I am a little confused about when Shabbos starts. This week the advertised time for candle lighting in Sydney is 7:46pm, which is 18 minutes before sunset. But you start your Shabbos service at 6:30pm, ending before Shabbos begins! 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.
This has cosmic significance. The sages of old predicted that history 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, 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 busy world will finally reach tranquility.
We are presently in the year 5774 from the creation of man, toward the end of the sixth millennia. It's late on the Friday afternoon of history. Now you can understand why the world is so crazy, why things change so quickly, and why there is so much traffic these days. We are in the middle of the frantic rush to get the world ready for Shabbos.
These are amazing times. As the era of peace 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 a soulful life right now, on the Friday afternoon of history. Through studying Torah, particularly the deeper mystical teachings of Chasidism, we learn to see beyond the emptiness and superficiality of the material world, and connect to the Shabbos way of thinking.
Don't wait for Shabbos to come to you, bring it in early.