Our Rabbis warn us of the serious nature of disgracing the Mo’adot, the Jewish holidays (Avot 3:15, Pesachim 118a). But what exactly constitutes disgracing a Jewish Holiday?
Let us first define what a holiday is. Though a holiday like Pesach is made up of seven days (eight in the Diaspora), not all of its days are treated the same, and for good reason. Imagine eight straight days of Yom Tov! Only the first and last day (first two and last two in the Diaspora) are considered as Yamim Tovim (full holidays); the middle days are called “Chol Ha’mo’ed”. “Chol” means weekday, while “Mo’ed” means holiday. What this means is that the middle days of Pesach, though one hundred percent a part of the holiday, are treated as part weekday and part holiday.
According to Rashi and others it is to these “weekday-holiday” days that the above teaching of our Rabbis refers. Since one is permitted to do some melachot (weekday activities) it is possible to become overly involved in weekday activities. So the Rabbis came to remind us that disgracing these days is a disgrace to the Mo’ed.
One must treat the Chol Ha’mo’ed days with proper respect and honor by having a festive meal, ideally both in the daytime and in the evening. Although, strictly speaking, one is not required to eat bread at these meals, it is preferable to do so. One should also wear nicer clothing than on a weekday. In fact the Maharil wore his Shabbat clothing on Chol Ha’mo’ed (Mishnah Berurah; Kaf Ha’Chaim).
“On Chol Hamoed one is permitted to do some melachot, while forbidden from doing others. Rema: Melacha was permitted by the Rabbis based on their assessment of need.” (Orach Chaim 530)
There are five general circumstances where doing a melacha is permitted on Chol Ha’mo’ed. 1) When one will incur damage or a financial loss. 2) For foods (“ochel nefesh”) that are needed for the holiday one is permitted to do ma’aseh uman (skilled work), and for other types of needs one is permitted to do ma’aseh hedyot (unskilled work). 3) Someone who does not have enough money to purchase food for the holiday is permitted to work and do melachot. 4) Things that are needed for the community. 5) Things that do not require a skilled professional are permitted even for an individual. (Tur; Mishnah Berurah; Kaf Hachaim)