The Music of Halacha: The Laws of Chol HaMoed: God, Man & Time
I delivered a short D’var Torah to open the synagogue’s monthly board meeting, answered a few questions about upcoming synagogue programs, and returned to my office. The president of the congregation ran after me to ask the all-time best Halachic question I have ever been asked:
“Rabbi, a long-time board member has rendered his resignation and asked me to read a letter explaining his resignation to the entire board. You have been speaking to us about the laws of Lishon Harah – speaking about others – and I am concerned that if I read the letter, people will speak negatively about him and there will be Lishon Harah. Shall I read the letter as he requested, or not?”
It’s not too often that rabbis are asked such beautiful questions. I have been asked about Family Purity, Kashrut, Shabbat, marriage, conversion, terminating life-support, and other important laws. Today, it is the questions I have not been asked that are on my mind, primarily, the laws of Chol Hamoed – the Intermediate Days of Succot and Pesach. People assume that they know the laws, or that there aren’t any important Halachot regarding these days. They are sadly mistaken and have lost out on a spectacular opportunity.
“All work is prohibited by the Torah, and the Torah has empowered the Sages to determine which work they should prohibit and which they should allow. After the Sages made their determination, their decisions became Biblically binding. So that whatever they prohibited is prohibited by the Torah.” (Sefer HaChinuch #323)
“According to the Torah all work is permissible on Chol Hamoed, and the only prohibitions are Rabbinic. Although the Sages based their decisions on Biblical verses, they did not intend for their rulings to be considered Biblical. (Tosafot Moed Katan 19a, Avodah Zarah 22a) “The reason for the Rabbinic strictures is that since the verse describes these days as “Mikra Kodesh” – a Sanctified Time – and special offerings are brought in the Temple, the Sages determined that we cannot treat these days a regular weedays, without any extra sanctity. (Ritva in the name of the Behag)
“Any work that is not for the sake of the Holyday, and is not to prevent a financial loss, is prohibited by the Torah. Anything that is for the sake of the Holyday, or will prevent a financial loss is permissible. (The Sages prohibited a few of these – Maggid Mishna) (Nimukei Yosef & Ritva Eiruvin 96)
“Anything that will distract a person’s awareness that it is a Holyday is prohibited.” (Rashba)
It is the Sefer HaChinuch’s approach that resonates most powerfully in my soul. The Torah empowered us to determine what the Torah allows and prohibits on Chol HaMoed! The Sages’s decisions have Biblical status.
The laws of Chol HaMoed demand our participation, not just in establishing safeguards for the Biblical laws, but in actually defining the Biblical laws. Chol HaMoed, a time that is not as holy as Yom Tov, and not as ‘regular’ as a weekday, has a status al its own. The laws are not Biblical in the usual sense, nor are they Rabbinic; they have a status all of their own.
The laws are a joining of God and Man in defining the parameters of the sanctity of these days. Chol HaMoed offers a unique expression of the powerful connection between the Written Law and the Oral, between God and human beings.
These are laws we should treasure for the level of relationship they express between our Creator and us.
So, please, ask!