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Thought for the Day: When Actions That May Engender Unintended Consequences Are Not Permitted

Another chidush (to me) from the 2011 CCK Yarchei Kallah.

There is a general principle that actions which may incur unintended consequences (eino miskavein) that are not inevitable (not a p'sik reisha) are permitted on Shabbos.  The classic example (as has been mentioned) is dragging a light bench across hard packed soil.  Dragging the bench in that case is "mutar l'chatchila"; there is no need to even try to avoid the dragging by getting someone to help you carry the bench.

On the other hand, one is not allowed to put a kettle of cold water on a fire to take the chill off, because if left too long the heat would be enough to bring the water to "yad soledes bo" (hot enough to be considered cooking on Shabbos).  R' Zucker asked: why should this be forbidden?  After all, my only intent is to warm the water (which is permitted, even l'chatchila) and it is not inevitable that I will forget to take it off on time to prevent it from coming to yad soledes bo.  At first glance this would seem to be a classic case of a davar sh'eino miskavein that is not a p'sik reisha and should be mutar l'chatchila (sorry for sounding a bit yeshivisha shprachish).

R' Zucker answered that you can only call something an unintended consequence when there are multiple consequences.  When I drag the bench, two things happens: (1) the bench is moved, and (2) a furrow is possibly created.  In that case I have a right to choose which of the (multiple) consequences I intended.  In the case of the kettle. however, I did not end up with both lukewarm and hot water; I got either lukewarm or hot water.  When there is only one consequence, I cannot say I intended a different consequence than what ended up actually happening.  In the case of only one consequence, we are forbidden to even start the activity even of it would be possible to avoid coming to an issur.

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