Introversion and Extroversion in the Torah

Apparently, there are two types of people, introverts and extroverts, and these personality categories are seen in the archetypes of our forefathers, Abraham and Isaac. Abraham, the prototypical extrovert, is Growing up in the shadows can be hard associated with the characteristic of chesed, which means “kindness.” As the father of outreach, Abraham’s kindness, which manifested as an outward expression of love and benevolence to humanity, was directed externally. On the other side of the scale is his son Isaac, the prototypical introvert, to whom is attributed the trait of gevurah, meaning “strength,” expressed as being inner-directed, reserved, self-disciplined and self-effaced.

As any child of a super charismatic parent knows, growing up in the shadows can be hard. Part of that is due to our worship of the extrovert. As Susan Cain, author of the book, Quiet: The Power of an Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, notes: “A widely held, but rarely articulated, belief in our society is that the ideal self is bold, alpha, gregarious. Introversion is viewed somewhere between disappointment and pathology.”

Accordingly, following in a super-parent’s larger-than-life footsteps is almost impossible. How many times does an innovative and groundbreaking venture fail because the next generation is unable to keep the vision alive? And yet, it is Isaac who held it all together, and who was responsible for transmitting and promulgating Judaism to the next generation.

The Legacy of Isaac

In the few stories we know about Isaac, he was never the driver of the tale. The only narrative where Isaac was the main active protagonist was in connection with Abraham. After Abraham died, the Philistines stopped up the wells Abraham had dug. Here, we read the story of Isaac digging up those old wells, and when the Philistines filled them in again, Isaac re-dug them yet again until he ultimately prevailed. Like that’s a big deal? Actually, yes it is.

Toldot, which means “generations,” starts out with the words: “These are the generations of Isaac.” And yet, the very next sentence is not about Isaac’s children, but about Isaac’s father, Abraham. Typically, toldot refers to progeny; sometimes, however, it means one’s legacy. In this case, the Torah directs us to look backward to understand the import of Isaac’s lasting legacy.

When to Cultivate and When to Integrate

Isaac re-opened the wells that Abraham originally dug and followed in his footstepsWe would do well to value the quiet hero by digging his own wells. He dug wells to keep his father’s vision alive. In doing so, he also ensured that Abraham’s vision was real—it had roots; it would survive. Isaac represents an inward journey involving humility, self-discipline and silent sacrifice. It takes great humility to focus your life on striking roots for a great idea that has been innovated by someone else. That humility is heroic.

In a society immersed in individualism, focused on the self and permeated with idealizing the extrovert, we would do well at times to emulate Isaac’s humility and value the quiet hero. When we dig wells, we turn inward to reveal that which is hidden. When we tap into our deepest meaning, our inner strengths and significant values, we can create the type of legacy that we would want to survive us.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. Building a well is the act of digging deep in the earth ultimately to find and expose the wellsprings within. Write down five positive aspects of yourself that are not readily noticeable, but that one will find if they dig deep enough.
  2. Would you like these parts of you to be more on the surface? If not, why do you keep them hidden? If so, how you can try to incorporate these qualities into what is most external about yourself?
  3. Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? Or a combination of both? As both personality types have very positive attributes, what can you find in the other personality type that you can work on bringing into your more natural personality type? How do you think this will help round you out?