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Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "ride".)

It says at the beginning of parashas Noach (B'reishis 6:9):
אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ נֹחַ
The first six words of which are used by Chazal to learn that the main progeny of a person is his good deeds.  That is mitzvos.  So... while there is just being a smart zeidy to combine my exercise plan with playing with my grandchildren.  Am I allowed to do the same thing with mitzvos?  (Nice segway, eh?)

What's the question?  There is a real, live prohibition known as ביזוי מצווה/showing contempt for a mitzvah.  For example, once tzitzis are worn out, one is not permitted to simply through them in the garbage with the dirty diapers and leftover cholent.  (I don't think I have to explain why those two example both came to mind.)  The question is, though, where is the boundary?  Most authorities agree, for example, that cleaning your glasses with a tallis gadol is prohibited by ביזוי מצווה.  What about just misappropriating a mitzvah for my own needs?  For example, suppose I am going to be traveling for a few days during Chanukah and I am afraid to leave the house looking empty for fear of robbery.  Am I allowed to ask a neighbor to light a menorah in my window each night so that would be robbers will be fooled into thinking someone is home, thwarting their evil plans.  Or perhaps turning the beautiful mitzvah of Chanukah lights -- which for centuries Jews around the world have used to show with our small lights that HaShem never forgets His nation -- into a simple scarecrow is, is... well, that's disgraceful!

I believe it is permitted, but it's not obvious.

First try: If you have two windows that face two different streets, then halacha requires you to light in both windows.  Why?  Someone walking by and seeing no Chanukah lights in one window might think you didn't light at all and you are one of them there reformers.  Ah ha!  So the lighting in one window has nothing do with the mitzvah; you are simply using the mitzvah object to prevent a passwerby from getting the wrong idea about you!  Proof?  No proof.  Perhaps in a case of suspicion about your religious beliefs, that is not called ביזוי מצווה.

Second try: When tzitzis are worn out, you are allowed to throw them away (wrapped and separated from the garbage), but it is better to use them as a bookmark.  However, you are not allowed to put them into a siddur/sefer simply as a way of disposing of them.  That is, you are are not allowed to use the siddur/sefer as a waste basket.  Ah ha!  So you are not allowed to use the object of a mitzvah (siddur/sefer, in this case) for your own purposes!  Proof?  No proof.  Perhaps transforming the mitzvah object into an ordinary object is worse than retaining its status, but simply repurposed for your your own needs.

Third try: When Rosh HaShana falls on Shabbos, we do not blow shofar.  However, the shofar is muktzah, but only as muktzah as a tool that whose main use is for a forbidden activity.  Now, if using the shofar for your own needs were considered ביזוי מצווה, then the shofar would be in a more stringent category of muktzah that would forbid moving it for any reason.  Ah ha!  So you can are permitted to use a mitzvah object for your own needs.  Proof?  Seems good to me.

So the conclusion seems to be that should be able to use a mitzvah object for a personal need as long as the use is not in and of itself disgraceful (such as using it has a wastebasket).  Would I do it, given what I have concluded above?  No way!  This research is just enough to give me enough confidence to consult a competent halachic authority without feeling that I am wasting his time.  Wasting a talmid chacham's time... not that's real ביזוי מצווה!


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