One of the most popular English language Chassidic songs in the early 80s, sung by Mordechai Ben David, speaks of a Jew who visits the Western Wall for the very first time on a Shabbat evening. It describes the scene:

The Western Wall on Friday night, his first time ever there
Strapped into his knapsack with his long and curly hair
He stood there for a while, then broke out with a smile
Emotion overwhelming joy with tears.
The men were dancing there, their hearts so full of love
They sang such happy tunes to thank the One above
For showing them the way, for giving them the day
To rest, rejoice with peace of mind, to pray.

If you’ve ever been to the Wall on a Friday night, you know what this is about. There’s a sense of ecstatic love for G‑d that rolls around that open-air plaza, with Jews of every stripe (some of them literally wearing stripes), their faces beaming with the sanctity and purity of incoming Shabbat. People are swaying in one corner, some are dancing, others are blessing fragrant spices and leaves, while others are deep in study or thought.

The love and joy is so tangible, it’s contagious. It is a beautiful scene.

Re-Dug Forever

Curiously, the portion of Vayera tells us about Abraham’s efforts to dig wells, and a major part of the narrative about Isaac’s life in the portion of Toldot details his excavation projects. One prominent detail in the story of these wells is that the Philistine neighbors weren’t excited about the idea. This cantankerous bunch stuffed up Abraham’s wells not once, twice, but three times.

And all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped them up and filled them with earth.1

It wasn’t until a generation later that Isaac was able to excavate the wells his father had dug and successfully keep them up and running.

But why? How did Isaac succeed where his father did not? What was his secret?

Abraham the Extrovert; Isaac the Introvert

The Kabbalists taught that our forefathers weren’t isolated figures in history with great storylines, rather they were archetypes that serve as a source of inspiration, instruction, and empowerment for all time. More specifically, each of the three forefathers typified something unique, a particular “brand” that was thereafter permanently imprinted into the Jewish DNA.

What are the “brands” of Abraham and Isaac?

Abraham is the archetype of chesed, commonly translated as “kindness/love.” Isaac, by contrast, is the archetype of gevurah, commonly translated as “restraint/discipline.”2 The true “source” of these traits is as they exist in the supernal image of G‑d Himself, and from there, they are represented in the human condition. So G‑d’s supernal trait of chesed is embodied in Abraham, whereas His supernal trait of gevurah is embodied in Isaac.

Now, as anyone with a beating heart will know, kindness and love are very different from discipline and restraint. In fact, they’re essentially opposites. To be kind and loving is to open your heart, to reach out and give freely. A loving person is typically extroverted, always seeking to bring more people into his or her embrace.

Discipline and restraint couldn’t be more different. It’s when you’re feeling personal and introverted, discriminate and discerning, hesitant to share with others and eager to percolate within yourself.

True to his extrovert nature, Abraham’s love was unbridled and unrestrained. His love was so passionate and indiscriminate, it was contagious and highly attractive. It explains why he had a huge following.

It’s also why he was always moving around, sharing awareness of G‑d: He was in love with the G‑d he had discovered, and he “needed” others to experience the same joy.

Isaac was the polar opposite. He was just as passionate as his father, but from a place of discipline, restraint, and awe. That was his nature, and it manifested in his relationship with G‑d and his relationships with others. Isaac’s approach was more internal, cerebral, and deliberate.

Of course, Isaac’s path isn’t nearly as popular as Abraham’s, and Isaac didn’t have a huge following. Unlike his father, he didn’t really budge from his home, preferring to stay in one place and deal with a more selective audience who took things seriously.

That’s not to say that Isaac rejected his father’s approach. He just interpreted it in different terms. He took that passion and love for G‑d, the world, and humanity and filtered it into something he felt was “real.”

That’s why Abraham and Isaac both dug wells: They engaged in the activity of exposing water—which represents life, energy, and goodness—beneath everything. Abraham’s approach was far broader, whereas Isaac’s was more deliberate, but it was the same pursuit: to dig beneath the surface and find goodness.


Now here’s the question: Which is more sustainable? Whose approach lasts longer?

Surprisingly, Isaac’s!

Unrestrained love and passion seem great at first blush, but are so easily corrupted. Just ask anyone who was around during the 60s.

That’s the trick with that elusive and marvelous thing we call “love”: it needs discipline. Love needs work. Love needs guidance, boundaries, respect, and a lot of selflessness. If it’s free-wheeling and happy-go-lucky with no boundaries, it very quickly becomes hedonistic, self-serving, and perverse.

So many young, starry-eyed youth think that love is some magic potion you drink and miraculously works forever. But it doesn’t work that way. Maybe for a month, a year, or two. But certainly not forever.

Abraham’s wells were very exciting, but eventually, they got stuffed up. Isaac’s deliberate restraint is what defines love, puts parameters and guidelines to that love—and makes it last forever.

So love, love freely, and most of all … love wisely.3