I believe that my adult children, Chanie, Joey, and Ben, have already made their peace knowing that I drive on the Sabbath. I have started driving on the Sabbath just recently, despite knowing that I am transgressing the strict Jewish law that I have observed for decades. Now, debilitating illness requires me to do otherwise.
As my grandchildren, who have been raised not to ride on the Sabbath, arrive at their teens, time has come for me to explain – maybe “justify” – the reason that I do. This is the explanation I have given them. For the strict constructionists of halacha it has many flaws. Regardless, a few weeks ago I told them this, now expanded for more the mature, discerning reader:
You have certainly noticed that I am no longer able to walk to shul on the Sabbath and Holy Days. I hope you also notice that riding and driving on the Sabbath still tears at my conscience and makes me suffer much grief. I have not violated that law before, but now things have changed. As you have seen, my legs have gotten quite weak, primarily from nerve problems and my diabetes. The pain in my legs is nearly unbearable, even when I walk just a block.
So, each Sabbath I face this dilemma: Do I walk, drive, or stay home from shul? I have made the choice to drive, but just to do a Godly work. No mall nor deli. I know that there are many great Rabbis who say that even this is forbidden. But, I have made my peace with driving on the Sabbath to help in a crisis, praying and counseling with the critically ill and his/her family, a death, visiting an infirm community member. I am routinely summoned to use my rabbinical calling to help hurting people face their crises and grief.
And then there are the time of Godly celebrations in our family: a bris, bar/bat mitzvah, aufruf, and similar celebrations of joyous times.
As a Jew, as a person of fast faith, I know that I dare not “overrule God.” But, I also dare say that from Torah, to Talmud, to the ongoing Rabbinic tradition, we get a fairly sharp picture of God’s personality: merciful, gracious, patient, kind, truthful, forgiving sin and pardoning it (Exodus 34). It becomes obvious that He beckons us to be at the side of the sick, the fettered, the hungry, the naked, the wounded, and suffering. Just read God’s warning in Isaiah 58: “Do not turn away from your own flesh and blood.” God’s attributes are loving and forgiving, not wrathful and hustling for reasons to gig us.
So, under these loving, supportive circumstances I do “violate” God’s law. Somehow, I feel that God understands and forgives. It would be hard to comprehend why it would better to serve God by sitting alone in an empty house, absent from the side of the sick and bereaved, or celebrating a simcha shel mitzvah with family and friends. I feel a gaping wound in my heart just thinking about being absent from Sophie’s Bat Mitzvah or Simmy’s Bar Mitzvah.
Would that make anyone feel more honored, especially God? The essential question: What would best honor God and His creations? Would God be more beloved and happier if He saw us sitting alone and miserable, as our loved ones daven, dance, sing, and renew friendships, just three miles away? Or bring a smile or a tear to a dying friend?
I hope you will keep all this in mind and not feel badly toward me when I drive to an event that enhances a Divine command. Someone once said, “There is the Torah of the “head,” and the Torah of the “soul.”
I do not recommend my “solution” to anyone else. Your conscience, your relationship with God, your priorities, must guide your path. I have made my peace. I am ready to greet my critics with respect and honor. I understand your position, even if you may not understand mine. I do not write to convince, simply to explain.
WILUDI (AKA Marc H. Wilson) is a retired rabbi who writes from Greenville, SC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org