Translatable but Debatable – הכיל hechil

by Mark L. Levinson

A book-length translation came back to me for further work: the author had revised the original.  But I was already committed to translating another book.  The extra workload was a lot for me to להכיל  l’hachil, as some people might say in Hebrew.  A lot to try to add, with some kind of seamlessness and calm, into the fabric of my days.

In fact, I could quote Jeremiah: נלאיתי הכיל nil’eyti hachil, it was more than I could keep cramming in.  I found myself not getting around to writing Translatable but Debatable for a while. (Sorry about that.)  Jeremiah, though, wasn’t talking about an excess of work.  He was talking about anger.  “I am full of the fury of the LORD; I am weary with holding in,” according to the King James translation.  Sivan and Levenston’s Galil dictionary translates nil’eyti hachil more idiomatically as “I can’t bear” it while defining l’hachil in general as “contain, hold; include, consist of; endure,” or Biblically “sustain.”

I think I’ve been noticing a vogue for l’hachil as a term meaning patiently accepting the vagaries of fate, or the nature of other people, or unexpected ideas.  I heard actor Yossi Marshak using it three times when Roni Kuban interviewed him on TV. He said that when he was divorced, it was hard for him to l’hachil, and twice he used the verb as an adjective.  Men who know how to work together with women, he said, are mechilim men who very much afford women their space.

In my youth, we admiringly called people “laid back” when they were able to accept whatever circumstances they found themselves in.  But theirs was often an attitude of detachment, not necessarily an attitude of flexible acceptance. 

When we were confronted by something that baffled us or ostensibly contradicted our beliefs, we would say to one another, “Can you get your head around that?” which is a little like l’hachil, in that it suggests incorporating something, but it’s focused on intellectual understanding whereas l’hachil is more holistic.

There was a movie monster called The Blob, which would nourish itself and grow by absorbing into itself whatever animal life it encountered, and I think of the mechil person as resembling The Blob but in a good way, wisely accepting events and people and growing wiser by that acceptance.

Because such a non-judgmental, all-approving attitude is a fashionable ideal these days, I wonder whether there isn’t a well-known direct equivalent in today’s English to l’hachil in that sense.  If there is, I haven’t heard of it and I’d be glad for any enlightenment in the comment section below.

The New Yorker quotes a novel by Rachel Cusk in which a character remarks that “the human situation is so complex that it always evades our attempts to encompass it.” I like the word “encompass,” but the Cusk sentence is still just an elegant way of saying that we can’t get our heads around the human situation. It doesn’t include the aspect of emotional accommodation. You wouldn’t say that Yossi Marshak had trouble encompassing his divorce.

You could say “dealing with” or “coping with” a divorce, but the idea of internalization is missing.  The idea that “Now I’m a divorced person, this is part of my experience, this is part of me.”  Maybe “coming to terms with” is a slightly better phrasing.

If it’s a question of another human being — if you mechil your sulky flatmate — then often the simple word “accept” will do.  And if that’s how you generally react to other people and their quirks, you can be characterized as an accepting person. 

But if your flatmate believes the mall is haunted, and although you don’t, you keep the idea of mall ghosts tolerantly on file, it can’t be said that you “accept” the  belief. To accept it would be to share it. If you mechil somebody else’s eccentric belief without agreeing, maybe the best that could be said is that you “make room for” it.

As always, your comments regarding the topic are welcome in the space below, which will yachil anything relevant to the current column and at best will wind up containing a translation more appropriate than any of the above. If you’d like to suggest a different word or phrase for discussion, please write to me at  An index of words and phrases discussed so far is here.

Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.