Pirkei 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.
(Ethics of the Fathers 4:17)

Commentary by R. Travers Herford[1]
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[2]
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.

[1]R. 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 Pharisees, their ethics, prayers and studies. [back]

[2] 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, delivered immortal orations on the meaning of human freedom and the dignity of man. [back]

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