Pirke Avot Chapter Five, verse ten

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It seems odd that there were only nine verses of tens, but there it is: the tenth verse (which I am presenting in the Joseph Hertz translation below) begins a list of sevens:

There are seven marks of an uncultured, and seven of a wise man. The wise man does not speak before him who is greater than he in wisdom; and does not break in upon the speech of his fellow; he is not hasty to answer; he questions according to the subject matter, and answers to the point; he speaks upon the first thing first, and the last last; regarding that which he has not understood he says, I do not understand it; and he acknowledges the truth. The reverse of all this is to be found in an uncultured man.

These seven marks are ways in which you can distinguish if your fellow is wise or not—you may amuse yourself in your next committee meeting or family picnic by assessing who is wise and who is not. For some reason questioning according to the subject matter seems to pop out at me, as I’m afraid my conversation tends to the amusing anecdote related to the subject matter, which is not the mark of a wise man at all. I do often address the first thing first and the last last, though, which was a mark of the APDA debater, but not so much the willingness to either admit that we don’t understand things or to acknowledge when the truth lies with the other side.

However, if I feel I don’t make the cut to be included in the wise, there is hope, as I discovered when attempting the Hebrew. The verse begins shiv’ah d’varim b’golem v’shiv’ah b’chacham. The wise man is a chacham, which is pretty much just the term for a wise man—a talmid chacham is a man learned in Torah, who merits the respect of the community, and who also accepts certain added obligations to uphold that respect (f’r’ex, it is forbidden for a talmid chacham to walk around with a stain on his clothing). So that’s pretty clear. But the person being distinguished from the chacham is a golem.

You know, a golem.

The Golem from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

Well, not necessarily like that, but a golem. But do they mean a golem? No. The word actually means something unfinished—it’s a hapax in the tanach, where it appears to mean something very close to fetus. In the Talmud, it refers to anything unfinished or incomplete, including a person who has not yet had a child, or a student not yet learned. When Solomon ibn Gabirol or Judah Löw b. Bezaleel made a servant out of clay, they called it golem, for it was only partially in the shape of a man, not fully animate. Here is it intended to contrast with the chacham who has already gained wisdom. The implication is that the not-wise man, the one who interrupts and blathers and denies the truth and in is all ways the reverse of a wise man is not a fool, but an embryo wise man, undeveloped at the moment but containing the potential to achieve all seven of the outward designations that follow the learning and wisdom gained within.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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