The festivals of Pesaḥ and Sukkot begin and end with a day of Yom Tov (two days in the Diaspora). In between is Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Pesaḥ is a week long (eight days in the Diaspora), including five days of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (four in the Diaspora). The combination of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret is eight days long (nine in the Diaspora), including six days of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (five in the Diaspora). Thus we read about Pesaḥ: “And on the fifteenth day of that month is the Lord’s Feast of Unleavened Bread. You shall eat unleavened bread for seven days. On the first day you shall celebrate a sacred occasion: you shall not do any melakha of labor. Seven days you shall make offerings by fire to the Lord. The seventh day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not do any melakha of labor” (Vayikra 23:6-8). It is similarly written regarding Sukkot: “Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Lord, [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not do any melakha of labor; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not do any melakha of labor” (Vayikra 23:34-36).
Ḥol Ha-mo’ed has an in-between status. On one hand, it is ḥol (weekday); on the other hand, it is mo’ed (festival). Therefore, it is referred to as Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, the “weekday of the festival.” These days are included as part of the festival, and there is a Torah obligation of simḥa on them. Furthermore, festival offerings are offered on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, just as they are on Yom Tov. It is only by including these days that Pesaḥ and Sukkot can be said to last seven days. On Ḥol Ha-mo’ed Pesaḥ, eating ḥametz is prohibited; on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed Sukkot, sitting in the sukka is a mitzva. These observances are the same as those of Yom Tov. The days of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed are included in the festivals that the Torah calls “sacred occasions” (mikra’ei kodesh), as we read: “Those are the set times of the Lord that you shall celebrate as sacred occasions, bringing offerings by fire to the Lord – burnt offerings, meal offerings, sacrifices, and libations – on each day what is proper to it” (Vayikra 23:37). Accordingly, the Musaf service of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed includes the phrase: “this day of sacred occasion” (SA 490:3; MB ad loc. 6).
On the other hand, when the Torah relates to the festivals in more detail, it emphasizes that the first and last days are sacred occasions during which melekhet avoda is forbidden. By implication, the days of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed are not sacred occasions with respect to melakha. Therefore, it is permissible to undertake melakha that is for the sake of the festival or that is necessary to avert a loss. Since these days have an aspect of ḥol, we recite havdala between Yom Tov and Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, and include the phrase “Who distinguishes between the sacred and the mundane” (2:11 above).
In this chapter we will explore the mitzvot of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, and then in the following two chapters we will explain in more detail the laws pertaining to doing melakha on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Chapter 11 will deal with the Ḥol Ha-mo’ed laws that are relevant to everyone in their daily lives, and chapter 12 will address the various circumstances that may justify working on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed.