If you were one of my would-be hosts, then I want you know to know that I’m very sorry.
It was a beautiful Friday in January 2008 and we were heading up I-75. We were driving from Orlando, and were planning to spend Shabbos in Atlanta. On Friday morning we set out for the six-and-a-half-hour drive and it seemed we had enough time. We hadn’t counted on significant construction for a large part of the trip.
As the day waned, we discussed the possibility of not making it to Atlanta on time. We called our hosts to let them know what was going on. I wanted to stop early enough so that we’d have enough time to get ourselves set up for Shabbos in a hotel somewhere. My husband agreed in theory, but in the way of men, he continued to push on. And then the traffic got bad.
When it was 40 minutes to shekiah, I saw a Red Roof Inn right off the approaching exit from the highway.
“Let’s go,” I said. We were in Locust Grove, Georgia. We were close to Atlanta, only half an hour away, but not close enough. After a nerve-wracking traffic jammed exit, we finally got off the highway. My husband went in to book a room (Baruch Hashem they had availability!), unloaded our luggage into our room, and flew to the gas station mini-mart next to the hotel. Meanwhile, I quickly set up for Shabbos, arranging the lights, the heat, and clearing off a coffee table for us to use. My husband came back with tea lights, a lighter, snickers bars, and chips. It promised to be an interesting Shabbos.
In a stroke of hashgacha pratis, we had two rolls in our possession, as we hadn’t stopped on the way to wash for lunch, and thus we were able to make both Kiddush and Hamotzi. In addition, I was grateful to have a couple of magazines to read. We were fortunate, because it could have been an awful experience, and yet it wasn’t. Hashem was gracious to us.
After our Shabbos seuda, if you can call it that, I shared a thought with my husband. “You know,” I said, “In some ways it feels more like a real Shabbos here than if we were having a normal Shabbos.” It was because we were experiencing the essence of Shabbos without the externals. We didn’t have the social element of Shabbos, and we didn’t have the culinary element of Shabbos. We just had Fundamental Shabbos, a compelling spirit that was palpable more so that night in Locust Grove than on a regular Shabbos back home.
This concept of Fundamental Shabbos rang true for me this past Yom Kippur as well. There was one Yom Kippur on which I forgot to mention Shabbos by licht bentching. The Yom HaKippurim loomed so large in my mind that I forgot about Shabbos. But this year I focused on Shabbos. I paid attention to the words: “And you gave us…this Shabbos…L’Kedusha V’l’menucha.” On Shabbos Yom Kippur we don’t experience Shabbos in our usual way. There is no food, there is no socializing, and there is very little family time. Ultimately, it seems that so many aspects of our weekly Shabbos are not the true essence of the day.
If it could be Shabbos when it is Yom Kippur, or if it could be Shabbos in a motel in Locust Grove, then Shabbos is more fundamental than all those (very significant) externals. The Machzor demonstrates that Shabbos is for kedusha and menucha. Wherever we are, even if we can’t make Kiddush in the traditional sense, Hashem is mekadesh the Shabbos. And whatever we’re doing, even if we can’t nosh or schmooze, it is our abstinence from forbidden work that creates the true menucha.
Sometimes I get lost in the routine of Shabbos. Between setting the table, serving the food, and eating the meal, I lose focus on the idea that Shabbos is a sign between us and Hashem. The peripherals of Shabbos are certainly important, but it’s good to remember that Shabbos is deeper than whatever the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If I could maintain this focus, even while cozily snuggled on my couch, my experience of the day would surely be enriched.
Ultimately, that Shabbos in Locust Grove was a quiet one. On Motza’ai Shabbos, we drove up to Atlanta, and chatted with our hosts for a while. I pray that next time we will be a lot wiser about long Friday trips, but I can’t deny that it was a memorable Shabbos. So next time you get a call about being our hosts, know that this time, we do plan to come!