Parashat Emor- Keter Shem Tob 'The Crown of Good Reputation'
Rabbi Shimon and the "Keter Shem Tob"
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai teaches us in Pirkeh Abot (4:13), "There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of Kehuna, and the crown of kingship. But the crown of a good reputation exceeds them."
What exactly is meant by the expression "Keter Shem Tob" ("the crown of a good reputation"), and in what way does it "exceed" the other three crowns?
One simple explanation is that Rabbi Shimon here does not speak of the "Keter Shem Tob" as the fourth crown, but rather as a necessary prerequisite for the three crowns. Torah scholarship, the work of the Kohanim, and the rule of the king have no value if the scholar, Kohen or king does not conduct himself properly. If he acts dishonestly, inappropriately, or discourteously, in a manner which people find distasteful, such that he is unlikeable, then he cannot effectively serve the role that he is supposed to serve. According to this reading of the Mishna, Rabbi Shimon is teaching us that a scholar, or a person holding an important leadership position, must conduct himself with proper Middot (character traits) in order for his scholarship or his position to be meaningful.
There might, however, be an additional understanding.
The three "crowns" of Torah scholarship, the Kehuna and the kingship are alluded to in the Bet Ha’mikdash, which included three furnishings that featured a "Zer," a decoration resembling a crown: the Aron (ark), the Mizbe’ah (altar), and the Shulhan (table). The Aron contained the original Sefer Torah, and thus symbolizes Torah; the altar, where the Kohanim offered the sacrifices, represents the Kehuna; and the gold-plated Shulhan, which contained bread, signifies the wealth and prestige of royalty. The "crowns" that adorned these furnishings represent the three "crowns" of scholarship, Kehuna and kingship.
The question, then, arises, where is the "Keter Shem Tob" alluded to in the Bet Ha’mikdash? If the other three "crowns" have allusions in the Bet Ha’mikdash, then we would naturally expect that the greatest of all the crowns, the "Keter Shem Tov," would also have an allusion.
The answer might be that the "Keter Shem Tob" is symbolized by the Menorah, which the Torah discusses in this week’s Parasha, Parashat Emor. Although the Menorah did not feature a "Zer," it had a series of lamps that stood at its top, which were kindled and thus provided light. The lamps were the "crown" of the Menorah. The Torah describes the kindling of the Menorah with the term "Le’ha’alot" (Vayikra 24:2), and Rabbi Shimon similarly says about a good reputation, "Oleh Al Gabehem" (literally, "rises above them"). Rabbi Shimon is teaching us that the "Keter Shem Tob," a good reputation, shines like the Menorah. It is "Oleh" – just like the lamps of the Menorah are kindled ("Le’ha’alot"). Even in English, we use the expression "shining example," referring to the way a person who conducts himself properly sets an example that "shines," that illuminates the world around him. A person who earns a "Shem Tob," a good reputation, through his upstanding conduct illuminates his surroundings, having an impact upon the people around him who look up to him, admire him, and learn from his example.
King Shlomo teaches in Kohelet (7:1), "Tob Shem Mi’shemen Tob" – a good reputation is better than "good oil." A good reputation shines even brighter than the lights of the Menorah that are kindled with oil. When we conduct ourselves properly, earning a favorable reputation among our peers, then we are able to illuminate our surroundings and uplift the people we come in contact with. This is the unique power of the "Keter Shem Tob" – the ability to positively influence our surroundings and have an impact on other people.