he Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) continues the comparisons and contrasts between parallel situations in Jewish law. Thus we learn that a wooden utensil that is still in its golem state can become ritually defiled, even as simple wood slats cannot become defiled; metal, on the other hand cannot become ritually defiled in its golem state, while a simple piece of metal – e.g. a pin – is considered important enough to become ritually defiled.
The word golem refers to something that remains in an unformed state. The term appears as early as Sefer Tehillim(139:16), where it is used to describe the first development of a baby in utero, and it was borrowed by the Sages to refer to someone who is lacking in intelligence and proper conduct. This stands in contrast with the hakham – the one who possesses intelligence (see Avot 5:7). The Rambam, in his Commentary to the Mishnah in both Pirkei Avot and here in our Mishnah, teaches that the term golem to someone or something whose form exists but has not been properly “finished.”
Ritual defilement applies only to utensils; objects that are in a plain state are not considered to be sufficiently important to be able to become ritually defiled. Wooden objects are considered to be utensils as soon as they have a beit kibbul – a place that can hold something (like a spoon) – even if the utensil has not been “finished” with its final decorations, etc.; since it can be used for its purpose, it is considered a utensil. In contrast, plain wooden slats have not reached a level of use that would give them this status. With regard to metal, a plain slab of metal would not be considered significant enough to become ritually defiled; the Mishnah teaches that a metal object that is plain, but serves a purpose, e.g. as a pin or a knife, would be considered a utensil to become tameh.