Having been taught in the Mishna (Moed Katan 1:2) that ויוצאין אף על הכלאים – ‘[agents of the court] also go out [to inspect fields] for Kilayim (plant crossbreeding) [on Chol HaMoed Pesach]’, today’s daf (Moed Katan 6a) raises the question as to why this is done for the later crops (according to one opinion) crops, or for the vegetables (according to another opinion) on Chol HaMoed which is a time when we generally refrain from such activities. Surely such an inspection would be just as effective were it to be done just a few days before Pesach?
The answer given by Rabbi Yaakov in the name of Rav Yochanan is that given the greater availability of human resources on Chol HaMoed, the amount paid to these agents will be less if they fulfil this task on Chol HaMoed, and since these agents are paid from funds withdrawn from the Temple treasury, permission is granted for this task to be performed on Chol HaMoed in order to minimize the expenditure of public funds (nb. to see a further discussion about how this principle is concretised in practice, see the Biur Halacha to Orach Chaim 544 DH Tzorchei Rabim).
Today, only part of what is taught here occurs. True, many people who work for the community are often not paid high salaries – although the difference with this case and what we see today is that the task of inspecting fields for Kilayim is considered to be one that could be performed by non-qualified individuals (מעשה הדיוט), whereas today, even highly qualified individuals (מעשה אומן) are often unfortunately not paid the salaries they deserve by the community.
At the same time, what is equally true is that numerous services and organisations which are supported by public funds are not sufficiently careful in minimizing their expenditure of those public funds – and many effectively waste funds by bad management, poor decision-making, or their lack of effort to find the most financially effective solutions to the problems they are trying to solve.
Ultimately, what we learn from today’s daf is that even the laws of Chol HaMoed can be overridden to address at least some of the needs of the community and in order to reduce the expenditure of public funds, and it is an overall lesson which we would do well to consider still today.