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Can I drive on Shabbat if it is my only way to get to the synagogue?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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Disappointing as it may sound, the answer is no.

It is disappointing because which Jew doesn’t want to be in a synagogue on Shabbat? After all, the Synagogue is G-d’s home, the Jews are G-d’s People, and the Shabbat is G-d’s day.

However, notice the common denominator in the above mentioned trio of Synagogue, Jew, and Shabbat: G-d.

Shabbat belonged to G-d. For six days He created a world for worldly beings. Then He created one day for Himself.

Thousands of years after creation He decided to share this day with His beloved people-the Jews. He "made room" for us in His oasis of time, and gave us the gift of Shabbat.

The way, and only way, one shares space/room with G-d is by following HIS will. We may find something to feel "holy" or "spiritual" for us, and then we begin to think that is what G-d must want too. But the truth is our human perception of what He may or may not want is not always accurate.

Ironically, the passive act of NOT going to synagogue because we won't drive is more of a biblical celebration of Shabbat than attending services in the Synagogue (which is a Rabbinical ordinance).
Come to think of it, what can we finite humans know about G-d’s perception of "rest" or His idea of a day to Himself? Not much!

We can only know what He told us. And while it is indeed beautiful to come to Synagogue on this holy day to sing G-d’s praises and hear G-d’s words, we must remember His definition of this day: "Thou shall not do work." Driving in a car on Shabbat is in that category of work.*

Naturally we may feel "holier" by some of the "inspirational" moments of Shabbat - more so than by simple restraint from "work." But since Shabbat is G-d’s day, we must celebrate it in a manner that suits Him. Ironically, the passive act of NOT going to synagogue because we won’t drive is more of a biblical celebration of Shabbat than attending services in the Synagogue (which is a Rabbinical ordinance).

G-d nonetheless understands our desire to actively celebrate this day and so He provided us with the opportunity to celebrate at home as well. If you can’t make it to His home, the synagogue, invite Him to yours by lighting the Shabbat Candles Friday just before sunset, and making the Kidush and Motzi Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

If you feel you still need/want the synagogue experience, Judaism agrees. That’s why it is worth the walk.


* See "What are the 39 Melachot" and "How is turning on lights on Shabbat considered work".


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COMMENTS

Driving on Sabbath

Posted by: Danny, Hendersonville, NC on Nov 23, 2005

I did'nt understand the last response. If G-d commands us to assemble. which I do out of love and respect for him. Would I not be in disobiedence to his will if I did not drive myself to worship? Do you really believe he would rather I sat at home on the couch? We dont all live in cities and don't want to. Please excuse my ignorance on the matter.

Editor's Comment

1. Aside for several exceptions, a mitzvah may not be performed if a sin must be transgressed in order for it to be observed. 2. We are not COMMANDED to gather on Shabbat -- although it is highly encouraged and spiritually uplifting. Conversely, it is absolutely forbidden to drive on the Sabbath.

Ways you can go to synogauge for shabbat

Posted by: Anonymous on Dec 04, 2007

One thing I always do before going on a trip is finding a synogague, and seeing if I can stay with someone from that synogague for shabbat. Many Orthodox synogagues have people who will have others over for shabbat. I would suggest checking www.chabad.org.

RELATED CATEGORIES

Shabbat » Forbidden Activities

Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.