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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" (Tehillim 37:25).

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

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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

11 Answers 11

18

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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In his 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
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    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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    Why did you think this? – mevaqesh May 5 '17 at 15:12
  • One of the commentators in Artscroll brings this down. – LN6595 Dec 20 '18 at 14:57
4

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 entirety 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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I give some possible translations in my book, Treasure of Shabbat: An Illuminated Guide to the Shabbat Table Experience: Finding Meaning and Inspiration through Shabbat Observance at Home.

Text References

  • Feel free to transcribe this, unless you already have it transcribed somewhere – Dr. Shmuel Dec 20 '18 at 19:37
  • @Dr.Shmuel: Respectfully asking, why? – Jonathan Bressel Dec 21 '18 at 11:19
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R. Hayyim Paltiel (13th cent.) asks this exact question in his commentary to Genesis (28:15):

לא אעזבך. שנ' לא ראיתי צדיק נעזב וזרעו מבקש לחם. וא"ת והא מעשה בכל יום שצדיקים עניים וגם בניהם,

I will not abandon you: As it says: 'I didn't see a righteous person abandoned with his children asking for food'. And if you ask: but it is a daily occurrence for the righteous and their children to be poor...

He answers:

וי"ל האי ראיתי כמו אל תראוני שאני שחרחורת, כלומר אל תתמה שראיתי צדיק נעזב שמא חטא בשום דבר.

We can answer that this "seeing" is used like "do not view me as black", that is, do not wonder how I could have seen a righteous man suffering, for maybe he sinned somehow.

That is, he translates the verse as something like "I never perceived a righteous person to be suffering and his children to be seeking food" [since I assumed that he was not such am incredibly righteous person, and he had some sort of sin].

Similarly, see Riva, and Hadar Z'kenim there.

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I wonder if "Na'ar" and "zakein" are significant in this possuk. And also, it seems to be missing out a reference to the middle of his life? Perhaps these are two stages of life at which one can see beyond, to some degree.

So I suggest Dovid Hamelech did have a vision that went beyond what most of us humans can see. And he realized that Tzadikim are never abandoned. And so when we affirm that by saying the Posuk, we create more sustenance for ourselves on a day to day level.

I've heard that we say these pesukim at the end of Benching as a segula for Parnassa. And yes, it brings heartache for some to say this, as it reminds one of the Holocaust, and more. Yet, if one affirms the positivity verbally, and even emotionally, as seen by Dovid Hamelech, this can gradually manifest as visible to all.

Only after you're prepared to distrust your perception - for a minute - and affirm this statement with all your heart, may we perhaps be open to perceiving its veracity in real life.

We say this at the end of Benching, when we have eaten at least a k'zayis, that Hashem in His kindness provided for us. We perhaps then have enough Hakoras Hatov to suspend judgement and believe it is true on some level. At this point you can ask, HOW can it be true, instead of, it's not true.

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perhaps it means regarding his mental state as the Chovos Halevavos writes in the intro to the shaar bitachon:

One who trusts in G-d is secure against mishaps, and his heart is assured against future (potential) bad things. Whatever comes to him from G-d, he will accept with joy and gladness and his livelihood comes to him peacefully, quietly, and happily, as written "He causes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters" (Tehilim 23:2)

Pas Lechem commentary there:

"whatever comes to him from G-d gives him joy..." is an explanation of the previous statement "his heart is assured against bad things..." because certainly it cannot be taken literally, that for one who trusts in G-d, no bad things will ever happen to him, since what our eyes see contradicts this. Rather, after he trusts in G-d that He will not do to him anything that is not for his good, if so, "whatever comes to him from G-d, he will accept with joy and gladness, as the Talmud says in Berachos 54a, therefore it is correct to say that no bad things ever happen to him.

The Chovos Halevavos continues a bit later:

But one who trusts in G-d, has strong peace of mind that G-d will provide for him at any time He wishes and in any place... and "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread" (Tehilim 37:25)...

But one who trusts in G-d, is immune from sickness and disease except as an atonement or to increase his reward...

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To expand on Yosef's answer, R' Sacks notes that the first example which comes to mind for the conjugation ראיתי is in Esther, where she asks if she should look on and not try to avert the upcoming slaughter of our people.

  • Do you mean Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (former chief rabbi of England) or Rabbi Yonasan Sacks (rosh yeshiva Lander College)? edit: I see now that the linked answer refers to the British one. Never mind... – Shokhet May 5 '17 at 16:06
  • @Shokhet הר׳ ר׳ יעקב צבי זקס, former British Chief Rabbi – Noach MiFrankfurt May 5 '17 at 16:07
  • `@NoachMiFrankfurt Okay. – Shokhet May 5 '17 at 16:09
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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
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    @Daniel He went out to war. That doesn't seem sheltered. – b a Jul 31 '12 at 17:19
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    @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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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.

  • 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
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    @DoubleAA Who me? I haven't argued anything! /innocent face. Now that you mention it though, that sounds like a good question. – HodofHod Jan 31 '13 at 7:14
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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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