Reb Isaac of Krakow wanted to build a new synagogue for his community but lacked the financial resources. One night he dreamt that there was a treasure buried under a bridge in Prague. The following day he arranged his affairs and set off, shovel in hand, for the Czech capital.

When he reached the city he was overjoyed. The bridge appeared exactly as it had in his dream. But as he started digging, he felt a strong hand on his arm. “What are you doing? You can’t dig here,” a guard told him.

Reb Isaac told the guard the entire story: his desire to build the synagogue, his dream of the buried treasure, and his journey from Poland. “Silly man,” the guard told him. “For several nights I’ve been dreaming about a treasure buried under the stove of a Jew called Isaac who lives in Krakow. Now do you think that I’d travel all the way to Krakow to look for this treasure?”

Reb Isaac smiled and returned home. He dug under his stove, found the treasure, and built his synagogue. What he had been looking for had been buried right in his own home.

Parshas Toldos

This week’s Torah reading focuses on the Patriarch Isaac. Of all the Patriarchs, Isaac was unique. He was the only one who never left the Holy Land of Eretz Yisrael. Even when he considered departing during a time of great famine, G‑d gave him a specific missive: “Dwell in this land and I will be with you.”

Why was Isaac commanded to live in Eretz Yisrael? Our Sages explain that after being bound as an offering on Mount Moriah, he became consecrated as a sacrifice and could not be taken beyond the boundaries of holiness.

Within this story there is a personal message. Isaac willingly allowed his father to bind him as a sacrifice; he was ready to sacrifice everything, even his life, for the sake of G‑d. Ultimately G‑d did not desire that sacrifice. He wanted Isaac to live in this world: to marry, raise children, and become wealthy. But once Isaac had been consecrated as a sacrifice — once he had been prepared to give everything away for G‑d — the way he related to these matters was different. He had to live in Eretz Yisrael; i.e., even his external environment — the way he relates to his work environment and his family — had to be characterized by holiness.

But unlike others who heed a calling to holiness, he would not live as a hermit. On the contrary, the Torah reading describes the richness of his family life and how he became fabulously wealthy, but these were all externals. At the heart of his existence was the full-hearted commitment to G‑d he made at Mount Moriah. But instead of “dying for G‑d,” he was living for G‑d, extending his bond with Him into every element of life. He lived in the material world, but his actions were spiritual, infusing everything he did with Divine intent.

This concept is reflected in one of the tasks that our Sages describe him as performing: the digging of wells. When one digs a well, he penetrates beneath the external, earthy surface and taps the fountain of living water that lies hidden below.

In every being there is such a fountain. Isaac was able to find water where others couldn’t. Because he was focused on G‑dliness, he could discover the G‑dly core in every created being.

Every day in prayer, we recall Isaac’s sacrifice. For prayer is a time when, like Isaac on Mount Moriah, we should make a commitment to G‑dliness. The strength of that commitment influences the manner in which we conduct our lives throughout the remainder of the day. In that manner, even as we carry out our day-to-day activities after prayer, spiritually, “we will not leave Eretz Yisrael.” We will “live for G‑d,” bringing all the awareness of G‑d into all of our concerns. And we will dig wells, discovering the fountain of life in every person and setting.

Looking to the Horizon

Our Sages tell us that after the Resurrection of the Dead, when the entire Jewish people arise, we will point to Isaac and tell him — not Abraham or Jacob — “You are our Patriarch.”

Why Isaac? Each of the Patriarchs embodied different spiritual characteristics: Abraham, love, Isaac, awe, and Jacob, mercy. The era of the Resurrection will be characterized by striking revelations of G‑dliness. They will be so powerful that mankind will “enter the clefts of the rocks and cracks of the crags because of the awe of G‑d and the glory of His splendor.” Isaac, whose Divine service embodied the quality of awe, will teach us how to conduct ourselves in that era.

Moreover, Isaac’s Divine service provides us with an example of how to precipitate that era. Through his service, Isaac was able to experience a foretaste of the World to Come. As he existed and functioned in our world, he could appreciate the true reality of spiritual existence. This is a lesson for us — to realize, at least intellectually, how every circumstance in which we are found is the outer shell of a fundamental spiritual truth. This should inspire us to dig beneath the surface and bring that truth into overt revelation.