1) THE PUNISHMENT FOR ONE WHO SPEAKS "LASHON HA'RA"
QUESTION: The Gemara says that a person who speaks or accepts Lashon ha'Ra or false testimony is fit to be thrown to the dogs, since the verse places the words "it (he) shall be thrown to the dogs" (referring to the meat of a Tereifah animal)" (Shemos 22:30) adjacent to the prohibition against saying false testimony or Lashon ha'Ra (Shemos 23:1).
In what way is this a fitting punishment for the transgression of speaking Lashon ha'Ra?
(a) The ME'IRI writes that the Gemara means that a person should be thrown to the dogs after his death. The corpse of a person who spoke Lashon ha'Ra in his lifetime is no different than the carcass of an animal, as the verse says in Tehilim (49:13). (The carcasses of dead animals were normally used as dog food; see Shabbos 30b.) The Acharonim point out that the Me'iri's words are based on the SHE'ILTOS in Parshas Yisro, which add that he should be thrown to the dogs "after his death."
In what way does the person who speaks Lashon ha'Ra lose his "Tzuras ha'Adam," his uniquely human form, after death? The verse (Bereishis 2:7) differentiates between Adam and Behemah, man and animal, by saying that an Adam is "Nefesh Chayah," which the Targum translates as "a speaking being." While a person is alive, even if he misuses his power of speech, he nevertheless is different from animals that cannot speak. After his death, however, he is no different from animals since neither can speak; the body retains its "Tzuras ha'Adam" after death only if the person elevated his Neshamah during his lifetime through his speech, such that the Neshamah retains the unique quality of man after his death.
(b) The MAHARSHA explains that the punishment is appropriate since the dogs were able to withhold their tongues from barking when the Jews left Mitzrayim (Shemos 11:7). The one who spoke Lashon ha'Ra in his lifetime was unable to hold back his tongue, and thus the dogs -- which were able to hold back their tongues -- avenge the one who was not able to hold back his tongue when it was appropriate to do so.
(c) It is said in the name of the ARIZAL that the punishment for a person who speaks Lashon ha'Ra is that his Neshamah returns to this world in the form of a dog. This might be what the Gemara means when it says that "he should be thrown to a dog" -- meaning that his Neshamah is cast into the body of a dog. This punishment is appropriate, since a dog damages people by scaring them with its bark, which can sometimes cause women to miscarry (as the Gemara says in Bava Kama 83a). This form of damage is similar to the damage caused by the person who speaks Lashon ha'Ra or bears false testimony, acts which damage through the use of the tongue.
The Midrash relates that the brothers of Yosef first tried to sic dogs on him before they threw him into the pit. According to this explanation, they might have done this measure for measure, since they suspected him of speaking Lashon ha'Ra about them (see Bereishis 37:2).
2) THE EFFECTS OF A SINGLE MITZVAH
QUESTION: In the Mishnah, Rebbi Chananyah ben Gamliel teaches a Kal va'Chomer: if a person's soul is cut off (through Kares) as punishment for doing one Aveirah, then certainly a person's soul should be given life as reward for doing one Mitzvah.
What is the Kal va'Chomer? A person's soul is cut off with Kares only if he does an extremely severe sin, and not for every sin. How, then, can one learn from the punishment of Kares that when a person performs a Mitzvah, his soul will be given more life? How does one know that the Mitzvah he does is as great as the severity of the Aveirah?
(a) The BARTENURA explains that Rebbi Chananyah ben Gamliel's intention is to prove the principle that he mentions earlier in the Mishnah. He means that if a person can be punished with Malkus for a sin for which he is Chayav Kares, then if he accepts his punishment and bears the Malkus as an atonement, certainly that Mitzvah of accepting the punishment will be enough to give him back the soul that he was going to lose because of the Kares. This is why the Mishnah refers to the Mitzvah as "giving him" his soul, rather than as "protecting" or "preserving" his soul.
According to this explanation, what is the intention of the continuation of the Mishnah? The Mishnah gives a proof that when a person passively refrains from transgressing an Aveirah, he receives reward like a person who performs a Mitzvah. Refraining from an Aveirah has nothing to do with repenting for an Aveirah! The MAHARSHA writes that according to the Bartenura, this section of the Mishnah indeed is a new section and is unrelated to the Kal va'Chomer.
Another possibility is that the Mishnah is proving that a Mitzvah which corresponds to an Aveirah should be rewarded in a degree proportionate to the severity of the Aveirah. Such a Mitzvah can be either the repentance for the Aveirah and acceptance of the punishment of Malkus, or withholding from sinning in the first place.
(b) The NIMUKEI YOSEF writes that the Kal va'Chomer teaches that the fulfillment of a Mitzvah adds to a person's life. This is what the Mishnah means when it says "Tinasen Lo Nafsho."
What, then, is the Kal va'Chomer? Perhaps the Kal va'Chomer is not from the fact that the Aveirah can be punished with Kares, but from the fact that every normal Lo Sa'aseh is punishable with Malkus. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (10a) teaches that Malkus is a substitute for Misah, death, and it is given when a person really deserves to be killed. Malkus is given instead of death as a form of mercy in order to spare the transgressor from death, even though he deserves death for transgressing the Torah. The Kal va'Chomer is that if every Lo Sa'aseh should be punished with death, then certainly every fulfillment of a Mitzvas Aseh (which is also done through an action) should be rewarded likewise and should add to a person's life.
(c) The RAMBAM in Perush ha'Mishnayos explains that the Kal va'Chomer does not refer to physical reward, but to eternal, spiritual reward. The Kal va'Chomer teaches that the person's soul will live on and not be destroyed. Accordingly, the intent of Kal va'Chomer may be to prove that if the transgression of the Lo Sa'aseh is punished with an eternal punishment of Kares, then certainly the fulfillment of a Mitzvas Aseh also gives eternal reward for the soul, and not only physical reward in this world.
3) HASH-M GAVE THE JEWISH PEOPLE MANY MITZVOS
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that Hash-m gave many Mitzvos to the Jewish people in order to give them more reward. How does having more Mitzvos lead to more reward? On the contrary, the abundance of Mitzvos gives more opportunity to transgress and receive more punishment!
(a) The RIVAN and NIMUKEI YOSEF explain that the Mishnah refers to the Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh, the negative prohibitions, that did not need to be commanded explicitly since one would have refrained from such acts even without the Torah's command. The MAHARSHA explains that when the Mishnah says that Hash-m gave the Jewish people "a lot of Torah and Mitzvos," it means that Hash-m gave more Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh than Mitzvos Aseh in order to enable the Jewish people to gain more reward from refraining from so many prohibitions. The Mishnah is thus continuing its theme mentioned earlier, that refraining from a Lo Sa'aseh is considered like the fulfillment of a Mitzvah.
(b) The RAMBAM in Perush ha'Mishnayos explains that when a person fulfills even one Mitzvah in all of its details entirely Lishmah and out of love for Hash-m, with no ulterior motives, he merits Olam ha'Ba. Accordingly, the Mishnah means that Hash-m gave many Mitzvos so that every person would be able to choose at least one Mitzvah for which he feels uniquely fit to fulfill, and observe it in an outstanding manner and thereby merit Olam ha'Ba.
(c) The SEFER HA'CHINUCH (Mitzvah 16) writes that although there is a greater possibility of sinning when there are more Mitzvos to do, the greater number of Mitzvos enables a person to purify and perfect himself. The word "l'Zachos" in this context does not mean necessarily "to give merit" but "to refine." Hash-m gave more Mitzvos to enable a person to refine himself more.
4) AGADAH: THE REVELATION OF HASH-M'S ESSENCE
Rebbi Simla'i teaches that there are 613 Mitzvos: 365 Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh, and 248 Mitzvos Aseh.
The Zohar explains that these Mitzvos are alluded to in the verse, "Zeh Shemi l'Olam, v'Zeh Zichri l'Dor va'Dor" -- "This is My name forever, and this is My remembrance for all generations" (Shemos 3:15). There are two parts to the four-letter Name of Hash-m. The first half is the first two letters, "Yud" and "Heh," with which Hash-m reveals Himself in this world (see Eruvin 18b, and Rashi to Tehilim 115:17). The second half is the last two letters of the Name, "Vav" and "Heh." The Gematriya of the word "Shemi" (350) combined with that of the first two letters of the Name of Hash-m is 365, which alludes to the number of Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh. The Gematriya of the word "Zichri" (237) combined with the last two letters of the Name of Hash-m is 248, which alludes to the number of Mitzvos Aseh.
The VILNA GA'ON at the end of his commentary on Zera'im suggests that this is why the verse says, "Zecher Tzadik li'Vrachah, v'*Shem* Resha'im Yirkav" -- "The remembrance of the righteous is a blessing, and the name of the wicked will rot" (Mishlei 10:7). The Tzadik is praised for his active fulfillment of the Mitzvos Aseh, represented by the word "Zecher," which alludes to the Mitzvos Aseh, as the Zohar explains. The Rasha is chastised for his transgression of the Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh, represented by the word "Shem," which alludes to the Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh, as the Zohar explains.
We may add that the Gemara in Pesachim (50a) explains that the verse, "Zeh Shemi l'Olam," refers to the two aspects of Hash-m's name. In this world, Hash-m's Name is spelled one way ("Yud, Heh..."), but pronounced a different way. This is what the verse means when it says that "this is My Name l'Olam" -- the word "l'Olam" can mean "to be hidden." "Zeh Zichri" means that "this is the way My Name is to be mentioned," referring to the way it is pronounced ("Alef, Dalet...").
The two aspects of the Name of Hash-m encompass the 613 Mitzvos. The silent, unarticulated part represents the Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh from which a person should passively refrain. The part that is pronounced represents the Mitzvos Aseh which a person actively fulfills. The Name of Hash-m of "Yud, "Heh" is associated by the Zohar with "Shemi," the Name of Hash-m which one may not pronounce in this world, since both Names (the four-letter Name and the two letters of "Yud" and "Heh") reflect aspects of being hidden and of a deficiency in this world with regard to comprehending the essence of Hash-m. (See Rashi to Shemos 17:16, who writes that the Name of "Yud, Heh" shows that Hash-m's presence is not revealed in full in this world.)
This lack of awareness of His presence in this world is the source of the fear that a person feels for Hash-m, whereas the love that one feels for Hash-m comes from the aspects of His presence that He does reveal in this world. The RAMBAN (Shemos 20:8) writes that the Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh reflect one's fear of Hash-m, while the Mitzvos Aseh reflect one's love for Hash-m. This is why the first half of the verse, which refers to the hidden, ineffable Name of Hash-m, alludes to the Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh, while the second half of the verse, which refers to the Name as it is pronounced, alludes to the Mitzvos Aseh.