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!