Seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel stood at Mount Sinai. They were told there would be a great Revelation; the Almighty would descend and give them His holy Torah and the Jewish way of life.

But before they could receive the Torah, they required shloshet yemei hagbalah, “three days of separation,”—a period of physical and spiritual purification. After all, it’s not every day that the Almighty Himself comes calling!

Every spiritual occasion requires preparation. Before we pray, we wash our hands. Before reciting the Shema, we cover our eyes to focus our minds and hearts on this moment of meditation. Before the silent devotion of the Amidah, we take three steps backwards. Chassidim put on a gartel, a black belt, to “gird one’s loins,” before approaching G‑d in prayer. Before we perform most mitzvahs, we recite a blessing.

In fact, one of the only mitzvahs I can think of that does not require a blessing is giving tzedakah, charity, lest one get carried away with spiritual preparations that delay helping the person in need.

Likewise, in life. A wedding only takes a few hours but involves months of preparation. The excitement is mostly in the time preceding the actual simcha. Planning, making all the arrangements, deciding on everything from a venue to a menu … it’s all part of the fun.

Delivering a baby takes a few hours (if you’re lucky and there are no complications), but the process of childbirth began nine months earlier.

Essentially, every important life occasion involves preparation which becomes part of the experience itself. Without it, we would miss out on most of the anticipation, excitement, the adrenalin, and all the fun. The preparation is not only a prelude to the event but part and parcel of the actual experience. Without it, we would miss out on so much of the excitement.

I remember traveling from South Africa to New York and surprising my dear mother, of blessed memory. When she opened the door and saw me, she was totally stunned. It was indeed a great and happy surprise for her. But afterwards she asked me not to play that trick again. When I asked why not, she said that I had deprived her of weeks of eager anticipation.

So when it came to receiving the Torah from G‑d at Mount Sinai, the 49 days of preparation, and particularly those three days of intense purification, were absolutely necessary.

And so it is in our own lives.

Take Shabbat for example. There are many who observe Shabbat, but they miss out on Erev Shabbat. Erev Shabbat refers to Friday, which is dedicated to preparing for the holy day. It’s not only for shopping or baking challah and cooking up a storm. It’s not only for getting the house and dinner ready. Erev Shabbat is also the time to prepare ourselves accordingly. Unlike so many of us who fall into Shabbat at the very last minute.

In fact, isn’t it fascinating how nobody is ready for Shabbat until the last minute? It doesn’t seem to matter whether Shabbat begins at 4 p.m. in the winter or at 8 p.m. in the summer. If it weren’t for the proverbial “last minute,” no one would ever be ready!

Actually, I shouldn’t say no one. There are many good people out there who get it right and do prepare in plenty of time for Shabbat.

Many years ago, in the old Jewish neighborhood of Yeoville, Johannesburg, we were invited for Friday night Shabbat dinner to one of the Emanuel families living there. The Emanuels were of German extraction and had played a significant role in shaping Orthodox Jewry in the early days of Johannesburg, when the religious community was very small and nowhere as big and dynamic as it is today. Interestingly, our hosts asked us not only to come for dinner, but to please come to their home much earlier so that we could be there when the mother of the home would kindle the Shabbat candles.

I must tell you, it was a memorable experience! The Emanuel tradition was for the whole family to gather around the Shabbat table, dressed in their Shabbat finery, before the mother lit the Shabbat candles. They were all there to say “amen” to her blessing and watch as she offered her silent prayer for her family with her hands covering her eyes. It was such a beautiful contrast to the way I—and millions of others—rush into Shabbat with only moments to spare. Well over 40 years later, that image is still clear in my mind and continues to inspire me.

Whether it is Shabbat, a blessing, a mitzvah, or a joyous celebration, let’s make an effort to do like the Boy Scouts: “be prepared!”