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, Arizona to serve as a Chabad rabbi here, 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, other contaminants, and chemical imbalance.

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 its purpose is much more complicated than simply moving around the pool in random patterns.

Chassidic 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 afternoon.

1. Buildup is an avoidable problem

If you don’t carefully clean and maintain the water, calcium and mineral deposits will form on the tiles. It’s not that you did something wrong, merely the absence of proactive care can lead to setbacks. The pool robot isn't just cleaning; it’s preventing problems from developing.

Over time, our experiences—both 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.

2. 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 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.

3. Venture out of your 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 in what’s comfortable and familiar. Getting stuck in the rut of our own routine can hold us back from exercising our full potential.

4. Elevation is temporary

The walls of the pool need cleaning too, and so the robot is designed to climb those walls. But even with a powerful motor, at some point in its climb, the robot will lose momentum, stall and head back down toward the bottom.

It’s great when we’re inspired to climb to new heights. But inspiration tends to be fleeting. To keep ourselves going when we return to the grind of everyday life, we need to turn that inspiration into commitment.

5. 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 propel the robot to change direction and reach areas it might otherwise overlook.

Obstacles or detours—which we will all inevitably face in the course of our lives—can actually be the impetus to redirect and explore new vistas and discover new opportunities.

6. One branch can stop everything

The robot can go for hours, but certain things will 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 then there are the things that can bring us to a grinding halt, much like a thick branch. For example, a person caught in the grasp of addiction might find their life stopped in its tracks. Which leads me to the seventh lesson the pool robot taught me.

7. Intervention is sometimes needed

There is nothing the robot can do to free itself from that thick branch. It needs outside help. Only after it is taken out of the pool and the branch is removed, can it go back to making its tracks through the water, with the hope that it will not run into another obstruction.

Challenges that debilitate may require outside help. We may need to reach out to someone else in order to be healed and be able to continue on life’s path. “A prisoner cannot free himself,” the Talmud (Berachot 5b) forewarns.

The wondrous thing about the pool robot is that when it moves, it is always moving forward. We should all be so lucky.