Sabbath Meditation: Almsgiving

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 ( 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,

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