“And a river flowed forth from Eden to water the garden, and it divided into four streams . . . and the name of the fourth is Pras.” (Genesis 2:10)

The Talmud identifies this fourth river as the original flow of water which came forth from Eden, and gave birth to the other three streams. Ultimately, it is said to be the source of all the world’s rivers, as well as the underground water table which is tapped into and revealed whenever a well is dug.

Jews are well-diggers. It’s an occupation we inherited from our forefathers. Long before Columbia and Harvard, even before Cordoba and Pumbaditha, we knew how to tap the earth for living, and life-giving, waters.

All Jews are well-diggers It’s not actually as easy as it sounds. To dig a well you must first have faith that there’s water to be found. Then you have to invest yourself in the arduous task of removing layers of stone and earth to reveal the potential trapped within.

And if you want your wells to have a chance at benefiting the world, you have to know how to make them last.

Abraham dug wells, but they didn’t last. The Philistines stopped them up, covered over the gushing waters with dirt, until Isaac matured and was able to reopen his father’s wells. He even dug three of his own, and this time the wells lasted.

So, too, did the lesson they convey—a lesson in how to tap into our own hidden potential. All Jews are well-diggers, even today. Whatever you do for your physical livelihood and your spiritual livelihood, all depends on digging lasting wells.

The spiritual livelihood of Abraham was in publicizing the knowledge of G‑d. His life revolved around having guests—feeding them, sheltering them, and telling them that all gratitude should go not to him, their host, but to the One who created everything. Abraham’s life and words were a source of direct light beaming down into a world of darkness and illuminating it. As long as he was physically here in this world, all of physical creation responded to that light. But when he passed away, his students no longer followed his teachings precisely. And so, the Philistines were able to stop up his wells.

But Abraham was blessed with a son who would continue and build upon his work. This son had a different, but complementary, Divine service. While Abraham, too, dug wells, it wasn’t his primary task. For Isaac, well-digging was his primary physical and spiritual livelihood. His task was not to shine a lot from above to below as was his father’s, but rather to remove all barriers and reveal vitality and light that would flow from below to above.

It isn’t something that happens overnight; rather, it’s a process that goes through gradual stages of maturity and depth. These are alluded to in the names given to Isaac’s three wells: Eisek, Sitna and Rechovot.

The name of the first well, Eisek, derives from a root meaning “physical strife.” Isaac named this well Eisek because there his servants argued with the Philistines over ownership of the well. The name of the second well, Sitna, comes from a root meaning “hatred” because there they also quarreled. The third well, however, he named Rechovot, saying, “Now G‑d has made for us wide spaces, and we will be fruitful in the Land.”

Only when you engage your intellectual faculties can you reach your deepest spiritual potentials The first two wells are allusions to engaging in life from our lower soul levels only. The first well, Eisek, alludes to one who has activated only his lowest level—the level of action. The second well alludes to one who has also engaged his emotions and psyche. Hence, the names of the first two wells refer to physical strife and emotional strife.

When we seek to make a significant change in our lives, or to improve our relationships with others, or with G‑d, and we are doing so only on the level of behavior, then we are acting on the level of action. We’re stuck at the first well, a place of open conflict. When we also engage our emotions, we’re one step closer to real change, but still vulnerable to opposition and negative emotions from within and without.

So how do we get to a place of wide spaces, of real progress?

To reach the third level requires using the intellect. Only when you engage your faculties of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding can you reach your deepest spiritual potentials, revealing a lasting flow of vitality and Divine light symbolized by a well that was permanent and undisputed.

That’s the secret of well-digging bequeathed to us by Isaac. It’s a secret that was well-understood by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, when he formulated a path in Divine service based on the intellectual understanding of G‑d. To make real changes in your way of living requires changing your way of being, and to do that you need to fill, and fulfill, your intellect through constant learning and contemplation.

And as your intellect changes, you can dig deeper into your heart and make real changes in your emotions and thus actions, making your own life into a source of illumination that transforms the world from within.

That’s the well which is called Rechovot—a place of ever-expanding space where our world and our lives are never constricted because we can sense the Infinite hidden within. And that’s the point at which you can tap into the fourth river, a source of life-giving water that flows from the primordial Garden of Eden straight into your own soul.

All of which is meant to lead to “we will be fruitful in the Land.”

Each one of us has the power, and thus the obligation, to make our own unique imprint on this world, for though the commandment to be fruitful refers to having physical children, it also refers to the creative and intellectual impact that Jews have always had on the world. When it comes from the deepest point within, it’s not only how we express ourselves; it’s part of serving G‑d.

Freely adapted from a lecture of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh that can be read here.