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Isaac’s Wells

Isaac’s Wells

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Three Torah sections—Lech Lecha, Vayeira and Chayei Sarah—chronicle the life and deeds of Abraham. An even greater number are devoted to the life of Jacob. Isaac is the central figure in only one—the Parshah of Toldot. We read of the “Binding of Isaac” in Vayeira, but there the story is told wholly from Abraham’s perspective. Similarly, the greater part of Chayei Sarah is about how a wife is found for Isaac, but Isaac himself is not at all involved in the process. Eliezer doesn’t even mention him by name when he proposes the match—he’s simply “the son of my master.” This scarcity of information about Isaac is even more striking in light of the fact that he was the most long-lived of the three Patriarchs (Isaac lived 180 years, as opposed to Abraham’s 175 and Jacob’s 147).

Even in Toldot, we are hard-pressed to find some clues to Isaac’s identity and personality. The first part of Toldot relates the birth and early years of Jacob and Esau. The latter part is about how the aged and blind Isaac has his plans to bless his elder son Esau foiled by Rebecca and Jacob. It is only in the middle part of Toldot (Genesis 26) that we encounter an active Isaac. We read how he relocates to Gerar, how he farms the land (the only one of the Patriarchs to do so), and how he digs wells.

In fact, the one activity of Isaac’s on which the Torah elaborates at some length is his well-digging. We are told how he reopened the wells originally dug by Abraham, and we are given a detailed account of a series of wells of his own which he dug—the names he gave them, and his struggles to retain control over them.

But it is precisely this lack of notoriety which defines the essence of Isaac. The Kabbalists equate Abraham with the sefirah (divine attribute) of chessed, “loving-kindness,” and Isaac with the sefirah of gevurah, “restraint.” Abraham was the very embodiment of kindness, generosity and concern for one’s fellow. He was the ultimate extrovert—constantly giving of himself, constantly extending himself to G‑d, to his fellow man, to the world. Isaac was his father’s diametric opposite: he was awe to Abraham’s love, restraint to Abraham’s expansiveness, self-effacement to Abraham’s self-assertion.

From Abraham we inherited the charitableness and social commitment that is the hallmark of our people. Isaac bequeathed to us the fear of Heaven in the heart of the Jew--his self-censoring discipline, his silent sacrifice, his humble awe before the majesty of his Creator.

Abraham’s love of G‑d and humanity took him on a journey from the self outward—a journey etched in the roads of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Canaan. Isaac never left the boundaries of his homeland. For his was an inward journey, a journey into the depths of self, to the essence within.

Thus Isaac is portrayed as a farmer and a well-digger. Isaac was a farmer, one who has learned the profound secret of the seed: that growth and profit come only when you allow yourself to disintegrate and become one with the soil from which you have come. Isaac was a digger of wells, boring through the strata of emotion and experience in search of the quintessential waters of the soul. Boring deeper than feeling, deeper than desire, deeper than achievement, to the selflessness at the core of self.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of MeaningfulLife.com. If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email permissions@meaningfullife.com.
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Sarah Chana g November 21, 2014

Message to Disintegration The whole point of the sacrifice and then the stopping of it was for us all to learn that Hashem does not want us to sacrifice our children on the alter of the secular, materialistic and spiritually empty, world. Hashem never ever intended Abraham to sacrifice his son as we never intend to do to our children, but that is what happens to most of us, everyday. Going down the path of materialism, consumerism, secularism, and idolatry to "give your children everything" , that is the sacrifice that destroys our children. The path of Torah, Mitzvot, and the Rebbe, that is what Hashem wants us to do. Reply

Rebecca I. Ukwunna Houston Texas November 1, 2013

Unspeakable Wisdom I thank G-D for His unspeakable wisdom that He gave to His chosen ones to expanciate the Torah. Therefor, it is our responsibility to implement or to live our lives in consonant with the behavioral inheritance or characteristics inherited from our fore-fathers Abraham Isaac and Jacob.

I'm grateful to G-D for this great and wonderful teaching of the Rebbe. Reply

Dobra Levitt Jerusalem October 27, 2013

How true and beautiful "This commentary let me know" says Shira of New York. Yes, Shira, I agree with all my heart on everything you say, especially your words "How true and beautiful..." The only difference is that I would say thank you to our Rebbe since this section is based on his teachings. He is the one who clarifies most ((I'll say for me so as not to be controversial); who always always is "true and beautiful". Reply

annonymous ottawa, canada November 23, 2011

disintegration All I can think is that Isaac must have been deeply affected by his father's decision to sacrifice him, and God's decision to spare him. Sounds like he really had to dig deep to find his true essence, so that he could sustain himself and his estate. Reply

Shirah Zeller Watermill, New York USA November 28, 2005

digging wells. boring deeper How true and beauriful: "boring deeper than desire, deeper than aschievement, to the selflesness at the core of the self."

When I, or my friends or patients who might hear it bog down under the weight of the struggle with the 'other side' in ourselves, I try to remind us that the struggle itself is a spiritual path and not to lose heart. This commentary let me know I'm not just making up that idea, and deepens my understanding of what's at stake, and feels like a hand at my back, pressing me onward. (Among my 'other side' opponents are the pull to fill a sense of inner emptiness with the essentially unrewarding contents of either the refrigerator or the television.)

The image of the soul (accessible through ckicking on 'boring deeper') reminded me of the One to whom I'll be giving an account of these venetures, but also let me know (still again) that I can ask for help. Reply

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