As we know, both Pesach and Sukkos contain days which are Yom Tov and days which are Chol Hamoed (commonly translated as “intermediary days”, henceforth to be abbreviated Ch”H – OK Ira?) While the halachos and restrictions for Yom Tov are more-or-less familiar to the average observant Jew, those pertaining to Ch”H are definitely less familiar. It is totally incorrect to think of these days as mere weekdays nested between two Yomim Tovim. Ch”H itself is a time of increased kedusha/holiness - as evidenced by the daily Torah reading, recitation of Hallel and extra Musaf prayers - and is accordingly governed by restricted melacha (work), albeit to a lesser degree than on Yom Tov.
To drive home this point, did you know that Shulchan Aruch presents a list of melachos that are permissible on Ch”H, rather than those that are prohibited?! With that kind of presentation, it is clear that one needs to learn the halachos of Ch”H if he is to avoid violation!
You may ask: What is the nature of prohibited melacha on Ch”H – is it Torah law or Rabbinic? That question is actually debated among the authorities and is not completely resolved. According to all opinions, however, the Rabbis had the final say in terms of what is prohibited and what is permissible. And they certainly stressed its punctilious observance. They taught that one must not be lax in observing the halachos of Ch”H, and that to do so is tantamount to worshipping Avodah Zarah (idolatry)! Betcha didn’t know that – OY!!
In contrast with the halachos of Shabbos or Yom Tov, the ‘heter’ / halachic permit to perform melacha on Ch”H is not expressed in terms of the particular type of activity one wishes to perform (e.g. plowing, selecting, cooking), but rather in terms of the reason he wishes to perform it. We will illustrate this by quoting the general listing of permissible melacha-categories (See Hilchos Chol Hamoed ‘Zichron Shlomo’, by Rabbis Zucker and Francis, p. 24):
1) Work needed for the festival (‘tzorech hamoed’) 2) Work needed to prepare food (‘tzorech ochel nefesh’) 3) Work needed to fulfill communal needs (‘tzorchei rabim’) 4) Work necessary to avoid loss or damage (‘davar ha-aveid’) 5) Work done by a worker who needs to earn money for basic subsistance (‘po-eil she’ein lo ma yochal/lit. ”a worker who has nothing to eat”) Many of the simanim that follow elaborate on the details of these five categories.
In addition to restriction melacha activity, one must conduct himself in a more Yom-Tov-like manner on Ch”H. This includes eating and drinking better than usual and wearing clean clothing. (Note: Some people even wear Shabbos and Yom Tov clothing the entire week of the chag. While this is admirable, it is not mandatory.) Remember: When the Torah states ‘V’samachta b’chagecha’ (“rejoice in your festivals”), it includes Ch”H as well! Does this mean that one is required to hold formal meals with bread/matzah on Ch”H? Again, it is laudatory (both daytime and evening), but not mandatory.
One last thought: Did you ever stop and think why these two holidays have Ch”H in the first place? After all, we pretty much know what to do on Yom Tov, but what is Ch”H all about? If they are not for working (barring the exceptions listed above), then what are they designed for? R. Abba bar Mamal said (in the Talmud Yerushalmi): “Was not melacha prohibited on Ch”H so that (the Jewish People) may eat and drink and engage in Torah (learning)…?” Based upon R. Abba’s statement, the early authority, Kol Bo, extrapolates: “We see that Hashem’s intention in giving us the Moed (festival, including the days of Ch”H) was in order for us to attach ourselves to fear and love of Him and to engage in his perfect Torah.” Thus, while certainly taking time to enjoy ourselves and our families in a proper, festive atmosphere, we should not lose sight of the real purpose of Ch”H and take advantage of the opportunity to grow in our love of Hashem and the study of His Torah!