My granddaughter is becoming bat mitzvah, and my 92-year-old mom is saying she will not be able to go because she cannot drive on Shabbat. But is it allowable—for this special occasion—for her to violate Shabbat just this once? The way I see it, this is a once-in-a-lifetime situation, making it quite okay to drive. This is her first great-granddaughter to reach bat mitzvah, and unfortunately she probably will not be around to celebrate this milestone with any of her other great-grandchildren.


This is an important question, for it leads us to a central theme in Judaism.

It’s easy to relate to a mitzvah as tradition or symbolism. Perhaps, taking it one step further, a mitzvah is divine advice on how to live the best life possible—the most meaningful, the most blessed.

If we would accept either of those definitions, we would have to agree that fulfilling mitzvot depends on the situation. We would say that yes, tradition is important, living a meaningful life is important, but in this situation there is something else more traditional and more meaningful—so we would use our judgment as to what takes precedence.

But that isn’t so. A mitzvah is precious not just because it is a tradition and has meaning to us. A mitzvah is G‑d’s own will and infinite wisdom. If so, a mitzvah’s incredible power and the blessing it brings is infinite in nature. It’s a connection to an infinite G‑d, way beyond our own understanding. It goes beyond the benefits and meaning we sense—though that’s important as well—for it is part of the divine. And a G‑dly formula for living is not subject to man deciding whether it is or isn’t relevant in a particular situation. (It is only when the Torah itself instructs us to put aside Shabbat, as in to save a life, that Shabbat laws should be disregarded.)

We might feel that a hike to the top of a mountain will be a more spiritual experience than a trip to the synagogue. Or that the pastrami from the new “kosher style” delicatessen will make the bat mitzvah a more joyous experience. Or, in a far more subtle manner, the situation here: that a great-grandmother being at the family celebration outweighs the prohibition of driving. And that’s when we remember that a G‑dly mitzvah is eternal, and extends far, far past the benefits we happen to sense . . .

Your grandmother should most certainly be at this bat mitzvah. It is only that you will need to find a way for this to happen in a permissible manner. Have you looked into her staying within walking distance from the synagogue? If this is not a possibility, you can speak to the rabbi about having a non-Jew wheel her to the synagogue (a subject beyond the scope of this e‑mail).

Mazel tov, and may you have much nachas from the entire family!