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Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 5 Mishna 8
with select commentaries

Commentaries used in this translation:
Rashi Commentary (1040-1105)
Rambam Commentary (1135-1204)
Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura Commentary (1445-1515)
Tiferet Yisrael commentary (1782–1860)
Rabeinu Yonah (1180-1263)
Derech Chaim - Maharal of Prague (1525-1609) (hebrewbooks.org/14193)
Biur HaGra of Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna - (1720-1797)
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai commentary - (1570-1643)
Rabbi Chayim Yosef David Azoulai (Chida) commentary - (1724-1806)
Chatam Sofer commentary - (1762-1839), along with Ktav Sofer, and others
Ben Ish Chai commentary - (1835-1909)
and many more..

Commentary Level:
  • Min - (level 1) for basic commentaries as relating to the plain meaning (Pshat).
  • Med - (level 2) elaborates more into the theme.
  • Max - (level 3) deeper in, Maharal of Prague.
  • Max+ - (level 4) more themes in the text.
  • ShortMix - (recommended) short version of level 4.
Suggestion: Read once without commentaries (or min). Then a second time with.

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Chapter 5 Mishna 8פרק ה משנה ח
Seven things [characterize] the Golem (boor) and seven the Chacham (wise man).
The chacham does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age. He does not enter in the midst of his fellow's words. He does not rush to answer. He asks what is relevant and answers according to the Halacha. He speaks on the first point first and on the last point last. Where he has heard no tradition he says: "I have not heard". He admits to the truth. The reverse of these [characterize] the Golem (boor).
שִׁבְעָה דְבָרִים בַּגֹּלֶם וְשִׁבְעָה בֶחָכָם. חָכָם אֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר בִּפְנֵי מִי שֶׁהוּא גָדוֹל מִמֶּנּוּ בְחָכְמָה וּבְמִנְיָן, וְאֵינוֹ נִכְנָס לְתוֹךְ דִּבְרֵי חֲבֵרוֹ, וְאֵינוֹ נִבְהָל לְהָשִׁיב, שׁוֹאֵל כָּעִנְיָן וּמֵשִׁיב כַּהֲלָכָה, וְאוֹמֵר עַל רִאשׁוֹן רִאשׁוֹן וְעַל אַחֲרוֹן אַחֲרוֹן, וְעַל מַה שֶּׁלֹּא שָׁמַע, אוֹמֵר לֹא שָׁמָעְתִּי, וּמוֹדֶה עַל הָאֱמֶת. וְחִלּוּפֵיהֶן בַּגֹּלֶם.

Tiferet Yisrael - "Golem (boor)" - since he did not say "a fool" or "a simpleton", this teaches we are talking about a torah student who sits before his Rabbi. And even if he learned much [torah], but he did not rectify himself according to his level of [torah study].
Machzor Vitri - "he does not interrupt his fellow's words" - such as Aharon who was silent until Moshe finished his words and he didn't tell him "shorten your words!"
Likewise G-d with Avraham in the story of Sodom (when Avraham beseeched Him) "perhaps there are 50 righteous men.. 40.. etc.", even though everything is revealed before Him.
Rabeinu Yonah - "Golem" - any thing whose form is unfinished is called a Golem, as written: "Your eyes saw my unformed substance (Golemi); in Your book were written" (Tehilim 139:16). So too one who understands what he is being taught but he is unable to make inferences for himself is called a Golem. For his wisdom is not recognized and his mind does not push him to adopt these seven traits which are all matters of wisdom and good character traits.

"does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age" - he listens and is silent and learns. This is a wisdom. But the Golem does not desire understanding but rather to show off his views [to other people].
Bartenura - "Golem (boor)" - from the term "golmei keilim" (clay lump), namely, an unfinished vessel. So too a man whose mind is unfinished, namely, [incomplete] in character traits and wisdom - such a person is called a Golem.

"does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age" - as we found by Elazar and Itamar who did not want to speak before their father (Aharon) when Moshe was angry at them. Aharon answered for them [to Moshe].

"he does not interrupt his fellow's words" - so as not to confuse him, as written: "[and G-d said] hear now My words" (Bamidbar 12:6), wait until I finish speaking. All the more so for an ordinary person.

"he does not rush to answer" - so that his answer is according to halacha. Likewise by Elihu, it is written: "be patient for me a little, and I will show you" (Iyov 36).

"He asks what is relevant and answers according to the Halacha" - ie a student asks in the relevant matter under discussion and then the Rabbi replies according to the Halacha.
But if the student asks outside the relevant matter under discussion, he causes the Rav to reply not like halacha. This is as Rav Chiya told Rav: "when Rebbi is teaching one tractate, do not ask him a question from another tractate" (Shabbat 3)..

"he speaks on the first point first and on the last point last" - likewise we find when Moshe told G-d: "who am I to go to Pharaoh" (Shemot 3), this was the first [question], "and to take out the Jewish people from Egypt", this was the second [question].

G-d answered him on the first "I will be with you", and on the second: "when you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d [on this mountain]".

"where he has heard no tradition he says: 'I have not heard'" - if he rules a question [of Halacha] from his own logic, he does not say: "thus I heard from my teachers". We find by the men of Charan, when Yaakov asked them: "is he at peace?" (Bereisheit 29:6), they replied "he is at peace, and here comes Rachel with the sheep", ie that's all we know. If you want to know more, here comes Rachel with the sheep and she can tell you. For we don't know more than this.

"he admits to the truth" - even though he can defend his words with a different claim. Likewise, we find by Moshe. When his brother corrected him on the kodashim (Vayikra 10), he heard and was pleased and admitted he erred. He did not say that he did not learn this halacha but rather that he did indeed learn it but he forgot it.
Ahava b'Taanugim - "He does not enter in his fellow's words.. he asks what is relevant" - for one who does not enter in his fellow's words "asks what is relevant". But one who enters his fellow's words and asks him questions on his words, does not "ask what is relevant", since he did not let him finish his words. If he had understood the end of his words, he would not have asked. Thus he asks "not what is relevant". Hence, when a man does not enter in the words of his fellow, certainly he will "ask what is relevant".

Likewise one who "rushes to answer". Sometimes, he will err in judgment and answer not like the halacha. But one who is not "rushing to answer" but waits and deliberates with great examination - this will lead him to answer like the halacha.
Siftei Daat on Avot (R.Yerucham Levovitz) - "seven things.." - these seven things are all fences which a person fences and curbs himself due to the dictates of wisdom. In truth, this is the secret and essence of wisdom - that it fences its owner (sod u'mahut hachachma shemagdira et baaleha).

We find in the midrash: " 'And G-d gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore' (Kings 4:29) [the Midrash expounds:] just like the sea shore is a fence to the sea, so too Shlomo's wisdom fenced him" (Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim 177).

But if a man is like a breached city, without a wall, then even if wisdom flows within him like a mighty river - he is not called a wise man.

"admits the truth" - this implies that it is from the aspect of wisdom alone. Namely, even without the help of fear of G-d, he admits to the truth. This seems very difficult. For in order to admit to the truth, certainly one confronts various character traits and great might is needed to break the desires pressing against him. How is this due to wisdom alone?

Thus it is among the dictates of the wise to admit the truth. For by the wise man, the truth is clear as if it is alive. Thus it is impossible for him to not admit to this despite that it is against his nature.

We see from here the power of wisdom. For perfect wisdom pierces though everything before it, even without fear of sin. Perfect wisdom cuts through and breaks character traits! Character traits are annulled before wisdom. (Daat Torah 1 pg.291).
Matanat Avot - "Golem..." - first of all, it is very important to emphasize how much our sages had a good eye and positive view of every person. For they did not write that the opposite of the Chacham (wise man) is the "fool" or "wicked" but rather "golem" (unfinished) - like the mould of unfinished vessels.

For when our sages saw a man who acts in the opposite manner of a Chacham, they did not say on him that he is a stupid person who lacks understanding and there is no hope for him.

Rather, they said: "don't worry about him. Granted, right now he is a Golem. He still did not complete his preparations in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, but a day will come when his mind will mature and he will act like a Chacham (wise man)".

From here is great mussar to all the adults in our generation, (especially teachers). Namely, when they see sometimes kids or youths acting in a gross manner, brazen and with other bad character traits - the adults should not think they are wicked or crazy, etc.

Rather, they need to understand that these youths are basically as Golems - they did not yet mature completely. But someday, they will grow up and act according to the ways of the Chacham, with G-d's help.