The intermediate days of Pesah and Sukkot – the days of Hol HaMoed – are difficult to define. While not fully days of Yom Tov, neither are they regular days of the week. This necessitates the establishment of halakhic boundaries to guide us in our activities on those days. On Hol HaMoed there is no restriction on work in terms of the 39 categories of forbidden activities of Shabbat; rather, what is forbidden is toil, which is defined by the strain and difficulty involved, as well as by the level of professional expertise necessary to perform the task.
Who establishes what falls into the category of forbidden activities on these days?
According to Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish, it appears that melakha is forbidden on a Biblical level, and, in fact, a series of baraitot appear on our daf that quote passages from the Torah as sources for this ruling. Tosafot note, however, that most of the Sages believe that work is forbidden on Hol HaMoed only on a Rabbinic level, and the pesukim from the Torah that are quoted here play the role of asmakhta – a secondary support for the rulings of the Rabbis.
The last baraita supports this view. The source-text that it brings is from Sefer Devarim (16:8), which teaches that on Pesah we are commanded to eat matza for six days, and on the seventh day is a solemn assembly to God (“u-bayom ha-shevi’i atzeret la-Shem”) on which no work can be done. In this case, the beginning of the clause – u-bayom -appears to connect the seventh day, which is Yom Tov, to the previous days, while the second word – ha-shevi’i – seems to emphasize the uniqueness of the seventh day. These contradictory inferences are reconciled by the baraita in its conclusion – that the days of Hol HaMoed are given over to the discretion of the Sages. They are the ones who decide how to best keep the individual focused on the holiday, which activities are permitted or forbidden on which days of Yom Tov.