Where Chabad and Breslov Meet « Wonders from Your Torah
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The Torah portion of Chayei Sarah (lit. the “Life of Sarah”) is all about finding a match. A significant part of the portion?the longest and most detailed story in the Torah that deals with matchmaking?is dedicated to finding Isaac’s soul mate, recipe Rebecca. In fact, Isaac and Rebecca appear to be the perfect couple in the Torah

There are three reasons why Isaac and Rebecca make the perfect couple:

  1. The Torah’s extended account of how their match was made.
  2. Their marriage marks the first time the verb “love” is mentioned in the Torah with reference to a couple’s relationship.[1]
  3. They are the only couple whose intimate relationship is alluded to in the Torah, in the words, “And behold, Isaac was jesting with Rebecca, his wife.”[2]

Having now met the perfect couple, let’s make the most of this opportunity to learn some tips for a happily married life. Let’s focus on their interpersonal communication, which is the most critical key to a good marriage. It is interesting to note that, besides Rebecca’s words to Isaac,[3] concerning the problems that arose with finding Jacob a wife, no direct conversations are recorded in the Torah between Isaac and Rebecca.

This is interpreted to mean that the connection between Isaac and Rebecca is so profound and modest that we don’t even have the right to hear anything of it. From our perspective, the central events in the Torah occur before their marriage, not after. So let’s take a look at the preparations for Isaac and Rebecca’s marriage, and learn from them how to build a happy Jewish home built on sturdy foundations.


Let’s first analyze communication problems in a couple, taking into consideration the fact that these problems usually arise from the male side (our male readers will forgive us). Quite often, there is a tendency to retreat from speaking about problems and difficulties (whether they are physical or behavioral), because such a problem indicates weakness. No-one likes exposing his weak points and making himself look incompetent.

Moreover, beyond the embarrassment involved in acknowledging our shortcomings, both men and women also harbor an innate apprehension that mentioning them might undermine their entire relationship with their spouse. After all, each partner in the relationship adopts a role that matches their own self-image. If this image changes, when, for example the male doesn’t see himself as the charismatic, “macho guy,” he thought he was, the fear arises that the previous relationship will collapse.

This creates a situation in which a couple is unable to express themselves to each other, and this lack of understanding begins to snowball. Indeed, with reference to the primordial sin it is explained that it progressed from a lack of proper communication between Adam and Eve because Adam did not correctly explain God’s commandment to Eve.[4] And since that moment, we are still facing the same problem.

Is there a solution to this problem? How can we let go enough to reveal our whole heart to our spouse? To do so, we need to learn some valuable principles from Isaac and Rebecca’s marriage.

Spiritual Connection

First, the most significant part of a couple's relationship is their spiritual—not the material—relationship between them. This does not mean that a platonic relationship is sufficient, God forbid. The entire purpose of marriage is a tangible connection between a man and his wife, as the verse states, “And they became one flesh.”[5] But the relationship begins to flourish from the spiritual dimension, the connection between their souls, and from there it reaches the physical dimension. This means that any problem that a couple might encounter on the physical plane bears no threat to their actual relationship at all. They should feel free to discuss it without fear.

This principle stands out in the story of our match. Choosing Rebecca for Isaac is described at length with an emphasis on her noble attributes, reflected in her unparalleled kindness.[6] She is obviously a woman who can fill Sarah’s place, “And Isaac brought her into Sarah’s tent.” Isaac is a deeply reflective person (he dug wells both physically and spiritually), a dignified figure who goes out to pray in the field. The connection between their souls is the underlying foundation of their relationship and their physical connection reflects it and draws it into the world in practice. By considering their relationship in this way, they were able to overcome any difficulty?even years of discouraging infertility?while keeping the relationship vitally alive. Indeed, Isaac’s love for Rebecca only increased as time went on, “And she became his wife and he loved her.”

The Third Partner

Another principle is the belief in Divine Providence. The theme of the story of Isaac’s match with Rebecca is the revelation that the Almighty is the one who makes things happen. Abraham’s servant Eliezer prayed that God send him the right girl for Isaac and Rebecca’s kindhearted act of serving Eliezer water and drawing more for his camels definitely hit the mark. Everything ran with such perfect timing, so much so that everyone whole-heartedly acknowledged that, “This thing came from God.”

This match is a blueprint for the entire matchmaking world. Finding a suitable partner sometimes seems an impossible task, as the sages state, “Finding a mate is as challenging as the Splitting of the Red Sea.”[7] Still, a seemingly unrelated chain of circumstances can bring a happy couple together to announce the most important decision of their lives. This is no coincidence since God Himself is the one who makes matches.[8] When we see the happy couple, we too can sense a touch of the Divine Providence that directed it all and brought it to its culmination.

The couple's responsibility is to preserve this awareness throughout their marriage and to remember constantly the third partner in their marriage—the Master Matchmaker. The third partner is with each couple all the time, supporting, helping and directing them. Together with this consciousness comes the realization that, “Everything that God does is for the best”[9]; even when there are difficult issues, “This too is for the best.”[10] The stronger and closer to hand this belief is for us, the easier it is to talk about our problems, shortcomings and weaknesses. An individual who feels alone in the world is unable to admit his insignificance, because for him, doing so is tantamount to suicide. However, someone who senses God’s Divine Providence and support, His infinite compassion that surrounds us at all times, can acknowledge his lowliness and shortcomings without feeling devastated by them. There is no need to adamantly stick to the particular image I had of myself until now; I can discover new facets in myself without the ground swallowing me up.

Obviously, it is best that the couple deals with their issues as a team, reinforcing one another in their belief in the Third Partner. Then the honesty between them will grow, communication will flow and their relationship will become deeper.

Personal Dialogue

The complementary principle is prayer. The Torah depicts the first meeting between Isaac and Rebecca as a meeting of prayer: “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening.”[11] Pouring out his dialogue with God in the afternoon, Isaac looked up and saw camels approaching, while as Rebecca rode her camel, she was captivated by the sight of the dignified figure standing in the field talking with God.[12] Moreover, Isaac was actually praying that he find his match at that same moment (as some commentators explain), and his prayer was answered immediately! Although the match had already been successfully sealed before Isaac met Rebecca, true prayer is the realization of the verse, “Before they call [out in prayer], I will yet answer.”[13] God prepares the response to our prayers before we even turn to Him.

Prayer continues to accompany Isaac and Rebecca throughout their life together. So, when it became clear that Rebecca was barren, it was only natural that they stood together in prayer, “And Isaac entreated God in the presence of his wife.” In other words, “He stood in one corner and prayed, and she stood in another corner and prayed.”

Not only is God in our presence, watching over us through the cracks, but we must play our part by addressing Him personally through communicating with Him in prayer. One very beautiful indication of Isaac (???????) and Rebecca’s (???????) special affinity to prayer is that the sum of their names equals “prayer” (????????).

A man and woman who build a Jewish home together, should provide a prominent place for prayer in the world they share – in the daily prayers on weekdays, Shabbat and festivals; by reciting Psalms and supplications, and even through the simple statement, “With God’s help” said throughout the day. When we get used to talking to God in prayer, our entire vocabulary is tempered, and more refined, and communication in the home is also influenced by the atmosphere of prayer and successfully makes contact with the deeper dimensions of our relationship.

Building a relationship on these foundations is a recipe for a happily married life, and for a Jewish home in which, “A man and a woman who merit it – the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is among them.”[14]

Adapted and translated from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book in Hebrew, Shechinah Beineihem, in the chapter entitled Faithful Friends

[1] Genesis 24:67.

[2] Ibid 26:8.

[3] Ibid 27:46.

[4] See The Mystery of Marriage, pp. 165-166.

[5] Genesis 2:24.

[6] She is also a wise and decisive, “A wise woman” (Proverbs 19:13).

[7] Sotah 2a. The Talmud is discussing second marriages, however, in many Jewish works, this quote is applied to all marriage.

[8] Bereishit Rabah 68:4.

[9] Berachot 61a.

[10] Ta’anit 21a.

[11] Genesis 24:63.

[12] Ibid v. 64.

[13] Isaiah 65:24.

[14] Sotah 17a

Harav Ginsburgh and Harav Arush

[Translator’s note: the key word in this article is ?????????? which generally refers to “sincerity” (Yiddish: ehrnstkeit). Since it has a number of different nuances it has been translated variably here as “sincere, adiposity ” “simple, advice ” “innocent” or “naïve” depending on the context. Similarly, ampoule ???????? has been translated as “wisdom” or “shrewdness.” For the original Hebrew article, see here]

Wisdom vs. Shrewdness

Where does a Breslover chassid and a Chabad-Lubavitch chassid meet? Those of us who are familiar with these two distinct paths of Chassidut know that usually a Chabadnik (follower of Chabad) and a Breslover (follower of Breslov) have two very different character types. For example, utilizing the intellectual faculties of the mind in long, profound, and meticulous meditation is one of the fundamental principles of Chabad. This is the approach emphasized by the founder of Chabad Chassidut, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Indeed, the initials of the words “wisdom” (???????), “understanding” (???????) and “knowledge” (??????) spell out the name by which this Chassidut is called, “Chabad” (??"?).

In contrast, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov offers a dire warning, “For in truth, one needs to actually eliminate the intellect, for one should discard all intellectual pursuits and serve God simply.” [1] “The fundamental goal and the perfected state is only to serve God with absolute sincerity, without any shrewdness.” [2] In Rebbe Nachman’s Tales of Old, in his “Tale of a Shrewd Man and a Simpleton,” he glowingly depicts the virtues of the simpleton who has a lowly, unsophisticated intellect, behaves with utmost sincerity and is happy with his lot. By contrast, the shrewd man researches and studies everything, but is a surly and irritable fellow. He gets so wrapped up in his hypercritical analysis until eventually he is condemned to the bitter results of his own critique. The simpleton, who is depicted as being ingenuously optimistic and cheerful, is eventually appointed as the state’s governor who is loved by everyone.

So, there appears to be an inherent contradiction between Rebbe Nachman’s approach and that of Rabbi Schneur Zalman. However, when we deepen our contemplation further, we begin to see where these two paths meet [just as these two tzadikim (righteous persons) lived during the same period and even met with each other in practice].

Overturning the Seder Plate

In actual practice, sincerity is also given top rating in Chabad. This is particularly apparent in the writings of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber. He was an outstanding intellectual scholar of Chassidut, but he was also the one who brought the teachings of Chassidut down into a systemized order. Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber is so known for this aspect of his teachings that he is referred to as “The Rambam of Chassidut”; a reference to Maimonides who systemized the legal dimension of the Torah in his magnum opus, Mishneh Torah.

Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber’s son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, related that at the Passover seder, when they reached the recital of the four sons in the Haggadah, Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber would soundly reprove the wise son with harsh criticism, while praising the simple son (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak related that, as a child, he would be afraid to sit next to his father, because he thought that his father’s criticism of the wise son was directed at him…).

Obviously, Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber agreed with the accepted interpretation of the four sons in the Haggadah, according to which the wise son stands in opposition to the wicked son, but is nonetheless righteous. But as a short-term lesson, Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber saw fit to “overturn the seder plate” (as it were), to emphasize the Chassidic idea that the wise son is somehow “seated” opposite, or in opposition to, the simple son. According to the arrangement of the four sons according to Chassidut, the simple son should be seen as the righteous son, and the wise son is just another type of wicked son. This unique and startling interpretation was made in order to stress the imminent danger of the Haskalah (“Enlightenment”) Movement which threatened to completely uproot Judaism from its source.

The Yeshivah for Sincere Students

Even in his Chassidic writings, Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber explains with profound intensity the importance of the quality of sincerity and how it is supreme to all other qualities. He used to say that the closer the generations come to the final redemption, the more they need to acquire the quality of sincerity. Above all else, sincerity will be the only quality we need to overcome the difficulties during the time that directly precedes the redemption. Indeed, one of Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber’s most important enterprises was the establishment of an education system, which he named “Tomchei Temimim” (????????? ?????????), which literally means the “Supporters of the Sincere.” Each student that attends the yeshivah is likewise referred to as a “tamim” (sincere one), because whoever enters this yeshivah to study Torah must acquire the quality of sincerity together with his Torah studies. [3]

Simple, but not Brainless

Although sharp-intelligence is the general approach of Chabad, this approach to the study of Chassidut also recognizes the importance of simple sincerity. So too, Rebbe Nachman values wisdom (and he himself was very intelligent), but in general emphasizes simple sincerity. Indeed, in his “Tale of a Shrewd Man and a Simpleton,” the simpleton has an “unsophisticated and low-level” intellect, in order to emphasize the fact that even without a brilliant talent the innocent wisdom of the simpleton is preferable to the profound wisdom of the shrewd man. However, this does not mean that someone who is blessed with a sharp mind should act as if he is stupid. Rebbe Nachman’s simpleton is referring to someone who is sincere and guileless, not to someone who is unintelligent.

To understand who the praiseworthy simpleton is, let’s take a look at the type of wise person we oppose. Let’s not forget that in the Torah, a wise person is depicted as something very positive. In fact, wisdom is the most precious attribute of all. [4] But here, we are not referring to a wise sage, but to a “wise-guy”; the “know-it-all” whose wisdom has become his impediment, as the Talmud [5] states, “The greater one’s wisdom, the greater he is misguided.” Instead of using simple common-sense, a quick mind may easily become warped. This is what happened to the shrewd man in the “Tale of the Shrewd Man and the Simpleton,” and this is the type of wisdom that Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber at the seder table wished to do away with. In this tale, the shrewd man questions everything, so much so that when the king sends for him, he questions the king’s very existence. The modern-day allegory is clear: this is referring to the “shrewd” scientist who stubbornly claims that there is no judgment and no Judge to the world.

In contrast to the shrewd wise-guy, the simpleton is not as dumb as he looks. We cannot accuse Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber of wanting to educate his yeshivah to produce brainless “simpletons.” He was extremely intelligent himself, and studying his Chassidic writings demands a high level of intellectual effort. In fact, there is a sharp Chassidic saying which Chabadniks quote in the name of the Ba'al Shem Tov, that “the first mitzvah is to be intelligent and to be stupid is a Torah prohibition…” However, a truly sincere person recoils from quick minded wise-guy skepticism. He has honest common-sense and a healthy intuition that hits the mark, even when his knowledge is not particularly broad, and he doesn’t have such a quick mind (which is a gift that not everyone is entitled to). The sincere person’s wisdom flourishes on his faith and his sincerity is more precious to him than complex critique. It was this type of sincere student that Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber wished to cultivate. The simple tamim who is not stupid in the least, but who also does not allow his wisdom to damage his sincerity and innocence. In this way, Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber’s tamim is similar to the simpleton in Rebbe Nachman’s tale.

In short: the goal is to be an intelligent person who retains his sincerity and honest common-sense.

Let’s not be too naïve though, there is still a difference between the teachings of Rabbi Schneur Zalman and Rebbe Nachman. Nonetheless, they are both unanimous in their agreement that sincerity comes first. Indeed, this is what the Torah commands us explicitly, “Be sincere with Havayah your God.” [6] In the Torah portion of Toldot, sincerity is the first and most significant title that Jacob receives, “And the boys grew up and Esau became a man who knows hunting, a man of the field, and Jacob was a sincere man, who dwelt in tents.” [7] Jacob thus joins two of the previous figures in the Book of Genesis—Noah and Abraham—who are both associated with the quality of sincerity, as the verses state, “Noah was a righteous man, he was sincere in his generation” [8] and God told Abraham, “Walk before Me and be sincere.”

Natural Innocence

The most superior type of sincerity—innocent sincerity—comes naturally. The naturally innocent person is not even aware of the fact that he is innocent; that is just the way he is. He is innocent to the core, and he does not need to be taught what innocence is. All of us were young and innocent as children, but there are those who retain their innocence throughout their adult lives. Even when they grow up and become acquainted with the world at large, and acquire a great deal of wisdom and knowledge, nonetheless they don’t lose their childhood innocence.

We can learn about “natural innocence” by contemplating the verses referring to our Matriarch Sarah’s life. In the previous Torah portion, after she passed away, the Torah writes, “And Sarah’s life was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years.” [9] The sages explain that at twenty years old she had the beauty of a seven-year-old girl. [10] Yet, at first glance, this interpretation does not seem to be appropriate, for the beauty of a twenty-year old woman is far more outstanding than the beauty of a seven-year-old child! But we learn from this that the beauty of a seven year old is preferable because it relates to the natural, innocent beauty of a young girl who is unaware of her beauty. Sarah’s praise was thus not only for her actual beauty, but that she retained her innocent beauty throughout her entire life. Even when she looked in the mirror, she was not affected by her looks, and didn’t care whether or not she was the “fairest of them all”…

Usually, the more one is self-aware?the self-conscious state that came as a result of eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?the more he loses his innate sense of sincere and natural innocence, as the verse states, “The more one knows, the more it hurts.” [11] Right now, our task is to work on our own lost quality of innocence, and to reacquire and reintegrate it into our psyches until it once again becomes our natural perspective on life.

This is something that both Rabbi Schneur Zalman—founder of Chabad, and Rebbe Nachman—founder of Breslov, most definitely agree with!

From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class to women, Kfar Chabad, 20 Cheshvan 5774

In Rebbe Nachman’s Tale, the wise man and the simpleton are depicted as two opposites, but the truly wise man is himself an innocent simpleton. We chose the picture of two of our favorite modern-day characters—Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh and Harav Shalom Arush—both of whom are wise and both of whom are innocent. One of them is identified with Chabad Chassidut and the other is acquainted with Breslov. Here they appear together.

The picture was photographed at last year’s amazing 19 Kislev farbrengen in the Binyanei Ha'umah hall in Jerusalem. This is a great opportunity to remind you all to come to this year’s farbrengen on Thursday evening, 19 Kislev (21 Nov) there as well. Don’t miss it!

[1] Likutei Moharan II, 5.

[2] Ibid 19.

[3] In fact, the Torah itself is called sincere, “God’s Torah is sincere” (Psalms 19:8).

[4] As the book of Proverbs depicts quite clearly in numerous verses.

[5] Baba Metzia 96b.

[6] Deuteronomy 18:13.

[7] Genesis 25:27.

[8] Ibid 6:9.

[9] Ibid 23:1.

[10] See Ibid, Rashi ad loc.; Bereishit Rabah 58:1. The interpretation brought here on innocent beauty can be found in Sefer Pardes Yosef in the name of the author of Yeshuot Malko.

[11] Ecclesiastes 1:18.

2 Responses to “Where Chabad and Breslov Meet”

  1. Christina says:

    Happy Birthday Rav Ginsburgh.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    יום הולדת שמח
    And many thanks