Passing Phrase - www.learnhebrew.org.il

Al Tiftach Peh Lasatan

Literally: Don’t open your mouth (gateway) to the devil
Idiomatically: Don’t tempt fate

This unusual phrase is actually still in use today. It is brought down by the Talmud (Ketuvot 8b, Brachot 19a) and refers to the idea of not inviting misfortune. In Brachot, it is part of a discussion on the obligation to say the Shema Yisrael prayer (which is time related), during a funeral, and the idea of mentioning how we ourselves have sinned and not been punished. Abaye said “Don’t even say it since we learned from Rav Jose ‘Leolam al yiftach adam piv lasatan’ - Never open your mouth for the devil – which could invite punishment. This phrase, by the way, is totally universal and can be found in dozens of languages and cultures from Thai to Swedish to Irish. Similar to the Hebrew idea of tempting fate, we find it in medieval English as "Speak of the devil and he doth appear." The idea behind this seems to be the superstition that by mentioning the devil by name you can cause harm. Today, in most cultures, the phrase is far more lighthearted, referring to a person who shows up when you mention him. In Hebrew that phase would be “Medabrim al ha-chamor, (ve-hinei hu ba)" - Talking about the donkey, (and here he comes).

Back to this week's lesson