1) REFERRING TO HOLY THINGS WITH MUNDANE WORDS
QUESTION: The Gemara says that Amei ha'Aretz are punished with [premature] death for referring to the synagogue as a "Beis Am" (gathering hall) and for calling the Aron ha'Kodesh an "Arna" (chest). By using mundane words for these items, one slights the holiness of these things.
What is the difference between calling the Aron ha'Kodesh "Arna" and calling it "Aron"? "Arna" is simply the Aramaic form of "Aron," and the word "Aron" is also used to refer to ordinary chests, both in the Torah and the Mishnah (see, for example, Bereishis 50:26 and Moed Katan 25a). It must be that the Gemara means that one must mention the Kedushah of the Aron ha'Kodesh when he refers to it. (MAHARSHA)
(a) However, we find in a number of places that the Torah itself refers to the Aron ha'Kodesh by calling it an "Aron," such as when the Torah describes the construction of the Mishkan, where it refers to the Aron ha'Kodesh simply as "Aron"!
(b) Also, the Gemara in Berachos (47b) refers to the Aron ha'Kodesh as "Aron" as well (see TOSFOS)! (MAHARSHA)
(According the VILNA GA'ON's explanation of the Gemara in Berachos (in Divrei Eliyahu, Berachos 47b), this is not a question. The word "Aron" in Berachos does not refer to the Aron ha'Kodesh, but rather it is an acronym for the words, "Echad Ro'eh v'Eino Nir'eh," and it alludes to the fact that when there are nine men present, Hash-m joins them to make a Minyan; see the Gemara's conclusion there in Berachos.)
Aside from the use of the word "Aron" to refer to the Aron ha'Kodesh, we find many places where the Mishnah and Beraisa use the word "Teivah" (box) to refer to the Aron ha'Kodesh in which the Sifrei Torah are kept (see, for example, Ta'anis 15a), without any modifier to distinguish between a mundane box and the Aron ha'Kodesh. (M. KORNFELD)
(c) In addition, how can the Gemara say that one is punished for calling a synagogue a "Beis Am," when the prophet himself (Yirmeyahu 39:8) refers to a synagogue as a "Beis ha'Am"? (MELO HA'RO'IM)
(a) Regarding the question that the Torah itself uses the single word "Aron" when referring to the Aron ha'Kodesh, a closer look at the verses reveals that all of the verses refer to the Aron either as "Aron Bris Hash-m" or "Aron ha'Edus." It is called "Aron" with no modifier only when the Torah discusses the Aron before the Luchos were placed inside (it was the Luchos that gave the Aron its sanctity). (At times, when a verse discusses the Aron and calls it "Aron Bris Hash-m" or "Aron ha'Edus," it refers to it as "Aron" in the same verse, relying on the earlier modifier.) (M. KORNFELD)
(b) The question from the word "Aron" in Berachos and the word "Teivah" in the Mishnah is more difficult. The Acharonim suggest the following answers:
1. The MAHARSHA (Chidushei Halachos) answers that one is permitted to call it "Aron" when it is clear to all that he is referring to the Aron ha'Kodesh that contains the Sifrei Torah. It is disgraceful only in a situation in which it is possible that some listeners might think that one is referring to a simple chest and not to the Aron ha'Kodesh.
2. The MAGEN AVRAHAM (OC 154:18) answers that while one learns Torah, he is permitted to refer to the Aron ha'Kodesh as "Aron," because every word that one speaks while learning Torah is holy.
3. The Magen Avraham (ibid.) suggests further that perhaps there is a difference between Aramaic ("Arna") and Hebrew ("Aron"). Although the word "Aron" can refer to either the Aron ha'Kodesh or to a chest, the Aramaic word "Arna" used only to refer to a chest. The prohibition applies only to using the Aramaic "Arna," which connotes only a mundane chests when talking about the Aron ha'Kodesh. (The reason the word "Arna" was never used to refer to the Aron ha'Kodesh was because the people were careful to use Lashon ha'Kodesh when talking about objects of Kedushah. Using a foreign word to refer to objects of Kedushah was considered disgraceful (IYEI HA'YAM, cited by LIKUTIM, beginning of Mishnayos Beitzah; according to this, the use of words such as "synagogue," "Temple," "Bible," and "ark" today might be subject to further investigation). Support can be found for this in the Gemara at the end of Sukah (see also RAMBAM in Perush ha'Mishnayos), which seems to understand that the family of Bilgah was punished because Miriam bas Bilgah called the Mizbe'ach "Lucas," or wolf in Latin. -M. KORNFELD)
(c) The previous three answers do not suffice to explain why the prophet refers to a Beis ha'Keneses as a "Beis ha'Am." The MELO HA'RO'IM suggests that in the times of the Gemara, the term "Beis Am" was used to refer to theaters. Consequently, it was a disgrace to use such a term to refer to a holy Beis ha'Keneses. However, before the times of the Gemara, in the times of Yirmeyahu, "Beis Am" referred only to the Beis ha'Keneses. Therefore, it was permitted to refer to it by that name.
2) FOUR SINS WHICH CAUSE A PERSON'S CHILDREN TO DIE
QUESTION: The Gemara enumerates four things which cause a person's children to die young: failure to keep one's vows, Bitul Torah, failure to affix Mezuzos, and failure to wear Tzitzis. Why do these four actions warrant the specific punishment of the loss of one's children?
ANSWER: The MAHARAL (in GUR ARYEH on Maseches Shabbos) explains that Bitul Torah results in the death of one's children because the spoken word is called "Niv Sefasayim," or "the fruits of one's lips" (Yeshayah 57:19). When a person does not spend his time learning Torah and producing fruits with his lips as he learns, Hash-m takes away his other fruits, his children. Likewise, when a person misuses his lips to utter vows that he does not keep and he does not create meaningful fruits with his lips, Hash-m punishes him by taking away his other fruits, his children.
What is the connection between the death of one's children and not properly observing the Mitzvah of Mezuzah? We may suggest that since the Mezuzah serves to arouse Hash-m's protection of one's household, lack of care in that Mitzvah causes a lack of protection of the members of one's household, and they are left vulnerable to be taken from him. (M. KORNFELD)
Why is failure to observe the Mitzvah of Tzitzis punishable with the death of one's children? The Midrash in Tehilim (Midrash Shocher Tov to Tehilim 90, on the verse "v'Hadarcha Al Beneihem") states that Hash-m gave us the Mitzvah of Techeles of Tzitzis in order to show that we are His children by having us dress in "royal" garb (Techeles was normally worn only by royalty). When one chooses not to show that he is Hash-m's child, Hash-m takes away the person's own children. (Y. SHAW)