Preparing for Shabbat

  • Rav Doniel Schreiber



By Rav Doniel Schreiber


Shiur #02: Preparing for Shabbat



[Note: The following abbreviations will be used in this series.


            The four sections of the Tur and Shulchan Arukh:

OC = Orach Chayim

YD = Yoreh De'a

EH = Even Ha-ezer

CM = Choshen Mishpat


            Recent works on Shabbat:

MB = Mishna Berura

SSK = Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata.]



I.  Introduction


            Every week, households around the world are enveloped in a flurry of action to prepare for the upcoming Shabbat.  We are concerned with many details to make sure that Shabbat is as pleasant as possible.  However, is it really necessary to expend so much time and effort?  The Torah writes (Vayikra 26:2): "Keep my Shabbatot and fear my sanctuary."  R. Eliezer of Metz comments in his Sefer Yereyim (siman 410) that "just as God commands us to fear and honor the Temple, so too He commands with regard to Shabbat, for they are juxtaposed [in the Torah] with each other.  What does it mean to fear Shabbat?  That a person should keep in mind to honor Shabbat, and to ensure and be zealous in the matter."


            Additionally, on the verse (Shemot 31:16): "And Benei Yisrael kept (lit. watched) the Shabbat, to make the Shabbat...," R. Chaim ben Atar, in his Or Ha-chayim, comments that we should anticipate when Shabbat will arrive so that we can arrange all our needs for Shabbat and have a festive Shabbat meal.


            In fact, according to the gemara (Beitza 16a), Shammai understood the verse (Shemot 20:8) "Remember the Shabbat to keep it holy" to mean that one should start putting aside food for Shabbat even at the beginning of week.  His cycle of eating was always geared towards the honor of Shabbat, for if he would come into possession of a good animal, he would set it aside for the Shabbat meal; but if he would later find an even better animal, he would eat the first and set aside the second for the Shabbat meal.


            By contrast, Hillel believed that, because of his deep faith in God, he would be furnished with a festive meal for Shabbat even if he would not put aside the good animal at the beginning of the week.  Instead, he would eat it right away.  Nonetheless, Hillel would agree that most people who do not reach his level of trust in God should act in accordance with Shammai.  (See Mishna Berura 250:2.)


            Preparations for Shabbat can also be deduced logically.  We are all familiar with the analogy of Hashem to a leader of a great nation.  If that leader were to come to visit our home, our preparations would be endless, our house would be shining, our food delicious, clothing spotless, and we would certainly not finish our preparations late.  How much more so should we be careful to honor Hashem and the Shabbat.


II. How Do We Prepare for Shabbat?


A. Counting the Days of the Week


            Chazal point out that even from the start of the week we already have an established relationship with Shabbat.  In Shemot (20:8) the Torah states: "Remember the Shabbat to keep it holy."  Based on this, the Mekhilta (the midrash to Shemot) comments that we are obligated to count the days of the week leading up to Shabbat.  Accordingly, the Ramban comments that the verse teaches that we should remember Shabbat every day of the week.  This is to assure that we not forget Shabbat and confuse it with another day.  Additionally, this is also in order to remember daily the creation of the world and its Creator.


            Therefore, the Ramban writes, our method of counting the days of the week differs fundamentally from that of the non-Jews.  The non-Jews use unique names for each day of the week, such as Sunday, Monday, etc.  By contrast, we count the days of the week with an eye towards Shabbat, as seen in the "Shir shel yom:" "Today is the first day in (the count towards) Shabbat."


B. Preparing the House and Oneself


1. Arising Early

            One should arise early on Friday morning to prepare for Shabbat.  The gemara (Shabbat 119a) notes that even great sages helped with the household chores in order to honor the Shabbat (OC 250:1).


2. Tidying the Home

            One should set his table, arrange his bedding, sweep and wash the floor, and attend to all household matters before Shabbat.  Therefore, when he returns from synagogue Friday night he will find his house clean and in order.  For the duration of Shabbat one should have a nice tablecloth spread and one try to keep the house neat and tidy (OC 262:1).


3. Wearing Clean and Fine Shabbat Clothing

            One should launder his clothing during the week in order to have clean clothes for Shabbat.  However, according to an enactment of Ezra, one should not launder his clothing on erev Shabbat.  This is to insure that one will have time to prepare for Shabbat (OC 242:1, and SSK, vol. 2, 42:5, note 13).  It is possible that this prohibition is inapplicable in today's modern environment where we have washing machines and tumble-dryers (see SSK, ibid.).


            On Shabbat, one should try to wear fine clothing.  As part of this requirement one should not wear clothing that one wears during the week.  Instead, one should have special clothing for Shabbat: a suit or a dress, a shirt or a blouse and Shabbat shoes.  It is even preferable, if possible, to have a Shabbat tallit.  All of this is applicable even for one who lives alone or who will be travelling alone  (OC 262:2, and Mishna Brura ibid. notes 5 and 6, and SSK, vol. 2, 42:56, note 206).


4. Purchasing Food for Shabbat Dining

            In the event that one can purchase and prepare the food for Shabbat easily, it is preferable to do this on erev Shabbat in order to show that it was bought specifically in Shabbat's honor.  If the food requires a great deal of preparation, then one should purchase it on Thursday in order that there will be enough time to prepare the food on Friday.  One should also declare at the time one purchases food for Shabbat that "this is likhvod Shabbat" (in Shabbat's honor) (see MB 250:2).


            Although it is not an obligation, it is preferable to enjoy more meat, delicacies and wine on Shabbat than one does during the week.  One should at least be careful to eat two cooked dishes and fish (assuming one enjoys fish) at each meal (see OC 261:1, and MB 242:1, 2.).  However, it is possible that in today's society meat has replaced fish as the greater delicacy (see SSK, vol. 2, 42:16, note 63).


            One who can only afford two meals fulfills the mitzva of oneg Shabbat (enjoying Shabbat) with them and is not obligated to borrow or take out a loan for the third.  However, if one cannot afford even two meals he should take out a loan to pay for all three, for God has guaranteed that He will repay the debt.  Nonetheless, if one feels that he will not be able to repay the loan, he should forgo the mitzva of oneg Shabbat (MB 242:3, and SSK, vol. 2, 42:18, 19, note 71).


5. Spending Lavishly

            Although one's income is divinely determined each year from one Rosh Hashana to the next one may spend lavishly for the sake of Shabbat, as it is guaranteed that God will ultimately repay the expenditures (MB 242:4).


6. Baking Challa

            It is a time-honored custom that married women bake their own challa for kavod Shabbat and not to rely on purchasing their challa from a baker.  It is important for those who have this custom to remember to mafrish challa (set aside some dough in memory of the priestly gifts) (see OC 242:1).


7.Bathing and Grooming

            With relation to personal appearance and hygiene, the Shulchan Arukh (OC 260:1) states: "It is a mitzva to wash one's face, hands, and feet with warm water prior to Shabbat.  It is also a mitzva to cut and wash one's hair and to cut ones nails before Shabbat."  The Rema (ibid.) adds that one should wash his whole body with hot water.  Preferably, these preparations should be done after midday in order to demonstrate that it is being done likhvod Shabbat (Arukh Ha-shulchan 260:6).  Furthermore, one should put on one's Shabbat clothing immediately after bathing.  One should be careful to finish his preparations early and not wait until the last moment.  Waiting until the last minute may cause onto accidently violate Shabbat (OC 263:3, and MB 11 and 12).


8. Travelling

            In the event that one is travelling to a place where no Shabbat preparations are being made for him, he should ensure that he reaches his destination with two thirds of the day left until Shabbat.  This will guarantee that he has enough time to prepare properly for Shabbat.  If one is travelling to a place where his Shabbat needs will be provided for, he still must be careful to have taken all possible delays into consideration so he will arrive at his destination early enough that there will be no risk of desecrating Shabbat (see OC 249:1, and Mishna Brura ibid.).


9. Limiting Dining Prior to Shabbat

            As part of the mitzva of kavod Shabbat, one should enter into Shabbat looking forward with anticipation to eating the evening meal.  Therefore, in the interest of keeping up one's appetite (and limiting unnecessarily time-consuming work), it is forbidden at any time on erev Shabbat to eat a meal that one does not normally have as part of his weekly diet, such as at a party or banquet.  It is even forbidden to eat a se'udat mitzva if it should have been eaten on an earlier day (OC 249:2).


            While a timely se'udat mitzva is permitted to be eaten on erev Shabbat, it is a mitzva to have the meal before midday.  If it must be eaten after midday, it may take place as a normal se'udat mitzva so long as it begins with at least a quarter of the day remaining.  After that time, the se'udat mitzva should only consist of small portions of bread in order to ensure that the Shabbat meal will be eaten with an appropriate appetite (OC 249:2).


            It is permissible to eat any normal set meal at any time on erev Shabbat.  Nonetheless, it is a mitzva to refrain from eating such a set meal in the last quarter of the day in the summer.  In the winter, one should aim to eat even earlier because of the shorter days.  Of course, it is better to limit one's Friday afternoon meal as much as possible.  One is permitted to snack any time on Friday afternoon even right up until the onset of Shabbat.  Once Shabbat has begun, it is forbidden to eat or drink anything until one has prayed and made kiddush (OC 249:2, and SSK, vol. 2, 42:25 and 29, and notes 111 and 112).


10. Limiting Work Prior to Shabbat

            In order to ensure that the needs of Shabbat are attended to, it is forbidden to be involved in a consistent and established labor routine that is not geared toward the Shabbat from mincha ketana and onwards (we will explain halakhic times in the next shiur).  One who violates this principle will not see success from his activity during this time (OC 251:1).  This law does not forbid involvement in business transactions such as those in supermarkets and other stores.  Nonetheless, these businesses should be closed with the impending approach of Shabbat, preferably an hour before sunset (MB 251:1).  One may work after mincha ketana, even for pay, if the work is light and casual in nature, such as watering the grass, sewing a button or writing a letter (OC 251:1).


            A laborer who generally works until the evening should try to set the parameters of his job to allow him to stop working at mincha ketana (MB ibid., Sha'ar ha-tziyun, note 4).  When this cannot be done, he should at least try to get home on time to help prepare some basic Shabbat necessities (MB 251:3).  However, one who is indigent, or who will suffer a loss if the work is not completed, may work up until the approach of Shabbat (MB 251:5).


            If one's work is actually helping someone else in his Shabbat preparations, as in the case of a barber, he may work after mincha ketana for pay.  This is only if it is obvious that the work is likhvod Shabbat.  If it is not obvious that it is likhvod Shabbat, he may only do this work after mincha ketana for free.  In all these cases one should stop early enough to ensure that he will not come to chillul Shabbat (OC 251:2, and MB ibid.).


11. Preparing the Sidra

            One is also required to recite the parshat ha-shavua (weekly Torah portion) twice every week along with either the Targum Onkelos or the commentary of Rashi.  It is preferable to learn both commentaries.  Ideally, one should recite either all of it on erev Shabbat or read a portion of it daily and complete it on erev Shabbat.  After completing this obligation it is customary to read the haftara as well.  Women are exempt from this obligation, but they should still hear Torah reading in shul (OC 285:1-4, 7, and Mishna Brura; see also SSK, vol. 2, 42:57-58, 60, Arukh Ha-shulchan OC 285 and Yalkut Yosef vol. 4, pp. 354-356 note 1, for an elaboration on this mitzva).


            In the event that one did not complete this Torah reading before Shabbat, one should try to complete it before eating the Shabbat day meal.  This meal should begin before midday.  If one has still not finished the reading, the Shulchan Arukh cites three opinions as to until when one has to complete it: until Shabbat mincha, at which point the reading for the next week begins, until Tuesday (inclusive) or until simchat Torah (OC 285:4).


            Although this mitzva receives support from the Talmud Bavli, Yerushalmi, and almost all Rishonim and Acharonim, it is indisputable that most people, both learned and unlearned, are not accustomed to fulfilling it.  Moreinu Harav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit"a explained to me that although it is proper to read the portion of the week twice, with Targum or Rashi, those who do not do this can rely on the opinion of the Ra'avan.  The Ra'avan (cited in Hagahot Maimoniot, Laws of Tefilla 13:25) understands the ruling of the gemara (Berakhot 8a-8b) to refer to only those who live in small villages that do not have a minyan for Torah reading.  Since these people will not hear the Torah reading, the Ra'avan says according to the gemara they must do the next best thing - recreate the Torah reading themselves.  Therefore, they must read the weekly portion twice: once for the reading of the oleh and once for the reading of the ba'al koreh.  They must recite the Targum as well, since the Torah reading used to be accompanied by a simultaneous translation.  This should be accomplished at the same time that the tzibbur would be reading the Torah in shul, as the gemara says: "One should complete his parashot TOGETHER WITH THE CONGREGATION."  [The Ra'avan claims that the clause "together WITH the congregation" makes no sense if we assume that the entire congregation has an obligation to recite the parasha twice independently of the public Torah reading.]  However, if one attends Torah reading in shul, it is unnecessary to read the sidra twice with Targum at home.


12. Miscellaneous

            Other important preparations for Shabbat to consider are: setting the Shabbat clocks, keeping lights on or off in certain rooms (bathrooms, bedrooms, etc.), removing muktza items from one's clothing, and certifying that the light remains off in the refrigerator.  One might also consider calling relatives and friends to wish them a pleasant Shabbat.


13. Shalom Bayit

            It goes without saying that Shabbat preparations should not be the cause of tension or anxiety in one's home.  Rather, they should be accomplished in an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement.  Erev Shabbat is a time for families to bond in a united effort to honor the Shabbat.  Perhaps one of the one most important elements of entering Shabbat honorably is to enter in a warm, joyful, peaceful and familial mood.  (In this vein, see also MB 262:9.)


            In the next shiur, we will begin studying the thirty-nine melakhot (forbidden types of action).