As you know, Shabbos is our day of rest. Friday, however, isn’t. Friday, which we call “Erev Shabbos” (Sabbath Eve), is the day we do most of our preparations for Shabbos. This is nothing new. It was done that way even when Hashem first gave us the gift of Shabbos in the Sinai Desert, not long after we left Egypt. Here’s a little of the Written Torah says about that:
The people gathered the manna each morning, according to what each person would eat. Then, when the sun became hot, it melted. When Friday came, what they gathered turned out to be a double portion of food … for each person. All the leaders of the community came and reported it to Moses. Moses said to them, «This is what Hashem has said: Tomorrow is a day of rest, Hashem’s holy Sabbath. Bake what you want to bake, and cook what you want to cook, today. Whatever you have left over put aside carefully until tomorrow morning.» They put it away until Saturday morning, as Moses had instructed…. [On Sabbath morning] Moses announced, “Eat it today, for today is Hashem’s Sabbath. You will not find anything in the field today. You are to gather this food during the six weekdays, but the seventh day is the Sabbath, and on that day there will not be any.”
— Exodus 16:21-26
The Children of Israel would gather the manna and cook or bake it for Shabbos, because on Shabbos they were not allowed to. That is, they were not allowed to gather it, nor carry it home, nor cook it, nor bake it, on Shabbos. All that had to be done before Shabbos began.
We also need to prepare for Shabbos. Since many forms of activity are forbidden on Shabbos, a great deal of preparation is needed before Shabbos. Furthermore, Shabbos is considered like a queen that is coming to visit. For such a prestigious guest, we must certainly get ready to show her honor! If the Queen of England were coming to visit, we would clean everything and hang up all sorts of nice curtains and decorations and so forth. We must also prepare for the Sabbath Queen.
The preparations we do are both internal and external: that is, both spiritual and material. They involve preparing the home, and preparing ourselves.
When you buy something for Shabbos, say “L’kovod Shabbos Kodesh” (“For the Honor of the Holy Shabbos”).
One of the things you will need to buy is food, and ingredients for food you will cook or bake. On Shabbos we are required to eat three Seudos (Special Meals). These meals will each include Challah (a type of bread made specially for Shabbos), and fish. For the first two of the Seudos (the first on Friday night, and the second late Shabbos morning or early afternoon) we will also eat either meat or chicken, and anything fancy that you enjoy eating. Many people have a custom to eat vegetables after eating the fish on Shabbos.
This is all assuming that you can afford to purchase these things. You are not required to go broke by buying food for Shabbos. Buy what you can afford, and honor Shabbos as best you can. You may either cook or buy the Shabbos food, though it is better if you are able to cook it yourself.
Please note that if you are unable to eat any of these things, just leave it out. You are not required to make yourself suffer over a Shabbos menu. Health comes first. Furthermore, Shabbos is for enjoyment, not suffering. However, the food eaten at the Seudas Shabbos (Shabbos Meal) should be at least somewhat formal, and not the regular food you eat during the week, and certainly not snacks. Furthermore, we are required to eat at least one hot course during the first two Shabbos meals.
You will also need wine for Kiddush. There are various other options for diabetics, such as tea.
Cooking and Cleaning
Cook (and bake) for Shabbos. If possible, bake challos for Shabbos. It’s okay to buy challos instead of baking them. If you can bake your own challos, that is an extra source of blessings for your home, but it’s not mandatory. Some people bake challos Thursday or even Wednesday, and if that works better for you, then do it that way.
Every time you cook, bake, or in any other way prepare something for Shabbos say “L’kovod Shabbos Kodesh” (“For the Honor of the Holy Shabbos”) before or while doing that preparation.
The house should be cleaned for Shabbos.
Preparing for Shabbos should be done by both the women and the men. Children should also be given the chance to do something to prepare for Shabbos. It is important that everyone get involved in the preparations for Shabbos.
The Rabbis tell us that:
you have people who do your work for you, you should get personally
involved, and should prepare at least one thing you will need on Shabbos, and in this way you honor Shabbos. All the great Rabbis would do work to prepare for and honor Shabbos. Rav Chisda would slice vegetables; Rabbah and Rav Yosef would chop wood; Rebbi Zaira would light the fire; Rava would salt the fish; Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok would clean the house, and would bring out all the pots and dishes needed for Shabbos, putting away all those that were not needed for Shabbos. And
so on. Everyone should take a lesson from this, and not shrink from this duty out of personal “dignity.” In fact, it is a truer measure of your dignity that you honor Shabbos.
Tractate Shabbos 119b
The point is that they themselves would prepare it. They didn’t rely on anyone else to get the job done.
Set the table for the Shabbos Seudah. If possible, use a white tablecloth. This is to remember the extra manna (which was white) that fell in the Sinai Desert every Friday to honor the Shabbos.
During the afternoon of Erev Shabbos (Friday) you should eat only sparingly, if at all. Seudas Shabbos is not just a meal. It is a religious ceremony, and it must be honored. You should have at least some appetite before beginning the Seudah.
You should have special clothing for Shabbos, nicer than what you wear during the week. Generally, men have a special Shabbos suit, a special Shabbos hat, and Shabbos shoes. Women have special Shabbos dresses, Shabbos shoes, and some women might even have special Shabbos jewelry.
Make sure your Shabbos clothing is clean.
If you need a haircut, it is good to get it on a Friday, to honor Shabbos.
Cut your fingernails. A Jew should cut his fingernails every Erev Shabbos. You will find that if you get into that habit, your fingernails will grow enough each week to make it possible to cut them each and every Friday.
Toenails should be cut on Thursdays. Do not cut your toenails and fingernails on the same day.
Take a hot shower or bath to honor the coming of Shabbos. If this is for some reason impossible, at least wash your face, hands and feet (in that order) in hot water.
It is customary, but not mandatory, for men to immerse in a mikvah before Shabbos, and again Shabbos morning before Shacharis.
Before Shabbos, make sure all your hot food is arranged according to Jewish Law. This is a complicated subject best left for another article. In short, what we generally do is place a flat sheet of metal (called in Yiddish a “blech,” believe it or not) over one or more low flames, and put the covered pots on top of the metal sheet. It is best to make sure that any food put there is either raw or already fully cooked, if possible. Whether raw or cooked, it is best that they already be piping hot and on the blech when Shabbos begins. Once Shabbos begins, you may not put anything on the blech.
It is mandatory to light special lights for Shabbos. Candles are fine, but olive oil and wicks are better.
A married couple should divide the labor in this. The woman is required to kindle the lights (eighteen minutes before sunset begins), and the man should prepare the lights. He should clean out the candle holders and arrange the candles in the holders, or pour the oil and place the wicks, and do everything that is necessary to make it possible for his wife to light the Shabbos Lights.
Before Minchah (the Late-Afternoon Prayer), men should say Shir Hashirim (the Song of Songs), which King Solomon wrote to describe the love that Hashem has for us, the Children of Israel. Women say it after lighting the Shabbos lights. You should be wearing your Shabbos clothing when saying Shir Hashirim. Saying Shir Hashirim is not a Law, but it is a good Custom.
If you have the time, spend the time before the Prayers studying Torah. That is the best way to prepare for Shabbos.
If you take the time and effort to prepare properly for Shabbos, and you keep the Shabbos as best you can, the Shabbos Queen herself will reward you, and you will experience a very uplifting Shabbos, as well as many other spiritual and material benefits.
The bulk of this article came from Ohr Tzaddikim by Rabbi Meir Paprush, and the Sefer Seder Hayom by Rabbi Moshe Ben Yehudah Machir.