift your glasses. “L’chaim - to life!” This expression has become synonymous with the word “cheers”. It is used as an all-purpose toast for any occasion or situation, crossing barriers of class, culture and age. L’chaim can be heard over clinking glasses across the Jewish spectrum. What is its true meaning and origin?
In 1975, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins introduced the idea of a ‘meme’ as a metaphor for a kind of ‘cultural replicator’. It was argued that just as genes are inherited across generations, so too ideas, cultural values and beliefs could be transmitted between people. Like genes, they might also be subject to ‘mutation’ and ‘selection’. Sociobiologists, evolutionary psychologists and others have taken Dawkins’ metaphor of the meme further and spawned a new field of study called ‘memetics’.
In our sidrah, we find the Torah's commandment to relate the Pesach story to one’s children on the night of 15th Nisan (Vehigad'ta l'vincha). The Torah mentions this mitzvah four times, each time slightly differently. This hints at four different ways of telling the story. These ways are described in the Haggadah as responses to 'the four sons'. ‘Son’ in this context also means daughter, guest etc.