Question of the Week:
I am a little confused about when Shabbos starts. This week the advertised time for candle lighting in Sydney is 7:40pm, which is 18 minutes before sunset. But you start your Shabbos service at 6:30pm, ending at 7:15pm, before Shabbos starts! So what's the story? Can you say the Shabbos prayers when it isn't even Shabbos yet?
The Jewish day begins at sundown. This is based on Genesis' description of a day as "it was evening and it was morning" - night first, then day. And so the Shabbos, the seventh day, begins at sundown on Friday.
However, Jewish law allows us to bring in Shabbos early. We can extend the borders of holiness, and accept the Sabbath upon ourselves while it is still Friday afternoon. There is a certain window of time before dusk during which we can usher in the Shabbos, though the weekday sun still shines.
During the summer months, when the days are long and dusk is very late, many communities choose to bring in Shabbos early, so those who cannot stay up late can participate. This explains why services may end even before Shabbos officially begins. For those who attend such services however, it is Shabbos already.
This has cosmic significance. The sages of old predicted that the world as we know it will only last for six thousand years. The seventh millennia will usher in a new age, the times of Moshiach, a time of peace and spiritual awakening, a time when all the world will join forces to serve G-d and live in harmony. Just as the week is divided into the six working days and the seventh day of rest, so too history is divided into six millennia of work and effort, perfecting the world, vanquishing evil and promoting goodness, culminating in the seventh millennia, a world of Shabbos, when the hard work will have been done and the world will come to rest.
We are now in the year 5770 from creation. According to this reckoning, we are toward the end of the sixth millennia, late on the Friday afternoon of history. We are in the middle of the frantic rush to get everything ready for Shabbos, which explains why the world moves so fast these days.
These are amazing times. As the era of Shabbos approaches, there is a shift in the spiritual mood. We are edging toward a more spiritual way of living, where the soul is as obvious as the body, goodness is more tempting than evil, and the mysteries of life are solved.
But we need not wait until the seventh millennia to live on this higher plain. Just as we can bring in Shabbos early and accept it upon ourselves on Friday afternoon, so too we can start living by higher principles right now, on the Friday afternoon of history. We can open ourselves to a soulful life right now, by seeing beyond the emptiness and superficiality of the material world, and connecting to the Shabbos way of thinking.
Don't wait for Shabbos to come to you, bring it in early.