Accepting and Preparing for Shabbos Early
Yalkut Lekach Tov by Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Beifus is a set of sefarim that covers numerous topics. In the volume on Shabbos, the author included as an introduction a letter by Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman of Bnei Brak that discusses the importance of Shabbos. Rabbi Steinman quotes a passage from the Chafetz Chaim’s work Sheim Olam (vol. 1, end of chapter 4), where he cites a novel idea from a certain unnamed sage (the Chafetz Chaim generally quoted other scholars anonymously):
It is known that even if a person committed sins during this lifetime for which he is destined to suffer in Gehinnom, Heaven forbid, nevertheless, if he observed Shabbos he will receive a respite from the suffering of Gehinnom during Shabbos.
Incidentally, this is one of the reasons given for the requirement to smell spices after Shabbos. When Shabbos ends, the fires of Gehinnom begin to rage once more, and the smoke creates a foul odor that is sensed by the neshamah, and we thus sniff spices to negate this spiritual stench.
But this sage cited by the Chafetz Chaim added that if a person already begins preparing for Shabbos on Friday morning, then his weekly respite from Gehinnom will likewise begin on Friday morning. One might have thought that the earliest this respite can begin is the point of plag haMinchah — one and a quarter halachic hours before sundown — which is the earliest time on Friday that one can begin Shabbos. However, according to this sage — whom the Chafetz Chaim cites approvingly — one can have the fires shut off even earlier, on Friday morning, by occupying himself in Shabbos preparations already in the morning.
Rabbi Steinman noted that Shabbos is unique in this respect, and distinct from other mitzvos. When it comes to other mitzvos, the kedushah is created at the time the mitzvah is performed. With regard to Shabbos, however, one can bring the kedushah even earlier, through his preparations.
To bring this idea closer to our day-to-day experiences, imagine a person had to undergo some dental work and was dreading the ordeal. But he was told that there was something he could do to take ten minutes away from the drilling time. Certainly, he would jump at the opportunity.
This is the opportunity we are given each week. By beginning our preparations early, and starting Shabbos as early as we can, we reduce the time that we will need to endure punishment, Heaven forbid, in the Next World. This applies at the end of Shabbos, as well. Instead of running right at the time Shabbos ends to do melachah, we can benefit ourselves by adding some time and extending the special holiness of this day.
Shabbos, the mei’ein Olam Haba, is a time of rest and serenity both in this world and the next. If we treat it properly here in this world, it will accompany us and bring us blessing and serenity in the Next World, as well. This concept should give us special incentive to invest extra effort to complete our Shabbos preparations on time and accept it as early as we can.
Additional Incentives for Accepting Shabbos Ten Minutes Early
Friday is a very busy time in the Jewish household, and the thought of starting Shabbos ten minutes early — especially during the winter months, when Shabbos begins at an early
hour — might not sound very appealing. But the truth is that there are a number of very good reasons for doing so. These serve as incentives to accepting Shabbos before the formal onset of the day.
The Pri Megadim, in his commentary to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 256), writes that one who adds from the weekday onto Shabbos is rewarded with additional life. In this vein, the work Rimzeh Shabbos (quoted in Lekach Tov, Shabbos page 27) comments, if one expands the boundaries of Shabbos by reducing from his weekday hours, Hashem will reduce the boundaries of his troubles.
Thus we have seen two significant incentives for beginning Shabbos early — longevity, and reducing one’s troubles. A third incentive is derived from the comments of the Ben Ish Chai in his work Ben Yehoyada, where he writes that the Sages speak of earning a nachalah b’li metzarim (an inheritance without borders) by properly observing Shabbos. Here, the Sages refer to one who adds onto the time of Shabbos.
The question thus naturally arises, why would adding time to Shabbos bring one life and blessing?
Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, the rabbi of the Ramat Elchanan neighborhood in Bnei Brak and a son-in-law of Rabbi Elyashiv, answers this question by way of an incident that once took place in Europe. A person committed a severe crime against the government and was given a hefty fine, which he was required to pay off in monthly installments over an extended period of time, about twenty years. The man was worried about how he would be able to make these large monthly payments as he entered old age, and so he gathered all his savings into a special account, and entrusted it to his attorney, instructing him to direct the required payment to the government each month.
The judge who presided over this offender’s trial heard of how far this man went to ensure that he would be able to pay his fine, and was very impressed. It was clear to him that this man truly resolved to conduct his affairs honestly and responsibly henceforth, and so he decided to waive the fine.
Rabbi Zilberstein noted that when a judge sees how the defendant is prepared to accept something on his own volition, he is prepared to absolve him from punishment.
Similarly, when a person voluntarily accepts the added mitzvos of Shabbos before the prescribed time, he demonstrates that he is a loyal servant of G-d, and is thus granted blessing and long life.
There is also another reason why one earns blessing by accepting Shabbos early. The Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 5:6) relates that the mazikim — the harmful spirits that threaten us — were created during the period of bein hashemashos (twilight) on Friday afternoon, at the very end of creation. And so when one accepts Shabbos early, at the time when the mazikim came into existence, turning this period into Shabbos, he neutralizes their power and thus earns great blessing.
Rabbi Zilberstein told another story at this gathering: Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky, the Ridvaz, was known throughout the world as an extraordinary talmid chacham. He wrote a masterful commentary on Talmud Yerushalmi, yet was also very accessible and sought after for his down-to-earth and practical advice in daily matters.
There is a story told of Rabbi Refoel Dovid Auerbach, the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Shaar Shamayim. He entered the home of Rabbi Chatzkel Abramsky, the grandson-in-law of the Ridvaz, early one Friday morning and noticed that the table was already set for Shabbos. The challos, wine, and candles were all in place. He was very impressed. He asked Rav Chatzkel if this was an unusual occurrence.
Rav Chatzkel responded that at one time the Ridvaz had been quite ill. Although everyone prayed for his recovery, his condition deteriorated. He found himself on the brink of death.
Right then and there, the Ridvaz spoke passionately to the Almighty, “Ribbono Shel Olam, what do You want from me? I learn Your heilige [holy] Torah day and night. I even wrote a peirush [explanation] on the entire Yerushalmi. Do You want me to also write an explanation on Talmud Bavli? There already have been thousands of those written by many who were greater than I.”
At that moment, the Ridvaz turned quiet and remained so for a long time. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. When he awoke, he called for his rebbetzin. He asked if they could accept upon themselves, from that point on, to make sure that the table was set for Shabbos by the time he returned from Shacharis on Friday morning. He told her that it had been revealed to him from Shamayim that his recovery was dependent upon it.
“And so,” Rav Chatzkel concluded, “this is the custom we have continued in our home. By the time Friday morning comes, we always make sure to have the table set for Shabbos.”
Rabbi Zilberstein presented these words of Torah at a special gathering that was held in Bnei Brak after a number of tragedies struck the community, and the people sought guidance for how they should respond to end the devastating events. The community members took it upon themselves to begin Shabbos each week ten minutes early, and Rabbi Zilberstein conveyed these remarks to provide incentive and encouragement in this effort, emphasizing the protection that one earns by observing this practice.
We are always looking for ways to protect ourselves and our families, and there is no better way than to follow the advice of the Torah Sages to begin Shabbos ten minutes early.