A member of our shul made a simcha this past weekend - his son became a Bar Mitzvah on Succos. It was a nice affair - the boy lained, said the haftorah, did a pretty good (although not perfect) job and the host had a crowded kiddush in his sukkah after davening.
It could have been a bit more crowded. As it turns out, the host invited guests from Baltimore to stay with him over Yom Tov. However, Friday was progressing and the guests still weren't there. Everyone began to get worried. Finally, five minutes before candle lighting, the host gets a call from the guests that they aren't going to make it. They hit lots of traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and were still only in Staten Island. However, by a stroke of fortune, they had family who lived in Staten Island and were able to crash by them for Yom Tov. They didn't make it to the Bar Mitzvah, but at least they weren't stranded out on the road for two days with two little kids.
Of course, this little affair got me thinking what I would do if I were stranded on the road at the start of Shabbos. It could happen because of traffic, a medical emergency, a car breakdown or any one of a dozen other reasons. What would I do?
I attended a shiur on this subject a few years ago. Sad to say, I don't remember all the details, but I do remember the jist of it. Up until sunset itself, you can continue driving. Beyond that, for the next forty-five mintues of so (during bain ha-shmashos - the time period between sunset and when it gets dark), you cannot drive, but you can have a non-Jew drive for you. Beyond that, you're out of luck. Even having a non-Jew drive for you won't help because you will end up travelling out of the techum Shabbos (the 2000 cubit limit in any direction in which you are allowed to travel on Shabbos).
So, what do you do?
Well, the first rule of thumb, of course, is that if there is a danger to life, then you continue driving. At that shiur that I attended, the story was told of a nor'easter that hit the New York area on a Friday afternoon in December of 1992, which resulted in a blizzard in parts of New York. People returning from work that afternoon were having all sorts of problems: dangerous road conditions, traffic, whiteouts and traffic accidents. It soon became clear to quite a few motorists that they weren't going to make it home by Shabbos. In a panic, they called their Ravs asking what to do. Apparently many of these Ravs, in turn, called one particular posek for advice. His response: if it's a blizzard, drive on. Sakanas N'fashos (danger to life) overrides Shabbos. Since they could easily freeze to death in their cars if they pulled over, they would have to continue driving on. "However," he said, "you should tell all these drivers that this is a p'shia (case of negligence). Knowing that a blizzard was coming, they should have left work earlier, or perhaps even taken the day off if possbile. Now that they're on the road, they must continue - but the chillul Shabbos (Sabbath desecration) is at least partly their responsibility."
But what if it's not a case of pikuach nefesh? What if I'm travelling along the road with my kids on a Friday and we break down - or hit traffic. I suppose if there is a town with Jews nearby, we could just drop in and hope to crash with someone (as much as I *hate* imposing on people - even family, let alone strangers - for anything). But what if it's literally in the middle of nowhere? Of course, there are numerous factors to take into account - the local weather, whether or not I have food with me or not, the ages and medical conditions of my passengers, etc. It would certainly seem strange to spend Shabbos camped out on the side of the highway (would the cops even let us stay there? What if they forced us to move?) eating whatever meager provisions we were carrying for our Shabbos "meals." Simple things that we take for granted, such as sleeping arrangements, using the bathroom (can't rip off leaves to use for toilet paper on Shabbos -- assuming that there are any leaves where you are), davening, etc. all become challanges. You can choose to stay in the car, where you'll likely be more comfortable at the outset - but then you won't be able to leave as opening or closing the door will result in the car lights going on or off. (Even if you disconnect the interior dome light, in most cars, a light will probably go off on the dashboard as well.) Or, you could choose to stay outside the car all Shabbos, but then you've got to hope that the weather doesn't turn unpleasant on you. Nothing like being stuck in a strong rain to dampen your Shabbos mood.
So, what would I do if I were stuck in the middle of the road with my kids at sunset on a Friday in a non-Sakanas N'fashos situation? Well, my kids are older (they range in age from 10 to 13), so they can understand the concept of why we'd be stuck. Once it became clear that we're going to be nowhere for Shabbos, I'd use whatever little time we had to the best advantage: I'd try to find the best spot/shelter that we can for Shabbos. Gather all the provisions. Prepare any form of "toilet paper" that we can. See if we can get a fire started quickly so that at least for the first few hours we might have some warmth and hot food if possible (assuming we had food that could be heated up). Ration out what provisions we had. Impose strict rules on wandering away from our site. Be prepared for lots of kvetching over the weekend. Try to judge upcoming weather conditions (or even just listen to the radio). But, in the end, no matter how unpleasant it got, I'd have to say that barring pikuch nefesh or even serious illness, I'd be prepared to stick it out. (And, please don't ask me what I would do if it were two days as it was this past weekend. It would seriously depend on our food supply - I know that I don't think I can fast for two days straight. I certainly wouldn't make my kids do it.)
Do any of my readers have "stuck for Shabbos" stories?
UPDATE: Wow! It seems it was quite a weekend for people going to and from Baltimore to have trouble making it in time for Yom Tov. See here and here.