Shortly after declaring Israel’s Independence, Defense Minister and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion issued an order that founded the IDF – Israel Defense Forces – צבא ההגנה לישראל, commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronym TZAHAL (צ.ה.ל)
But what does TZAHAL mean in Hebrew?
TZAHAL (צ.ה.ל) stands for – צבא הגנה לישראל (we pronounce it Tseva Hagana LeYisrael).
Let’s start from the third word since it is the one you already know:
לישראל is made up of “ישראל”, which means “Israel” and “ל”, which means “for”. Now go with me to the beginning of the sentence. צבא means “army” or, to use the old Biblical English word, “host”. You are right! Like in Adonai Tsvaot (אדוני צבאות) – the Lord of Hosts (lit.: armies).
The middle word is “הגנה”, which means defense. It has the same root as the word “מגן” – shield (like in Magen David Adom – a Jewish alternative to the Red Cross you always hear about). So literally IDF (צ.ה.ל) means “Army for Protection of Israel”, which is basically the same thing as its fancier version – Israel Defense Force (צבא הגנה לישראל).