Erev Shabbat

This is not about how to properly observe Shabbat. Rather, it is about how to properly observe Erev Shabbat, Friday. Indeed, there is an entire array of laws and customs on how to maximize our Fridays in preparation for Shabbat.[1] Even one who has servants at his disposal is obligated to personally tend to at least some of the Shabbat preparations himself.[2]

Anticipating the arrival of Shabbat each week is actually a biblical obligation. One should even refer to Friday in connection with Shabbat. For example, it is better to say “I am going to get a haircut on Erev Shabbat” instead of “I am going to get a haircut on Friday.” This is consistent with the custom of opening the "Psalm of the Day" each morning in reference to Shabbat. For example, Sunday’s song begins with: “Today is the first day in the Shabbat [week].”

The word erev means to “blend,” referring to Friday, which is actually a blend between the holy and the profane, a weekday with a Shabbat flavor.[3] Work should be minimized on Fridays in order to allow for plenty of time to properly prepare for Shabbat.[4] The sweat one emits while preparing for Shabbat is said to erase one's sins from the Heavenly record.[5] It is the husband's job to ensure that the Shabbat candles are in place and ready for lighting each week.[6] One should begin one's Shabbat preparations as early as possible on Friday.[7]

As a general rule, we are told that one should avoid eating large meals on Fridays in order to ensure a hearty appetite for the Shabbat evening meal.[8] In fact, abiding by this is considered to be a hiddur in the mitzva of enjoying the Shabbat meal.[9] One of the reasons that weddings are not held on a Friday is lest people not be hungry for the Shabbat evening meal after having partaken in the wedding feast.[10] There have even been individuals who would fast each and every Friday in order to ensure that they would have an appetite for the Shabbat meal.[11] While such a practice is simply not possible for the masses, it is recommended, however, that one not eat an actual meal on Friday, especially during the winter months when Shabbat arrives early. Rather, one is encouraged to simply eat light or even just snack throughout the day as needed.[12] Eating a meal of any size on Friday is especially problematic from the ninth hour into the day and onwards.[13] In fact, one should not eat a meal which is larger than average at any time on a Friday, even if it is early in the morning.[14] It seems that one family paid the ultimate price for having ignored this halacha.[15]

When buying food for Shabbat, it is praiseworthy to verbally state to oneself that the food is for such purpose.[16] Indeed, one should endeavor to do something every day of the week in honor of Shabbat, as did Shammai. Whenever Shammai would go shopping and come across a tasty piece of meat, he would purchase it in honor of Shabbat. If later in the week he came across an even more attractive piece of meat, he would eat the first one and save the nicer one in honor of Shabbat, and so on.[17] In fact, shopping for Shabbat is one of the few things one is permitted to do even before one has prayed on Friday morning.[18] It is also considered a great mitzva to taste the food for Shabbat on Friday to ensure that it is tasty (see next chapter).[19] One should endeavor to purchase flowers in honor of Shabbat, as well.[20]

It is also a big mitzva to shower on Fridays, in honor of Shabbat, preferably late in the day.[21] The reason that one should shower later rather than earlier is because we are taught that the pleasure one derives from a shower and being clean is only appreciated an hour or so afterwards. Delaying the shower closer to Shabbat will ensure that one enjoys this pleasure on Shabbat itself.[22] It is written that the mitzva of showering can only be fulfilled with warm to hot water – cold showers don’t count.[23] The order of what to wash first when showering is as follows: head, face, chest, right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg.[24] This pre-Shabbat wash is known in kabbalistic circles to assist in removing sins from one’s soul.[25] It is also meritorious to immerse in a mikva, if possible.[26] One should brush one's hair nicely in honor of Shabbat.[27]

One should arrange for one's hair and nails to be cut on Erev Shabbat. When one cuts (or bites) one's nails, one must make sure that none of the clippings remain on the floor, as they are said to trigger miscarriages.[28] It’s best to burn one's nail clippings, but burying them is acceptable, as well. It is interesting to note that whenever the Arizal would cut his hair he would do so before midday.[29] It is recommended not to cut one’s hair or nails on Rosh Chodesh.[30]

One should avoid all unnecessary travel on Erev Shabbat especially if it means travelling out of town.[31] It goes without saying that one should not fly on an Erev Shabbat.[32] One is required to inspect one's Shabbat clothes before the onset of Shabbat to ensure that there is nothing muktza in the pockets. This is especially crucial for one who lives in a place without an Eruv in which case it is forbidden to go outside on Shabbat with anything at all in one's pockets.[33]

The home should be meticulously cleaned Erev Shabbat in honor of Shabbat.[34] Taking a nap Erev Shabbat is considered praiseworthy in order to allow one to receive Shabbat fully awake and refreshed.[35] One should don one's Shabbat clothes late Friday afternoon in honor of Shabbat.[36] Indeed, one should wear these clothes until at least after Havdalla on Saturday night.[37] If one plans on being a guest at someone’s home over Shabbat, one must be sure to arrive early enough on Friday to ensure that one's hosts will be able to properly prepare for one's Shabbat needs.[38]

Fridays allow us to infuse our mundane and weekday activities with honoring and preparing for the holiest day. It is best to minimize one’s work schedule so as to use as much of Friday as possible in order to prepare for Shabbat.[39] Great rabbis were known not to open their mail Fridays lest its contents cause them worry or depression over Shabbat. Others honor Shabbat by ensuring that the Shabbat table is set early in the day; some even set it on Thursday nights.

[1] Rivevot Ephraim 1:181.

[2] OC 250:1.

[3] Ta’amei Haminhagim 250.

[4] Mishna Berura 25:1-4.

[5] Kaf Hachaim, OC 250:5; Shaarei Teshuva 250:2.

[6] Kaf Hachaim, OC 250:9.

[7] Shabbat 117b; Tur, OC 250; OC 250:1.

[8] Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 30:4; OC 249:2.

[9] Aruch Hashulchan, OC 249:6.

[10] Mishna Berura 249:9.

[11] Yerushalmi Ta'anit 2:12; OC 249:3.

[12] Aruch Hashulchan, OC 249:6.

[13] OC 249:2.

[14] Aruch Hashulchan, OC 249:4.

[15] Gittin 38b.

[16] Mishna Berura 250:2.

[17] Beitza 16a. See also Pesikta Rabati 23.

[18] Mishna Berura 250:1,2.

[19] Aruch Hashulchan, OC 250:4; Kaf Hachaim, OC 250:8; Mishna Berura 250:2; Rivevot Ephraim 2:115:37.

[20] Shir Hashirim Rabba 2:9; Vayikra Rabba 23:6; Kaf Hachaim (Palagi) 36:2.

[21] Mishna Berura 260:1.

[22] Elya Rabba 262:6.

[23] OC 260:1; Biur Halacha 260 s.v. “Bechamin” and "Lechof Harosh". But see Devar Chevron 2:229.

[24] Shabbat 61a; Mishna Berura 2:7, 260:1; Be'er Moshe 3:1; Ben Ish Chai, Vayishlach 17. For pre- and post-shower etiquette, see Derech Eretz 10.

[25] Ta’amei Haminhagim 249.

[26] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:12. See also Yosef Ometz 565.

[27] Mekor Chaim (Chavot Ya'ir) 260.

[28] Moed Katan 18a; Mishna Berura 260:6. The reason for this is that before the sin of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve wore garments made of a fingernail-type substance. After they sinned God took away this Divinely provided clothing. Since it was Eve who was essentially responsible for this loss, our fingernails – which recall these clothes – are said to bring harm to pregnant women. Of course, this is a spiritual and not a scientific matter

[29] Ben Ish Chai, Lech Lecha.

[30] Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid 48.

[31] OC 249:1, Yabia Omer, OC 2:14:6.

[32] Rivevot Ephraim 3:161:2.

[33] OC 252:7; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:23; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 252:18.

[34] OC 262:1; Sefer Chassidim 149. See also Aseh Lecha Rav 1:26.

[35] Sefer Or Haner, cited in Yitzhak Buxbaum, Jewish Spiritual Practices (New York: Jason Aronson, 1994).

[36] OC 262:2, 3.

[37] Mishna Berura 262:8.

[38] Mishna Berura 249:3.

[39] Sefer Chassidim 121, 122.