On Social Justice

By Maia Lamdany

“I was young and have grown old and have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his children begging for bread.”

This phrase, translated from Hebrew, is found in Psalm 27 and is said toward the end of the benediction traditionally said after eating a meal.

This is an extremely problematic verse, since there are certainly many poor and hungry people in this world. We live in a post-Holocaust world; some scholars have called the twentieth century “the century of genocide.”[1] I interact with refugees, people who were forced to flee their countries due to larger political events, on a daily basis. Senseless violence occurs all over the world, including in the United States. I do not think anyone can say that they “have never seen the righteous forsaken nor his children begging for bread.” One position is just not to say the words at the end of the blessing, but that does not solve the problem.

Instead, perhaps we should think of these words as did the Chatam Sofer, a nineteenth century rabbi and scholar. His argument was that we must internalize the words “I have never seen.” We must never see a righteous person forsaken, because if we respond then they are no longer forsaken. If children are hungry, then our actions must ensure that that is true no longer. And that is what public service is truly all about.

[1] Mark Levine, “Why is the Twentieth Century the Century of Genocide?” Journal of World History, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Fall, 2000), pp. 305-336.


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