1) PUNISHMENTS FOR SINS, MEASURE FOR MEASURE
AGADAH: The Gemara lists punishments for various sins. For most of the punishments, the element of "Midah k'Neged Midah" (measure for measure) is obvious, but for some it is less obvious.
For the sin of stealing, a person is punished with locusts and other forms of pestilence, because such pestilence "steals" a person's livelihood. Indeed, the Chachamim refer to locusts as "thieves" ("Masikin") in Bava Kama (116b).
For the sins of making false or vain oaths, Chilul Hash-m, and Chilul Shabbos, the population decreases and the roads are left desolate. Since a person was "Mechalel" -- that is, he took away the Kedushah from the world, leaving a vacuum of emptiness in its place (from the word "Chalal") -- Hash-m causes the world to be empty (the population decreases and the roads are left desolate).
2) EATING WELL
AGADAH: Abaye became sick, and Rava said that it was because of Abaye's practice to fast often. Rava asserted that a person must make sure to eat well.
This difference in approach between Abaye and Rava appears elsewhere. Rav Ada bar Ahavah used to question why the students "eat dry bones" with Abaye, when they could "eat fat meat" with Rava (Bava Basra 22a). The simple understanding, as Rashi explains there, is that the teachings of Abaye are "dry" while the teachings of Rava are based on sound logic and are "juicier." It could be that Rav Ada bar Ahavah was not merely speaking figuratively, but he meant it literally as well. Since Abaye's practice was not to eat, Rav Ada felt that his ability to properly analyze the depths of a Sugya was compromised, and therefore it would be preferable to learn under Rava, who eats well and has energy to properly analyze the Sugya. (M. KORNFELD)
We find a similar difference in approach among other Amora'im, such as Rebbi Zeira and Rebbi Yirmeyah (see Insights to Berachos 30b, in the name of the CHAVAS YAIR #152, quoted by the Chafetz Chayim at the end of Sefer Chafetz Chayim).
3) DISCUSSING THE VIRTUES OF THE NATIONS
QUESTION: The Gemara describes why Rebbi Yehudah was called the "first of the speakers in every place" and relates that it happened once that the Tana'im were discussing the virtues of the Romans. Rebbi Yehudah spoke commendably about their large marketplaces, sophisticated bridges, and bathhouses. Rebbi Yosi was silent. Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai countered Rebbi Yehudah's praise of the Romans and said that whatever they build is for their own immoral purposes.
Why were the Tana'im discussing such seemingly trivial matters? Why did Rebbi Yehudah find it necessary to praise the Romans, and why did Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai speak so degradingly of the Romans, when doing so was dangerous?
ANSWER: RAV MOSHE FEINSTEIN zt'l (in DIBROS MOSHE) explains that the discussion of the Tana'im had significant Halachic ramifications. The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (3b) says that when the nations claim in the future that everything they built was for the sake of the Jewish people, Hash-m will rebuke them and say that they did everything for themselves and for their own benefit. The Nochrim will not be rewarded for what they did, even though the Jews benefited from it, because they had no intention to help the Jews.
Perhaps, though, this attitude is appropriate only with regard to whether Hash-m rewards them or not. In contrast, the Jews themselves are obligated to feel and express gratitude to the Nochrim, even though the Nochrim built all of their edifices for themselves and did not intend for the Jews to benefit from them.
Rebbi Yehudah and Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai debated this point. Rebbi Yehudah maintained that the Jews are obligated to have gratitude to the Nochrim, even though the Nochrim have no intention to benefit the Jews. Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai maintained that there is no obligation to express gratitude to the Nochrim since they have no intention to help the Jews. Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that in practice the Halachah remains undecided.
(His son, Rav Dovid Feinstein shlit'a, questioned his father's approach from the verse, "Do not persecute the Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land" (Devarim 23:8), from which we learn that there is an obligation to show gratitude to the nations! Rav Moshe answered that the command not to persecute the Egyptian does not mean that one must have gratitude to him. Rather, it means simply that one may not harm him. Alternatively, it refers to an Egyptian convert. We may add that perhaps the verse is commanding us to have gratitude to the Egyptians because of the way the Egyptians treated the Jews in the time of Yosef, when they were genuinely hospitable to the Jews. Second, the discussion in the Gemara here involves situations in which the Nochrim did not intend for the Jews to benefit at all; it does not involve a situation in which they intended to benefit the Jews but had ulterior motives. Regarding the latter category (which includes the Egyptians), it is clear that we must show gratitude for the benefit received. -M. KORNFELD)
4) THE ROMANS' RESPONSE TO THE ARGUMENT OF THE TANA'IM
AGADAH: The Romans rewarded Rebbi Yehudah for praising them by giving him the honor of being the first to speak at every gathering. They punished Rebbi Yosi for being silent by exiling him to Tzipori. For Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai, who spoke degradingly about them, they issued a death sentence, and he was forced to flee to a cave where he spent many years in isolation.
RAV AVIGDOR MILLER zt'l explains that the reward or punishment that each Tana received was clearly an example of Divine providence, for each Tana received what his particular personality required.
Rebbi Yehudah always saw the good in everything. He lived during the Roman occupation, which was a period of great difficulty for the Jews, who suffered from the harsh persecution of the Roman decrees. They needed a leader who would guide them with a positive attitude. Hash-m therefore brought about that Rebbi Yehudah was appointed as their leader.
Rebbi Yosi always had deep reasons for all of his statements, as the Gemara in Gitin (67a) says, "Rebbi Yosi, Nimuko Imo -- the depth of reasoning is with him." He was a profound thinker, and he contemplated deeply before reaching a conclusion (which is why he did not respond immediately in the incident quoted by the Gemara here). Hash-m arranged that he be exiled to Tzipori, where he could think unencumbered.
Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai saw through everything to the absolute Emes (which is why he responded the way he did in this incident). He needed to be away from the world of falsehood in order to become fully immersed in Toras Emes. Hash-m therefore arranged that he would have to hide in a cave for thirteen years, where the truth of Torah would be revealed to him.