In the Middle: Chol HaMo’ed

Question

Hi, Rabbi, Happy Passover! Question: What are “Intermediate Days” of Passover that I see on the calendar all about? Thanks.

3 months

Answers

  1. Thank you and happy Passover to you as well! Good question.

    Two of the major festivals are more than one day – and the nature of their days may vary from day to day. Shavuot — celebrating receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai after the Exodus — is only one day (as taught in the Torah). Passover — celebrating the Exodus from Egypt — is seven days, and Succot — commemorating our miraculous time in the desert before entering Israel — together with Shemini Atzeret is eight.

    On Passover, the first day is a Yom Tov, and most creative activities that are not allowed on Shabbat are also not allowed on this day. The main exception is that nearly all activities needed for food preparation are permitted. The seventh day is likewise a Yom Tov. On Succot, the first and eighth days are Yom Tov days. (Of course, in the Diaspora each day of Yom Tov is actually two days, and therefore Passover is two days of Yom Tov followed by four intermediate days and concluding with two final days of Yom Tov.)

    The days in between the first and the seventh days of Passover, and between the first and eighth of Succot are called “Intermediate Days,” as you see on your calendar. They are literally “in the middle” — after the first Yom Tov day and before the concluding Yom Tov day.

    Although they are not full-fledged Yom Tov days, they are not just regular weekdays that happen to exist in the midst of a holiday. They are not like fluff in the middle of a sandwich. Rather, they are integral and essential days of the festival. We should rejoice on these days and refrain on these days from certain activities that lessen the sanctity of the holiday (such as business involvement that can wait until after the festival without financial consequence).

    Our Rabbis refer to these “middle days” as “Chol Ha’Moed.” Literally, this is usually translated as the “mundane of the holiday.” Or something similar. But one should not think that these days are in any sense mundane!

    The Torah actually refers the entirety of the seven days of Passover as being “Chag HaMatzahs” – the festival of the matzahs; i.e. Passover. Not just the first and last days. Each day is an integral part of the festival. However, our Sages coined a special name for these intermediate days in order to emphasize the greater sanctity of the Yom Tov days. But not to downplay the sanctity of the intermediate days.

    Our Sages teach that a person should be especially careful to be respectful of these intermediate days. “One who disgraces the intermediate days has no share in the world to come.” “One who disgraces the intermediate days is like worshipping idols.” Very serious statements, seemingly more so than what is taught about the Yom Tov days themselves! These intermediate days are obviously much more than some filler days inserted between the main days at the beginning and end. They are part and parcel of the very heart and essence of the festival.

    Together with the days of Yom Tov they serve as a unit in time when we are not busy with everyday activities and can concentrate on growing closer to God, family and friends. Through eating together, studying together, praying together and just being kind to one another (although this year, with the special quarantine, the togetherness may be less than usual). But the purpose of these days and the goal is still the same.

    I hope that you are enjoying this Passover – despite the current pandemic – and find a way to grow closer each and every day in all of your important relationships.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team