My wife and I like going away for the weekend, but as Shabbat gets earlier, I am worried about getting stuck on the drive to Deal. She says we should go anyway, especially now before we have children, but I have heard crazy stories of people getting stuck on the road. If it’s getting close to Shabbat, I would feel uncomfortable stopping in a Jewish area in Staten Island or New Jersey to ask if I can join for Shabbat. Should I try to make backup plans in advance?
Do you have any other advice?
Dear Uneasy Traveler,
Your situation involves two separate issues: the halachic question of what is permissible late Friday afternoon, and the practical issue of convenience, as it is obviously uncomfortable to unexpectedly invite oneself over to a stranger’s home for Shabbat, and the actual stay might
Halachically speaking, it is forbidden to embark on a trip Friday afternoon without allowing oneself enough time to reach his destination and prepare himself for an enjoyable day (see Shulhan Aruch Orah Haim249:1). Just as we are required on Shabbat to pray, refrain from work and fulfill other obligations, we are likewise required to enjoy ourselves in particular ways on Shabbat. The pasuk states explicitly, “and you shall proclaim the Shabbat a day of delight” (Yeshayah 58:14), and for this reason we must involve ourselves in the various pleasures which the halachah prescribes for us throughout the sacred day. Therefore, when leaving for Shabbat, one must ensure to leave enough time to not only reach his destination, but also to prepare himself so he can enjoy Shabbat. Moreover, it does not suffice to take into account the GPS’s estimated traveling time. One must also consider foreseeable trafficdelays along that particular route on Friday afternoons, and then allow some extra time for unexpected delays. In short, one must leave with enough time to reach his destination and settle in before Shabbat even in the case of unforeseeable and undesirable circumstances.
Unfortunately, with today’s busy and pressured lifestyle, many people are too ambitious on Friday, trying to “squeeze in” all they can before the onset of Shabbat. In order to prepare ourselves properly for Shabbat, we must be realistic in making our plans for Friday, and this is especially so when we are traveling for Shabbat.
Returning to your particular situation, I would suggest that if you enjoy spending Shabbat away from home, then by all means do so, but sit down together beforehand to schedule your Friday in such a way that leaves plenty of extra time before Shabbat to allow for unexpected delays and to ensure you settle in before Shabbat begins. Additionally, while you certainly do not want to knock on a stranger’s door on Friday afternoon to ask for lodging, it might be a good idea to have a backup plan in place for unforeseen circumstances (if the car stalls, a road is closed, etc.). Identify the Orthodox Jewish communities along your travel route so you know where to turn inan emergency. You can also make a list of motels along your route and bring food along with you, so that even if you are stuck, you and your wife can still enjoy a quiet Shabbat together. Obviously this is not the kind of weekend you are looking for, but having a contingency plan in place can help reduce pressure and stress when traveling a long distance for Shabbat.
May you always have the privilege of giving the utmost on behalf of the Shabbat, and may Hashem grant you in return truly enjoyable, beautiful, and uplifting Shabbatot every week throughout your lives.
With warm wishes and
Rabbi Yechiel Elbaz