As a child, I remember swimming in the sky blue, sparkling clean water of the Ben Weider community center in Montreal, Canada, where I was raised. I took for granted that this was simply how pool water looked all the time — until I moved to sunny, warm Tucson to serve as a Chabad rabbi, and became the owner of a pool of my own.
I quickly learned that without careful maintenance, those sparkling blue waters will turn slimy green with algae and otherwise suffer from a chemical imbalance. I know now that just like everything in life, there is an effort behind the sparkle.
Recently, as I stood beside my pool, measuring the water’s pH and watching my robotic pool cleaner do its thing, it occurred to me that the robot’s purpose was much more complicated than simply moving around the pool in random patterns.
Chasidic teachings encourage us to learn from everything we encounter in life, so I’ve put together a list of seven life lessons my pool robot taught me one recent sunny afternoon.
Buildup is an avoidable problem
If you don’t carefully clean and maintain the water, calcium and mineral deposits will form on the tiles of the pool. It’s not that you did something wrong; merely the absence of proactive improvement can lead to setbacks. The pool robot isn’t just cleaning — it is preventing a problem from occurring.
Over time, our experiences of all types — positive and negative — can build into our personality and behavior, occasionally leaving unwanted debris in our outlook. To remain true to ourselves, we need to regularly scrape off the buildup.
Stay connected to the source
My trusty pool robot can do its thing for hours on end without tiring, as long as it remains attached to the pool pump. Sever the connection — even for a moment — and it will grind to a halt.
To maintain our spiritual vitality, we must stay plugged in to our source of power — our Creator.
Venture out of the comfort zone
I’ve noticed that the deep end of my pool tends to be cleaned the fastest. The reason is simple: heading downhill is the path of least resistance. So my little robot tends to spend more time at the lowest points of the pool than at its higher reaches.
As human beings, we tend to get mired down in what’s comfortable and familiar. Getting stuck in the ruts of our own routines can be holding us back from exercising our full potential.
Elevation is temporary
The walls of the pool need cleaning too, and so the robot is designed to climb up those walls. But even with a powerful motor, at some point in its climb, the robot will lose momentum, stall and head back down towards the bottom.
It’s great when we’re inspired and when we climb to new heights. But inspiration tends to be fleeting and temporary. To keep ourselves going in the grind of everyday life, we need to turn that inspiration into commitment, to keep us going when we slip back down from the heights.
Obstacles can lead to a new path
If the pool robot encounters a stray toy or object, it will turn and seek a new path. Sure, I’d prefer if my kids cleaned up after themselves a bit better, but sometimes that unwanted obstacle can have the effect of propelling the robot to change its direction away from its ordinary course.
Obstacles or detours can actually be an opportunity to point you in the right direction.
One branch can stop everything
The robot can go for hours, but there are things that can stop it in its tracks. For example, a thick branch jammed between the wheels or clogging the vacuum intake can bring this technological marvel to a helpless halt.
Most of the obstacles we face in life are twigs — inconveniences or small hardships that we can circumvent. But there are things that can halt us that are more like a thick branch. For example, the life of a person caught in the grasp of addiction might get stopped in its tracks. This leads me to the seventh lesson the pool robot taught me.
Intervention is sometimes needed
There is nothing the robot can do on its own to free itself from that thick branch. It needs outside help. Only after it is taken out of the pool and the branch removed, can it go back to making its tracks through the pool, with the hope that it will not run into another obstruction.
Challenges that debilitate may require outside help — or intervention. Any one of us might need to reach out to someone else in order to be healed and be able to continue on life’s path. As the Talmud (Berachot 5b) states, “A prisoner cannot free himself.”
The wondrous thing about the pool robot is that when it moves, it is always moving forward. We should all be so lucky. JN
Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin is the outreach director at Chabad Tucson in Arizona.