1) HALACHAH: IS IT BETTER TO LIVE NEAR TO OR FAR FROM A SYNAGOGUE
QUESTION: The Gemara quotes two different explanations of the verse, "Baruch Atah ba'Ir" (Devarim 28:3). Rav explains that the blessing of "Baruch Atah ba'Ir" means that one's house will be near the Beis ha'Keneses. Rebbi Yochanan argues and explains that "Baruch Atah ba'Ir" means that one will have a place to relieve oneself near the table, but a house near the synagogue is not considered a blessing, for Rebbi Yochanan states elsewhere (Sotah 22a) that a person receives "Sechar Pesi'os" -- more reward for the more steps he takes to walk to the Beis ha'Keneses.
Does Rav argue with Rebbi Yochanan and maintain that one does not receive "Sechar Pesi'os" when he takes more steps to walk to the Beis ha'Keneses?
(a) The TORAS CHAIM explains that Rav takes into account a different factor. The Gemara in Berachos (47b) says that a person should make an effort to go early to the Beis ha'Keneses so that he will be among the first ten who make the Minyan, for the reward of the first ten is equivalent to the reward of all those who come afterward. Rav apparently holds that this reward takes precedence over the reward of "Sechar Pesi'os," and he therefore maintains that it is a blessing to live near the Beis ha'Keneses, where one is in a better position to be among the first ten.
(b) The MAHARSHA explains why the verse "Baruch Atah ba'Ir" implies a Beis ha'Keneses according to Rav and a Beis ha'Kisei according to Rebbi Yochanan. Until modern times, it was the practice to build most synagogues and bathrooms outside of the residential area. Hence, there was a reasonable danger involved in going out to the synagogue alone (as mentioned in Berachos 5b-6a; see Tosfos to Berachos 2a, DH Mevarech, and 6a, DH ha'Mispalel) or to the bathroom alone. Rav and Rebbi Yochanan therefore explain, respectively, that it is a blessing to have a Beis ha'Keneses or a Beis ha'Kisei nearby.
According to the Maharsha, it could be that Rav agrees that a person receives "Sechar Pesi'os" when he walks farther to a Beis ha'Keneses. However, that only applies when the Beis ha'Keneses is inside the city, relatively close to his home, and he does not have to endanger himself to get to the Beis ha'Keneses. (Y. SHAW)
2) THE REWARD FOR WALKING TO SHUL
QUESTION: Rebbi Yochanan maintains that a person receives "Sechar Pesi'os" when he walks to a Beis ha'Keneses that is farther away, even if there is another one that is nearby (see RASHI to Sotah 22a, and Insights there). Although this teaches the importance of exerting oneself for a Mitzvah, such a Halachah -- that one should exert oneself by traveling a longer distance to perform a Mitzvah -- is found only with regard to the Mitzvah of going to a Beis ha'Keneses. (The Halachah does not state, for example, that it is a greater Mitzvah to walk a longer distance to sit in a Sukah.) Is there any reason why the Mitzvah of going to a Beis ha'Keneses should be unique in this respect?
(a) Perhaps there is a special Mitzvah to travel to the Beis ha'Keneses because the Beis ha'Keneses is called a "Mikdash Me'at" (Megilah 29a; see also Bava Metzia 28b) and there is a Mitzvah in the Torah to travel to the Beis ha'Mikdash during the festival. The same Mitzvah would apply to traveling to the "Mikdash Me'at," the Beis ha'Keneses.
(b) The purpose of Tefilah is for a person to bring himself closer to Hash-m and to lessen, as it were, the distance between himself and Hash-m. When one travels a distance to get to the Beis ha'Keneses, he thereby symbolizes that he is exerting himself to lessen the distance between him and Hash-m, and as such it is a proper preface to prayer. (This might also be the theme of Aliyah l'Regel.) (MAHARAL in NESIVOS OLAM, Nesiv ha'Avodah 5)
3) AGADAH: PROTECTION FROM "AYIN HA'RA"
The Amora'im give different opinions as to what illness is alluded to in the verse, "Hash-m will remove from you all illness" (Devarim 7:15). Rav says that it refers to Ayin ha'Ra.
When the Jewish people are counted, a direct census is not taken. Rather, each person gives a Machtzis ha'Shekel and the coins are counted so that no Ayin ha'Ra should affect the people.
The MALBIM in ERETZ CHEMDAH (Parshas Ki Sisa) writes that this might be why the Shekalim are collected in Adar (as the Mishnah in the beginning of Shekalim teaches). RASHI (106b) mentions that the Mazal of the month of Adar is "Dagim." The Gemara teaches that Dagim, fish, are not affected by the Ayin ha'Ra because the water covers them. Hence, the month of Adar, the Mazal of which is Dagim, has a degree of protection from the Ayin ha'Ra. This is why the Shekalim are given in Adar. Both the use of Shekalim instead of a count of the people themselves, and the choice of Adar as the month in which the Shekalim are given, ensure that the Jewish people will not be affected by Ayin ha'Ra.
4) PROTECTION FROM THE COLD
QUESTION: The Amora'im give different opinions as to what illness is alluded to in the verse, "Hash-m will remove from you all illness" (Devarim 7:15). Rebbi Chanina says that it refers to the cold, in accordance with what he teaches elsewhere, "Everything is decreed by Heaven except for 'Tzinim Pachim'."
TOSFOS in Kesuvos (30a) and in Bava Basra (144b) asks that if the cold is not decreed in Heaven, but rather it is within the ability of man to protect himself, then why does the verse say that Hash-m will bless a person by removing the cold?
(a) TOSFOS in Kesuvos answers that when Rebbi Chanina says that everything is decreed by Heaven except for "Tzinim Pachim," he means that when there is cold in the world (as a result of Hash-m's decree, of course), then one's protection from it is not decreed by Hash-m but rather is in one's own hands. The verse that says that Hash-m will bless a person by removing the cold means that Hash-m will make the world warm, or He will provide the person with warm clothing. The person himself, however, must choose to protect himself from the cold.
(b) TOSFOS in Bava Basra answers that the verse means that Hash-m will give the person the intellectual capacity, as well as the wherewithal, to discern how to protect himself from the cold.
(c) The TORAS CHAIM answers that it within man's ability to protect himself from the cold. If, however, he does not protect himself from the cold and as a result he becomes sick, then a man cannot heal himself. In this verse, Hash-m gives man a blessing that He will remove the sickness that results from the cold.