Chol Ha-Moed (Intermediate Days of Pesach and Sukkot)
The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion
(Intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkot)
By Rav Binyamin Tabory
The Torah contains a number of sections dealing with the laws of Yom Tov. In Parashat Bo (Shemot 12:15-16), in connection with the Exodus narrative, the Torah presents laws of Pesach for the first time. It establishes the requirement to observe a seven-day festival, the first and last days of which are to be observed as "Mikra Kodesh" (holy assembly), on which no melakha (labor) may be performed (Shemot 12:15-16). In Parashat Emor, however (Vayikra 23:37), the Torah describes all the holidays with the term "Mikraei Kodesh." The Mekhilta (Parashat Bo, 9) deduces from this description that even the period of Chol Ha-moed is considered "Mikra Kodesh." Accordingly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Yom Tov 7:1) mentions that although Chol Ha-moed is not called "Shabbaton," it is nevertheless "Mikra Kodesh."
In light of this principle, some Rishonim maintain (based on Moed Katan 18a) that melakha is Biblically forbidden on Chol Ha-moed. This position, however, must explain why some melakha was permitted on Chol Ha-moed. True, even on Yom Tov itself one may perform melakha for purposes of preparing food. On Chol Ha-moed, however, Halakha permits other categories, as well, such as "davar ha-aveid" (work which must be done to avoid financial loss) and work involving public concern. This led the Rosh and others to conclude that Torah law permits all melakha on Chol Ha-moed, but Chazal later forbade certain types of melakha while permitting others. By contrast, the Ramban and Rashba held that all melakha which is neither necessary for Yom Tov nor could incur a financial loss is Biblically forbidden. The rabbis then added other melakha prohibitions on Chol Ha-moed, such as "ma'aseh uman" skilled work.
The Yere'im (mitzva 417-418) goes so far as to include all eight days of Sukkot in the biblical mitzvot of sanctifying Yom Tov and refraining from melakha. Although he expresses some doubt about this matter, he nevertheless enumerated these two mitzvot and claimed that they apply to all eight days of Sukkot.
The Beit Yosef (O.C. 530) cites all these sources and then advances a theory of his own. He explained that the Torah itself prohibits performing melakha on Chol Ha-moed, but it left it to our Chakhamim to determine which types of melakha should be included under this Biblical prohibition. Apparently, according to the Beit Yosef, there is a Biblical requirement that Chol Ha-Moed should have the character of a Yom Tov, but not be identical to Yom Tov. The very term "Chol Ha-moed" (literally, "the weekdays of the festival") implies this dual characteristic of being simultaneously a Yom Tov and a weekday. Therefore, while the Torah required us to abstain from some melakha on Chol Ha-moed, it was desirable to have other melakha permitted. It left the exact parameters for the Chakhamim to establish.
The Beit Yosef brings a precedent for the concept that the Torah assigns the Chakhamim with the task of determining the parameters of a given law, from the opinion of the Ran regarding the laws of Yom Kippur. The Ran maintains that the Torah requires experiencing "inuy" (some type of affliction) on Yom Kippur, and empowered the Chakhamim to delineate the activities from which we must refrain to achieve "inuy." It should be stressed that whatever our Chakhamim included under this prohibition is considered Biblically forbidden. Interestingly, Rav Dovid Cohen has published a pamphlet with over fifty possible examples of this type of Biblical law, where the Torah leaves it for the Chakhamim to determine its details (Gevul Ya'Avetz, Brooklyn 1986).
Does the concept of "Mikra Kodesh" apply to other issues, as well, besides the prohibition of melakha? The Mekhilta (cited above) explains that this status requires us to sanctify Chol Ha-moed (as well as Yom Tov) through food, drink and special clothing. The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:16) that the requirements of "kavod" (honor) and "oneg" (enjoyment) apply to Yom Tov, just as they do to Shabbat, because Yom Tov is also called "Mikra Kodesh." Given the Rambam's later remark that Chol Ha-moed is also called "Mikra Kodesh" (Ibid. 7:1), it follows that the mitzvot of kavod and oneg apply to Yom Tov, as well. Accordingly, we are required to eat a meal on Chol Ha-moed just as on Yom Tov. Now there is a general rule that whenever Halakha requires eating a meal (such as Shabbat and Yom Tov), one must repeat birkat ha-mazon if he inadvertently omitted the appropriate addition (Retze'i on Shabbat; Ya'aleh Ve-yavo on Yom Tov). It would follow, therefore, that even on Chol Ha-mo'ed someone who omitted Ya'aleh Ve-yavo in birkat ha-mazon must recite it again.
The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 188:7), however, ruled that Chol Ha-moed resembles Rosh Chodesh in this respect, and one need not repeat birkat ha-mazon if he omitted Ya'aleh Ve-yavo. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Responsa 1, and addendum at the end of the volume) understood this as proving our premise wrong. He claims that although the Rambam writes that the obligation of simcha (rejoicing) applies to Chol Ha-moed (Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:17,22), he does not require kavod ve-oneg on Chol Ha-Moed. He ignores the Rambam's comment that Chol Ha-moed is considered Mikra Kodesh and all days of Mikra Kodesh require kavod ve-oneg.
The Chafetz Chaim zt"l suggested a middle position to resolve this difficulty (Sha'ar Ha-Tziyun 530a). He writes that although there indeed exists an obligation of kavod ve-oneg on Chol Ha-moed, as stated in the Mekhilta, this kavod ve-oneg requires merely treating Chol Ha-moed as a day more special than a regular weekday. It does not mean that we must treat it as an actual Yom Tov. Thus, for example, there is no obligation to eat a meal on Chol Ha-moed, despite the fact that such an obligation applies on Yom Tov. Therefore, if one omitted Ya'aleh Ve-yavo in birkat ha-mazon, he need not repeat it.
The Mishna (Avot 3:11) says in the name of R' Elazar Ha-Modai that whoever disgraces the "Moadot" has no share in the world to come. Rashi explains that "Moadot" refers to Chol Ha-moed. Anyone who performs (forbidden) labor or treats Chol Ha-moed as a regular weekday with regards to food and drink, has no share in the world to come. According to Rashi, this Mishna does not refer to Yom Tov at all. Since Chol Ha-moed is not to be treated as an actual Yom Tov, a person may be inclined to take it lightly. Therefore, R' Elazar included Chol Ha-Moed in the Mishna to impress upon us the importance of treating Chol Ha-moed as something more than an ordinary weekday. Rabbenu Yona (ad loc.) adds that the verb used in the Mishna is to "disgrace," rather than "desecrate." The person who "disgraces" Chol Ha-moed treats it as a regular weekday and does not demonstrate that it is a day of Mikra Kodesh. With this in mind, we can understand the position of the Yere'im cited towards the beginning of the shiur. The Torah requires observing the days of Chol Ha-moed by treating them in some way as days of Mikra Kodesh. Although we are not to treat them in precisely the same manner as we do Yom Tov, they are nevertheless included under the same "Mikra Kodesh" obligation as Yom Tov itself.