Sunday. Many of us do not go to work. There is, however, so much to do at home. How many of us have the self-control to make Sunday a voluntary day of rest and refrain from balancing our checkbooks, paying our bills, clearing out the attic, or mowing the lawn? On Shabbat, the Torah requires us to rest. The rabbis, keenly aware of our workaholic tendencies, declared that all objects not conducive to rest are simply out of bounds or set aside – muktzah.
Accordingly, my father, Dayan Grunfeld, zt”l, in his Sabbath book, defined muktzah objects as those we exclude from our minds when we think of Shabbat rest. Moreover, declaring a pen or anelectric drill muktzah serves to protect one from inadvertently performing melachot on Shabbat.
There are various degrees of muktzah. Objects in the category of first-degree muktzah are so intrusive to the Shabbat atmosphere that they may not be handled on Shabbat under any circumstances, unless they present a danger. Included in first-degree muktzah, known as muktzah meichamat chesron kis, are valuable objects which, if used for activities permitted on Shabbat, will become damaged. Common examples are barber’s scissors, knives used for slaughtering, bank notes, rare stamps, pens and stock certificates, just to name a few.
Also included in first-degree muktzah are useless objects, muktzah meichamat gufo, such as sticks, stones, and broken crockery. Second-degree muktzah, referred to as kli shemelachto l’issur, pertains to objects that are normally used for activities prohibited on Shabbat but which can also be used for activities permitted on Shabbat. Examples include a hammer, which could be used for cracking nuts on Shabbat, or a match, which can serve as a toothpick.
Second-degree muktzah objects may be handled on Shabbat for a permitted use and may also be moved if they are in the way. Third-degree muktzah, known as busis ledavar ha’asur, applies to objects which, though permitted for use on Shabbat, were used at the commencement of Shabbat to hold or support a muktzah object – for example, a drawer containing money. Even if the money were removed on Shabbat by a non-Jew, the drawer without the money would still remain muktzah, because it was muktzah at the inception of Shabbat. If, however, the drawer contains both money and a siddur, or any other permitted object that is more important to the owner than the muktzah object, it may be handled on Shabbat.
Precious candlesticks are first-degree muktzah, mechamat chesron kis, because they are valuable and used exclusively for lighting Shabbat candles, an activity which, of course, is prohibited on Shabbat. Accordingly, they may not be moved, even if they are in one’s way. Further, any surface on which they are placed before Shabbat may also not be moved because the surface becomes a busis ledavar ha’asur. They can, however, be removed if they are placed on a tray before Shabbat, together with an object that is not muktzah, such as a siddur or a piece of challah. The tray with the candlesticks and the permitted item may then be removed on Shabbat.