Gesundheit, To Health in Hebrew
Leave it to Hebrew, whose speakers are thought to be indifferent to etiquette, to have two ways of saying Gesundheit when someone sneezes. There is לִבְרִיאוּת (livri’ut), to health (without a definite article)—the grammatically correct way to say it—and לַבְּרִיאוּת (la-beri’ut), (with the definite article), to your (literally, the) health—the way most people say it. Interestingly, Hebrew etymologists waver between two closely related roots, ב-ר-א(bet, resh, aleph), to be fat (and, therefore, healthy), and ב-ר-ה (bet, resh, heh), to nourish oneself.
These roots are found in several biblical stories. There is the tale of Joseph, who interprets as seven “good” years Pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cows, בְּרִית בָּשָׂר (beri’ot bassar), “fleshily healthy.” David’s lovesick son Amnon criminally seduces his half sister Tamar by convincing her that he can recover from his listlessness only if she serves him בִּרְיָה (biryah), food. And then there is, from the Book of Judges, Ehud Ben-Gera who gets away with killing the Moabite King Eglon, who was בָּרִיא מְאֺד (bari me’od), very fat, by burying his sword in the folds of the king’s ample belly.
An example of the root’s use in rabbinic literature can be found in the Aramaic prayer Yekum Purkan, with its straightforward petition for בַּרְיוּת גוּפָא (baryut gufa), “bodily health.” The term בִּרינִים (biryonim), whose origin is unclear, refers to beefy Jewish Zealots fighting against the Roman occupation of Judea in the first century and is used today to designate burly bullies who abuse weaker classmates. One who does so online also has a name, בִּרינֶט (biryonet), Internet bully.
Medieval philosopher-physician Maimonides advised his patients to control their lives with דְבָרִים הַמַּבְרִין (devarim ha-mavrin), “nutritive things.” Perhaps in a Zionist response to Rambam, Nobel Prize writer S.Y. Agnon proclaims that the air itself of the Land of Israel is מַבְרִיא (mavri), “curative.”
A mourner returning from the cemetery is served a סְעוּדַת הַבְרָאָה (se’udat havra’ah), convalescent meal. To recuperate from an illness one may repair to a בֵּית הַבְרָאָה (beit havra’ah) or, to use a word coined by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, a מִבְרָאָה (mivra’ah), sanatorium. In the old days, one might begin a letter with a polite הִנְנִי בְּקַו הַבְּרִיאוּת (hineni be-kav ha-beri’ut), I am well. Today, one takes leave of a friend with a well-mannered תִּהְיֶה בָּרִיא (tihyeh bari), “Be well.”
Etiquette? Just remember, הָעִקָּר הַבְּרִיאוּת (ha-ikkar ha-beri’ut), it’s all good, as long as you have your health.