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Parshas Balak - To Insure Promptitude            15 Tammuz 5781

06/25/2021 11:16:36 AM


Thanks to a recently upgraded cell phone, I’ve been presented with  days of figuring how things work and learning about all the newest additions I never knew I needed. One of the internal applications that comes with the phone is called ‘tips’, complete with the picture of a light bulb. Tips offers exactly what its name implies: it gives tips on how to use the device effectively and efficiently.  The meaning of the word ‘tip’ or ‘tips’ has many definitions all depending upon  the context of its specific usage.

A tip, or gratuity, is common in many service-related businesses. You may give a tip to a waiter in a restaurant, bartenders, toss a few coins or a dollar into fast food and coffee shop tip jars, and so forth. The money ‘tipped’ thanks people for their services. But something more common is being employed by restaurants today; they no longer give you the choice of tipping, instead include all gratuities in the bill.  These non-volunteer gratuities  typically range anywhere from eighteen to twenty percent!  A few weeks ago, I ate in a Florida restaurant that included the tip but I was not informed and I almost left a second tip not knowing. What can a customer do if the service was unsatisfactory?  Are we obligated to pay an ‘obligatory’ tip?  The answer is not so simple. You can request that the tip to be removed from the bill and not pay, but this raises some sticky possibilities.  According to Google, in 2009, such a case was thrown out of court: Theft charges were dropped against a no-tip couple. This couple actually went to court to defend their refusal to pay the obligatory tip

So…where did the concept of tipping originate?  There are many theories and references as to where and when tipping began. According to Michael Lynn, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, tipping in the United States began just after the American Civil War in the late 1800’s. Lynn suggests that wealthy Americans traveling abroad to Europe witnessed tipping and brought the aristocratic custom back with them to “show off,” or perhaps model their elevated education and class as an example to others. According to an article that appeared in The New York Times in 1897, there was a movement brewing against tipping in America. The anti-tipping group believed that tipping was the “vilest of imported vices” because it created an aristocratic class in a country that fought hard to eliminate a class-driven society. In 1915, six state legislators from Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Carolina attempted - and failed - to pass an anti-tipping bill that would make leaving gratuities unlawful.

Michael Lynn, the professor cited above,   states that in his opinion there are five basic motives for tipping. Some people tip to show off, others tip to help the server supplement their income and make them happy. Some people tip to receive continued future service, and still  others actually tip to avoid disapproval – we would not want the server to think badly of us.  Lastly, some people tip out of a sense of duty.

But there are other kinds of tips such as the giving of secret information or giving advice to be helpful, such as a stock tip, to be tipped off or warned about an upcoming event, giving a piece of advice or expert, authoritative information. Turning in this direction, an eitzah - a tip - is a piece of advance or confidential information given by one thought to have access to special or inside sources.

This eitzah – this kind of tip - is precisely what Bilaam was known for; he was a professional tipster. We first hear of Bilaam in Egypt as one of three (Iyov, Yisro and Bilaam) who were asked by Pharoah how to handle the Jewish problem. It was Bilaam who gave the advice to kill all the babies being born. We now hear of Bilaam once again, this time being hired by Balak to curse the Jewish people so that Balak could defeat the Jewish people. Although Bilaam had already tried to curse the Jewish people, his attempt did not work;  Bilaam’s success came only after all else failed, which we read at the end of the story.

In this week’s Parshas Balak the Torah states in Bamidbar 25:1 "וישב ישראל בשטים ויחל העם לזנות אל בנות מואב"  “Israel was staying in Shittim when the people began to behave immorally with the Moabite girls”. Rash”i , on the words, “to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moav”, explains it was through the "עצה"  the counsel of Bilaam, as is mentioned in Gemara Sanhedrin 106a. What was the advice Bilaam gave to the elders of Midian and Moav? Bilaam stated that even if you bring and gather all the armies of the world, you still will not be able to defeat the Jews. He argued, ”Do you think your armies are greater than the Egyptian army? Look what happened to them. They were drowned in the sea.”  Bilaam then said, “I will give you a tip. So long as the Jews do the will of their God, He fights for them, but whenever they violate His will, He fights against them.” At the time they were in Shittim, here chazal explain, ”Do not read it with a Shin sound but rather with a Sin or S sound.” With the S sound, the word is Satim, meaning to go astray like a Sotah woman who is accused of straying from her husband. The only way you can defeat the Jews, Bilaam stated, is by having the “husband” go against the “wife” - in this case Hashem against the Jewish people. The Midrash Yilamdeinu lists one of the four reasons the Jewish people merited to leave Egypt was that they were extremely moral and modest and did not violate the Arayos laws that were pervasive in Egyptian culture. The Gemara in Sanhedrin focuses on the first word of the cited verse וישב ישראל   - and the Jews sat or dwelled.  Vayeishev is a word of trouble, and Shittim is a language of Shtus, involved in silly stupid things. The Gemara is teaching us that when a person is sitting and doing nothing it leads to trouble, hence the cause which led the Jewish people to sin.

What Bilaam could not accomplish by cursing the Jews, he succeeded in doing through the enticement of the Jewish men to commit immorality, directly leading to the death of twenty-four thousand people. It took just one little tip - get the Jews to behave immorally and you will have a chance to defeat them. And he was right. Historically speaking, we can see the good and the bad that can come from ‘tips’.  As with all choices we face in life, nothing is completely bad or good. Rather, all ultimately depends upon the true intent, purpose and ultimate goal of that tip.

Wed, January 19 2022 17 Shevat 5782