Is it proper to embark on a long trip (whether by car or otherwise) on a short erev Shabbos?
The question might well apply even to a late erev Shabbos as well. I remember as a young child my mother’s close and extended family used to vacation in the same bungalow colony in Woodbourne, N.Y. One year, I was very excited as my father rented a small trailer attachment to his car to accommodate all our essentials for that summer.
We left early Friday morning (end of June) – pre-construction of both the New York State Thruway and the Quickway (Route 17) – and the traffic was heavy. We came up to our bungalow, literally sliding into Shabbos, just enough time for my mother to light candles. To our great surprise, my grandmother, aunt and the cousins had the entire Shabbos prepared – the table set with the candles ready.
Needless to say, after that my father decided that thenceforth he would come up to the country on Thursday nights, even though it would mean traveling late at night, in order not to infringe upon kedushas Shabbos. I must add that I remember as an adult being faced with the same problem on an erev Shabbos, at least twice, even though it was a long day.
The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 249:1, based upon the Talmud Sukkah 44b) rules, “One is not to journey [by foot] for more than three parsa’os [a parsa is approximately 3.5 miles] on the eve of the Shabbos in order that he arrive at his house [destination] while it is yet daytime, thus enabling him to prepare all the Shabbos meal needs.” He notes further that if his arrival is anticipated [wherein all his needs will be provided] then he may go for several [more] parsa’os.” The time that it takes to travel three parsa’os is approximately four hours.
Today we travel by vehicular transportation and a trip from the New York metro area to the Catskills is generally three and a half hours. Such a trip in the summer is possible if one begins his journey (comfortably) at about 1:00 o’clock (see Aruch Hashulchan ad loc 249 sk3, who alludes to our present day means of travel).
On a short Shabbos “all bets are off,” as who is to assure that he will reach the longer destination on time. King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 2:14) sums it up so well, “Hachacham einav b’rosho v’haksil ba’choshech holech … – The wise one’s eyes are in his head but the fool walks in darkness …” The Targum and Rashi explain that the wise one looks to the future, he plans ahead. But the fool traipses along in his darkness (without any foresight).
In reference to Shabbos the prophet (Isaiah 58:13) states: “… v’korosa la’Shabbos oneg … – … and you shall call the Sabbath a delight …” Without proper planning, can Shabbos truly be a delight or will it result in grief?
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.
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Chazal distinguished between a person who is traveling for a mitzvah or business reasons and one who is traveling for pleasure. The former can generally depart on erev Shabbat, the latter cannot. Nonetheless, it should be underscored that it is rabbinically prohibited to place oneself in a situation in which chilul Shabbat is possible. That constraint applies to everyone. Observance of Shabbat is such a fundamental principle of Judaism that forethought is indispensable even before Shabbat so an unforeseen event does not derail us.
Thus, a person who embarks on a two-hour journey 90 minutes before Shabbat starts is an obvious sinner. He cannot claim that pikuach nefesh (preservation of life) justifies his subsequent Shabbat violations. Similarly, one who embarks on a two-hour journey exactly two hours before Shabbat is reckless and if he doesn’t make it in time, he is also a Shabbat desecrator. Enough time must be allowed even for short trips, not to mention long ones, that the effects of accidents, traffic, delays, storms and breakdowns are considered. In these situations, always be a pessimist and not an optimist, especially since there is also a mitzvah to enter Shabbat with peace of mind, not harried from a frenetic and intense journey.
Just recently, two people flew from South Africa to Israel, landing on Friday, in order to fulfill a mitzvah. The exaggerated vagaries of the coronavirus caused a change in the entry regulations while they were en route. When they landed in Israel, they were turned away and forced to board a return flight to South Africa on Friday night. The rejection was despicable, to be sure. But when it comes to Shabbat, never assume! Travel on Thursday – or leave early Friday morning for a two-hour trip. The sanctity of Shabbat deserves no less.
– Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values and author of Repentance for Life now available from Kodesh Press.
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As is the case with many of the questions posed in this column, the issues raised intersect with deliberations recorded in the halachic literature. Land travel on erev Shabbat is discussed in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 249), where the Mechaber places limitations on such travel, based on the circumstances of his time. The Mishnah Berurah elaborates by quoting the opinion of “many Acharonim” who counsel avoidance of extensive travel on erev Shabbat due to the numerous possibilities for chillul Shabbat that can eventuate. The Mishnah Berurah sums up by saying:
“Therefore, an individual should determine to cease travel [as Shabbat approaches] and accept Shabbat in place, even in a small village, and not give in to the impulse that urges ‘the day is still long and the path clear [and I can, therefore, continue my travels].’”
Emerging from this discussion is the mandate that extensive travel on erev Shabbat should be avoided because of the uncertainties involved in such journeys. All of us have experienced travel delays that were totally unanticipated at the onset of a particular journey.
In short, travel on erev Shabbat should be limited to those nearby destinations where we will clearly arrive, even after unexpected delays, in enough time to bring in the sanctified day of Shabbat b’nachat.
– Rabbi Shmuel Goldin is author of Unlocking the Torah Text book series and past president of the RCA.