The hours before Shabbos, as we all know, are a very busy time. It might be tempting to use every last minute to get things done, and involve oneself in Shabbos preparations until the very end. In truth, however, it is proper to begin Shabbos ten minutes before its formal onset (i.e., candlelighting time). Why?
The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 30:2) describes how one should conduct himself on Friday afternoon just before the onset of Shabbos: One sits with reverence anticipating the arrival of Shabbos, like one goes to greet the king.
The Rambam writes that before Shabbos begins, one should sit and eagerly await its arrival.
A friend of mine told me he once had the privilege of spending Shabbos with Rabbi Yehuda Ades of Yeshivah Kol Yaakov in Yerushalayim. My friend was with the rabbi in his office on Friday afternoon just before Shabbos. He was surprised to find the great rabbi just sitting and not doing anything, rather than using these moments for Torah study. My friend was thrilled over the opportunity to be alone with Rabbi Ades, and asked if they could learn together.
Rabbi Ades, however, refused, and showed him the Rambam requiring one to sit and wait for Shabbos to begin. If a person is learning or involved in some other activity, then he is not waiting for Shabbos.
The way to wait for Shabbos is the way children often wait outside when guests are supposed to arrive. They are too excited and anxious to get involved in anything else, so they just stand outside in heightened anticipation. Similarly, when Shabbos is about to begin, we are to sit and wait for it to arrive.
Rabbi Yechiel Spero relates the following story: Reb Shlomo Leitner, a respected community activist who lived in London and ran the local Belz charity, would spend most of his week preparing for Shabbos. He would begin preparing divrei Torah for the Shabbos meals as early as Sunday or Monday. Any special foods that were bought during the week would be set aside for Shabbos; all new accessories, shoes, and jewelry purchased by anyone in the household were first donned on Shabbos. The Shabbos table was always set on Thursday night. He would always finish his shopping early on Friday, and he would vacuum the entrance hall to his house, as well as the stairs, on his own.
At a certain point, his business was in real estate. One weekday, he was driving through town in order to view some of his properties. However, he was unable to reach his destination, since the roads were closed. After trying various routes, he finally gave up and stopped to ask a policeman why all the streets were blocked. The policeman explained that the queen was scheduled to arrive in the neighborhood at 6 p.m. Left with no choice, Reb Shlomo turned around and began driving home.
As he drove, it suddenly dawned on him that although it was only noon, the roads were already closed in anticipation of the queen’s visit. He concluded that if the authorities closed the streets at midday for the queen, even though she was scheduled to arrive at 6 p.m., then we definitely have to prepare ourselves in time for the Shabbos HaMalkah. From then on, he closed his firm on Friday at midday — no matter what.
What is the meaning of this “waiting”? Why are we supposed to just “sit around” waiting for Shabbos?
Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin explained that there is a concept of tzipise liyeshuah, which means that we are to anticipate and long for the arrival of Mashiach. One of the questions we will be asked after 120 years, when we depart from this world, is whether we eagerly looked forward to the Final Redemption. We must not only believe in redemption, but long for it.
Shabbos is called mei’ein Olam Haba, a microcosm of the Next World, or a “miniature Olam Haba,” if you will, and thus just as we must anxiously await the arrival of Mashiach, we must similarly wait for the arrival of Shabbos with eager anticipation. We are supposed to have the feeling of, “I cannot wait for Shabbos,” just as throughout the centuries of exile the Jews felt they could wait no longer for Mashiach to come and extricate them from their suffering.
We are to feel as though the burdens of the mundane workweek, all the worldly matters we need to deal with throughout the week, pull us down, away from our true goals, and we thus look forward to Shabbos, which frees us from these burdens and allows us to be the person we wish to be.
Just as people leaving on vacation excitedly come to the gate two to three hours prior to departure and just hang around, thrilled to get away from their normal routine and responsibilities, we, too, should arrive early at our weekly “vacation” from the mundane responsibilities of the workweek. We should not be like those who rush to the gate at the last minute just before takeoff. We should be there ready and waiting, indicating how special Shabbos is to us.
Let us bear this in mind, and make an extra effort to be ready for Shabbos even before its formal onset, whether it’s the woman sitting on the couch relaxing a few minutes before candle lighting, or the man arriving in shul early on Friday afternoon, truly sensing how this is the greatest time of the week, and excited to welcome the kedushah, the holiness, of Shabbos. In this merit, and in the merit of our anxiously awaiting our final Redemption, we should be granted the zechus, the merit, of welcoming the yom shekulo Shabbos, the final Redemption.
Reproduced from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton
ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.