Journeys and Destinations
By Rabbi Paul Arberman
“When we arrive at the hotel, we can relax.” When I was growing up, I remember my mother telling me that she disagreed with this sentiment. Too many families, she said, focus on the destination when on holiday. The holiday, she would say, begins in the home while packing and in the car-ride to the vacation spot.
If leaving the house is done with anxiety, pressure, and anger — then that gets “averaged in” as part of the entire vacation. If the day packing is spent getting happily excited about the upcoming activities; and the car-ride is done in a good atmosphere, then this part of the vacation is a success.
The same lesson about the importance of journey and process (not just the destination) is found in Judaism in a law called “Eruv Tavhshillin” — which allows us to eat on Shabbat (the destination), food that was cooked on a holiday (preparation), the day before.
Jewish law prohibits cooking on Shabbat. It is however, permitted to cook on a chag/holiday (from a flame that was lit before the holiday — often a yahrzeit type candle beside the stove, or from a burner left on for the entire holiday). However, and this is the key point — we are only allowed to eat food cooked for that day (and not the next day of Shabbat).
The rabbis allowed food to be cooked on Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot to ensure we could enjoy/eat on these two day holidays. This was not true of Shabbat (only one day and with stronger restrictions).
So what happens when you are allowed to cook on the holiday, Thursday or Friday, but only for that day — and you are NOT allowed to prepare for the next day, Shabbat?
Jewish law holds that if we start to prepare something for Shabbat before the two day holiday begins, say, on Wednesday afternoon, then we are allowed to “continue” preparing/cooking this meal for Shabbat on Thursday or Friday (the holidays).
This food for Shabbat, e.g. a hard boiled egg and some bread — should be put aside (in the fridge) to be eaten with our meal on Shabbat. In this way, we have avoided exclusively cooking on the holiday for the next day, Shabbat, because the process for preparing food for Shabbat begins two days prior. In other words, once we acknowledge that we are starting and moving toward Shabbat preparation early enough, then we can continue.
There are other examples of Judaism emphasising preparation and process. For example, you might think the Haggadah of Pesach would be about celebrating the arrival to Canaan, or about Joshua’s conquering of the Promised Land, when our freedom was complete. Rather, we celebrate the earlier event of leaving Egypt. Similarly, Sukkot celebrates our travels and survival in the desert — when we were in the middle of nowhere…still on our journey.
Even Shavuot does not celebrate the “completion” of the Torah — that’s a more Orthodox understanding of the holiday. Our Masorti historical perspective suggests that Torah was not given in one meeting between God and Moshe. Rather, for us, Shavuot focuses on the beginning of the Halachic process – perhaps the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, at the START of the journey of Jewish responsibility.
Judaism’s wisdom, and my mother’s, is that the journey is important — and that it begins earlier than you think. Eruv Tavshillin is done to show that you started preparing for Shabbat, prior even to the holiday before it. And later, when you recount the memories of your vacation or holiday, preparations and the journey are part of the story
Rabbi Paul Arberman lives in Modiin Israel and visits London to be with Hatch End Masorti Synagogue about 10 times per year.