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Someone, years ago, told me the difference between the chacham (wise) and the pikeach (clever) men; the chacham does not enter, where a pikeach knows how to escape from. (החכם לא נכנס, משם פיקח יודע איך לצאת) (or something like that).

I love the wisdom in this quote, but I have been unsuccessful in finding the source for this aphorism. I've asked my rabbi, who did not recognize the quote (but did point out that in many instances chazal point out that the chacham shows foresight, or thinks ahead). In sefaria.org I have tried to search on the combination of keywords חכם and פיקח, but I could not identify results that resembled the aphorism.

Is there a source for this aphorism? And if yes: what is that source?

  • In Chazal mishnayot , suma venitpakach, shote venishtapa. Pikeach proper meaning is regarding the vision and an allegory to chochma which is a non allegoric word. – kouty Sep 12 '16 at 13:09
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    A wise person would not answer the question; a clever person would answer like this. – Clint Eastwood Sep 13 '16 at 18:44
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I couldn't find the aphorism, but as per clarification in the comments sources contrasting the two terms for a smart person hakham (חכם) andpikeah (פקח) are acceptable, so here goes:

R. Mecklenburg writes the following in his Haktav V'hakabbala (Deut. 16:19)

והנה כמו שיש אדם פקח ואיננו חכם, כן יש אחר שהוא חכם ואיננו פקח, שהרי תאר חכם נופל על מי שאסף חוקי חכמת התורה ונוהג כן, אעפ"י שאין בו כח שכל ובינה גדולה שבעבורן יתואר פקח

That is, one can be a hakham, but not a pikeah, and vice versa. He writes that the former refers to someone who has amassed Torah knowledge and lives by it, while the latter refers to someone who possesses natural intellectual gifts.

R. Samson Raphael Hirsch writes as follows (Deut. 23:8):

שסתם חכמה הונח על דברים שאי אפשר לאדם להוציא מכח בינתו רק לקבלם מפי אחרים ...ועקר שם חכם הונח על החכם בחכמת התורה...מצאנו ג"כ על צד ההרחבה שיבוא שם חכמה וחכמים על חכמים במלאכת מעשה ודברים מדיניים, ויש הבדל בין חכם ובין פקח, ששם פקח הונח בעצם שישקיף בעין שכלו על דברים נעלמים מיתר בני אדם, שעקר שם פקח הונח על הסרת המכסה מעל עינים הפנימיים

That is, hokhma refers to that which cannot be intuited or independently derived, and can only be learned through tradition. Primarily this refers to the Torah traditions, but more broadly it can refer to crafts and politics. Pikeah, however, refers to the intellectual ability to grasp what others do not.

In summary: R. Mecklenburg, and R. Hirsch agree that hakham refers to one with acquired knowledge, while pikeah refers to one with natural intellectual talent, and that hakham refers especially to someone with Torah knowledge.


Often, especially among earlier writers, it seems that the terms were used interchangeably. See for example Rashi to Bava Kamma 35a:

בשור פקח - שהשור חכם

Regarding different attitudes to apparent synonyms, see here. Regarding the view of R. Meckelenberg (and Malbim in particular), see here.

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