“There are three crowns: the crown of Kehuna (Priesthood), the crown of Malchus (Kingship), and the crown of Torah, but the crown of a Good Name is the highest of all.” (Avos 4:12)
Remember when we were kids and we dreamed about becoming the President, or a movie star, or an astronaut, or a pro NFL quarterback, or a holy mystic?
Then as we grew up and reality set in we became content with being just “regular” people.
In Temple times, kids also dreamed. They dreamed about becoming the Kohen Gadol (high priest), or the King, or becoming a member of the Sanhedrin (the court located in the Beis Hamikdash) to look up to. But in order to join any of these ranks, you had to be born into the right tribe, the right family, or be extremely brilliant. Otherwise, you were just a “regular” Jew.
The struggle of finding one’s place in Judaism is something many people struggle with. Sure, there are people that connect easily through prayer, Torah study, charity or performance of Mitzvot. But the “classic” ways of connection doesn’t work for everyone. And if you haven’t found your connection in the standard places, where does that leave you?
The author of the previously mentioned statement in Avos is addressing just that. He begins by telling us there are three crowns. Then, strangely enough, it goes on to mention a fourth, a “Good name”. What is the meaning of a “good name” that is higher than the other lofty levels mentioned, and why did it not make it into the original count?
What is a name? A name is your label of uniqueness. Aside from being the way people identify you, a person’s name hints to his inner strengths and talents. It is given by one’s parents with a divine inspiration. When a person develops a “good name”, it means that he is fulfilling his individual mission in the world. This is valued by the Almighty more than any position one can hold in the hierarchy.
For this reason he begins by mentioning three crowns. Our human eyes easily recognize glory when it comes with a bells and whistles like a fancy title or great fanfare. But the fourth crown is much more subtle, recognizable only by those who are sensitive enough to realize the greatness that exists in the uniqueness and creative potential of every individual.
Our Sages tell tales of “hidden Tzadikim”, righteous people whose greatness was recognized only by a select few. Among these special people was a butcher named Nannas, who excelled in the trait of honoring his parents, a doctor named Abba, who exemplified modesty, and a pair of comedians who brought joy to the people around them.
Furthermore, our Sages teach that in the next world, “holy Souls sit in a circle around the aura of the Almighty with their crowns on their heads”. Which crown is being refered to? In the next world there is only that fourth crown. And why a circle? Because in a circle everyone in equidistant from the middle. (This is the reason that Jews dance in a circle.)
We all have our unique gift that we can contribute to the world. And that unique contribution is the crown our souls will wear for eternity. So go ahead. Be yourself. What crown do you wear?