In Avot 5:7, the Mishna states that there are 7 characteristics of a Golem (boor) and 7 characteristics of a Chacham (wise person). It then goes on to list the 7 qualities of a wise man.

One of the characteristics of a wise man is "He says on the first thing first, and on the last thing last".

After it lists all the characteristics of a wise man, it says "and the opposite applies to a Golem (boor).

Doesn't it seem like the Mishna did not follow its own advice? when listing the categories, it first listed the Golem, but when describing their characteristics, it starts with the Chacham.

This is even more striking, since later on in the same chapter (Avot 5:15-19), there are 6 different instances of a list of items followed by a discussion of the items on the list, and each time, the discussion follows the order of the list.

Now, all the commentaries (as translated here) I've seen explain the Mishna to mean "He responds to first things first and to latter things later.". In other words, when asked two questions, he responds to the first one first, and then the second one. However, I want to say that this interpretation does not preclude a case when not directly responding to a question. In other words, the Mishna is saying that anytime addressing a list of issues, one should address the first one first, and the last one last. I would say that if the Mishna only meant answering a question, it would have used the word "answer" and not "say".

If your answer to my question is that my assumption is incorrect, please explain why it cannot be right.

ETA: This doesn't answer our question, but it is of interest. I just came across the Iyun Yaakov on Tractate Shabbat, 87. There, the Talmud records a difference of opinion as to what the Jews were introduced to first, the reward for fulfilling the commandments, or the punishments for transgressing them. Once they were told the rewards and punishments, they responded "Na'aseh V'Nishma". (Na'aseh, we will fulfill the positive commandments; V'Nishma, we will not transgress the negative commandments)

The Iyun Yaakov says (in his second answer) that the disagreement about which order they were informed about the reward and punishment is based on a disagreement of which path to follow. Do we respond on the first thing first, and on the last thing last, or do we start our response with the last thing that was asked.

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    I would suggest that being that the mishna needs only iterate the qualities of one, the other possessing just the opposite qualities, it chooses to list the positive qualities of the chacham instead of the negative qualities of the golem. I suppose that would lead you to ask, though, why it prefaces with "Seven characteristics of a golem and seven of a chacham" and not the other way around.
    – jake
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 1:11
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    @jake: exactly, all the mishna would have to do is change the order of golem and chacham, and there would be no question.
    – Menachem
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 4:12
  • I would replace "responds" with "discusses", but I see you are relying on someone else's translation.
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 20:08
  • @SethJ: See for example, the Bartenura on the Mishna: hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=37946&pgnum=389 - "‫והשיבו‬ ‫הקב״ה על הראשונה‬ "
    – Menachem
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 4:55

3 Answers 3


Mishnayoth regularly employ a style of continuing a train of thought and then returning to a previous thought. It's actually codified by the Gemara as a standard practice of Mishnah, so much so that laws are derived from the juxtaposition of subject to subject within a Mishnah or adjoining Mishnayoth. See Bab. Berachoth 2a, for example ("תנא פתח בערבית והדר תני בשחרית עד דקאי בשחרית פריש מילי דשחרית והדר פריש מילי דערבית").

  • fascinating, I never noticed that. Can you link to where it's "codified by the Gemara as a standard practice of Mishnah"
    – Menachem
    Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 3:07
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    I can't provide a link at the moment, but it's on the first Daf of Berachoth.
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 3:32
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    While this answer is true and correct, how does that answer the question? Isn't the common practice for the Mishna to not be following it's own advice? Or is this proof that we know the mishna is only talking about 2 questions?
    – avi
    Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 10:49
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    @avi, I believe my answer does answer, "Why does the Mishnah not do x when it says doing x is a sign of a wise person?" My answer is, simply, the Mishnah is following its standard practice. As to whether this means its standard practice violates the principles of a wise person, that is another matter. Food for thought. I'm pondering a good response to you. I haven't got one at the moment.
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 20:11
  • Avot 5:15-5:19 - hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=37946&pgnum=395 - seems to contradict your answer. There, 6 lists are first given, and then elaborated upon. In each case, the Mishna elaborates on the items in the order they are listed. This makes the instance mentioned in my question stand out even more.
    – Menachem
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 0:45

In Maseches Kallah Rabosi (4:2) asks similar questions: 1) why does the Mishnah begin with a Golem, he should have begun with the Chochom (7 things of a Chochom and afterwards 7 things of a Golem)? 2) Why does he enumerate the 7 of the Chochom and not the 7 of the Golem?

The Gemara answers: Because he wanted to state the advantages of the Chochom, and the Tannah likes (or has a habit) to enumerate from the last one (in our case Chochom), that's why he had to put it (the opening statement) in that order.

The Gemara asks: So let him begin with Chochom (in opening statement) then enumerate the Golem's disadvantages? (He’ll still get his message across?)

The Gemara answers: Because the Tanah likes (or prefers) to elaborate on the praises of the Chachomim, but he doesn't want to elaborate on the foolishness of fools so he just cuts it short and says "And the opposite is the disadvantages of the fool".

I gleaned this meaning of the Gemara from here.

As far as the reason it says ואומר and not ומשיב is because he's continuing from his previous statement ומשיב כהלכה - and when he answers כהלכה he responds על ראשון ראשון... and if he never heard an answer to that question he says לא שמעתי. (see Tiferet Yisroel, Yachin 48 and 50)

Similar to this terminology the Possuk says (by Bekurim, Devarim 26,5) וענית ואמרת.


I'm not sure if this answers the question, but the Tosafot Yom Tov on the Mishna explains that a Golem is not the opposite of a Chacham.

He (based on the Bartenura) explains that a Golem means something which is formed, but is unfinished. In our case, someone who has intellect and good character, but has not yet completely refined himself (both intellectually and emotionally). Once he completes the refining process, he will be a Chacham.

In other words, a Golem is an incomplete Chacham.

The Mishna therefore started with the Golem, because chronologically, the Golem comes first. When listing the characteristics however, the Mishna lists the characteristics of the Chacham, because (according to the way this explains it) it is better for proper lips to talk about proper characteristics, the characteristics of the Chacham.

["שפתים ישק מידות החכם" is a takeoff of Mishlei 24:26]

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