About Shabbat and the Prohibition to Walk beyond a Certain Distance
The Sabbath (or Shabbat as it is called in Hebrew), is probably the best known of all the Jewish observances. For those Jews that ‘keep’ (observe) the Shabbat, it is considered a precious gift from God. Shabbat is arguably the most important ritual observance in Judaism. It is a day of spiritual enrichment and rejuvenation. The word Shabbat itself means to end, or to cease (i.e. from work). Jews believe that God made heaven and earth, in six days and on the seventh day (Shabbat), He ceased from His creating work. When Jews rest on the seventh day after being active on six days of the week, they, in a way ‘imitate’ God in both His creative activity and in refraining from work periodically, thereby acknowledging that He is the Creator and Master of the universe. Shabbat-observant Jews remind themselves on a weekly basis, that our work, as important as it is, is not the ultimate end-in-all goal in life. It is good to temporarily set it aside on behalf of higher values, spirituality, and a different experience of time.
Resting on the seventh day is also about freedom. In ancient times, only the ‘upper class’ and the wealthy had time to rest. In Pharaoh times in Egypt, the slaves (Jews), never had a day of rest. So by resting on the seventh day, Jews remind themselves that they are liberated, and meant to strive spend quality time free not only of physical labor but also of mental anxiety. During the week we may be ‘slaves’ to our work and the need to succeed but on the seventh day we can experience a deeper freedom, as were our ancestors freed from slavery.
The Jewish concept of resting on Shabbat may not be what we think it is. It does not necessarily mean doing nothing or sleeping. The Torah and the rabbinic tradition explain that Shabbat “resting” is merely desisting from a number of specified activities. Among these are activities like kindling fire, sewing, writing, cooking, baking, harvesting, sowing, building, trading, carrying objects outside a house or private area, traveling (let’s say in a car), or walking beyond a certain distance.
The distance that one may travel (we are talking about traveling on foot here) on the Shabbat depends where one is at the start of Shabbat. If you are in a house outside of a town, meaning in a remote cottage, a farm house, or a “little house on the prairie”, you can walk as far away from that house as 2,000 cubits in each direction (which is roughly about 1 kilometer or almost two-thirds of a mile). In other words one can walk anywhere within an imaginary circle that has a diameter of 2 km, i.e. 1.25 mile, with the house exactly in the middle.
On the other hand, if you live within a village or a town, even a town as big as New York City or London, you can walk anywhere within that town until the edge of the town, plus another 2,000 cubits beyond the edge (also in each direction).
A Personal Experience
(by Sjimon den Hollander):
The following story happened to me about ten years ago. It was on a Friday, and I was flying back to my home in New York City from a short vacation in Colorado. According to my travel schedule, I should have landed early enough to make it home before Shabbat and in time to prepare, but for some unforeseen reason there was a serious delay, and I landed right at the time when Shabbat was supposed to start. I made it off the plane before the deadline but now I was in the airport and Shabbat had started. What to do now? The airline personnel were not willing to help at all, and there I was with my suitcase. There were a number of problems that presented themselves to me as a Shabbat observer. I am not supposed to use a vehicle (a cab), I am not supposed to carry objects on the street (my suitcase, my wallet, my keys), and I am supposed to honor the Shabbat with a festive meal, which was not possible at the airport; as a matter of fact I didn’t have any food or drinks with me and to make things worse, I was am not supposed to buy anything on Shabbat either. And to make it even more complicated, we are not supposed to fast on Shabbat…!
I calculated all pros and cons. Not having the Shabbat meal and saying blessings over wine in honor of Shabbat is less serious than breaking the laws of carrying and traveling, so all things considered, it would be better to stay in the airport until the next evening. However I could not physically do that. There was no place to lay down on a bench, and perhaps I could do without food or drinks, maybe I could drink water for a fountain, but I certainly couldn’t manage without sleep.
Then I came up with a plan. I had traveled with a non-Jewish companion, and he was still at my side, seeing if I would be okay. Shabbat is not incumbent on non-Jews. According to Judaism, a non-Jew is not obligated to keep these laws as they are only part of the covenant that God made with the people of Israel. Non-Jews can serve God in different ways (bit that’s a different topic).
This kind companion agreed to take my suitcase, my wallet and my keys and deliver it to my apartment, and I gratefully accepted his offer. Then I started walking from LaGuardia Airport to my home in downtown Manhattan. I wasn’t really sure how to walk but I used my sense of direction and probably didn’t go as straight as I could have.
I walked through the night at a high pace and it took be somewhere between 3 to 4 hours. All my muscles and bones hurt me when I came home. I said the blessing over wine, had a tiny mini-meal and fell asleep.
I do have to confess something though… I didn’t make it to Shabbat service that next morning.
The Situation in the Jewish Village of Putti, Uganda:
Some Putti Jews live too far away from the village itself, but still wish to pray at the synagogue located within the village.
To enable them to observe Shabbat and to comply with Jewish Law, they need a place to rest and sleep during the Shabbat period without needing to use transport to get from place to place.
Putti Village Assistance Organization (PVAO) has therefore set up a fund in order to build a “Shabbat Sleepover House”… The building is currently underway.
We urgently need to buy more bricks in order to create more sleeping areas. Can you help us achieve this goal?? Our aim is to raise $5,000 for this important project. By donating just $25, you will donate 100 bricks! PVAO thanks you for taking the time and trouble of contributing in any way you can.
You can make an earmarked donation by clicking on the donate button below:
We are grateful for any help you can give!