MOED KATAN 10 (25 Av) - dedicated by Mrs. G. Kornfeld for the Yahrzeit of her mother, Mrs. Gisela Turkel (Golda bas Chaim Yitzchak Ozer), an exceptional woman with an iron will who loved and respected the study of Torah.
1) CONDUCTING BUSINESS ON CHOL HA'MO'ED
QUESTION: The Gemara teaches that one may not conduct business on Chol ha'Mo'ed unless he will suffer a loss, in which case he may conduct business in order to prevent a loss (Davar ha'Aved). The Yerushalmi adds that if a caravan comes to town selling a certain commodity, and it is going to leave before the end of the festival, one is permitted to purchase the commodity from the caravan on Chol ha'Mo'ed, because this is also considered a Davar ha'Aved. The RAMBAM (Hilchos Yom Tov 7:23) rules in accordance with the Yerushalmi and permits one to buy from and sell to a traveling caravan which is going to leave town before the end of the festival, when the merchants are offering an especially good deal.
The Yerushalmi discusses a situation in which one does not stand to lose anything by not doing business. Rather, he might not make a profit if he does not buy or sell from the caravan on Chol ha'Mo'ed. The allowance to engage in work for this type of Davar ha'Aved seems to be contradicted by numerous sources. A Davar ha'Aved is never defined as not making a profit. On the contrary, the Gemara here says that Ravina delayed selling his merchandise until after Chol ha'Mo'ed. If one is permitted to sell on Chol ha'Mo'ed to assure a profit, why did he wait? In addition, the Gemara later (11a) relates that a river once dried up, leaving a valley full of fish. The Gemara rules that taking the fish to store for after the festival is prohibited unless one could eat them on the festival itself. Why is it prohibited if, by not collecting and storing all of the fish, the person will give up a profit?
Similarly, the Mishnah (2a) states that one may not water a Beis ha'Ba'al during Chol ha'Mo'ed, even though watering that type of field will cause it to bring forth more and larger fruit, enabling him to make more profit. The Mishnah states that one is prohibited to water a field for the purpose of Harvachah, making a profit. The Mishnah clearly understands that making a larger profit is not considered a Davar ha'Aved.
(a) The RAMBAN (cited by the Nimukei Yosef and others) writes that the Yerushalmi does not mean that one may do business with the caravan which comes to town. Rather, it means that if one needs a particular item for himself and the caravan is selling it, he is permitted to buy it for less than what he would have to pay for it after Chol ha'Mo'ed. It is considered a Davar ha'Aved because he will have to pay more money for the object after the festival, and thus he would be losing money if he does not buy it now. However, he is not permitted to buy something on Chol ha'Mo'ed merely to sell it later at a higher price in order to make a profit. That is prohibited because it is not a Davar ha'Aved.
(b) The RAMACH (in Hagahos to the Rambam) writes that conducting business (as opposed to working a field) does not involve much exertion. Therefore, one is permitted to exert a small amount of Tircha on Chol ha'Mo'ed even for a profit. Collecting fish from a dried-up river, however, is prohibited because it involves a large amount of Tircha.
Why did Ravina refrain from selling his merchandise on Chol ha'Mo'ed? Perhaps the Ramach understands that Ravina was not certain that the price he was being offered during Chol ha'Mo'ed would be better than the price he would get after the festival. The Yerushalmi, however, refers to a case in which it is clear that the price offered during Chol ha'Mo'ed is better than the price which will be offered after Chol ha'Mo'ed. In the case of the Yerushalmi, the market price is stable, while in the case of Ravina, the price of the commodity fluctuated.
The NIMUKEI YOSEF
asks that this approach does not explain why watering a Beis ha'Ba'al is prohibited, even though it does not involve much Tircha. (Perhaps the Ramach follows the view of Rashi on the Rif (2a) who writes that when there is no Tircha involved whatsoever, one indeed is permitted to do an act for Harvachah (profit) like watering a Beis ha'Ba'al. See Insights to Moed Katan 2:2
(c) The ROSH quotes the RA'AVAD who says that the case of the fish in the dried-up river bed was not a question of doing business on Chol ha'Mo'ed, but rather collecting a literal "Metzi'ah" (an ownerless object that one finds). For a pure profit such as a Metzi'ah, one is not allowed to work on Chol ha'Mo'ed. One is permitted to do work only for business transactions which are not pure profit but where some loss would be involved if the transactions were not conducted. Since he will need to buy the commodity at some point in time, buying it today for a lower price instead of buying it after the festival for a higher price is considered a Davar ha'Aved, preventing a loss of money. In the case of a Metzi'ah, however, if one does not take the object during Chol ha'Mo'ed he will not lose anything, since he had no intention to buy such an object after the festival. Since he had no expectation of acquiring such a Metzi'ah, not claiming it is not considered a loss. In contrast, not taking advantage of a low price of a commodity which one intended to buy anyway is considered a Davar ha'Aved.
(See BEIS YOSEF OC 539, MISHNAH BERURAH 539:24, and PRI MEGADIM in Mishbetzos Zahav 539:4. According to the reasoning of the Ra'avad, conducting business transactions on Chol ha'Mo'ed should be permissible only for a person whose primary source of income is that business; if he has another source of income, he may not conduct such business transactions on Chol ha'Mo'ed because he does not constantly anticipate finding a lower price. See BI'UR HALACHAH OC 539, DH v'Afilu, and ARUCH HA'SHULCHAN OC 539:16.)
(d) The RA'AVAD (cited by the Rosh, Nimukei Yosef, and Magid Mishneh) gives another answer. He suggests that two different types of work are prohibited on Chol ha'Mo'ed. The first type, Avodas Karka (working the land), is prohibited because the Torah (or the Rabanan) commanded that Melachah not be done on Chol ha'Mo'ed. The second type, business transactions, are prohibited not because they involve Melachah but because they are "Uvdin d'Chol," weekday activities. This type of prohibition is suspended for the sake of Harvachah, making a profit. An actual Melachah, in contrast, is not permitted for the sake of making a profit.
HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (OC 539:5) rules that if a caravan or boat of merchants comes to town offering an especially good deal, one is permitted to buy merchandise from the merchants. This allowance applies only if it is an exceptionally good deal which will not be easy to find again after the festival passes. If, however, it is a good deal which is relatively common, one may not take advantage of it and buy (or sell) during Chol ha'Mo'ed.
Even if the deal is relatively common, one is permitted to sell if there is a likelihood that the price will drop so much after the festival that not only will he not profit, but he will suffer a loss of his initial principle. If there is a possibility that he might lose part of his principle, he is permitted to sell on Chol ha'Mo'ed. (BI'UR HALACHAH)
Even if the deal is relatively common and one will not lose his initial investment if he does not sell during Chol ha'Mo'ed but he will only lose the opportunity to make a profit, he is permitted to sell on Chol ha'Mo'ed if he has no cash available with which to buy his Yom Tov and Chol ha'Mo'ed needs.
A wholesale merchant ("Tagar," as opposed to a retailer or storekeeper) who buys and sells with a constant rate of turnover is permitted to sell his items privately in his home. To lose a cycle of buying and selling is considered a Davar ha'Aved since it will interrupt his constant source of income, and therefore he is permitted to conduct his business in private (REMA OC 539:4 and the MISHNAH BERURAH; see MAGEN AVRAHAM and BI'UR HALACHAH who discuss whether the allowance of a wholesale merchant to conduct business in private applies also to a storekeeper). The BI'UR HALACHAH quotes the ELIYAH RABAH who suggests that a person who is concerned that he will lose his business if he closes his store on Chol ha'Mo'ed while the non-Jews keep their stores open (thereby causing potential customers to assume that the Jewish store is unreliable) may be lenient and keep his store open and buy and sell on Chol ha'Mo'ed. However, he still is not permitted to do any Melachah, such as cutting fabric to measure or making jewelry. (This is based on the RA'AVAD in (d) above who says that all forms of Harvachah that do not involve Melachah are permitted.)