Two weeks ago I found myself in Breckenridge, Colorado for the weekend. My brother's family rented a ski condo, so we had a "mini family reunion" on the ski slopes. For the first time I was presented with skiing on Shabbat as a practical question, not just a theoretical question.
After thinking about it, I decided it was technically OK to ski — the ski lift is basically an outdoor Shabbat elevator. I bought my ticket before Shabbat, the condo was "ski-in, ski-out," so no need for any transportation to the lifts — also convenient for lunch without having to carry food or spend money.
So I went skiing. I tried to make it somewhat Shabbas-dik: I started late, after davenning; I even took a nap after lunch, to try and keep a bit of the feeling of a day of rest, and I tried not to push myself too hard (normally I spend all day on the "black diamond" mogul slopes and keep my heart rate up).
However, after having done it, I don't think I would do it again. It wasn't that restful — I couldn't resist the temptation to ski my usual terrain, especially since I was skiing with my brother-in-law who's a great skier. The day just did not "feel" like Shabbat at all. Part of that is not being with a community on Shabbat.
This week's Torah portion starts our with Moses gathering the people together; and right after they are gathered together, he reiterates the commandment to keep the Sabbath. Seven years ago, for this parsha in 5763, I gave a d'var Torah where I explored the relationship between community and the Sabbath; you can read it here. In that drash I observed:
A few weeks ago I had what for me is an unusual experience:
Shabbat without community. I had surgery on a Friday, and Shabbat was spent recovering at home. Most of that Shabbat was spent sleeping. I observed all the traditional observances—we had a Shabbat dinner, I prayed, etc.—but all without the presence of community.
It was a much different experience than a “regular” Shabbat. Yes, it was a very restful day. However, the lack of community—the lack of praying together, studying together, eating together—also made it
less spiritually fulfilling and uplifting. A lot of the power of Shabbat to change our lives comes because of the power of community to nurture us.
So a few weeks ago I was given a reminder that "community" does make a difference.
So I would in the future hold that skiing on Shabbat is something I won't do, not because it's technically prohibited, but because I would include it in the category of a "shvut" prohibition, something that not in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat.
There are things that are considered forbidden on Shabbat because of shvut; personally, I don't think I would make halachic rulings for other people based on shvut because what's in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat is clearly in the eye of the beholder. TV can make an interesting example.
I consider it OK to use electricity for permitted purposes on Shabbat. As a practical matter, this means that I will flip light switches on Shabbat, but not anything else, because pretty much anything else you might want to do with electricity — cooking, grinding, etc., — is forbidden on Shabbat regardless of how you do it. However, I never watch TV on Shabbat — not for any playoff games, not for the Olympics, nothing. Not with the TV left turned on before Shabbat or any other technique. Because for me, even though I'd say it's OK to turn it on and off from the electricity perspective, I consider TV totally NOT in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat, so we're very strict about it. But I had a congregant a few years ago who posed an interesting question: what if he ONLY watches TV on Shabbat, so it's part of how he makes Shabbat different than the rest of the week? Could it be permissible then? I had to admit it was a good question. I'd probably rule it permissible for him, even though I'd never consider it permissible for me.
However you manage to find it, may your Shabbat be filled with the spirit of Shabbat, filled with good food, family, friends, and the presence of the Shechinah!