1) LONGEVITY IN BAVEL
QUESTION: Rebbi Yochanan was perplexed when he heard that people in Bavel lived long lives. The verse in the Torah says, "In order to lengthen your days... on the land which Hash-m swore to your fathers to give to them" (Devarim 11:21); that is, only in Eretz Yisrael will there be longevity, but not outside of Eretz Yisrael! Rebbi Yochanan's difficulty was resolved when he heard that the people of Bavel go to the synagogue early and stay late.
How does that answer the question? The verse still says that only in Eretz Yisrael will people live long lives!
(a) The Gemara in Megilah (29a) says that in the future, all of the synagogues throughout the world will be uprooted from their places and transported to Eretz Yisrael. Every synagogue in the world is like a small plot of the land of Eretz Yisrael, to which it will eventually be returned. By going to the synagogues early and staying late, the people of Bavel were attaching themselves to a part of the land of Eretz Yisrael, and thus they achieved longevity. (MAHARSHA)
The Maharsha adds that this explains the previous Gemara as well. The Gemara says that anyone who does not enter the synagogue in his city in order to pray is called "an evil neighbor," as it says, "Thus says Hash-m, concerning all of my evil neighbors who harm the inheritance (Nachalah) that I have bequeathed to my people, Israel..." (Yirmeyahu 12:14). In what way are synagogues considered to be "the inheritance" that was bequeathed to Israel? They are considered our inheritance because they are actually part of the land of Eretz Yisrael!
(b) The Gemara in Bava Metzia (76a) discusses the Halachah in a case in which a worker is given a higher wage for his work than was originally stipulated. To compensate for the difference, the worker is either expected to do work of better quality, or to work for longer hours. Hash-m gives longer life (i.e. higher wage) to people living in Eretz Yisrael, in return for their better quality service. Outside of Eretz Yisrael, the Jews cannot merit longevity through better quality service. However, they can merit longevity through putting in longer hours by coming early and staying late in the synagogues and learning. (KOHELES YITZCHAK, Parashas Ekev)
2) HALACHAH: TWO ENTRANCEWAYS INTO THE SYNAGOGUE
OPINIONS: Rav Chisda says that one should always enter "an amount equivalent to two entranceways" when he comes to the synagogue in order to pray. What does this mean?
(a) RASHI (DH Shi'ur) explains that it means a distance equal to the breadth of two entranceways (the Orchos Chayim, cited by the Beis Yosef OC 90, says that this is eight Tefachim). One should not stand next to the door, because one thereby gives the impression that he considers prayer a burden and he is eager for the prayers to finish so that he can leave.
(b) The ROSH (1:7) and the HAGAHOS MAIMONIYOS (Hilchos Tefilah 8:3) quote the explanation of TOSFOS. One should not start praying immediately upon entering the synagogue. Rather, one should pause for the amount of time that it takes to walk through two entranceways (that is, the time that it takes to walk eight Tefachim). According to Tosfos, one may stand right next to the door when he prays.
(c) The TUR (OC 90) cites the MAHARAM MI'ROTENBERG who explains that when there is an open door leading into the synagogue, one cannot concentrate on his prayers if he prays near the door. Therefore, he must enter the synagogue a distance equal to the breadth of two entranceways. (The Tur cites a Yerushalmi in Berachos (5:1) that seems to refute both the explanations of the Maharam mi'Rotenberg and of Tosfos.)
(d) The BACH (OC 90), based on the wording of the Yerushalmi in Berachos, says that every synagogue should have an anteroom to enable one to walk through two entranceways before praying -- the entrance of the anteroom and the entrance of the synagogue itself. This gives the impression that one is walking into an inner chamber and speaking directly to Hash-m. Were he to pray in the first room that he entered, it would give the appearance that he is waiting outside of the main chamber and he needs a messenger to bring his prayers into the inner chamber.
HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (OC 90:20) lists the first three opinions, and, in practice, we follow all of the opinions l'Chumra, in order to be stringent. However, the Shulchan Aruch cites in the name of Rabeinu Yonah that if a person's regular seat, such as the one that he owns, is next to the door (which is kept closed in order to prevent distractions), he may pray there. In such a case it is obvious that he is not standing near the door because prayer is a burden to him, but because his regular seat happens to be there. Accordingly, all of the above-mentioned opinions allow him to sit there.
The Magen Avraham and Mishnah Berurah (#61) quote the Bach, who says that a synagogue should have an anteroom.
3) GREATER IS ONE WHO ENJOYS THE WORK OF HIS HANDS
QUESTION: The Gemara says that one who derives pleasure from the work of his hands is greater than one who fears Hash-m.
How can it be that one who fears Hash-m is not better than one who enjoys his handiwork? Moreover, why must we contrast the two and assume that they are two exclusive characteristics? Why can we not assume that a person who enjoys the work of his hands can also be G-d-fearing?
(a) We know that there are two general ways to serve Hash-m: out of love, and out of fear. The VILNA GA'ON explains that "one who enjoys the work of his hands" is one who serves Hash-m out of love. He enjoys his life serving Hash-m in this world, and he merits the World to Come, too, for his service of Hash-m. "One who fears Hash-m" is one who serves Him out of fear. He does not particularly enjoy his life in this world, because his service of Hash-m is not motivated by love for Him, but by fear of punishment. He merits the World to Come, but not happiness in this world.
The Vilna Ga'on adds to this explanation. The RAMBAM (in Shemoneh Perakim, ch. 6) writes that the philosophers argued whether it is a greater accomplishment for a person to have to constantly fight his evil inclination to achieve good (this is the "one who fears Hash-m," who serves Hash-m out of fear), or whether it is a greater accomplishment for one naturally to desire to do good, without any temptation for evil (this is the "one who enjoys the work of his hands," who serves Hash-m out of love). They concluded, writes the Rambam, that it is a greater accomplishment to naturally want to do good (the Rambam qualifies this statement; see Parasha Page, Kedoshim 5755). This is what the Gemara means when it says that one who enjoys the work of his hands is greater than one who fears Hash-m.
(b) The SHELAH (Maseches Shavuos, DH Tachlis ha'Limud; see also MAHARSHA to Chulin 44a) explains that "one who fears Hash-m" refers to a person who, when a doubt in Halachah arises (for example, whether a certain food is Kosher or not), is stringent upon himself (and refrains from eating it). "One who enjoys the work of his hands" refers to a person who, when a doubt in Halachah arises, works hard to resolve the doubt by learning and analyzing the pertinent Halachos and issues. Through his effort he arrives at a conclusion which permits the item in question. He "enjoys the work of his hands" in this world, since he discovers, through his toil, that the object is permitted, and he merits a share in the World to Come because of his labor in Torah.
4) READING THE "PARSHAH" EACH WEEK WITH THE "TZIBUR"
QUESTION: The Gemara says that when one reads the Parshah twice and its Targum once every week, "his days and years are lengthened." Why is the reward of long life appropriate for the act of reading the Parshah?
(a) The Gemara later (55a) says that if one refrains from reading the Torah when he is called upon to read, this "shortens one's days and years." If he prepares the Parshah two times, he becomes sufficiently familiar with the words and is able to read from the Torah in the event that he is called upon. He thereby avoids having his days and years shortened, and he merits long life. (RAV ELAZAR MOSHE HOROWITZ)
(b) One who disciplines himself and arranges his schedule in order to ensure that he has time to read the Parshah twice and its Targum once each week shows that he appreciates the value of time and uses it productively. He is granted more time in this world to learn Torah and do Mitzvos. (-As heard from Rav Kalman Weinreb, shlit'a.)
5) THE FESTIVE FAST OF EREV YOM KIPPUR
OPINIONS: The Gemara derives from the verses that one who eats and drinks on the ninth of Tishrei, the day before Yom Kippur, is considered to have fasted both the ninth and the tenth. Why should eating on Erev Yom Kippur be considered like fasting?
(a) RASHI (DH Ma'aleh Alav ha'Kasuv) explains that eating and drinking on the day before the fast prepares one for the fast. Since his eating and drinking on the ninth are a preparation for the fast of the tenth, his eating is considered a part of his later fasting. This is also the opinion of the ROSH (Yoma 8:22), and support can be found for it in the Yerushalmi (Yoma).
(b) The SHIBOLEI HA'LEKET, quoting RABEINU YESHAYAH, says that after eating and drinking a lot on the day before the fast, fasting is much more difficult. Therefore one is rewarded for eating on the ninth as if he has lengthened his fast of the tenth. (Support for this understanding can be drawn from the Gemara in Ta'anis 26a, which says that fast-days are not established on Sundays, for it is too difficult to fast after Shabbos, a day of feasting; see Pardes Yosef, Vayikra.)
(c) The TUR (OC 604) quotes the Midrash that tells the story of a simple Jew who outbid the king's officer to buy a fish on the day before Yom Kippur. The Jew later explained to the king that he wanted the fish "to celebrate that Hash-m was going to pardon the sins of the Jewish people" the next day. From this we learn that eating on the day before Yom Kippur demonstrates one's faith that the fast of the following day will earn him a complete pardon. RABEINU YONAH (Sha'arei Teshuvah 4:8) suggests a similar explanation.
(d) Since Yom Kippur is a Yom Tov, it requires a Se'udas Yom Tov, a festive meal. However, we cannot have a Se'udah on Yom Kippur because we are commanded to fast. The Se'udah, therefore, was moved to the ninth. Since the Se'udah of the ninth is part of the celebration of the tenth, eating on the ninth is considered to be a fulfillment of the Mitzvah of the day of Yom Kippur. (Rabeinu Yonah, Sha'arei Teshuvah 4:9)
(e) The ARUCH LA'NER (Rosh Hashanah 9a) suggests a novel approach. During the year, a person sins with his body and with his soul. Fasting on Yom Kippur afflicts his body and atones for sins committed with his body. Eating on the day before Yom Kippur afflicts his soul, which is weakened by physical pleasures, and atones for sins committed with his soul.
All of these reasons assume that the Mitzvah to eat on the ninth of Tishrei is related to the fast of the tenth of Tishrei, Yom Kippur. Accordingly, we may infer that women also are obligated to eat on the ninth of Tishrei, even though the Mitzvah to eat on the ninth of Tishrei is a time-dependent obligation from which women are normally exempt. Since it is related to the fast of the tenth of Tishrei -- which women are obligated to observe -- they are required to do everything connected with that fast, including the Mitzvah to eat on the ninth. This is how the MAHARIL rules, as cited by the DARCHEI MOSHE (OC 604:1).