One of the most vexing issues in Biblical interpretation is the relationship between pshat, loosely translated as the plain meaning of the Biblical text, and derash, the additional levels of interpretation that can be derived from that same text. At times the two appear contradictory; as, for example, the Torah's obligation of "an eye for an eye". The phrase seems to imply just that, but has always been understood in our tradition as demanding monetary payment, and no more.
"And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were one hundred and forty seven years" (Breisheet 47:28).
"Eino domeh shmiah l'rei'ah, one cannot compare hearing to seeing". I write these words at the end of our first day of the TiM trip to Poland. Seeing what I have spent a lifetime learning about offers a new and deeper perspective.
"Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit seeing its joy" (Ta'anit 30b). Our Sages seem to be offering words of comfort to those pious Jews over the millennium, who faithfully internalized the suffering of the Jewish people. Though they would not merit seeing the rebuilding of Jerusalem in their own lifetime—that is a blessing reserved for our generation—they would merit seeing the joy of Jerusalem after they were resurrected from the dead.
It is hard enough to do what is right. Our wants, desirers, egos, social pressure, and the like often get in the way of acting properly. Even when we do the right thing, our motivation may not be the purest. We may act the way we do as a method of receiving the accolades of others; for honour, wealth, or acceptance in a social group.
While the Jerusalem Talmud rules that one makes a bracha upon construction of a sukkah (Sukkah 1:2), our practice is not to do so, seeing the making of the sukkah as only a hechsher mitzvah, a necessary (and laudatory) preparatory stage to the mitzvah itself, that of dwelling in a sukkah. When all is said and done, it matters little who makes the sukkah. The Gemara (Sukkah 9b) allows sukkot ganbach and ravkash, acronyms for sukkot made by those not obligated in the mitzvah, i.e.
Our tradition has long taught that it is a great mitzvah to do the right thing, even if for the wrong reason. “A person should, leolam, always be engaged in Torah and mitzvoth even if sheloh lishma, not for its own sake; as from doing them not for their sake, one will come to do them lishma, for their own sake” (Pesachim 50b).
Almost always, wrongdoing requires that people work together to perpetrate such. As has been accepted in the legal systems of Western countries, it is the enablers, more than the perpetrators themselves, who are viewed with greater opprobrium. Those who enable sin violate the biblical prohibition against lifnei iver, placing a stumbling block before the blind. According to Tosafot (Avodah Zara 22a, s.v. teipuk), even if one only aids and abets a rabbinic violation of the law, one nonetheless violates lifnei iver on a biblical level.
Effort vs. result. The relative value of these two concepts is a fundamental dispute between our western worldview and Jewish teachings. The secular world is, as it must be, bottom-line oriented. From a Jewish perspective, it is effort, not result, that ultimately counts. G-d blessed us all with different and varying degrees of talent; thus, it would be unfair to expect similar results from all. Rather, it is the effort we expend on moral improvement, understanding a Torah text, or performing mitzvoth that is crucial.