A quote from the Birkat HaMazon:
“Once I was young, and now I am old, yet I have never watched a righteous man forsaken or his children begging for bread.”
This is one of the last sentences in the prayer, and one that has puzzled me for many years. Why does it state “once I was young, and now I am old”? Some people might be able to say this, but some of us are still young, if nothing else, then at least in mind. And what is it with the righteous man who has never been forsaken? Surely there has been good and upright people, who has felt forsaken or been in a miserable state.
Not until I read R. Jonathan Sacks’, Shelita, thoughts on this, did it give meaning for me. R. Sacks quotes the Book of Ester, where she states: “For how can I watch the evil that shall come unto my people? Or how can I watch the destruction of my kindred?” (Ester 8:6).
The meaning here, explains R. Sacks, is that one should not stand passive and watch, while a fellow human being, even less a righteous one, is lacking basic needs, such as food. One should not stand and watch passive, when children are begging for food. Instead we should act. Help them cover their basic needs, not necessarily by just giving them the food or money, but by helping them to provide for themselves.
This quote from the Birkat HaMazon, is one of the most moving parts for me in the whole prayer. When sitting and saying thanks for the food we have just enjoyed, it is certainly in place to be reminded that we shouldn’t take it for granted, and that we should help others to experience the same blessings as ourselves.