Today’s word, matz•chik, funny, belongs to the grammatical meaning class called ‘hif•il.’ This meaning class includes verbs that are causative. Causative verbs are a special pattern in Hebrew grammar that indicates that the verb is causing an action or a feeling, usually affecting other people. So, Causative verbs are simply verbs that cause actions to take place. For example, ‘to dictate’ is to cause someone to write or to act as instructed; ‘to aggravate’ is to cause someone to be angry; ‘to play’ (music) is causative because it makes others or ourselves hear it, etc.
The English verbs to amuse, to make laugh, and to crack up are all causative. Matz•chik, then, is something or someone that is causing others to laugh. As in English, matz•chik can be an adjective (such as a label we attach to a person) or just a causative verb indicating that something objective, like a joke, is making us laugh.
The Biblical origin of matz•chik
Matz•chik comes from the root, TZA•CHAK, which means to laugh. This root is actually the reason for the name, Isaac, which means in Hebrew ‘will laugh.’ Both his parents, Abraham and Sarah, found God’s promise funny, and they laughed when God said that Sarah would give birth the next year. For them, bearing a child at the age of 90 for Sarah and 100 for Abraham sounded funny and they laughed.
“Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to him who is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear?'”
While God tolerated Abraham’s laughter, He confronted Sarah for her same act:
“Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, ‘After I am grown old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” …Then Sarah denied, saying, ‘I laughed not’; for she was afraid. And he said, ‘No; you did laugh'”