Both of the holidays of Pesach and Succot are weeklong festivals. In the
Land of Israel they are seven days in length while in the Diaspora they are
eight days in length. In Israel, the first day and seventh days of Pesach
are full holidays, while in the Diaspora the first, second, seventh and
eighth days of Pesach are full holidays. For Succot, in Israel, the first
day is a full holiday and in the Diaspora, the first two days are full
holidays. The balance of the days of these holidays is called Chol Hamoed -
the intermediate, less holy days of the holiday. This extremely
sophisticated concept of days that are holidays but not completely so, is a
unique Jewish creation. Unlike the actual full holy days of the holidays,
these intermediate days do not carry with them the entire gamut of
restrictions on work. In fact, any work that is necessary for comfort
and/or to prevent monetary loss is permissible. However, the intermediate
days are not to be treated as ordinary workdays. Unnecessary work, work
that is easily postponed till after the holidays, lawsuits and other
contentious matters, etc. are all not to be pursued during Chol Hamoed.
Therefore, in Israel and in many parts of the Diaspora, Chol Hamoed is a
vacation and leisure time. Stores and offices are closed and entire
families participate in touring, visiting friends and relatives and
attending concerts and other forms of entertainment. On Chol Hamoed,
holiday clothing and finery is worn and festive meals are served. It is a
joyous and sweet time of the year for all concerned, especially for the
children who are free of school and their routines for the week.
Chol Hamoed is a practical example of the Jewish ability to transform the
everyday into the special and the mundane into holy. We can all understand
the concept of Sabbath and holidays and the fact that work is somehow
inconsistent with the spirit and message of those days. But Chol Hamoed
affords us an opportunity to work and not work, celebrate and yet not
divorce ourselves from the occurrences and tasks of everyday life. There is
a ritual and rhythm to Chol Hamoed that governs this remarkable time. It is
a time for family and friends, for study and reading, for relaxation and
refreshment. But it is not summer vacation or midwinter break. It has
holiness, ritual, and halacha attached to it. That it is what gives Chol
Hamoed its special resonance and feeling in the Jewish world.
Part of the custom of Chol Hamoed is to pay one's respects to the great
rabbis and scholars of Israel. In Israel, and in the Diaspora as well, the
great rabbis, the Chassidic leaders, and the heads of the yeshivot all hold
open house and court during Chol Hamoed. There are Jews who travel from all
corners of the world to visit their spiritual leaders and pay their homage
to the Torah and its scholars. In Jerusalem, there is a special "Blessing
by the Kohanim" (priests descended from the family of Aaron) ceremony
conducted at the plaza of the Western Wall. Hundreds of priests gather
there to bless the tens of thousands of Jews who gather at the Wall to
receive their heavenly blessing on Chol Hamoed.
During Chol Hamoed of Succot, there are parties held every night to
celebrate the "drawing of the water" service that took place in the Temple
in Jerusalem. The Talmud describes how in Temple times this ceremony was
celebrated with song, dance, torches and bonfires, jugglers and performers.
The "drawing of the water" from the spring of Gichon south of Jerusalem and
its libation on the altar of the Temple symbolically marked the beginning
of the rainy season in Israel and the prayers for a bountiful rainfall
during the winter months. Though the Temple and its altar are not now
present, the celebrations of Chol Hamoed Succot have survived and
prospered. Throughout Jerusalem's many neighborhoods, the parties and
celebrations take place. The Talmud stated that 'sleep did not find our
eyes' at these festive Chol Hamoed nights. That still is pretty much the
case for the young today during these Chol Hamoed celebrations.
Shabbat Shalom and Moadim L'Simcha.
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Berel Wein and
Project Genesis, Inc.