In the 1970s, one inexpensive gift to give a loved one was a Pet Rock. For those who are unfamiliar with it, a Pet Rock is like you probably imagined it—just a rock. It made its inventor, Gary Dahl, an overnight millionaire, as Pet Rock fever swept the country. A “Pet Rock Training Manual,” with instructions on how to properly raise and care for one’s newfound pet, was included. The instruction manual contained several commands that could be taught to the new pet. While “sit” and “stay” were fairly easy to accomplish, “roll over” usually required extra effort on the part of the trainer.
Rocks are generally muktzeh, since at the onset of Shabbos and yom tov they are functionless objects. Before Shabbos, though, one may designate a rock as a doorstop, thereby making it a useful object and changing its muktzeh status. A Pet Rock was generally used as a toy; consequently it was considered a usable object and not muktzeh.
Sand and dirt are also considered unusable at the onset of Shabbos or yom tov. The Gemara (Beitzah 8b) states that Rava held that one may designate a pile of dirt before Shabbos for use in covering a child’s “accident.” In previous generations, when people had dirt floors, an efficient way of cleaning up a child’s accident was just to cover it up with some fresh dirt. Apparently, things were much simpler back then. Nowadays, if you want to refinish your wood floor it is a whole affair: The furniture must be covered up. You leave your house for a day. The floor has to be sanded down and refinished. Back then, you just put down a fresh layer of new dirt and—presto!—you had a refinished floor. So back then, if a child had an accident on the floor, you refinished that part of the floor by covering it with dirt. Of course, most modern manufactures do not recommend this practice for use on carpets. However, if you do decide to try this you must remember that sand and dirt are muktzeh; therefore, the sand and dirt must be designated for use before the onset of Shabbos or yom tov.
Tosfos writes that the custom was in his times to clear the oven of ashes on yom tov to make room to bake pashtida—some type of meat pastry. Tosfos wonders why this should be permitted, because ashes formed from wood burnt on yom tov are muktzeh. Tosfos suggests a novel halachah: One may move muktzeh on yom tov for the sake of food preparation and yom tov enjoyment. For example, if one is unable to reach fruits because rocks are in the way, on yom tov he may move the rocks with his hands in order to access the fruit. On Shabbos this is forbidden. Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen says that, likewise, if a person needs a key in a purse to access a food item, money may be moved to allow access to the key. Tosfos’s chiddush is codified as practical halachah by the Rema (509:7). Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt’l, ruled that muktzeh may even be moved for a minor food purpose. As an example, one may remove a small amount of ash from an oven on yom tov simply so that challos that are baking will look nicer.
In general, sukkah decorations are muktzeh on yom tov. However, if they fell on a table and that space is needed for the meal, the decorations may be moved. (Although the Pri Megadim suggests that they be moved indirectly if possible.)
Rebbe Shlomo Zalman said that this leniency of moving muktzeh for food purposes extends to other bodily needs as well. He writes that muktzeh may be moved in order to facilitate access to clothing, light, or warmth. But even if, theoretically, smoking were permitted on yom tov, one would not be allowed to move muktzeh to be able to smoke, as smoking is not classified as similar to ochel nefesh.
The problem with the chiddush of Tosfos is that an entire page of Gemara discussed the permissibility of moving dirt to facilitate shechitah on yom tov. There is a mitzvah to cover the blood from shechitah with dirt. The Gemara suggested that the dirt must be designated before yom tov to enable one to fulfill this mitzvah on yom tov. According to Tosfos, the whole issue is moot since one may move muktzeh for a food purpose, such as shechitah of an animal!
The Magen Avraham therefore concludes that while Tosfos permitted one to move muktzeh on yom tov for a food purpose, one may not actually use the item. One would not be allowed to use the muktzeh dirt to cover blood. Likewise, a fruit that fell off a tree on yom tov is muktzeh. While one can move the fruit to access other food items, one would not be allowed to actually eat that fruit. The leniency for muktzeh on yom tov pertains only to moving the item, not using it. This major caveat is codified as practical halachah by the Mishnah Berurah (509:31). He therefore writes that wood that fell from a tree on yom tov may not be used as firewood, even to cook food. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.