It is our feeling, that although the meat of halachic details is found in the prohibitions that pertain to Shabbat, it is the Mitzvot Asae (positive commandments), that create the true atmosphere of the day. We will therefore attempt to deal with some halachic details of the Mitzvot Asae that apply to Shabbat.
Shabbat is so central in Jewish life that the Gemara Shabbat 118b teaches us that had the Jewish people kept the first Shabbat properly they would never have been under the authority of any other nation. If they were to keep two Shabbatot they would immediately be redeemed. We find this centrality expressed in halacha as well, requiring us to focus our entire week around the Shabbat.
In Hebrew the days of the week are called First, Second, Third etc. meaning the first day towards the next Shabbat, Second day towards Shabbat and so on. We say in the Shir Shel Yom today is the first, second, third or fourth day in the Shabbat. [Though it may be that Shabbat here is used as the Talmudic term of week, that in itself is telling of the centrality of Shabbat] According to some opinions, by saying this is the first or second day in the Shabbat we fulfill the commandment of “Zachor et yom ha’Shabbat”commemorate the day of Shabbat.
Accordingly, we find in Shulchan Aruch (OC/242) that a person should budget oneself during the week so as to be able to afford things that bring about Kavod Shabbat-a heightened sense of respect to Shabbat. The budgeting for Kavod Shabbat may be expressed in the purchase of finer food for Shabbat in order to fulfill the command of Oneg Shabbat. It also can be expressed by using ones finances to purchase finer clothing to be worn on Shabbat (popularly known as Shabbat clothing-see Rambam Shabbat 30/3).
Whereas laundry for shabbat is to be done before Friday (see Shulcan Aruch OC/242), most aspects of preparation for Shabbat take place on Erev Shabbat (Friday).
Of the many halachot which pertain to the proper conduct on Erev Shabbat, not all may be applicable today. Yet, we should try to maintain the spirit of these halachot by focusing our activity on preparation for Shabbat.
Each person should partake in preparations for Shabbat even if others could do those same functions. Therefore, a person who has paid help should non-the-less take on himself certain preparations such house cleaning, preparing food or care for clothing. In Shulchan Aruch OC/249a we learn one should not travel further than three parsaot on Erev Shabbat. Today that distance is insignificant if traveling by car or plane, yet the reason given for this halacha, that one should be home with plenty of time to prepare for Shabbat, would apply today as well. As a matter of fact, the Mishna Berura converts the distance into time and speaks of not traveling a distance that would require more than that amount of time (one third of the light hour day). It would seem that this halacha leads us to conclude that one should try and return home as early as possible to properly prepare for Shabbat.
Similarly, the Mishna Berura (OC/256 section A) writes that craftsmen should ideally stop working an hour and a quarter before sunset and store keepers should make sure to shut their stores about an hour before sunset. In his Shaar Hatziyun note b., he states that it has become common costume to work until shortly before sunset which can only be justified halachicly due to the poverty which most people in his time were faced with.
The Aruch Hashulchan (OC/250 paragraph 4) teaches us that the general rule of thumb when preparing for Shabbat is to treat the situation as if a very important person is due to come to our homes.