Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dine Out on That - Thoughts from Parshat Re'eh

What happens to you when you get the check for a meal out?  Or finish getting your hair cut, or at any of those other times when a tip is customary?  Back in high school or college, meals with my friends were paid for by everyone putting money into a crumpled pile on the table.  In those situations, I'm not so sure that leaving a generous tip was foremost in our minds (just covering the bill was often challenging enough).  But life has shown me that the negative effects on all involved when an expected, deserved, gratuity is omitted or short-changed are no small matter. 

We learn about just how serious an issue this should be to us in our Torah portion, Re'eh, this Shabbat.  In it we learn of the rules for setting free a Jewish indentured servant.  It says (Dt. 15:13-14), " shall not send him away empty-handed; adorn him generously..."     

The Torah commentary, Sefer Ha-Chinuch counts two mitzvot here, #481 - not to send away the Hebrew servant empty-handed and #482 - to give a bonus to him when he goes, explaining the second one:

“...It is our splendor and glory that we should have compassion on a person who served us, and we should give him of what we own as an act of loving-kindness, apart from what we stipulated with him to give him as his wages. It is something understandable by intelligence and there is no need to continue at length about it...”
When I first encountered this I was really struck.  Applying the words, "splendor and glory" to what I'm doing when I leave a tip was transformative for me.  Me, a person who can often feel, not so much cheap, but just always worried about expenses, this broke open for me a new way of relating to the person who had helped me out.  I don't say that anyone who gets my table is going to find a gold coin waiting for them, but they are way more likely now to get that 20% from me than I would have been as likely to give before.

And this is a lesson with broader application, too.  It's not just that leaving a tip is, kind of literally, a mitzvah, but that through the language of mitzvah the notion of leaving a tip was transformed into something really meaningful for me.  And that should be the goal of religious life generally.  It's not to become worried over crazy details, its to recognize in the mundane, in the simple, the potential for holiness.

Go dine out on that!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benson

No comments:

Post a Comment