“Then I will take My hand away and you will see my back; but My face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:23)
Because this Shabbat falls during Pesach, the regular cycle of parashot (Torah portions) is interrupted by a special holiday reading. There is also a special haftarah, or reading from the Prophets, and many synagogues read from Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs. Each reading makes a statement about our relationship God, albeit in very different ways.
The Torah reading follows Moses pleading on behalf of the Israelites after the episode of the golden calf. The reading is tense and suspenseful: how will the breach in the relationship be repaired? God punishes the people, but agrees to forgive them. Moses asks to behold God’s presence. God agrees, but only partly.
Shabbat Chol Hamoed (the intermediate Shabbat) provides both the reason for the special reading and the answer to the relationship question. On Shabbat, God’s presence comes to us. The Jewish mystical tradition describes the kabbalists of Tsfat going out to the fields to greet the oncoming Shabbat Queen. The Talmud describes the Shabbat angels escorting us home (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 119b). Pesach, though, is the first of the three pilgrimage holidays. In Biblical times, Jews left their homes for Jerusalem to make the appropriate sacrifice and the altar in the Temple. On Pesach (and Shavuot and Sukkot) we seek out God’s presence.
Both these approaches co-exist on Shabbat Chol Hamoed: God seeks us out and we seek out God. The joy and sanctity of the day results from the mutual commitment: each partner seeks out the other, as do the lovers in Shir Hashirim. Halevai, it should be that way every day!