Eating, Blessing and Giving Charity
Hi Rabbi, I’ve started saying “Birkat Hamazon” (Grace after Meals) after eating. I enjoy saying and singing it almost as much as I enjoy eating the meal. But there’s a part at the end that I don’t understand, where it says “I was young, I also aged, and I have not seen a righteous man forsaken and his seed seeking bread.” I’m sure there are righteous people in the world who are poor and hungry. Would you please explain this sentence to me? Thanks.
Good question. I’m glad you enjoy saying the blessings after a meal and also you enjoy eating!
Actually, the sentence you refer to is a verse in Psalms, chapter 37, verse 25.
There are many interpretations that our great Rabbis offer as the meaning of this verse, and I will write two of them here. I hope that you find these explanations “tasty” and that they whet your appetite to carry on with your own further study of the text and the classical commentaries.
One explanation is that it means, “I have never seen a righteous man consider himself forsaken even if his children must beg for bread”. This shows the value system of a righteous person, and that he accepts with happiness whatever God decides he should have. He understands that whatever his lot in life is, he trusts that God brings it upon him for a constructive and merciful purpose. (Anaf Yosef)
A second explanation is that of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. He writes that the verse is a promise from Above that no truly righteous person will ever suffer complete poverty. The verse teaches that no righteous person will be completely forsaken, even if he must ask for charity for his and his family’s sustenance. Since all Jews have a special Torah obligation to help each other to possess all their needs, it is a mitzvah for “those who have” to help provide for the needs of “those who don’t have”.
By the way, it’s worthwhile noting that the word for “righteousness” — tzaddik — and “charity” — tzedaka — are both based on the same Hebrew root linguistically. This teaches that one who is giving charity is not giving because he seeks recognition or even because he feels generous. Rather a person should give charity because it’s the right thing to do.