The Torah states: “On the sixth day, they shall prepare what they have brought in” (Shemot 16:5). It is inferred from here that there is a mitzva to prepare for Shabbat on Friday. Even a rich and dignified person who has servants who take care of all his needs during the week, and who does not lift a finger around the house, must try to do something himself to honor Shabbat. He should not say: “Should I toil at these simple labors that are beneath my dignity?” Rather he must be aware that it is an honor for him to honor the holy Shabbat by preparing for it. Even if one diligently studies Torah and has others who prepare Shabbat for him, he is commanded to participate personally in some type of Shabbat preparation (SA 250:1; Rema 251:2).
The Talmud tells of great rabbis and respected leaders throughout the generations who personally participated in Shabbat preparations. Rava would salt fish before Shabbat, and R. Ĥisda would chop vegetables. Rabba and R. Yosef would chop wood to fire the oven. R. Abahu and R. Zeira would light the cooking fire. R. Huna and R. Papa would prepare candles for Shabbat, and R. Naĥman would clean the house and replace the weekday furniture with the Shabbat furniture (Shabbat 119a).
This is not the place to expand upon the status of each one of the great leaders that we just mentioned, but we must note that we are speaking of extremely well-respected people, the most honored of their generation. They were Torah scholars and community leaders. For example, Rabba and R. Yosef headed the prestigious Babylonian yeshivot of Sura and Pumbedita, and at that time the heads of these yeshivot, together with the Exilarch, constituted the leadership of the entire Jewish world. In the areas under their jurisdiction, no one was appointed to any public office without their agreement, and no ordinance was passed or decision reached regarding tax collection without their approval. Yet these leaders, despite their dignified positions and greatness, would chop wood in honor of Shabbat. R. Huna, R. Ĥisda, R. Papa, and Rava all served as rashei yeshiva in Babylonia, and R. Abahu was the leader of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael.
The Sages state that there are three things one must say in his home as it gets dark on Friday: (1) “Has the produce been tithed?” If it has not, he must do so; (2) “Has an eruv ĥatzerot been set up?” If it has not, he must do so. (3) “Remember to light the candle on time” (Shabbat 34a). Today, when we generally buy our produce already tithed, and there are community representatives in charge of the eruv, we no longer need to ask about the first two. But each person still needs to make sure that his home is ready for Shabbat: that the timers controlling lights and the heat/air conditioning are set, that the refrigerator light is off, and that the food is on the plata (a warming tray with no temperature controls), and, with the new type of refrigerator, that it has been set to “Shabbat” mode (see below, 17:8-9). It is also proper on Friday to separate the attached plastic containers of some dairy products (below, 15:14), and to open bottles that have metal caps (15:13). It is good to open those cans and packages that will be used to store food for a few days or longer (15:11-12).