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.
One often hears the lament that it is difficult to be a Jew. There are seemingly endless demands from morning to evening, 365 days a year, year in and year out. While being a good Jew requires constant effort—as does everything worthwhile—in reality, it is challenging, rather than difficult. The Torah constantly challenges us to be better human beings, to expand our intellectual horizons, and to increase our empathy for others and our awareness of G-d. Unfortunately, many are not up to the challenge.
Rare is the person who measures his success by looking only at themselves, trying to determine how they can build on their strengths and improve on their weaknesses. Instead, we tend to compare ourselves to others, measuring ourselves accordingly. While this “competition” has the potential to bring out the best in us, it runs the risk of allowing us to be complacent; satisfied with ourselves as long as we are better, or at least no worse, than others.
“Lest there be a man or a women or a family or tribe...when they hear this curse, they will bless themselves, saying peace will be to me, and I will walk as my heart sees fit” (Devarim 29:28). How comfortable it must be to be able to ignore the world around us, joyfully minding our own business! Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?), life does not work that way. The actions of others have an impact on us, whether we like it or not. Trying to escape from the world around us is bound to be ineffective; moreover, it is an abdication of our moral responsibility to others.