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.