Avot (Ethics or Sayings of the Fathers) is a collection of the ethical
words of wisdom of the "fathers" of post-Biblical Judaism.
For centuries it was the most widely read Jewish book, for there
was no better introduction to Jewish piety, saintliness, love for
God and man, and devotion to learning. Technically a part of the
Mishnah, the legal commentary on the Bible, Pirkei Avot is
the mirror of the spiritual life of Rabbinic Judaism, and a record
of the living experience of the sixty-five sages quoted within it.
In traditional Jewish hones, it is studied on Saturday afternoons,
a witness to the belief that "He who wishes to attain piety
and virtue let him turn to the tractate Avot."
R. Simeon said: There are three crowns. The crown
of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship. But
the crown of a good name excels them.
of the Fathers 4:17)
by R. Travers Herford
A lesson on the excellence of personal character as compared with acquired
dignity. The crown is the symbol of preeminence, and the metaphor can readily
be applied to any gradation of rank or character. Priesthood and kingship
are dignities conferred upon a man, without any necessary reference to his
character. Even the crown of Torah, the fame of a great teacher, might conceivably
be acquired by one who was personally unworthy. But the crown of a good name
is the tribute paid to personal worth and upright character, and is better
than all the others because is alone is indispensable.
Commentary by Samson Raphael Hirsch
The crown of a good name excels the other three, first by virtue of the fact
that it is within the reach of all, without exception, and secondly, because
all the others are without value unless they are linked with the crown of
a good name. Any of these three crowns can be truly "crowns" only
if he who wear them is deserving also of the crown of a good name; such a
person shines forth both as a human being and as a Jew, distinguished in moral
purity and devotion to duty, and particularly in the exemplary fulfillment
of those duties and those opportunities to do good that are connected with
the station of honor and privilege he occupies. It may also be that "excels
them all" means that the "crown of a good name" must be linked
with them all.
About R. Simeon
R. Simeon is R. Simeon B. Yohai, one of the most famous teachers of his time.
In the Mishnah and the cognate literature, R. Simeon almost always means R.
Simeon B. Yohai. His history belongs mainly to the period after the Bar Kokhba
War (132-135 CE). He is said to have been one of the seven disciples of R.
Akiba who were ordained by R. Jehudah b. Baba, and he certainly helped to
carry on the tradition after the older teachers had been swept away. The date
of his birth may be put at about 100 CE, and he died probably about 160 CE.
Travers Herford (b. 1860 in England) was a Christian scholar of
Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism. Devoted to the study of Hebrew
from early youth, it was his aim to reconstruct the faith of the
their ethics, prayers and studies. [back]
Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-88), rabbi, Bible commentator, statesman
and philosopher. He founded the first orthodox Jewish secondary
school in Europe, and, as a member of the Moravian Parliament,
immortal orations on the meaning of human freedom and the dignity
of man. [back]
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