The One And Only YOU

Rebbe Nachman told a story:

The Simpleton had learned the trade of a shoemaker. Since he was simple, he had to study very much to master it, and even then he was not very expert in the craft. He got married and earned a living from his work. However, he was simple and not an expert in his craft, so his livelihood was very meager and limited … Throughout this, he was always very happy. He was filled with joy at all times.

Since he had not completely mastered his trade, when he finished a shoe, it was usually triangular in shape. But he would take the shoe in his hand and speak very highly of it, deriving much enjoyment from his handiwork. He would say, “My wife, what a beautiful, wonderful shoe this is! How sweet this shoe is! This shoe is as sweet as honey and sugar!”

Sometimes she would answer him, “If that’s true, why can other shoemakers get three gulden for a pair of shoes, while you only get a gulden and a half?” He would then answer, “What do I care about that? That is their work, and this is my work!” “Why must we speak about others?” [He would continue,] “Let’s think about how much clear profit I make on this shoe. The leather costs so much, the glue and thread … so much, and the other things so much. I also have to pay a certain amount for the tongues. Therefore, I have a clear profit of ten groschen. As long as I make such a clear profit, what do I care?” He was thus always filled with joy and happiness. (Rabbi Nachman’s Stories #9, “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton”)

One of the greatest challenges we face is our lack of self-worth and faith in our own individuality. We so often confuse appreciating someone else’s uniqueness or positive qualities with jealousy. We mistakenly think we are doing something constructive by observing special qualities in others, while in fact we are just feeling bad about our own inability to emulate them.

But by observing the Simpleton in Rebbe Nachman’s story, we can see life differently. We should stop looking to others and begin looking within ourselves. If God takes pleasure in my imperfect work, if He appreciates my efforts in spite of my own unique circumstances, should I not feel tremendous inner joy? Yes, the shoemaker couldn’t make the perfect shoe, but he was able to make a fair and honest living. To him, that was all that mattered. Therefore he was able to rise above what society thought of him, and completely disregard their opinions. “That is their work, and this is my work!” he so eloquently pronounces.

This is true not only about earning a living but also about our service of God. Perhaps I was not able to pray as sincerely as the guy next to me in shul, or be the perfect parent like my next-door neighbor. Nevertheless, I do try, and even if I only produce a “three-corner shoe,” a three-corner shoe also has value.

The Torah commands us regarding counting the Omer, “And you shall count for yourselves” (Leviticus 23:15). This implies that in order to count properly, begin by counting yourself. I am a unique person who was raised in a distinctive home and experienced unique circumstances. There is no one like me. It is impossible for me to compare myself with others; I have nothing in common with them. Having faith in myself is no less important than having faith in God.

Based on Likutey Halakhot, Hilkhot Pesach 9

Author: Yossi Katz

Yossi Katz currently lives in Lakewood, NJ where he runs the BRI American Office. He studied in Beth Medrash Gevoha, as well as the former Breslov Kollel of Lakewood headed by Rabbi Shlomo Goldman.

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