Those three crowns are connected to this week’s parsha, and the furniture of the משכן:
The מזבח is obviously a symbol of כהנה.
The ארון, with the לוחות, is the symbol of תורה.
The connection to מלכות is less obvious, but the table is a symbol of sustenance, the role of government.
And those three “crowns” are connected to the three pillars that sustain society.
But, there’s an obvious problem: וכתר שם טוב עולה על גביהן. There are four crowns in the mishna, not three.
another obvious problem: there are four כלים in the משכן, not three. We are missing the מנורה, which does not have a זר, a decorative crown.
They’ve got to be connected. The midrash in במדבר רבה explicitly connects them, by explaining what כתר שם טוב means.
שם here means “reputation”. A שם טוב means a reputation for doing good deeds, and somehow the מנורה is the symbol of that.
The Maharal tries to understand this.
He then cites our midrash that the מנורה corresponded to the fourth כתר. But there is no כתר.
The flames of the מנורה are a virtual כתר, because having an actual כתר שם טוב would miss the point. A שם טוב is not something you have; it’s how others perceive you.
כל זמן שאדם מרבה במצות, הוא קונה שם טוב לעצמו doesn’t mean that שם is not the מעשים. It is the influence our מעשים have on others. Our מעשים are our expressions of תורה, עבודה and גמילות חסדים; that is what is means that עולה על גביהן, it rests on the other three. And that שם, the way others see us, is inherent to our identity.
That is something I’m coming to recognize more and more. Human beings are inherently social; our sense of self is in large part determined by how we perceive others perceiving us. For the existential philosopher, this is a bad thing; Sartre famously said, “Hell is other people”. Now, identity is not simply the way others see us, that is מה שקוראין לו בני אדם. It’s not the identity “assigned at birth”, that is מה שקוראים לו אביו ואמו. It is a complex thing that depends on our own actions, שם שקונה הוא לעצמו, mixed in with all of those. And that is part of what שמעון הצדיק means; the עולם of על שלשה דברים העולם עומד is the social world of our interactions with each other.
The other “crowns” are external to who we are; they are things we wear.
And so the שם שקונה הוא לעצמו is symbolized by the מנורה, whose service is not in itself but only on its effect on others.
Who we are is determined by how we illuminate others. Getting that right is the כתר שם טוב that is עולה על גביהן.