April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Re’eh: Delicatessen Slaves

His thumb had definitely been in the soup. Benjy Solomon had tried to look the other way, pretending not to notice, but his wife Dina saw it right away.

“Did you see that?” Dina asked.

“What?”

“The waiter—Walter—his finger was in my soup.”

“I think you’re imagining things, dear.”

Dina turned to her son. “Jonah, back me up on this.”

But Jonah had been too busy drawing on his placemat with the crayons the restaurant had provided and didn’t see anything. He shrugged politely.

“I think he even licked his finger on his way back to the kitchen.”

“Dina, try to enjoy your meal.”

Walter was not off to a good start. The Solomons had been sitting for 10 minutes before he brought them menus, then it had taken another 15 minutes before he took their orders. And there was still no bread on the table. The ordering had not gone well, either.

Jonah had ordered a hot dog and an orange soda. Benjy went with a pastrami sandwich with a potato knish and a side order of cole slaw. Dina asked for matzoh ball soup and a tongue sandwich on rye with a side order of kasha.

“You don’t want the tongue,” Walter said.

“What?”

“The tongue. I don’t think so.”

Why not?” Dina asked. “Is it too fatty? Too dry?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“Is it old?”

“No, it’s probably fine.”

“Then, why not?”

Walter grimaced and stuck out his tongue. “Because it’s tongue. I mean, how gross is that?”

He was an older gentleman in a white shirt, black pants, and a solid blue tie with a mustard stain. His gray hair was combed forward on his head in small wisps, and his blue eyes sparkled with a glint of mischief. He kind of reminded Benjy of the great cantankerous waiters he used to order from on the Lower East Side, at Shmulke Bernstein’s and Ratner’s.

Dina stared at Walter in disbelief. “What would you recommend?”

“Personally, I think the pastrami is excellent. The corned beef isn’t bad. The roast beef is a little chewy, if truth be told. The salami leaves a little something to be desired. I’d just as soon pass on the bologna. And as for the tongue, well, we’ve already been there.”

“Do you know what? I’m going to go with the tongue.”

“Suit yourself,” Walter said, shaking his head. “Anything to drink with that?”

“I’ll have a Coke.”

“Diet or regular?”

“Regular.”

“Really?” Walter said, tapping his pencil on his small waiter’s notepad. “Huh.”

“What? Do you think I need Diet Coke? Are you trying to tell me something?”

Dina’s face was a shade of red somewhere between a hot dog and rare roast beef.

“No, no. It’s just that most women order Diet Coke. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.”

The Solomons just stared at Walter.

“Will that be all?” Walter asked.

“That should just about do it,” Benjy said, avoiding eye contact with his wife.

“O.K. then,” Walter said, and he shuffled back to the kitchen with their orders.

Other than the soup finger-dipping incident, the rest of the meal was uneventful. The hot dog was fine, the pastrami was delicious, and the tongue was not dry, fatty, or overly aged. The Solomons were quite full from their entrees and decided to forgo dessert.

“Are you sure?” Walter asked. “The chocolate bomb is really good.”

“No thank you,” Benjy said.

“The apple pie is to die for.”

“Just the same, no thanks.”

“The strawberry tart is quite tasty.”

“No,” Dina said.

“Fruit cup?”

“No.”

“Jello? There’s always room for j-”

“Can we just get the check, please?”

“O.K., but you can’t say I didn’t try,” Walter said.

When the check came, Benjy eyed the total, calculated a tip of 15%, and wrote the amount on the appropriate line of his credit card receipt.

“Are you crazy?” Dina asked. You’re giving that big a tip? For Walter?”

“Yes, dear, I am.”

“I’m not sure you should be giving him a tip at all. But if you must, why not give him 10%? It’s still a reasonable amount, and the service was atrocious!”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Benjy said.

“Actually, yes it was. It was that bad. Jonah, what do you think?”

But Jonah was busy playing with the orange remnants of the ice cubes from his soda and pretended not to hear his mom. He was a wise child.

“So why give him such a big tip?” Dina asked.

“Because it tells you to in this week’s parsha,” Benjy said.

“Oh, really? The mitzvah to tip your waiter well is in Parshat Re’eh?”

“As a matter of fact, it is.”

“And where, pray tell, is that?”

The parsha states, regarding a Jew who becomes a slave, that in the seventh year you must set him free. And then it says Vechi teshalchenu chafshi meiimach lo teshalchenu reikam. When you set him free, don’t send him empty handed. You’re supposed to give him from your flocks, your threshing floor, and your wine cellar, because we were all slaves in Egypt. And that is the source of tipping your waiter well. Not only is it plain human decency, it’s also a divinely ordained law.”

“Is that a fact?” Dina said. “But that’s only talking about slaves, not waiters.”

“Dina, my dear,” Benjy said. “Clearly you have never worked in a restaurant.”

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics and writes the Torah story blog themaggidofbergenfield.com.

By Larry Stiefel

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