In the previous section we determined what is the appropriate time for lighting the candles, which is the last act to be performed before Shabbat begins. We shall return to this topic in Section 263, where the actual lighting of the candles will be treated extensively and comprehensively. But our present section, Section 262, deals with a couple of other matters that should be seen to before lighting the candles.
We have already seen on several occasions that the house or apartment must be thoroughly cleaned in expectation of Shabbat. Indeed, in their commentaries on our present section several poskim [decisors] point out that even cobwebs should be removed from the abode in honour of Shabbat! While that requirement clearly dates from a bygone era, it does give us some indication of the extent to which the preparation of the home should go. Before Shabbat begins our abode should be clean, neat and tidy - as befits the expected arrival of royalty.
Our present section is particularly concerned with two last preparations for Shabbat. It is expected that at least some of the members of the family will attend the evening service in the synagogue. (In modern times, in many households the whole family attends this service.) When they return from the synagogue they should immediately sit down to the first of the three meals - repasts! - which are de rigeur on Shabbat. (That the meal should start immediately will become apparant when we reach Section 271.) In order for it to be possible to start the Shabbat repast with no delay when the family returns from the synagogue the table must already be prepared. What this means in practice will depend on the dining customs of the area in which one lives (or of one's own family). In some cases the table is set with a clean cloth, but the cutlery and other utensils are put in place only as needed during the meal. In other cases the table is set not only with a clean cloth but also with the cutlery and plates that will be used during the meal. What holds good in all cases is that the table be ready for the start of the meal.
In Mishnaic and Talmudic times it was customary to take the festive meals while lying on couches around a low table. (For further comments see explanation #6 on Tractate Pesaĥim 10:1. Nowadays, of course, the requirement that we "make the couches" means that the chairs should be set neatly around the dining table so that each diner will immediately be able to sit down to the meal. (Several commentators also see in this requirement that the beds upon which people will sleep that night should also have been made before the candles are lit.)
The next requirement made in this section is a general one: that before lighting the candles one must make sure that we have "set everything in the house in order so that when one returns from the synagogue one will find everything arranged and in order". This requirement derives from a well-known aggadah to be found in the Gemara [Shabbat 119b]: