Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 154

April 7, 2023 (16 Nisan 5783)

Chol HaMoed Fun Facts

Dear Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you well, in good health, and enjoying the Pesach Yuntif. We pray that your Seders were filled with family, friends, meaning, and song. This Saturday morning, we will gather in the sanctuary at 10:15am for holiday services, which will include singing Hallel and chanting a special Torah reading. If you are unable to join in person, please connect with us through our regular Zoom webinar link.

This Shabbat (as well as Sunday through Tuesday) is referred to as Chol HaMoed, which represents a strange oxymoron of terminology. While the term Chol means weekday/mundane, Moed directs us towards the sacred/holy. We encounter these intermediate days both on Pesach as well as during the eight-day celebration of Sukkoth. So therefore, I am often asked, “Rabbi, is it a Chol or a Moed?”

To review: Chol HaMoed (literally, “the weekday of the holiday”) refers to the “intermediate period” of the festivals of Passover and Sukkot. They are the days sandwiched between the beginning and ending holy days of both festivals. Passover is eight days long. The first two days and last two days are full-fledged festival days, and the middle four days are Chol HaMoed. Sukkot through Simchat Torah is nine days long. The first two days (Sukkot) and the last two days (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah) are full-fledged festival days, and the middle five days are Chol HaMoed.

The special Mitzvoth of the festivals are equally observed on Chol HaMoed. For example, we may not eat Chametz during Chol HaMoed of Passover, and we are encouraged to eat in a Sukkah and shake the Lulav on Chol HaMoed of Sukkot. The days of Chol HaMoed also include the Mitzvah to be joyous and celebrate, and some wear holiday clothing. Additionally, there are special prayers and Torah readings in the synagogue during Chol HaMoed, and in many communities, men do not put on Tefillin.

The general guideline for this week is to do as little work as possible (don’t tell this to the Rabbi and Cantor) while celebrating as much of the holiday as you can (you can tell us you did that)! In order to maintain that delicate balance of holiday and weekday, a set of guidelines exists to help us determine what we may and may not do on these days. The general principle is to do as little “skilled” or paid work as possible, and to engage in as much “joyous Jewish holiday celebration” as you can.

The internet is flooded with particulars regarding laws of Chol HaMoed, so I offer to you some fun facts about those laws while, in the spirit of joyousness, taking the liberty of slight editorial privilege:

  • We are encouraged to eat meat and/or drink wine at least once each day (unless you are a vegan like my daughter, or you are a horrendous oenophile and therefore truly enjoy Manischewitz!)
  • Plumbing repairs needed for Chol HaMoed may be made (unless it is the 7th day of Pesach, and you really want to relive the crossing of the Red Sea!)
  • “Skilled” work is permitted if being done for food preparation (this leniency depends on if you are a good cook!)
  • Tailoring is generally prohibited. However, sewing a button in an “unskilled manner” for Yom Tov (good day) use is permitted (and believe me, my sewing talent is best described as unskilled!)
  • Changing light bulbs is permitted (don’t worry about this accommodation, it’s fine, I will sit in the dark!)
  • One should not buy stocks on Chol HaMoed (unless they are real winners!)
  • One may shop at a special sale for non-Yom Tov items if those items will not be available after Yom Tov (however, they will probably be available on Amazon!)

As we enter these last days of Pesach, inspired by each other, may each day bring us sacredness, prayer, gratitude, and a heart inclined to celebrate, rejoice, and enjoy!

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
Tel: 201-562-5277

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