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Thought for the Day: Sweeping Floors -- Maybe Not On Shabbos

My father, a"h, tried very much to be respectful of our choice to join the cult known as Orthodox Judaism.  One Shabbos morning he asked me why we were allowed to flush the toilets.  I asked him what could possibly be wrong flushing a toilet in Shabbos.  (Knowing me, there was probably a tone of exasperation in my voice.)  He replied that, "How should I know what could be wrong with it?  There are lots of things you don't do on Shabbos that don't make any sense to me."  (No exasperation, just seeking information.  He was good that way.)  I was duly chastised.

It's true, though; we do and don't do lots of stuff.  As I am coming to the end of the third volume of the Mishna Brura (hilchos Shabbos), I find more and more things that I should and shouldn't be doing that I am not and am doing down.  Just look at the headings: A bunch of details regarding stuff we do on Shabbos (339) and A bunch of stuff we don't do on Shabbos because they are kind of like other stuff we are forbidden to do (340).  My translation is relatively free, but not that far from literal.  I therefore thought it would be worth mentioning a couple of things that shouldn't have surprised me (since I have learned it before), but... well... you know...

What could be wrong with sweeping the floor, for example?  Not only is it a problem, it is a big enough problem that it merited its very own article, #337.   So what's the problem?  Not עובדא דחול/mundane workday activity/the spirit of Shabbos; sweeping, in fact is quite therapeutic for some people.  Maybe you are thinking that the stuff I am sweeping up is muktza and that's that problem.  Nope; having stuff on the floor into which you do not want to step comes under the "גרף של רעי/chamber pot" category which allows you to remove something icky that disturbs your Shabbos mood.  The problem is משווה גומות/filling in potholes; which is included in the מלאכה of plowing if done outside and building if done inside.  Dirt floors, you see, often get potholes and need to be evened out.

You say, "Hey!  I don't have dirt flooring in my dining room!"  True enough, but the original decree was made even for all houses regardless of flooring so people with dirt floors wouldn't forget themselves.  "But no one has dirt floors in my neighborhood!!"  True, and the Mishna Brura knew that also.  There is a nice long Biur Halacha on precisely that point.  I don't want to spoil all your fun, but if you sweep Friday afternoon (so any cracks and crevices are already filled in), and you live in a neighborhood/city/township where no on has dirt floors (so the decree may have never been relevant), and you use a broom with soft, synthetic bristles (so you aren't breaking sticks) then you can probably sweep.  But be sure to CYLOR.

Flushing toilets, btw... I have subsequently discovered that there certainly are some interesting issues that need understanding.  For example, sending waste from a private to domain to a public domain.  You wouldn't carry a garbage can out to the curb, so why are you allowed to flush the toilet?  There are answers, but it's not obvious.  Hmm... maybe my four year old grandson isn't forgetful, he's just machmir.

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