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At the end of bentching we say that "I was young, and I also became old, and I never saw a righteous person be abandoned, and his children asking for bread".

How do we reconcile that with the poverty that we see all the time?

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Just Wondering, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks for the interesting question! We'd love to have you as a fully-registered member, which you can accomplish by clicking "register," above. –  Isaac Moses Nov 2 '10 at 19:45
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I used to know a Holocaust survivor, before he passed away, who would always omit that line because he couldn't bring himself to say it when he had personally seen such a strong counter-example. –  Daniel Jul 31 '12 at 16:37
    
I personally omit it ever since I was walking down the street bentching that line and saw a person literally begging for bread. I know people who say "... v'lo rayiti tzadikim she'azvu mevakshei lachem" - "... and I have not seen righteous people forsaking those who seek bread". –  Charles Koppelman Jul 31 '12 at 17:44
    
@CharlesKoppelman If you agree that the literal meaning can't be true (because it is so obviously inaccurate) then why stop saying it/change it? –  Double AA Jan 29 '13 at 21:47
    
@DoubleAA Because I'm not wise enough to see the metaphorical truth in it, and I therefore cannot honestly propagate it. –  Charles Koppelman Jan 29 '13 at 21:49
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7 Answers

I agree that it's troubling taken alone in the context of bentching. However, the sages may have put it into bentching as a reference to the original psalm (37). The psalm in its entirity seems more aspirational/prophetic than descriptive. E.g., v. 39-40:

וּתְשׁוּעַת צַדִּיקִים, מֵיְהוָה; מָעוּזָּם, בְּעֵת צָרָה. וַיַּעְזְרֵם יְהוָה, וַיְפַלְּטֵם: יְפַלְּטֵם מֵרְשָׁעִים, וְיוֹשִׁיעֵם--כִּי-חָסוּ בוֹ

But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD; He is their stronghold in the time of trouble. And the LORD helpeth them, and delivereth them; He delivereth them from the wicked, and saveth them, because they have taken refuge in Him.

Therefore, I think asking for literal truth from this poetry is unfair to the Psalmist.

Why do we reference this psalm in bentching? Well, it's in the part I consider the "messianic hopes" section of bentching (everything after the blessing for the hosts). This psalm is entirely messianic in content and it happens to have a verse about bread, so we tie our meal not to this one idea, but to the whole psalm and its aspirations, using bread as our joint.

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Do you have any evidence or authority for the idea that chazal put one verse into a prayer as a reference to the entire psalm in which the verse appears? –  msh210 Apr 3 '13 at 15:25
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I've heard the idea given in shiurim. Specifically I've heard a talk about the opening of the amidah referencing not just the words "אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח" but the psalm it comes from and thereby the story of David, Natan and Batsheva... and the whole tale of a serious sinner making honest tshuva through tefillah. –  Charles Koppelman Apr 3 '13 at 18:49
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The words of prophets are not supposed to be changed or left aside.. neither have they gone void or were they for only one generation. They are the words of God, not to be changed but to be understood, and they will be forever.

In Devarim (Deuteronomy) 18:

Verse 21:

You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.

So the implication from this is simple, from Tehillim (Psalms) 14:

All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

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Yeshayahu (Isaiah) (64) All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; So to say that, he is righteous or that is good, and do not deserve to suffer is not true . Neither are sufferings of God are judgements always, just as was the case with Job. –  Joshua Jan 31 '13 at 6:31
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Tractate Yoma 38b: "R. Chiyya b. Abba said in the name of R Yochanan: No righteous man dies out of this world, before another, like himself, is created. [..] [He also said in the name R Yochanan] The Holy One, blessed be He, saw that the righteous are but few, therefore He planted them throughout all generations..." –  HodofHod Jan 31 '13 at 6:37
    
@HodofHod Are you arguing against Yeridat haDorot? –  Double AA Jan 31 '13 at 7:04
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@DoubleAA R' Chaim Vital speaks about this in Shaar Hagilgulim (Chapter 32) and writes that Yeridas Hadoros is on the general state of the generation but there are exceptions... "ואע"פ שבגמרא אמרו דדורות הראשונים עדיפא וכו' ... היינו בכללות הדור, אבל באנשים רשומים אפשר דאכשר דרא, וכ"ש בדורותינו זה עתה" –  Michoel Feb 1 '13 at 1:09
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Hello Joshua, and welcome to Mi Yodea! Hope to see you around! –  user2110 Feb 1 '13 at 18:13
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virtually all "promises" in verses or chazal have boundaries/fine print when they apply and when they don't. for example, "whoever says ashrei three times a day is guaranteed Olam Haba". Even though we know it's not so easy. (Rabbi Avigdor Miller - tape:Supporting the Fallers)

This verse seems to be talking about the "normal case". sometimes though, its not for the benefit of the tzadik to have a good life in this world, as the following:

Shaar Bitachon chapter 3: (one of the reasons why sometimes the righteous suffer) "Due to his not standing up for G-d's torah and exacting justice from men of his generation, as you know from the story of Eli and his sons, as the verse says "And it will be that everyone who is left in your house, will come to prostrate himself before him for a silver piece and a morsel of bread" (Shmuel 2:36)." (i.e. sometimes this serves as an atonement)

see there for more examples

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The question is contrasting a statement to an observation, but you're providing, if I understand correctly, a reason for the observation, not a resolution of the apparent contradiction. –  Isaac Moses Jan 29 '13 at 20:22
    
the question was why are the righteous afflicted with poverty, correct? –  ray Jan 29 '13 at 20:48
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No, the question is why Tehilim says that they aren't, despite the fact that they are. –  Isaac Moses Jan 29 '13 at 20:53
    
i see it as the same thing. I think it's clear that virtually all "promises" in verses or chazal have boundaries when they apply and when they don't. –  ray Jan 29 '13 at 21:16
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If there are assumptions you believe to be true under which this question becomes equivalent to the one you've provided an answer for, I suggest that you explicitly include them and how you use them to so transform the question in your answer. –  Isaac Moses Jan 29 '13 at 21:33
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In his new "Koren Sacks" siddur, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks renders it (not an exact quote) "I never looked on while a tzaddik was abandoned..."; that is, it is a declaration (or aspiration) of the person who recites the prayer, of his response to poverty, etc.

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That would make sense, then, what it's doing at the end of Birkas Hamazon: having eaten and been sated, we should be declaring that we'll make sure to help others do the same. –  Alex Nov 2 '10 at 20:46
    
Why specifically mention a tzaddik then? –  Chanoch Nov 3 '10 at 13:50
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ועמך כולם צדיקים? –  Alex Nov 3 '10 at 14:23
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I thought it was read:

And I never saw a righteous person who felt abandoned, even if his children were begging for bread.

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A couple of possibilities, culled from midrashim and commentaries:

  • Keli Yakar to Deut. 15:10, and Malbim on this verse (Ps. 37:25), say that it means that you will never find that both the tzaddik and his children will be poor; it may be that one or the other of them will be, though.

  • The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 35:2) takes נעזב in the active sense: "even though his children and descendants may be begging for bread, I have not seen this tzaddik [apparently referring to Yaakov] abandoning his fear of G-d."

  • Tanchuma (Miketz 6) similarly explains that it means that Hashem never allows the world to be bereft of tzaddikim.

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Since this is a verse in Tanach, it may have been true for the one who originally uttered it, but not for us.

Also, I can personally say that I have never seen a tzaddik's child literally begging for bread. I'm not saying this never happens, but that level of poverty is rather rare.

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It's from Psalms. If this is true, then David either had a very sheltered world or a very narrow definition of tzadikim. –  Charles Koppelman Jul 31 '12 at 15:40
    
@CharlesKoppelman: Well as king, David probably did have a rather sheltered world. –  Daniel Jul 31 '12 at 16:39
    
@Daniel He went out to war. That doesn't seem sheltered. –  b a Jul 31 '12 at 17:19
    
@Daniel He also lived a while before being a king. –  Charles Koppelman Jul 31 '12 at 17:37
    
@ba I know, that comment was mostly tongue-in-cheek although there is probably some truth to it. –  Daniel Jul 31 '12 at 19:32
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