By Rabbi Yehuda and Esther Shomer
In the 4th Chapter of the Ethics of our Fathers, the Mishna tells us there are 3 crowns: 1)The crown of Kingship. 2)The crown of Priesthood. 3) The crown of Torah.
Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) doesn't just tell us interesting facts about the world or even about the holy nation- the Jewish people. Rather it guides us how to live life from a Torah perspective and it's guidance emanates from a wisdom far higher than our understanding.
What is this Mishna teaching us?
When a Jew is engaging in a relationship with God there are 3 dimensions of the relationship:
“The crown of Kingship” is our acceptance of God as our King and Master, utterly devoting ourselves to His will.
Engaging in a relationship with God in this way alone is not sufficient, as the relationship can become dry and lack of emotion and excitement. It may become like a servant who serves his master with a heavy yoke, without any enthusiasm whatsoever.
This is where the importance of the 2nd crown- “The crown of Priesthood”- plays in. The High Priest, on the holiest day of the year, entered the holiest space in the universe, the Holy of Holies. There he experienced a profound unity with Godliness and appreciation of God.
We are G-d’s “Kingdom of Priests”. In our relationship with God, it is in our inheritance to be able to experience a profound appreciation and closeness with our Maker. Our deepest joy and pleasure is in Him.
This is similar to the relationship between a child and parent, where there is a strong love and closeness between them, and many of the actions the parent or child does are kindled from that depth of emotion and appreciation.
What is the 3rd crown - the “Crown of Torah”? Not only are our will and pleasure ignited and driven by our relationship with God, but even our understanding and logic seek to be united with Him. When we learn Torah, our intellect becomes permeated and infused with His wisdom, and we begin to understand and look at the world through the color and lens of the Torah.
Perhaps we can apply this to our human relationships, especially to a spouse.
When creating a truly unified marriage, the Torah prescribes for us 3 important dimensions that we are guided to focus on in a specific order:
The “Crown of Kingship” is our readiness to do service for our spouse- leaving our preoccupation with ourselves, and turning our focus outwards. What can I do for my spouse? What does he or she need me for right now? It is the willingness to help out and think about the other. This comes first as it is the foundation of a marriage. For two to become one, both need to cease being single and unite in a new entity. They need to be able to leave their limitations, inhibitions, old beliefs, and take a step outward towards the other.
The “Crown of Priesthood” may be understood as the flavor and emotion in the relationship. Accepting and appreciating my spouse in his or her entirety. On a deeper and more crucial level, it is the reality that I value and appreciate the relationship itself; having another person to be my spouse to share our lives together. As a child has an instinctive love for their parent simply because they are their parent, so too, we need to value, appreciate, and love our spouse simply because they are our spouse, our second half.
How might the “Crown of Torah” apply to marriage? It is taking the time and effort to to unite with my spouse intellectually. It is making the time and effort to understand my spouse. What are his or her thoughts and feelings? It can be learning what makes my spouse happy, and how I can show my love in a way that they will appreciate. Or it can be just genuinely listening to what they have to say.
Our own marriage mirrors the marriage of Hashem and the Jeiwsh people.Through studying the words of the Mishna in a personally meaningful way, and extrapolating from the guidance for our relationship to Hashem to our relationship with our spouse, we can gain essential tools to help us live completely and fully. This Mishna illuminates the three keys to a successful, unified marriage - the key of readiness to go beyond ourselves and serve, the key of being in touch with the deep joy and love that the relationship itself holds, and lastly, the key of unity of minds through listening and understanding one's spouse intellectually.
By Rabbi Yehuda and Esther Shomer