THE SOPHISTICATE AND THE SIMPLETON

One of Rebbe Nachman’s most memorable stories, from his classic work “Rabbi Nachman’s Stories”, is “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton” (pp. 160-196). In the story, the Simpleton has very little formal education and is very limited in his abilities. He sews triangular shoes for a living, has nothing but bread and water for sustenance and is so poor that he must share a tattered sheepskin coat with his wife. And yet, for him, this coat serves as “exquisite finery” for every occasion, his daily rations taste like the “finest wines and delicacies.” Although with his limited skills the Simpleton earns far less than his fellow shoemakers, his self-confidence and joy are such that he feels absolutely no jealousy or want. “Why must we speak about others,” he tells his wife when she criticizes his inability to charge as much as others for his work. “What do I care about that? That is their work, and this is my work!” And when some of the townspeople would engage him in conversation so that they could make fun of him, the Simpleton had but one request: “Just without mockery.” If they assured him of their sincerity, he would never probe their motives more deeply. Being a simple person, he never engaged in the sophisticated speculation that would suggest that this in itself might be a means of mocking him.

Indeed, the Simpleton never questions or tries to second-guess anything. He just conducts himself simply and honestly, feeling only a great deal of satisfaction with his lot. No matter what happens, he is always very happy. Because of his simplicity, he never feels any lack, and due to his simplicity, he eventually becomes the Prime Minister of the land, becoming even wiser than his friend, the Sophisticate.

The Sophisticate, on the other hand, has advanced education and training. He is truly a man of the world. He has experience in commerce, craftsmanship, and even medicine, and has broadened his outlook through travel. Despite all this, the Sophisticate is never satisfied with what he has; he is always looking for something better over the horizon. He is also very exacting and very stringent in everything he does. When his work as a master goldsmith is not appreciated by others he feels rejected, yet when minute imperfections in his diamond engraving go unnoticed he chastises himself for what he sees as his flawed skills. In contrast to the Simpleton, the Sophisticate needs public approval, and when his expertise as a physician goes unrecognized, he rejects this profession as well. Furthermore, because his strict standards allow for no flexibility, it is impossible for him to appreciate the work of others. His clothing, his accommodations, his life, have to be just so, or else he is upset and becomes depressed. He is unable to appreciate simplicity or the simple way of life. In fact, he has no life!

The Sophisticate’s lack of self-confidence does not allow him to speak with those whom he considers his inferiors, because this would tend to reduce his own status, something he feels he must protect at any cost. As a result, he can unburden himself to no one, and is, therefore, always miserable (Chokhmah U’Tevunah 11:8). His sophistication not only makes him arrogant, but also skeptical and unable to trust anyone. Never satisfied with the obvious meaning of things, he always probes and analyzes for the “true” meaning. This often leads him to wrong conclusions and eventually causes him to lose both his stature and wisdom.

Reb Nachman of Tcherin, one of Reb Noson’s students, writes: The Rebbe told this story in order to instill in us the importance of simplicity. Whoever follows this path of simplicity will live a very good life, a joyous and content life (Rimzey Ma’asiot)

One of the greatest blessings a person can have is the knowledge that in any given situation in life, he did “his” best. God did not create us to be angels Only human, we have our daily ups-and-downs and are subject to variations in mood, feelings and desires. It is irrelevant whether these changes result from internal or external pressures. We are subject to them. Because of this,Rebbe Nachman teaches: Keep it simple. Do not expect every day to be the same. Do not expect perfection, even from yourself. Do what you can, when you can. This way you remain flexible enough to adapt to any situation.

This is the Simpleton. He lives in the present, never fretting over past memories or future expectations. He has the confidence to believe that whatever comes his way, he will always do the best he can. This may explain why the same word, “tamim”, is used for simplicity and wholeness. If a person is really whole, then he has enough self-confidence to be simple. He doesn’t find it necessary to impress others with his sophistication. In addition, the simple person, like the Simpleton, is always happy because of his simple approach.

The Sophisticate, however, is constantly worried. He frets about the future and despairs over what others think. Will my means of livelihood last forever? Is this fashion and style acceptable in good company? What will others say of me should they discover my work has imperfections? These insecurities demand that he put on an air of sophistication, and occasionally even deception. Due to all this anxiety, his busy and complex life brings him only misery and discomfort.

Rebbe Nachman teaches: Were it true that cleverness and “wisdoms” are required for serving HaShem, how could the simple folk, those who do not have great intellect, be expected to serve God? Use only simplicity in serving Him. Simple fear of heaven. Simple fulfillment of mitzvot and good deeds. Do not complicate matters. This only leads one to deviate from the truth. Above all else, keep it SIMPLE!(cf. Likutey Moharan II, 19).

Simplicity, especially in these modern, sophisticated times, is a rare and very great blessing. As Rebbe Nachman teaches: There will come a time when a simple religious man will be as rare and unique as the Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom 11)

Author: Chaim Kramer

Chaim Kramer is largely responsible for introducing Rebbe Nachman’s teachings to today’s generation. He is a sought-after lecturer on Rebbe Nachman’s teachings by English-speaking congregations around the world. Chaim has been the director of the Breslov Research Institute since its inception in 1979. BRI has been the main publishing-house for translations of classic and contemporary Breslov books. More than 100 titles are currently in print, in English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, French, and even Korean. Chaim himself, is the author of “Through Fire and Water”, “Crossing the Narrow Bridge”, “Anatomy of the Soul”, “This Land is My Land”, and many more titles, as well as annotating the entire 15 volume English Edition of Likutei MoHaRan.

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1 Comment

  1. I love this story and analysis
    Thank you!!!!

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