Parshat Toldot, Genesis 25:19–28:9
After doing what we do day after day and year after year, at times we start second-guessing ourselves: “Are we really accomplishing anything?” “Why don’t I see results as quickly as I would want?” What do we do when we lose our inspiration and passion?
What do we do with the all too common problem of burnout? We ought to look back to the beginning. We should ask ourselves, “Why have I chosen to do this work in the first place? What inspired me all those years ago to choose this type of life?” Each one of us will have a unique answer because we are all unique. And it is when we look inside ourselves that we discover who we are. That is why we should be looking inside for inspiration. External inspiration, inspiration that comes from outside ourselves, might work temporarily. But for lasting change, we need to dig for it on the inside.
In this week’s Torah portion we are told that Isaac dug wells. This is one of the only things we know of Isaac. Why is Isaac’s digging of wells so important, to the extent that the Torah focuses on this particular detail about him? It is because digging wells highlights what type of person Isaac was. Digging wells is the ability to find the living waters, uncovering the good buried beneath layers and layers of dirt.
Abraham was not a well digger. Even the wells he dug were clogged up soon after. He didn’t uncover the good that was buried in the hearts and souls of his fellow people like his son Isaac did. Abraham’s way was to inspire, like a pool whose water comes from elsewhere. A pool, in contrast to a well, needs to be refilled constantly. Otherwise, the pool will eventually dry out. Similarly, once Abraham was not around anymore, the inspiration disappeared.
Isaac, however, was a well digger. He had the incredible ability of unearthing the beauty of the soul buried beneath layers of dirt and grime, sin and indifference. Isaac did not have the following like his father Abraham, for Isaac’s work is much harder and not everyone is willing to change. Yet those affected by Isaac are changed forever.
When we are losing our passion and our drive, we can learn from Abraham and search for inspiration from the outside. We can attempt to fill our empty pool with fresh water. It might work for awhile, but it is not a long-term solution. We must take Isaac’s example and look into ourselves, dig deep into our hearts and souls, and find the living water that is buried underneath.
The same holds true for our interactions with others. We may see someone who looks to be beyond hope, or a child we are ready to give up on. Isaac gets fired up for the challenge. He does not see dirt, he sees the potential for water, and starts digging.
Well, digging is tough. It takes persistence. To discover the good in someone else, we sometimes have to dig deep. We might run into challenges and can expect strong resistance. It also takes humility, recognizing that we cannot change another person; rather they must change themselves. Our job is to guide. And it takes faith — faith that if we dig deep enough and long enough, we will find water. We will find the good buried deep down in every person.
This weekend, I will be in New York at the international conference of Chabad rabbis and leaders. I will be joining more than 4,000 well diggers, people who dedicate their lives to uncovering the living waters in the people they meet. May we all take inspiration from their lead and that of Isaac to become well diggers in our own surroundings. JN
Rabbi Yossi Friedman is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Anthem.