Once, Rav had his field harvested on Hol HaMoed, which upset Shmuel greatly. The Gemara rejects the possibility that Shmuel rules like the minority opinion, which forbids all work on Hol HaMoed, explaining that in Rav’s case it was a wheat field that could have been harvested a week later without any monetary loss.
If that were the case, however, why would Rav have allowed his field to be harvested?
The Gemara explains that this was a case of ein lo ma yokhal –that he had nothing to eat, so harvesting the field was essential to derive income, even on Hol HaMoed.
The Gemara further explains that when Shmuel objected, either he was not aware of the situation, or else he felt adam hashuv shani – that a prominent person is different and should not be involved with work on Hol HaMoed,even if it is permitted according to the letter of the law.
Although the general approach of the commentaries is to understand that Rav was in a situation of ein lo ma yokhal, the Meiri explains that this was a case where the workers had nothing to eat. The harvesters were hired by Rav, who sought to give them work so they could earn enough money to be able to eat, which is permissible even when one is not in a situation of monetary loss. According to this explanation, we can well understand Shmuel’s objection, for Rav could easily have arranged for someone else to find work for these people.
According to the standard approach – that Rav was in the situation of ein lo ma yokhal – it is unlikely that Rav had no money with which to purchase food; rather, he preferred to eat from his own produce than to purchase from someone else’s field. Shmuel felt that for a prominent person like Rav, this was not a good enough reason to harvest the field on Hol HaMoed. The Ritva considers the possibility that Rav truly did not have enough money to eat, but Shmuel felt that as a prominent person he should have chosen to take out a short-term loan rather than have his field worked on Hol HaMoed..