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Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei 5773

Ask the Rabbi: Giving an Envelope on Shabbat to Use for Donations

by Rav Daniel Mann

Question:  It is the practice in some shuls to give a self-addressed envelope to one who gets an aliya to mail his pledge after Shabbat. Is the envelope muktzeh?

:  Each congregation’s rabbi should set policy on such halachic issues, but the issue is worth discussing.

Such an envelope is muktzeh, at least as a kli shemelachto l’issur (=ksmli), a utensil whose main purpose is for something forbidden on Shabbat (Mishna Berura 308:10). After all, it is meant for putting in money and often subsequently sealing before mailing, which are forbidden on Shabbat. If it is muktzeh machamat chesron kis (one would refrain from using it for a secondary purpose), it would be forbidden to move it at all (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 308:1). However, since such envelopes are usually plentiful and inexpensive enough to not qualify, one can move them while they are fulfilling a use that is unrelated to something forbidden (ibid. 3). 

Let us analyze how this donation-related envelope is used. One could suggest that its use as a harmless preparation for a mitzva after Shabbat is as valid as a simple purpose on Shabbat. However, those who posit that tefillin are ksmli do not allow one to move them so he can put them on on Sunday (see Magen Avraham 308:11; Taz 308:3). One could claim that the envelope’s permitted purpose on Shabbat is so the potential donor will not forget his opportunity. However, not forgetting is significant only if attached to a donation and therefore there is no positive gain on Shabbat of the oleh taking the envelope.

I heard a claim that I cannot understand in the name of a talmid chacham   the envelope is not muktzeh at all either because it is also a reminder or because it can be used for putting in permitted things. However, a ksmli is always something that can be used for something permitted, just that is not its main purpose, and still one is permitted to move it only while he is using it for a positive, active permitted use. Even if the shul says they are using it actively as a reminder, this will not help the person who takes it home without necessarily being interested in that.

Another problem that needs discussion is hachana, preparation from Shabbat to weekday. Hachana is a problem even if one does a totally permitted act, when it is done for the needs of weekday. Here, giving the envelope is only useful so that the shul will get the donation later. A strong precedent for this application of hachana is the halacha that one may not bring wine on Shabbat to the place where it will be needed for Havdala on Motzaei Shabbat because of hachana (Magen Avraham 667:3; Mishna Berura 667:5). Therefore it is forbidden for the oleh to take home the envelope even if we can solve the problem of muktzeh and even if there is an eiruv. We see that the fact that it will be used for a mitzva does not overcome the problem. The Chayei Adam (153:6) does permit (for the purpose of a mitzva and when there is no other choice) bringing the wine when there is time to drink it on Shabbat. The leniency is because it is not noticeable that it is being done for after Shabbat. In our case, not only are there other options, but it is also clear that the envelope is meant for use only after Shabbat.

An idea that solves both problems is to give the envelope a permitted purpose by putting a dvar Torah or other usable memento into the envelope. Then the ksmli is being used for a permitted purpose and is permitted. Taking the envelope and the dvar Torah home in it is also not hachana because the two together have a purpose on Shabbat – the page for reading and the envelope for storing (Yalkut Yosef 308:12). One problem is that the recipient might remove the dvar Torah from the envelope and not put it back, in which case the envelope would no longer be in use for a permitted purpose. Another suggestion is to attach the two together so that one would be carrying the envelope along with the dvar Torah (Nachalat Yisrael (Krauss) pg. 236).

If our readership can explain outright leniency, we will, bli neder, publicize it in the future.


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