06 Jul THE CROWN OF A GOOD NAME
In Parshas Pinchas, the Torah records prominent families of the Bnei Yisroel. There, it states, “V’sheim bas Asher Serach – And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serach.” The fact that the Torah hardly ever mentions women when taking a census and it tells us about Serach is already handled by the Rishonim. They explain that Serach enjoyed longevity! She was one of the original 70 souls that came down to Egypt and was still living at this point 250 years later, at the end of our sojourn in the desert. The Ramban however wonders why it has to say v’sheim, and the name of, when Serach is being mentioned in the midst of an entire sequence of names and nowhere else does it say the prefatory statement v’sheim. The Daas Zekeinim m’Baal HaTosefos and the Chizkuni offer the same answer for the Ramban’s question. They explain that since Serach made for herself a name of piety and good deeds, the Torah highlights this by saying the seemingly superfluous, “And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serach.”
In the twelfth mishna of the fourth perek of Pirkei Avos, the great Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai states that in Judaism there are three crowns: the crown of the priesthood, the crown of royalty and the crown of Torah. He then goes on to say that the crown of the good name towers above them all. This is a great novelty because if you would ask anyone, “Is there anything greater in the totem pole of mitzvos than Torah” they would answer a resounding “No.” After all, we are taught that “Talmud Torah k’neged kulom – Torah equals all of the mitzvos.” Talmud Torah is the way to receive VIP status in the world to come as it says, “Ashrei mi she’bah l’kan v’Talumdo b’yado – Fortunate is he who comes to the Next World with his Talmud in his hand.” And Talmud Torah is the purpose for which we were created as it says in Pirkei Avos, “Im lamadata Torah harbeih, al tachazik tova l’atzmecha, ki l’chach notzarta – If you learned a lot of Torah, don’t think yourself so great, for this is why you were created.” Yet, the holy Tanna Reb Shimon bar Yochai says that there is a crowning virtue greater than Torah, and that is acquiring for yourself a good name.
How does one succeed at procuring this sublime crown? In the first mishna of the fourth perek of Pirkei Avos, Ben Zoma asks, “Eizahu m’chubad – Who is an honored person?” Before I give you Ben Zoma’s answer, let’s pause for a moment and reflect upon how we would answer this question. I think we would suggest that a person who lives righteously deserves to be honored. But, Ben Zoma knows human psychology and he knows that just because we see a person behaving properly doesn’t mean that we will honor the person. First of all, many people are cynical and say to themselves, “That’s the way he behaves in public. I wonder how he behaves in private!” They also might be jealous of the ‘do-gooder.’ Ben Zoma suggests there is a sure way to procure peoples’ honor and that is “Eizahu mechubad? Hamechabeid es habrios – Who is an honored person? Those who give honor to others.”
When Reuven says to Shimon, ‘I’m really impressed at how you are with your children,’ Shimon isn’t cynical about that statement. Rather he thinks appreciatively in his mind that Reuven is a good judge of character. When Reuven tells Levi, ‘I can learn from the way I always see you being attentive to your wife,’ Levi in turn looks at Reuven with respect. Saying honoring things to other people is a sure-fire way to acquire for ourselves the crown of a good name. Just as lashon hara is the ruination of the mouth, so is lashon tov, a kindly tongue the exultation of our precious organ of speech. Shlomo HaMelech tells us “Lashon chachamim marpei – The tongue of the wise heals.” It goes without saying that if we want to elevate our marriages from being humdrum and mundane to being special and magical, the key is in our tongues.
As we start the grim month of Av, we remember how the tongues of the meraglim, the spies caused the death of an entire generation and how lashon hara and senseless hatred caused the destruction of the Second Temple. This is great summer homework. Start taking concrete steps to acquiring the greatest of all crowns, indeed the crowning virtue of a successful Jew, and that is to furnish for ourselves a good name in our family, in our workplace, in our neighborhood and in our shul.
In that merit may Hashem bless us all with long life, good health and everything wonderful.