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Follow Your Heart

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, buy ” “simple, decease ” “innocent” or “naïve” depending on the context. Similarly, ???????? 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


[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.

Matchmaker, look Matchmaker…

Anyone who deals with matchmaking will eventually have to tackle this question: Is it a better idea to make a match between a girl and a boy who are similar in character or do matches between sharply contrasting characters— who complement one another and are drawn to one another like opposite poles of a magnet—have a greater chance of being successful?

In practice, rx the answer to this question depends on who makes the match: In places where the match is managed mostly by the couple’s parents, shop the inclination is to make every effort to match like with like. In places where the younger generation initiates their own relationships and decides whom they will marry, we find many instances of opposites being attracted to one another.

These two types of matches are also characterized by different customs related to writing wedding invitations. On the one hand, there are those who write, “You are cordially invited to the wedding of our children… [name of the groom] with the girl of his age (??? ???? ???????), [name of the bride],” which refers not only to the groom and bride’s age in years, but also to the general similarity between them[1]; like grafting one grapevine to another. On the other hand, there are those who write, “We are happy to invite you… [name of groom] with his heart’s choice (??? ????????? ??????), [name of bride].” Whereas the former type refers to a marriage between similars, the latter refers to a type of marriage in which the two partners may be very different from one another. Nonetheless, this is exactly what bonds them together.

Jacob Chooses a Wife

Jacob received a farewell blessing from his parents, but he left home entirely alone. It is he who chooses a wife for himself, without even one phone call from his worried parents (apparently there was no reception in Charan). Jacob’s choice of Rachel as a wife was entirely “his heart’s choice.” As the verse states, even before they were married, “And Jacob loved Rachel.”[2] Their relationship began literally with love at first sight. But Jacob’s parents, Isaac and Rebecca, had never set eyes on Rachel before they married, and Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban, was not happy with his choice at all. Instead, Laban exchanged Rachel for Leah, against Jacob’s will and without any prior notification.

Let’s think for a moment, which sister is more similar to Jacob? Rachel is “beautiful of form, with beautiful looks.”[3] She is an active character, who goes out alone to shepherd the flocks. Leah, by contrast, is an introverted, somewhat isolated character. Although she is the older sister, she does not go out to shepherd the flocks but stays at home. Instead, she has time for her thoughtful reflections and tears, as the Torah states, “And Leah’s eyes were soft [with tears].”[4] There is something about Leah that is more similar to Jacob, the “sincere man who sits in tents.”[5] Even when we look at the generation of Jacob’s sons, we see that most of the spiritual significance that we associate with Jacob appears in Leah’s sons throughout the generations: the Levites and the Kohanim (Priests) descend from Levi; the Torah was given via Moses, who was also a Levite; and the royal family descends from Judah. In contrast, Rachel’s sons receive secondary importance, so much so that a significant portion of them were even detached for a prolonged period of time from the Jewish Nation (during the exile of the ten tribes).

Two Worlds Meet

According to Kabbalah, the match between Jacob and Leah is higher than that of Jacob and Rachel. Leah is called “the Concealed World” and Rachel is called “the Revealed World.” Leah represents the realm of thought, while Rachel represents the realm of speech. Jacob’s soul had a very profound hidden root that was identical to Leah’s, which he highlighted and reinforced on his way from Canaan to Charan. In the middle of this journey, he spent fourteen years studying Torah in the study hall of Shem and Ever. But, after the time spent there, he left to continue to Charan. There in Charan he came into contact with the harsh reality of the outside world, and had to cope with swindlers and enemies. As a result of needing to confront outer reality, Jacob was also outside his inner core or element. This is why he did not find anything particularly attractive about Leah.

But, just as Jacob was a “sincere man who dwells in tents,” Leah also dwelled in the “tent” of her own home. She was the one more likely to be considered as his sister, or his chevruta (study partner), and there was nothing exciting about her he could write home about. If his parents had been in the picture, they might well have made the match between Jacob and Leah, but now he followed his heart, which was naturally attracted towards Rachel. She had something about her that he found attractive, something that he could become enthusiastic about and fall in love with; marriage to her is an adventure into a new domain.

Nonetheless, Jacob still needs to marry Leah, as well as Rachel. One might say that instead of his parents, Divine Providence takes advantage of Laban’s devious scheming to effect Jacob’s marriage to Leah. Retroactively, Jacob understands?and we also realize?that Leah is also his perfect match, because she is a “girl of his age.” The source of Jacob’s connection with Leah is not from the heart; rather, it is a profound intellectual relationship that needs to be acknowledged, nurtured and appreciated, even if the natural flow of things does not initially lead to Jacob wanting to marry her.

Quite the contrary, it seems that the novel idea here is in the Torah’s approval of Jacob following his heart. Usually, the Torah’s attitude is to be suspicious of the heart’s natural tendencies, “The inclination of a man’s heart is evil from his youth,”[6] “his heart’s thoughts are directed to evil all day.” Indeed, if we let an evil person follow his heart, we’re in deep trouble! But, Jacob is a tzadik, a righteous man whose heart desires only good things, “the desire of the righteous is only good.”[7] Therefore Jacob could rely on his heart, to decide with complete certainty that Rachel should be the mainstay and more prominent figure of his home. This approach holds fast even after Leah gives birth to more sons than Rachel. Throughout it all, Rachel remained Jacob’s most esteemed wife.

Rachel Redeems

Yet, matchmaking is not the only issue here. In a broader sense, Jacob’s marriages to Leah and Rachel constitute the entire story of the Jewish People—the Children of Israel (Jacob’s other name)—and also how we relate to the Almighty.

Jacob’s relationship with Leah is what we might call a normal religious lifestyle. Most of us don’t study Torah and perform mitzvot because we have a natural instinct to do so. However, we do understand intellectually that this is the lifestyle that suits us as Jews, and this is the golden path that our forefathers trod. Religious Jews also know that they need to subdue their attraction to foreign paths and to annul their will to serve God’s will.[8] In Chassidic terminology, this is the service that belongs to “Leah’s persona” (????????? ?????).

In contrast, the relationship between Jacob and Rachel is a natural lifestyle. At first glance, we might think that a natural lifestyle does not express any connection with God. One can eat, drink, sleep, love or hike naturally, but all this is part of our secular life. But, the moment we touch on the realm of sanctity, it appears that those natural instincts just don’t want to cooperate; we can only hope that they don’t interfere too much with our endeavors towards the Divine! Nonetheless, we are convinced that we also have an innate Jewish nature that goes beyond our natural instincts. That profound level of our Jewish nature is simply and naturally in love with the Almighty. This is despite the infinite distance there is between us, as the verse states “God is in the heavens, and you are on earth.”[9] In fact, it is this very same chasm that causes the attractive pull between two complete opposites who ultimately complement each other. This is one reason why Chassidut explains that the main part of the redemption is “reconstructing Rachel’s persona” (???????? ????????? ?????), which ultimately refers to the revelation of a natural Jewish consciousness. This level of consciousness not only observes the Torah and performs mitzvot—because “that’s what we should do”—but because that is what our heart genuinely desires.

So we can follow our hearts if we are righteous, and in fact, the entire Jewish nation are called a “nation of tzadikim (righteous people),” and in the future we will all merit to act according to our rectified natural Jewish consciousness.

Adapted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s books in Hebrew, Rucho Shel Mashiach and Mechol Hakeramim



[1]  “Age” (?????) can also refer to “fortune” (?????).

[2]  Genesis 29:18.

[3] Ibid 29:17.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid 25:27.  In fact, the word “tent” (???) is a permutation of the letters of “Leah” (???).

[6] Ibid 8:21.

[7] Proverbs 11:23.

[8] Avot 2:4.

[9] Ecclesiastes 5:1.

One Response to “Follow Your Heart”

  1. benjamin michael says:

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    dSarah and I. This blog and the YouTube videos are having a profound
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