This Sunday is Lag B’Omer, the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimeon son of Yochai, the author of the classic book on Jewish Mysticism called Zohar. The students of Rabbi Shimeon related that before Rabbi Shimeon passed away, he shared with them some of the most sublime teachings of Kabbalah. At the moment of his passing, a heavenly fire surrounded Rabbi Shimeon’s deathbed.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis gather on the day of Lag B’Omer at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimeon in Meron of Northern Israel, to commemorate the day of his passing. They light bonfires to commemorate the light and warmth that emanates from studying the inner dimensions of Torah.
One of Rabbi Shimeon’s teachings is a central piece of the fourth chapter of Avot (Ethics of the Sages) that we study this Shabbat. Rabbi Shimeon said, “There are three crowns: The crown of Torah scholarship, the crown of the Cohen and the crown of royalty. But the crown of a good name surpasses them all.”
The three crowns that Rabbi Shimeon speaks of are the three positions in Jewish life that are accorded special honour. They are the Torah scholar who teaches and instructs, the Cohen who leads religious service and the community leader (royalty). Scholarship, piety and community leadership are all respectable virtues; they are measures of one’s own personal growth. But the most valued attribute in Jewish life is not who we are but what we have done, putting what we have learned into practice.
And so Rabbi Shimeon concludes that the crown of a good name surpasses them all. A good name is earned by action, by living an exemplary life of goodness and kindness. Each Mitzvah adds kindness and goodness to this world and changes the world for better. That is why the person that does Mitzvot and earns a good name deserves deeper respect than any other person; his crown surpasses them all.
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