We are accustomed to saying “Mazal Tov,” meaning “congratulations” or “good luck.” It will be a surprise to you (maybe not) that the original meaning of “mazal” was “constellation,” like Orion, the Big Dipper, or Cassiopeia. The Hebrew word “mazal” is related to the Akkadian word “manzaltu,” meaning “position of a star.” (I am not an Akkadian scholar; I looked it up.)
The “mazalot” (the plural of “mazal”) are the signs of the Zodiac, and “galgal hamazalot” is the wheel of the Zodiac. What is the relationship to Pesach? I’ll get to that in a little later.
Zodiac signs have been found in the mosaics of ancient synagogues in the Galilee. And the Talmud tells an exegetical story that has God saying “I created 12 mazalot in the sky,” as well as hundreds of thousands of stars, “and I created all of them for you.”
Jewish sources also refer to mazal as fate or as an entity that affects something else’s fate. Bereshit Rabba states, “There is no blade of grass that doesn’t have a mazal in the heavens that strikes it and tells it: ‘Grow!'” And the Zohar states, “Everything depends on mazal, even a Torah scroll in the synagogue.”
In addition, the Hebrew phrase “meshane makom meshane mazal,” means “changing your place of residence changes your fate.” Tractate Rosh Hashannah lists five types of things people can do to change their fate: giving charity, crying out in prayer, changing names, behaving better, moving to a new residence.
I promised that I would relate “mazal” to Pesach. The Haftarah on the second day of Pesach is a story from 2 Kings. The High Priest discovered Deuteronomy, and took the Book to King Josiah, then 24. Josiah’s father (Manassah) was idolator who put idols in the First Temple. Josiah told High Priest Hilkiah to cleanse the Temple of all idols. Josiah dismissed the priests who offered sacrifices to the sun, the moon, and the constellations (in Hebrew, “v-mazalot”).