There are two terms associated with each and every holiday: Mo’ed and mikra kodesh (Leviticus 23:4). According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808 – 1888), each term conveys a different shade of meaning. In his philosophical explication of the Torah entitled Horeb (Section II, Chapter 23, Paragraph 171), he offers the following definitions. The term moe’d refers to the interruption of “our daily active life in order to consecrate and equip us by obliging us to contemplate the truths lying at the foundation of our existence; and to endow us with the strength for the remaining activities of life.” In other words, a mo’ed is a pause in time that provides us with the dual benefits to compel us to reflect on the important things in life and to allow us rest and recuperation.
But whereas mo’ed is a function of time and calendar, mikra kodesh is a function of action. Rabbi Hirsch contends that only when some activity, some positive celebration of the festival is added to the mo’ed will it be transformed into a sacred occasion. Even if the activity is routine in nature, when it is raised to a Divine service it has the power to make a day of rest into a day of sanctification. Mo’ed refers to the absence of work. Mikra kodesh refers to the sanctification of action.
Days on the calendar are not very meaningful in and of themselves. They can be made meaningful by what people do on them. A birthday, for example, can lapse into just another day is a person’s life or it can become an opportunity to reflect on one’s accomplishments – good or bad – and by doing something useful meaningful set a course for the year ahead. Rabbi Yonah Metzger, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, reported that the son of Rabbi Moses Schreiber used to lock himself in his room on his birthday and mourn the passing of another waster year (MiYam HaHalakhah, Volume 4, No. 46, p. 140). But Rabbi Metzger wisely counseled that a birthday should be an annual opportunity to recommit oneself to be good and to do good. It is a way of taking a calendar date and transforming it into a chance to sanctify it in the service of God and one’s fellow human beings. This is precisely what Rabbi Hirsch had in mind.
It seems that there are far more dates that people identify as mo’ed: dots on the calendar, interruptions is daily routine, disruptions in schedule. But the task that rabbi Hirsch sets before us is to make the mo’ed special by doing things that are sacred.