Translatable but Debatable – יבושֹם y'vusam

by Mark L. Levinson

In an interview with The Marker, Nobel Prize laureate Yisrael (Bob) Aumann opined that socialists are mistaken in not wanting anyone to be too well off. 

מה שאני צריך הוא שלי יהיה טוב, ואם לשני פי אלף יותר — שיבושם לו.

“What I need is to be comfortable.  And if somebody else is a thousand times more comfortable, she-y’vusam lo,” said Professor Aumann.  Literally, “let him have it with perfume.”  The online Morfix and Babylon dictionaries translate the expression as “let him enjoy it.”  The print dictionaries of Alkalay and of Haim Shachter say essentially the same, although they choose to define the expression in its second-person version: “may you enjoy it.”

The Oxford dictionary by Ya’acov Levy says she-y’vusam lo means “Good luck to him! Good for him! (ironic).”  I’m not sure Professor Aumann has an ironic streak.  He always gives the impression that if there were a Nobel Prize for World’s Most Benign he would have won that too.  But the expression goes back to the Talmud and there it indeed ostensibly directs good will toward people who don’t exactly deserve it.  As translated in an article by Simcha Raphael, Ph.D., for the Da’at Institute, Genesis Rabbah 85 compares the return of Joseph’s bones from Egypt to a parable “of thieves who entered a wine vault, took a barrel, and drank it”:

The owner of the vault looked in on them and said: “I hope that you found it sweet and tasty and satisfying!  You have drunk the wine — put back the barrel in its place.”  Similarly the Holy One, blessed be He, said to the tribes:  “Ye have sold Joseph — return his bones to their place.”

The phrase “sweet and tasty” above is, of course, where the original says y’vusam.  Applying the expression loosely in an interview on Mako, the chef of an upscale restaurant refers — unlike Aumann and the Talmud — not to people who have something particular to enjoy, such as extra riches or stolen wine.  He says y’vusam anyway:

ומי שחושב שאני יהיר, שיבושם לו. אני לא חושב שאני יהיר“.

“And as for anyone who thinks I’m arrogant, she-y’vusam lo.  I don’t think I’m arrogant,” he says.  It’s a way of proclaiming that he’s above getting upset about such people. solves the translation question in a single word.  Apparently the source is an English-to-Hebrew translation of the movie 5oo Days of Summer: 

Why is it pretty girls think they can treat people like crap and get away with it?  Centuries of reinforcement.  You know what?  Screw her.  I don't care.  If she wants to be that way, fine.

“Fine” is she-y’vusam lah. finds another one-word equivalent the TV series Deadwood.  Campaigning for re-election against Solomon Star, Mayor Farnum says:  “My tenure as mayor speaks for me.  Will they have the Jew merchant instead?  Well, let them then, and welcome.”

Fine.  Welcome.  More power to him.  Ring-a-ding ding.  If you have any other translations to offer, similarly wishing someone’s enterprise may thrive and scoring low (or high) on the sincerity meter, by all means contribute them in the space below.  If you’d like to suggest another word or phrase entirely to be featured in an upcoming column, please write to me at .


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.