It is a short winter Friday, the house is upside down and it is almost Shabbos. Your kids are lying around or playing and are not interested in helping. So you put on Rav Yom Tov Ehrlich’s famous Yiddish song “Shabbos Kodesh, Shabbos Kodesh.” Soon the invigorating melody fills the room and things start moving. “The tanaaim – the amoraim – everyone is getting ready for Shabbos Kodesh – Shabbos!” His vivid description based on the Gemara in Shabbos (119a) of the holy rabbis of the Talmud each preparing for Shabbos, is enough to motivate even the laziest child to get up and start helping. (Okay, okay – it only works once in a while!)
Sometimes we wish that we could just wave a magic wand and watch all the Shabbos preparations happen on their own. The Shulchan Aruch (250:1) tells us that this outlook is incorrect. “Even if a person has many servants, he should do something himself to prepare for Shabbos, in order to honor it.” Regarding all other mitzvos, there is no inherent need to make preparations. However, concerning Shabbos, the preparations are an integral prerequisite of the mitzvah. This because we are required to honor Shabbos, and honoring Shabbos starts with the preparations. Therefore, not only should they not be skipped, every person should make sure to partake in them. Let us understand how these preparations honor Shabbos and why our own participation is necessary.
The King Is Coming
In our previous articles we explained that on Shabbos we see Hashem’s presence in a clearer manner than during the rest of the week. However, in truth, it is much more than that. Chazal reveal to us that it is as if He is coming to visit us for Shabbos. As it says (Shabbos 109a), “Let us go out and greet the Shabbos Queen.” This is absolutely amazing! The King of the Universe comes to each one of us and says, “Forget about everything else, lets spend the day together!”
However, together with this great privilege come responsibilities. The Mishneh Berurah (250:3) explains that this is why it is so important to prepare for Shabbos. “For Shabbos is called Shabbos Malkasa – The Shabbos Queen, and therefore it is as if we are welcoming the King’s presence. Therefore one should think to himself: if a human king would come to reside with me, wouldn’t I spend great efforts in cleaning the house and making the beds? So much more so when the Shabbos Queen is coming.”
But it doesn’t stop there. We have all heard stories of people who were told that the king or president of their country would be visiting their institution. Immediately, even though the visit was months away, they began to prepare. They set up countless committees to make sure no details would be overlooked. Every inch of the premises is cleaned, and the landscaping spruced up. Top interior designers are hired and large amounts of money spent on repainting. Magnificent chandeliers and stunning paintings are hung. The best chefs are hired and the most fabulous menu prepared. Photographers, musicians, cleaning crews…the list goes on and on.
And what does the head of the institution do the whole time? You can be certain that he will be personally involved in every detail, so that everything would be perfect for the visit!
Now we understand why it is crucial for each person to be personally involved in the Shabbos preparations. To make it more real to ourselves that the King is coming to visit, every one of us must be engaged in the preparations, just as we would if a human king or president were visiting. And even more than that – if we truly felt that we merited such a visitor, we would be doing things ourselves out of sheer excitement.
Now we can understand how our preparations honor Shabbos. Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l explains that the source of the word kavod – honor – is kaved, which means heavy. That is because honor makes an abstract idea concrete and heavy. For example, the Gemara (Shabbos 113a) writes that clothing honors a person. When a man walks into a room we don’t necessarily know what qualities he has. But if he is dressed like a Rosh Yeshiva, it usually tells us that this man has a great deal of Torah knowledge. Similarly, when we stand in his honor we reveal his hidden qualities.
This is the point of kavod Shabbos. In Heaven, the difference between Shabbos and the rest of the week is obvious. But in this world, we do not see how Shabbos is different from a regular weekday. By honoring Shabbos, we make it “heavy” and show that it is unique. With this, Rav Elchonon Meir Fishman (Mashgiach of Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim) explains why Shabbos is called the Shabbos Queen and not the King. In most cases the queen of the country does not have any power of her own; the power belongs to the king. Nevertheless, we must honor the queen as we do the king. Thus, the queen represents the glory and honor of her husband’s kingdom. In truth, Hashem is King all week long, but it is not seen clearly. On Shabbos, when we are not involved in our mundane pursuits, His Glory is revealed in a more obvious manner. We therefore refer to Shabbos as the queen rather than the king, because it is the glory of His Kingdom which becomes clearer on Shabbos. But certainly, it is Hashem, the King, who we are honoring.
Thus, we now understand why preparing for Shabbos, and specifically our own participation, is the greatest way of honoring Shabbos. All the efforts we expend to make even the messiest house take on a new sparkling look show that this day is “more honorable than all other days” (zemiros Shabbos).
‘Lekovod Shabbos Kodesh’
The Mishnah Berurah cites in the name of the seforim that we should say “Lekovod Shabbos Kodesh – I am doing this in honor of the Holy Shabbos” – before we buy something for Shabbos or do other Shabbos preparations. According to our explanation, this statement takes on a new light. What we are really saying is: I am doing this to show that a special guest is coming. By saying these three words, we have just turned an action that was just a “means” into an “end” in itself. So, as you slave over the hot stove or pick up the Legos your three-year-old has managed to scatter into every corner of the living room, think “what a privilege to prepare for our special guest!”
We mentioned in the past that Hashem told Moshe that He wants to give us the great present of Shabbos. Usually, if someone offers you a present and you don’t show interest in it, he will look for a different recipient. We don’t want that to happen with this spectacular present! Thus, by preparing for Shabbos with joy, we show that we desire this great present and we will therefore merit receiving it, with all of its blessings. With this outlook, preparing for Shabbos will be an experience you won’t want to miss!
About the Author: Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus, raised and educated in Los Angeles and subsequently Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, is the Rosh Kollel of the Zichron Aron Yaakov Kollel in Kiryat Sefer , Israel. He lectures for the public and is the director of the Chasdei Rivka Free Loan Gemach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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