Question: There are toys all over the floor and my mother in law is coming for lunch. Are there any issues with my cleaning up the toys before she comes?
Answer: The biggest question with cleaning up toys is Borer. (There is also the matter of muktzeh which will be discussed later). When there is a mess of toys on the floor, the first thing to do is to clarify whether we are dealing with a halachic mixture. Meaning, are there different and distinct types of toys, and are they considered mixed together? If there are a bunch of planes that are played with in the same manner, and not really different, even if they might be different colors or sizes, it would be fine to put them away separately. But if there was a pile of Magnatiles, Clics and Kapla all mixed together, then putting them away separately is problematic.
Cleaning is a problem because you are not separating for now, but rather for later. Even though you are cleaning for now, the cleaning has nothing to do with the separating. Meaning, if your purpose was for the floors to be clean, you could just shove all the toys in one draw, all mixed together and not separate anything at all. You are separating so that it will be easier to find them the next time your kids are going to play with them
Question: Does that mean I can’t clean up at all and my house has to look like this all Shabbos?!
Answer: Luckily, there are some things you can do to clean up while avoiding the prohibition of Borer:
- Spread the mixture out. The Gemara brings a case of a Rav spreading out a mixture on the table on Shabbos to be able to get rid of the undesired. Doing so nips the problem of Borer in the bud because if there is no mixture, there cannot be Borer. R’ Moshe Feinstein and R’ Shlomo Zalman learn from this Gemara that you can spread out a mixture if you want to get out of the problem of Borer. R’ Eliyashiv, however, does not agree with this heter.
- Separate by finding a use: You could tell your kids to build something with the Magnatiles away from the mixture. If they did so, they would be fulfilling the criteria of the permissible method for sorting on Shabbos (see sidebar) since they are using it now and those pieces are no longer part of the mixture. Similarly, you may take all the animals away from the mixture and put on a show with them for your child before putting them away. Once they are separated you can put them away in their specific spots.
- Put the entire mixture of toys away while they are still mixed together and sort through them after Shabbos, putting them away in their separate compartments.
Borer is one of the 39 creative acts (melachos) that are forbidden on Shabbos. It is defined as sorting or selecting from a mixture. In order to identify a potential borer situation two factors must be assessed:
- Borer applies only when you are separating parts of a mixture. The first thing to consider is whether or not the mixture before you is considered a halachic mixture.A halachic mixture is defined as the combination of two or more different and distinct entities. Therefore you must determine if the particular mixture contains two different and distinct things. If there aren’t two different things or “types”, then there is no problem with borer at all.
For example, to separate or sift through a bunch of black checker pieces is not a question of Borer at all since they are all considered the same type of item. However, a pile of black and red checker pieces would be a problem to separate because their color makes them two different”types”. Also, not only would black and white chess pieces be considered a mixture, but even the different pieces within one particular color would be a problem. This is because even though they are the same color, the pieces are still defined as different and distinct entities in that they look different as well as have different functions in the game.
- You need to determine whether or not the two items are in fact considered mixed at the moment. How close do the two items have to be to each other to be considered mixed? Only if they are touching each other? These questions have no set rules because it is relative to whether we consider them mixed or not. This aspect makes Borer particularly hard to define due to its relative nature to any given situation.
In summary, there are two factors to consider that will answer whether there is a question ofborer at all: if the items are distinct from each other and whether these items are actually in a mixture.
Once we have determined that we do in fact have a borer problem, there are three criteria that if met (all three simultaneously) would make the selecting or sorting permissible.
The three criteria are:
- Taking from the mixture what you want as opposed to discarding that which you don’t want. An example for this would be a bowl of peanuts with some pieces of shells mixed in. You may take the peanuts from the mixture, but are not allowed to throw away the shells in order to be left only with the peanuts.
- Taking from the mixture if you are planning to use what you took out relatively soon (it does not necessarily have to be immediate but the maximum amount of time is hard to define, its somewhere around thirty minutes).
- Taking from the mixture with your hand as opposed to a utensil that helps with the separation process i.e. a strainer. (Cutlery is considered an extension of the hand and is permissible.)
So one is allowed to separate from a mixture if ALL of the three conditions are met, namely taking the desired from the undesired, to be used relatively soon, and by hand.