Preparations for Shabbat
A visit to a Jewish home on a random Friday reveals a tumult of activity preparing for Shabbat – cooking, cleaning, bathing and all sorts of other chaotic activity. In fact, some people even start their preparations on Thursday night. To the outsider, the activity seems pointless and could be avoided if Jews would simply only prepare that what they need for each meal and not restrict themselves with all sorts of prohibitions. However, there is good reason for this activity before Shabbat.
Reason for Preparations before Shabbat
There are a few reasons why preparations for Shabbat take place beforehand. The simplest and most straight forward reason is that work is prohibited. According to Rabbi Samson Hirsch and many other commentators on the Torah, the term “work” is not simply exerting one’s self. One can lift weights or do push-ups all day long and not violate Shabbat. Rather, the type of work that is prohibited is that which is called a “Melechet Machashevet” - a type of labor that is productive and has a final result. This concept applies to all types of productive labor regardless of whether the action involves considerable exertion or not. Even something as minute as writing two letters would be considered a violation of Shabbat.
While it is clear why building and plowing a field would be prohibited, the main preparations that take place before Shabbat – cooking, cleaning and bathing – are more difficult to understand. After all, if it is the day of rest, one should be able to relax, bathe and cook as he pleases. In addition, many people clean during their days off from work. However, this is not the case. Bathing and cooking fit in the category of a productive action just like cleaning which obviously has a goal and a final result. In addition, these two activities involve prohibited activities such as using a fire. In addition to this, not performing these actions reminds man who is actually in charge of his world – G-d.
Yosef Moker Shabbos
Many Jews have the custom of saving the best of everything they own for Shabbat. This includes food. Consequently, many Jews prepare for Shabbat early but purchasing higher quality food for Shabbat and many also save their finest clothing for Shabbat. This tradition is has its basis in the Talmud.
In the Talmud, the story is told of a man called Yosef Moker Shabbat, or “Joseph who loved the Shabbat.” In the story the impoverished Joseph would spend his limited amount of money on the finest food for Shabbat and as a result was rewarded with finding a giant diamond inside a fish he bought for the purpose of eating it on Shabbat. While most Jews do not expect to find pearls or diamonds in their food, that same level of respect is kept and is why preparations take place before Shabbat.
The major preparations that take place prior to the start of Shabbat are cooking, baking, cleaning and bathing, although other preparations certainly take place as well. Many people start their preparations early in the week, although this is mostly to avoid not being prepared when Shabbat starts as well as to avoid being too exhausted to enjoy Shabbat.