Preparing for Shabbos - It Is My Honor!
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 250) writes: One should arise early on Friday morning to prepare the needs of Shabbos. Even if he has several servants working for him, he himself should make the effort to prepare something by himself for the purposes of Shabbos, just as Rav Chisda would dice the vegetables, Rabbah and Rav Yosef would chop wood, Rabbi Zeira would light the fire, and Rav Nachman would arrange the house, bring in the utensils needed for Shabbos, and put away the weekday utensils. Everyone should learn from them, and not say, “I will not harm my honor,” for this is his honor — that he respects the Shabbos.
Preparing for Shabbos is of such importance that, as the Mishnah Berurah comments, if one will be unable to make his Shabbos purchases after the Shacharis (morning) prayer service on Friday morning, he may do his Shabbos shopping even before davening Shacharis. One shows respect for Shabbos by personally involving himself in the preparations. Even though one has housekeepers and others working for him, he shows respect to Shabbos by becoming personally involved, just as he would personally prepare for welcoming a distinguished guest. And as the Shulchan Aruch emphasizes, one does not compromise his dignity in any way by doing menial tasks such as mopping the floor in preparation for Shabbos, for to the contrary, one brings honor to himself by preparing the home for Shabbos.
It is told that once, as Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was performing bedikas chametz before Pesach, he went down onto the floor to check under the bed. His grandchild saw him when he stood up and said, “Your clothes are dirty.” Rabbi Elyashiv replied, “Don’t use the word ‘dirt’ to describe the dust that came as a result of a mitzvah!”
After the tragic Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, a famous photograph circulated of a fireman carrying in his arms a young child whom he had saved. The firefighter was visibly exhausted, dirty and sweaty. Yet, nobody would look disdainfully at the filth, grime, and sweat. These were honorable, a testament to his heroic efforts in saving a life. Similarly, there is no dishonor in doing physical labor to prepare for Shabbos.
The Chafetz Chaim (Bi’ur Halachah) comments that the Shulchan Aruch’s intent in this passage is to answer the question of why great Rabbis were permitted to engage in menial tasks to prepare for Shabbos. Generally, halachah (Jewish law) absolves respected Rabbis from mitzvos (commandments) that entail activities that would compromise their honor. For example, a Rabbi does not have to climb a tree to recover a basketball that was stuck there in order to fulfill the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah (returning lost objects to their owners). According to some Rishonim, it is forbidden for a Rabbi to perform such a mitzvah, as he is not permitted to waive the honor owed to the Torah. Likewise, it is generally forbidden for Rabbis to be seen publicly engaging in menial tasks, such as changing a tire (unless he has no other option).
The question thus arises as to why the Talmudic Sages personally involved themselves in activities such as dicing vegetables and chopping wood. Why were they permitted to act in a way that was unbecoming to scholars of high standing? For this reason, the Chafetz Chaim writes, the Shulchan Aruch emphasized that preparing for Shabbos is intrinsically honorable, regardless of the menial tasks it entails. In the Chafetz Chaim’s words, “He therefore states that this was honorable for them — that he involves himself in the mitzvah and it is evident that he does so in honor of Hashem.” As the pasuk (verse) states (Shmuel I 2:30), “I shall give honor to those who honor Me.” One is granted honor by showing honor to Shabbos. (It is interesting to note, as an aside, that the word kevodo appears just four times in the Shulchan Aruch. Three times it appears in the context of the pasuk, melo kol ha’aretz kevodo (Yeshayah 6:3), referring to G-d’s honor. The only other time is here in Hilchos Shabbos (The Laws of Shabbos), regarding the honor of a person who becomes involved in Shabbos preparations.)
The Ben Ish Chai, in Parashas Lech Lecha, recalls how his father would prepare trays of candies and fruit and put them on the table on Friday afternoon. He also writes that his personal custom was to prepare the Shabbos candles. All the great Torah Sages made a point of being involved in some way in Shabbos preparations, and we, too, should assume responsibility for a specific chore that we do in honor of Shabbos. The Ben Ish Chai writes that ideally one should perform some chores early in the day on Friday, and then do some of the last-minute preparations just before Shabbos begins.
Rabbi Shach was once on the run in war-ravaged Europe, and he was a guest in someone’s home. He was learning in a room on Friday afternoon while the family was preparing for Shabbos. He heard the baby crying in the bedroom. He went into the room, took the baby out of the crib, and placed the infant into a stroller. The mother was puzzled by the long quiet spell from her cranky infant and went in to check. She found Rabbi Shach, with his Gemara in his right hand, moving the stroller back and forth with his left while murmuring “lichvod Shabbos kodesh, in honor of the holy Shabbos.” He explained, “I am a guest and have no involvement in the Shabbos preparations. This is the least I can do to alleviate some of your pressure.”
A young, newly married man came to complain to Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein that as much as he admonished his wife she was never ready on time to light the Shabbos candles, and he asked for advice on how to remedy the problem. Rabbi Yechezkel responded, “You pick up a broom.“
Let us all ensure to give honor to Shabbos by becoming involved in the preparations, and then Shabbos will, in turn, bestow honor on us.
Reproduced from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton
ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.