Practical Halacha

From Before to After Shabbat: Part 1: Preparing for Shabbat
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Monday 25th August 2014

by Elana Chesler, US Living & Learning Educator

Preparation is psychologically crucial in focusing us on the importance and value of what is to come. We prepare for exams, job interviews and holidays. According to the Rambam (Maimonides d.1204), preparing for Shabbat with mindfulness is an independent mitzvah. The Talmudic sage Shammai would prepare all week for Shabbat. When shopping during the week, if he came across a particular delicacy, he would buy it and put it aside for Shabbat. This is one way of fulfilling the command to “remember the Shabbat Day” (Shemot 20:8) during the course of the week.

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law, written 1563) provides a narrative which relates the Shabbat preparations of various Talmudic sages. Rav Chisdah used to cut up the vegetables. Rabbah and Rav Yosef would chop the firewood. Rabbi Zeirah would light the fire. Rav Nachman would put away the weekday tableware and take out the Shabbat tableware. The message being conveyed is that there is no task, however seemingly menial, that does not become meaningful and significant when incorporated into preparations for Shabbat.

A passage in the Talmud (Shabbat 12a) excerpted in the Friday night prayers (see green siddur, p.300), discusses some of the routine preparations for Shabbat. Included in these preparations is to check our pockets to ensure that there is nothing there that might be mistakenly carried on Shabbat. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (d.1935) discussed what additional deeper moral message might flow from this process of checking our pockets before Shabbat. Whilst clothes are visible to the outside world, the contents of pockets are hidden. This provides a metaphor that we can apply to ourselves. We sometimes display an external image to the world which may be out of synch with our internal values. On Shabbat we want to ensure that “our pockets” – what is on the inside – matches the special Shabbat clothing we wear on the outside. Shabbat is an opportunity to asses our values and our conduct, to cease ‘doing’ and ‘creating’ and instead evaluate and introspect, using Shabbat to realign ourselves.

One of the overtly spiritual preparations that take place before Shabbat is the convention of reviewing the weekly sidrah. This practice (known as “shnayim mikra v’echad targum” ) involves reading the sidrah through twice, accompanied once by a translation. Daily commuting time offers many an opportunity to do this, with reviewing apps available today online.
It is important that our Friday afternoon preparations do not become harried, that tempers do not fray and that preparations are done in a calm and pleasant way. In preparing for one mitzvah – Shabbat observance – it is counterproductive to breach any interpersonal mitzvah, for example by getting angry or shouting at someone. The Sefer Chassidim (written 12-13th century) observes that it is particularly important to avoid a dispute on Friday afternoon. This allows us to enter Shabbat with harmony and with a little preparation, to achieve the goal of a Shabbat Shalom – a peaceful Shabbat.