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Thought for the Day: Borer -- The Choice Malacha

I know, I know... no cute titles!  That's the rule.  Hey... wait... that means that I can, nay must, have one cute title in order to fulfill the dictum of "every rule has an exception".  Whew.

The malacha of borer involves separating what you want (ochel) from what you don't want (p'soles).  There are lots of very important details because separating ochel from p'soles goes by another name: eating.  Relatively minor changes can take you from a building olam haba by eating your Shabbos s'uda to turning up the thermostat in gehinom.

Acts performed to get food into your mouth are called eating, acts performed to prepare for later are called borer.  There are three basic categories of actions that are by nature borer.
  1. Preparing for later; bad news.  How much is later and from when do you measure?  Most poskim let you prepare for the next meal as long as you finish close to meal.  If either the meal or the preparation are protracted, however, you are just asking for trouble.
  2. Taking p'soles min ha'ochel.  By definition the p'soles is what you don't want, so that's borer and not eating.  Even though the delay may only be seconds, that's enough to make it borer mi'di'oraisa.  I am not a big radish fan, so picking radishes out of my salad is not eating.  Even though it would improve my eating experience, that joy would certainly be dampened by the realization of having just profaned the holiness of Shabbos.
  3. Using a special gadget to separate makes it borer.  A sifter, obviously; but so is a slotted spoon.  What about a fork?  If you are using because you don't want to get your fingers dirty and so your mom won't yell at you, that's eating.  If you are using it to separate noodles from soup, though, that's borer.  Even though you want the noodles and even though you are eating them now, since your choice of fork (as opposed to spoon) was because you wanted them separated, that's borer.
So if it's b'yad (with your hand or it's agent), miyad (for immediate consumption), and ochel min ha'p'soles (separating what you want from what you don't want), then it's eating.

What about if the food is entirely encased in an inedible covering; bananas, oranges, walnuts, and the like?  Since you can't eat the food without removing that covering, removing the covering is called part of the eating process.  In fact, any time the p'soles is not mixed with the ochel, but it preventing you from getting to that succulent treat, there is lots of room to permit.

בתיאבון/bon appétit!

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