I hope you are preparing a beautiful table, as we are at the Leman house. We are laying ours with a burgundy table cloth tonight and using our Jerusalem candlesticks. The few moments you take to make your Sabbath meal special will always be worth it. Even if you get home from work just before the Sabbath starts and have to eat Lean Cuisine, at least set out your tablecloth. Pause to remember that God is present and sanctify the meal with the proper blessings . . .
I just ordered a Bencher, a simple, short prayer guide for the home (bencher is a Yiddish word). I purchased the Birkon Mikdash M’at by the North American Federation of Temple Youth (a Reform organization).
I found something in this bencher that is not in my Artscroll Siddur (somebody correct me if I am wrong). It is a blessing before giving Tzedakah (alms, money for a charitable purpose) just before the Sabbath starts each Friday night.
I have already been exposed to almsgiving as a part of Jewish prayer. It was a revelation for me since in my evangelical Christian years I observed and learned a sort of disdain for giving to the poor. Money should go to missions to convert people and not so much to the poor. I know that many evangelicals and other Christians feel differently, but that, honestly, was my experience.
So I was surprised and challenged when I attended a minyan (prayer group) at the UMJC (umjc.net) some years ago. There was a box at the front of the room and people would throw in small amounts of money before praying. The funds, I found out, were given to Chevra, an organization that feeds hungry Jews in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union.
Paying before praying? Isn’t that some kind of idolatry? Bribing God?
Well, Proverbs does say:
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he dwill repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17).
In fact, I find that almsgiving is a neglected aspect of New Testament practice. Consider the following story:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man xwho feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. (Acts 10:1-4).
‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. (Acts 10:31).
Isn’t it interesting that the New Testament affirms both the practice of almsgiving and the fact that it affects our prayers. God especially remembered Cornelius because of his almsgiving.
And didn’t Yeshua say, “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you” (Matt. 6:2)?
We are all looking for ways to show kindness and love and be a part of redeeming this broken world. Why not start a tradition?
Every Sabbath eve, before you light the candles, put some change from the week or some extra money you have laid aside in a Tzedakah box (google the term and you will find some you can purchase or perhaps some you can make).
My new bencher has a great prayer. It will add something special to your Shabbat:
Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu lirdof tzedek.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments and commanded us to pursue righteousness.
May we, together with all our people, respond to the needs of others.
From the fruits of our harvest this week, we share with others.
And so we gain blessing: our lives have meaning, our lives have love.
As you greet us with your angels on Shabbat, may we be your messengers to the world.