Shiva d’vorim b’golem v’shiva b’chocham. chocham eino m’dabeir bifnei mi she-hu godol mi-menu b’chochmoh 1uv’minyon, v'eino nichnos l’soch divrei chaveiro, v’eino nivhol l’hoshiv, sho'eil k'inyon u’meishiv k’halacha, v'omeir al rishon rishon v'al acharon acharon, v'al mah sh’lo shoma, omeir lo shomati, u’modeh al ha'emes. V’chilufeihen b’golem.
Seven things apply to a golem and seven to a chocham. A chocham does not speak before one who is greater than he in wisdom or years; he does not interrupt his fellow; he does not rush to respond; he asks relevant questions and answers accurately; he discusses first things first and last things last; on what he did not hear, he says ‘I did not hear;’ and he admits to the truth. The opposite [of these is true] of the golem. (Avos 5:7)
What is a golem? There is a wide range of answers to that question.
The opposite [of these is true] of the golem, for he has no heart, only a body.
(Ibn Ezra, Tehilim 139:16)
Perhaps the Ibn Ezra is the source for the golem as a robotic and unpredictable friend who turns fiend. The story attributed variously to Rav Eliyahu mi’Chelm or the Maharal of Prague paints the golem this way.
In 1981, the comic Mendy and the Golem introduced a benign version of the character. Mendy and his comrades Moshe the Mayven, the Lone Stranger and his faithful companion Toronto, the evil robot Oy Vayder, and others made these comics engaging and fun, yet it was unlike the superheroes and the freckled faced high school guy comics of my childhood. This wholesome series wove hashkafa into fantasy. But this, too, was not the golem of which the Mishna speaks.
The Mishna contrasts the golem with the chocham. It seems unlikely that the Mishna would offer us the extremes of a subhuman versus a consummate mentsch. The Rambam solves this dilemma.
The Rambam defines the term golem as it is used in the Mishna.
A golem is a person who has intellect and middos tovos. However they are neither complete nor well organized...2 Because of this, he is called a golem. [He is like] a tool that a craftsman has made that has the [initial] form of [its] function [but] is missing its completion and refinement... They are called golmei, [nearly but] not yet complete. (Rambam, Peirush haMishnayos)
Far from subhuman, the golem of the Mishna is a learned and sensitive person who, when he polishes his words and deeds, attains the level of chocham. The Mishna teaches us seven techniques we can employ to raise us to this level of completion.
I will propose an application of these seven techniques to parents. Bear in mind Ben Zoma’s lesson, Eizehu chocham, halomeid mikol odom, Who is a chocham? One who learns from everyone. (Avos 4:1)
V'af al pi sh’hu koton mi’menu. Sh’keivon sh'eino chos al kvodo v’lomeid min ha’ketanim, nikorim ha’devorim sh’chochmoso hu l’sheim Shomayim v’lo l’hisyaheir ul’hispo'eir bo. Even though he [the teacher] is smaller than him. Since he is not concerned about his honor and learns from the smaller ones, it is evident that his wisdom is for the sake of Heaven and not for conceit or glory. (Rav ibid.)
Here are the seven techniques:
The chocham does not speak before one who is greater than he in wisdom or years.
The parenting chocham learns from her child when she invites her child to speak. The wisdom is that your child knows more about her situation than you do. Her experience of her situation is mediated by her young years. You may never have been in her situation. You may have been in her situation and perceived it differently based on your chronological or developmental years.
The chocham does not interrupt.
Anyone who interrupts someone else displays impatience at best, arrogance at worst. How long do you think it will take for someone else to finish what they’re saying? What or who is more important that you can’t give a little more time to let this person complete their thought? Especially when the speaker is your child.
The chocham does not rush to respond.
V’eino nivhol l’hoshiv. Nivhol is related to the word behala, as in v’lo neileid l’behala, which means don’t expose your children to bewilderment. A parenting chocham never says, What is the matter with you, how can you be so [fill in the blank]? He instead responds with concern and compassion when a child’s behavior is baffling.
He asks relevant questions and answers accurately.
What is an irrelevant question? Why is it that you can talk to your friend for an hour but you can’t talk with me for five minutes? I hope, upon reflection, you realize the irrelevance of that question.
What is an accurate answer? I would prefer not to. That is accurate.
I can’t is rarely true.
He discusses first things first and last things last.
Stay on topic, don’t go off on tangents. And be concise.
On what he did not hear, he says “I did not hear.”
If you think your child still sees you as omniscient, you’ve just demonstrated that you’re not.
And he admits to the truth.
Make sure your child has heard you say, I was mistaken. You want him to say it sometimes.
Based on the Rambam’s definition, children are golems. Appreciate their intelligence and middos and polish them to completion.
1Many versions of the Mishna text omit uv’minyon.
Rashi Z’L has the text “b’chochmoh uv’minyon,” and [Rashi] explains [this to mean] the number of years and the number of disciples. (Rashbatz on the Mishna)
2According to the Meiri, this lack of completion in the area of middos diminishes the intellectual virtues! (Meiri on the Mishna)
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.