1. Does the heter of shvus d’shvus b’makom mitzvah work on yom tov sheni, where the mitzvah in question is only a derabbanan? The Aruch haShulchan (end of siman 586) writes that he doesn’t understand why this should even be a question. Shvus d’shvus is permitted where there is a tzoreh gadol. Surely a mitzvah derabbanan should count no less than a mundane tzorech gadol! (Is that so pashut? If I want to go on a picnic on Yom Tov, mitoch allows me to carry my picnic basket because there is a tzorech for me, but according the the Sha’agas Aryeh I can’t carry a lulav for the sake of a woman who wants to fulfill the mitzvah -- the picnic is more of a tzorech than a kiyum mitzvah. Is a chiyuv derabbanan better than a kiyum d’oraysa? I don’t know.)
What about a shvus d’shvus for the sake of hidur mitzvah, e.g. you have a kosher esrog, but can ask an aku”m to do an issur derabbanan and get you a better one? See the M.B. in 586:86 who says “efshar” a shvus d’shvus is allowed to get a ram’s horn shofar (a hidur) even if you have a perfectly kosher shofar from another animal. Why not use the Aruch haShulchan’s argument, i.e. a kiyum d’oraysa of hidur can’t be less of a tzorech than a great personal need, can it? Why is this just "efshar" and not a certainty? (see the Sha’ar haTziyun)
2. haven't read Andrew Sullivan in years, but this column of his about the dangers of technology "addiction" was worth a look. The last three sentences: "And its [technology's] threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any."
I think he figured that out without going to an asifa or reading it in a kol korei. We probably should be able to do the same.
3. Getting to the parsha, most of the meforshim understand ‘V’hiflah Hashem es makoscha…” (28:59) to mean that the punishments of the tochacha will be unbelievable, extraordinary – a “peleh.” The Netzi”v offers a different interpretation based on a Chazal. The Midrash writes that the death of a talmid chacham is a greater catastrophe than anything described in the tochacha and even greater than the churban itself. The Midrash’s proof: the calamities of the tochacha and the churban are described using a single iteration of “peleh”, but the navi calls the death of a talmid chacham a “haflei va’peleh.” The death of a talmid chacham is a tragedy, but it's not a supernatural event. People were saddened when R’ Elyashiv and R’ Ovadya passed away, but their deaths at their advanced age could not have been unexpected. In what sense is it a “peleh?” (HaKsav vha’Kabbalah always has interesting things to say about language, and here too, he addresses the same issue.)
In Parshas Shoftim we read “Ki YIPALEI davar la’mishpat…” The Torah tells us that if you have a misunderstanding as to what the halacha is, the address to go to is the Sanhedrin sitting in Yerushalayim. The p-l-a root here simply means something not understood, not something unbelievable, miraculous or extraordinary. What makes the death of a talmid chacham a “peleh” is that it robs us of our understanding – we lose that individual’s insight and wisdom.
The same is true of the churban. The purpose of coming to the makom mikdash was not to see a miracle show. It was to gain understanding, particularly greater self-understanding.
The “peleh” of “HIFLAH Hashem es makoscha” is that we don’t understand what’s going on. If there was some order to the punishments, or if we understood what the underlying cause for the particular onesh was, then we would know how to react and hopefully correct cause. But when we are faced with wanton violence and destruction, when the pesukim seem to have no order to them, when we can't make sense of the precise midah k'neged midah, then we feel helpless and do not know how to respond. I haven't read Viktor Frankl in years, but still remember one line from his book: "Those who have a why to live can bear with any how." The reason the tochacha is so unbearable is not the "how" and the "what" of the onesh, but the fact that we are robbed of seeing the "why."