By Rabbi Jeff Berger
Between the first yom tob days of Pesah – signifying Bnei Yisrael’s Exodus from Egyptian slavery – and the last yom tob days of Pesah – commemorating the splitting of the Red Sea – is Shabbat Hol HaMoed.
The Torah reading is the chronologically incongruous selection from Exodus 33:12; Moshe’s attempt at rapprochement with the Almighty after the incident of the Golden Calf, seeking forgiveness for the Jewish people, hewing out a second pair of tablets and being taught the famous 13-Attribute formula for atonement.
Though the portion ends with the commandments to observe Pesah in the springtime, to eat matsah for 7 days and not to leave overnight the remains of the zevakh hag ha’pesah (Paschal lamb), there seems to be no significant connection to Hol HaMoed.
The haftarah is Ezekiel’s vision (37:1-14) the Valley of the Dry Bones. It describes what some might call the Jewish doctrine of Resurrection. G-d tells Ezekiel, ‘these dry bones will yet live again through the breath of life’ (verse 5). The bones represent Beit Yisrael (the House of Israel) who lost all hope after the destruction of Jerusalem. G-d promises through Ezekiel, ‘Behold, I will open your graves and I will bring you into the Land of Israel’ (verse 12).
One of the other unique readings for Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesah is Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) – an allegorical love-story between G-d and the Jewish people. The 8 romantic chapters are a kind of Pas-de-Deux between the two lovers seeking than losing than being reunited with each other.
To better understand the links between these three disparate texts, let us look at one more element related to Pesah.
When Moshe asked the Almighty, by what sign the Jewish people will believe it is the time for their emancipation, G-d responded, ‘gather the Elders of Israel and tell them … I have surely remembered (pakod pakadeti)’ (Exodus 3:16).
The repetition of the word ‘remember’ indicates there would be two types of ‘Exodus’ – one physical and one spiritual. While physical redemption would have been enough (da’yeinu), G-d’s deep love for the Jewish people carried through into the spiritual relationship we would form at Sinai.
Shabbat Hol HaMoed teaches us that maintaining a loving relationship is based just as much on knowing when to express our affection as on when to seek forgiveness – how much more so when it is Eternity that is at stake.