A few weeks ago I took my family camping on Shabbos. The goal was to get back to the essence of Shabbos. I wanted to feel Shabbos the way I felt it many years ago. I wanted to be excited about it and feel a connection to Hashem. Because I love spending time in the woods and feel most at home in a wilderness environment I thought that camping Shabbos was the answer to feeling good about Shabbos again.
My husband was basically against the idea of camping on Shabbos because he would be without his creature comforts. I wanted to go completely backwoods with no other people for miles and miles. We compromised and chose one of our lovely NJ State Park campgrounds. This was our first mistake. Our campsite was heavily impacted, someone raked up all of the leaves and it rained the night before we arrived. We basically set up camp in a pig wallow. Still I was determined to have a good time.
Camping Shabbos Rule #1: Go all in. Don’t bother with populated campgrounds. They offer more challenges than benefits.
Arriving a full 4 hours before my husband could get out of work, it was my responsibility to set up camp. I put together our tent as our toddler screamed in terror that she might be left alone inside of the tent. I set up our eruv as our neighbors looked on curiously. I performed countless camp chores on my own, while simultaneously trying to wrangle my daughter away from mud pits and hot fires. It was already shaping up to be an adventurous weekend.
Let me pause for a second. I don’t know why I thought this was going to be easier than getting ready for Shabbos at home. You can insert appropriate criticism in the comments below.
Camping Shabbos Rule #2: There is more prep than getting food ready, make sure whoever is setting up camp has help (especially if there will be children around).
When my husband finally made it to camp we had only a short time before candle lighting, we built a big fire that would last us past sunset. Warmed up our food as much as possible and lit candles amid the sounds of crickets, birds heading off to sleep and children laughing in nearby sites. The evening was actually very pleasant. We sang songs together and hung out until the fire was too low to keep us warm. Retreating into the tent for the night I felt a sense of calm that I had missed back home.
A few hours later, I woke up to the sound of a deep sniffing. If you’re also a backpacker you know the sound. It’s a critter rooting around your campsite looking for treats. This particular critter was a raccoon. I poked my head out of the tent. He walked across our table, jumped down and sat under one of our camp chairs, then he waddled off into the brush on his way to the next camp site. I fell back asleep a few minutes later overjoyed that I had enough experience to make sure our food was protected.
Camping Shabbos Rule #3: Obtain some basic wilderness skills before hand. Our visitor could have done some serious damage.
In the morning I woke up before my daughter and husband. My kid curled up in the sleeping bag next to me and my husband sleeping peacefully on the other side of her. Light drops of rain pattered on the roof of our tent and I could hear the forest waking up. I woke up my husband to witness the absolutely cherubic face of our little one. We chatted for a few minutes and then lay listening to the soundtrack of creation.
Not even a minute later the “soundtrack of creation” was interrupted by screaming. The distinct sound of an adolescent temper tantrum rang through the campground. “Give me my gun!” and other such statements peppered with expletives informed us that the family in the site next to us was having a conflict between an older brother who did not want his younger brother shooting a BB gun in the campsite and the younger brother who saw nothing wrong with his chosen form of entertainment. My husband, a teacher of students with emotional disabilities, asked if I thought he should step in.
“No”, I said, “just stay out…”.
Before I could finish my sentence the edge of our tent collapsed and popped back out as the brothers crashed through our eruv, slipped on the mud and fell onto our tent. We received front row tickets to the wrestling match of the summer that finally ended when an adult pulled the younger teen off of the older teen and marched him off to the bathrooms.
Thankful that the gun was a toy, but still shaken by the dramatic turn of events I left the tent to assess the damage to the eruv. There was no way that the eruv was kosher any more. The posts were severely slanted, the fishing line broken in some places and in other places there was a lot of slack.
Camping Shabbos Rule #4: Make sure your eruv is as obvious as possible. Think neon.
The rest of Shabbos was spent doing our best not to carry within our campsite, we mostly failed. I was never so happy to make havdalah than I was that night. I know a lot of halachot that apply to camping shabbos. Including putting a rock under your wash station, but I didn’t really know how to deal with a broken eruv so we were stuck keeping things on the picnic table or moving them to the tent four steps at a time and then passing to the next person.
Camping Shabbos Rule #5: Have a plan for if the eruv goes down.
I was feeling very discouraged around mincha time. I told my husband that this Shabbos felt like a bust and we might as well just pack it all up as soon as possible and go home. My husband (who always knows how to deal out the tough love), laughed at me and said “Isn’t one of your long time dreams to go on “Survivor”? This is nothing”. It was like he lit a fire under me. He was abolutely right. If this was a game for a million dollars these small set backs would feel like nothing to me. My displeasure was all my own, I felt entitled to have a good time just because of what day of the week it was. The notion that I should have a good day without any mental effort was ridiculous. Once I had my mind in the right place, my Shabbos felt a lot better.
Camping Shabbos Rule #6: Mental attitude is more important than anything.
I didn’t get all the warm fuzzies back that I wanted to, but I did have a good time and will probably camp on shabbos again, but with a few small changes. Overall I guess that I learned that there is no perfect Shabbos. Shabbos is as perfect as you allow it to be. That may mean a change of environment, but more likely it will mean a change of attitude.