Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Omer 5775. Day 4. Chol Hamoed

Chol Hamoed in Israel has a unique quality.

My recollections of chol hamoed during my years living in the UK are of a rather pallid experience, which could range from a nuisance at worst, to a sort of sideline at best.

The mild nuisance would be Sukkot with no Sukka for lunch, or the inability to buy coffee at my regular cafe on Pesach. (Once at LSE, chabad put sukka up. It was 3 walls that surrounded a park bench right outside the main library, just about the most busy corner on campus. The front of the bench was completely open, fully exposed; just the sides of the bench and its back were enveloped by walls. It was like a clichéd joke: How many Orthodox Jews can fit on a park bench! ...exceedingly embarrassing!)

But really, far more problematic was that Chol Hamoed felt more "chol" than "moed," more ordinary than festive. My Dad went to work, I attended college, and the chag shrank to prayer-times and mealtimes. The pervasive feeling of the chag, as felt for example on Yomtov, was strikingly elusive.

Not so in Israel where the entire country is on holiday! Today's main headlines were the traffic jams caused by a whole nation on vacation. People hike on nature trails and greet strangers with "chag sameach" greetings; even the newscaster opens the day's news with "moadim lesimcha!" Here it feels more "moed" than "chol" as one cannot be but aware that these are festive days, one gains a sense of the nation as one hikes the country, drives the roads, and visits tourist sites along with throngs of others.

It is really special. It is genuinely a seven day festival.

Moreover, in ancient times, the three pilgrim festivals ("regalim") were celebrated en masse with all Israel. We gain an inkling of that "am yisrael" experience in Israel today.

Both Pesach and Sukkot begin with a day of YomTov followed by intermediate days, as they end with a YomTov day. It is as if we take an intense shot of the chag at the start, then continue by experiencing the chag  at a more normal level of intensity over the duration of a single week, a basic building block of time, allowing the practices of the chag seep in, penetrate the psyche. Then, we emerge into the final Yomtov to simply bask joyfully in the energy that the chag has generated by the preceding days. (-Both on Sukkot and Pesach, the final day of chag has no particular unique practices and seems as if it is there to gather and absorb the riches that the festival have has created.)

May we use these days to joyfully experience these happy and holy days of Pesach to connect with the mitzvot and momentum of the chag as we anticipate the finale on שביעי של פסח.

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