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Thought for the Day: Why and What of Muktza

On the one hand, I have trouble believing I haven't written about this before.  On the other hand, I did a search and can't find anything.  Based on the data, I am going to therefore assume that I can write about it now and no one will be more bored than usual.  Besides, how bored can you get in three paragraphs?  Besides, if you were bored you would have stopped reading long ago.  Besides, this is not the first time I have seen this Mishna Brura and I had forgotten the details, so maybe you did also.  Besides, um... yeah; besides.

One of the really key "value added"s that the Mishna Brura brings is his introductions to various simanim that have a lot of details.  Siman 308 (which has 52  -- you heard right -- s'yefim/siy'fim), Which Things are Permitted and Which are Forbidden to be Moved on Shabbos, earned one of those introductions.  A topic known fondly to all us as, "muktza".

The term muktza literally means "set aside", and is intentionally flexible; not all muktza is equal.  The rules are complicated and the details numerous.  Understanding what Chazal wanted to achieve helps to manage the complexity.  The Mishna Brura brings four (three from the Rambam, one from the Ra'avad) goals that Chazal had in when formulating hilchos muktza.
  1. Shabbos is not technically a day of rest, but it should be experienced as a day of rest; giving an opportunity to recharge one's spiritual batteries.
  2. There are 39 basic categories of m'lacha (creative labors) that are forbidden on Shabbos, but there are a myriad of details.  A tiny change can change and action from mutar l'chatchila to assur m'di'oraisa.  The laws of muktza provide a buffer.
  3. Not everyone has a job that necessarily involves daily activities that would be biblical transgressions on Shabbos (especially us rich, spoiled Americans).  Setting certain items aside ensures that everyone will have a different experience on Shabbos than during the week.  You know, keeping the "kodesh" in Shabbos Kodesh.
  4. Carrying from private domain to public thoroughfare hardly seems like a m'lacha at all; which is one reason the first mishna in Masechtas Shabbos begins with that m'lacha.  By restricting which objects can be moved to be on an as "as needed" basis, the risk is mitigated.
Given those objectives, it is more understandable why we have different rules for different kinds of objects.  Food and kisvei kodesh can be moved any time, even for no reason.  Keilim (utensils, clothing, and tools) which have a permitted use may be moved for any reason (though one needs a reason), even to save the object itself from damage or loss.  Keilim whose main function is to do something forbidden on Shabbos (hammer, pencils, and the like) may be moved if you need their place or want to press them into service to perform a permitted action; hammer to crack nuts, pencil to prop open door; that sort of thing.  Other keilim and objects that either have no intrinsic use at all (rocks, credit cards) or that one would not use for any but its intended use (scalpel, writing stationary) may not be moved at all; not to protect them, not because you need their current location.

That's the basics; that's my value added.


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