Avot (4:12) | Alex Tsykin | 14 years ago

Rabbi Shimon says: ‘[There are] three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship and the crown of a good name rises higher than them.’

Avot 4:12

This Mishnah raises a number of questions. How are the three crowns linked? Are the three crowns indeed equal as they appear? Perhaps most pressing, why does the crown of a good name “rise above” the other three?

The three original crowns are not on the same level. On the contrary, all commentators agree that the crown of Torah is the highest of the three. Rashi explains:

[There are] three crowns and one is not similar to the [other] two because the other two are not given equally to all men; …it is impossible for a man to be a priest if he is not born of priests and similarly it is impossible to be a king unless he is suitable for kingship [but] the crown of Torah is accessible to any who would learn Torah... therefore the crown of Torah is greater than these two.

Why does Torah being accessible to all make it greater than the others? The answer lies in the essence of Torah. Acquiring Torah requires effort. To acquire kingship and priesthood, one must simply be born into the position. However, while anyone may acquire the crown of Torah, few do because of the difficulty involved.

\ Rabbeinu Yona reinforces Rashi’s logic providing a source:

He who wishes to merit [the crown of Torah] will come and merit [it] and this crown is greater than the two [other] crowns as our rabbis said, there are three crowns (zer): the crown of the table (shulchan) and the crown of the altar and the crown of the lid which is upon the box within which was placed the Torah... Inside the screen (within the Kodesh Ha’kodashim) is placed the lid and its crown. And the [other] two are placed outside the screen. Here is proof that the Torah is more honoured than the table which represents the table of kings and the altar which is the crown of priesthood, that they burn on it every day.

The Rambam presents the connection between the three crowns stating: “[The crown of Torah] is greater than the two and in it there are the two.” The Torah therefore encompasses the other two crowns. However, the reason is not immediately apparent. An answer can be found in the following p’sukim (Vayikra, 10: 8-11):

And Hashem spoke unto Aharon, saying: 'Drink no wine nor strong drink, not you, or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, that you shall not die; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. And that you may put difference between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Hashem has spoken unto them by the hand of Moshe**.'

And similarly, in Devarim (33: 10)

They shall teach Yaakov the ordinances, and the law; they shall put incense before You, and whole burnt-offering upon Your altar.

We see therefore that the priesthood is a part of Torah because priests are intended to be the vessel by which others can access Torah, whether through worship or learning.

The king of , on the other hand, has two goals. The first is to provide a system of government to order society, critical for a Torah society (Avot 3:2):

Rabbi Chananya the deputy of the high priest says pray for the fortunes of the kingdom because without fear of it men would swallow their fellows alive.

We also see that the king has a responsibility to act in a fashion which is for the welfare of Torah (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim ):

In all that he does, his acts should be for the sake of Hashem and his aim and goal should be to uplift the true religion, to fill the world with justice, to crush the power of evildoers and to fight the wars of Hashem.

The connection between kingship and Torah is clear in two respects: the king must create a climate in which Torah can exist and then he must do his utmost to help Torah thrive.

Finally the Rambam draws the link between Torah and a good name:

The crown of a good name will arrive from the Torah, that is to say, knowledge of it and the deeds it mandates, for from them will arrive the true good name.

In other words, it appears that a good name, or good reputation, is a concept analogous to kiddush Hashem where people see a Jew positively fashioned by Hashem’s law. This then explains why the crown of a good name is considered above Torah, as it is the outward and public manifestation of all that the Torah entails.


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