Tonight, before bed, I read about blood and frogs. I read about the spiritual nature of these Divine plagues, and their message for the modern man or woman. I was feeling pleased with myself for having learned a bit of Torah before going to sleep. I felt I had accomplished a worthy intellectual pursuit that probably had some positive implications for my soul, too. Two points for me in the spirituality department. Check. Then I got up to brush my teeth. Except that when I stood up, I knocked over a full pitcher of water that was sitting next to me. In an instant, my socks were soaked and the rug was drenched. I was a cold, wet mess from the calves down.

And that’s when I began to internalize the lesson of the blood and frogs. Allow me to explain ...

Mitzrayim is not just a place, but a state of being

We have a Torah imperative that says, “In every generation one must look upon himself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt” (Talmud, Pesachim 116b). The Hebrew language is saturated with depth and meaning. In Hebrew, the word for “Egypt” is Mitzrayim, and it comes from the word meitzar, “limitation.” It is related to the words tzar, “narrow,” and tzarah, “suffering.” Mitzrayim, in other words, is not just a place, but a state of being.

The very concept of Egypt denotes limitation, a sense of entrapment, blockage and slavery. And we have a directive to escape this reality every day. We don’t need to physically live in the land of Egypt under Pharaoh’s rule to feel enslaved.

We all have areas of our lives where we struggle with limitations that impede our spiritual growth. For some, the struggle may be over a cheeseburger or the impulse to drive to a rock concert on Shabbat. For others, it might be admitting when we are wrong or offering to lend a hand to a friend when we really have other things we would rather be doing. Whatever guise our Mitzrayim takes, it creates a barrier to our spiritual growth and development.

G‑d sent 10 plagues to the land of Egypt. This week’s Torah portion begins with the first two: blood and frogs. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that these plagues serve as instructions to help us free ourselves from our own personal barriers and limitations—our own personal Egypt.

G‑d turned the Nile into blood. Blood is described as the vitality (the nefesh) of a living thing. Blood is warm, and warmth, in general, is associated with things of a holy nature. Blood is very much connected with life.

Water, on the other hand, is cold and wet. Coolness, in general, is associated with impurity and death. If a living body becomes cold for too long, it is no longer alive. In some ways, water is the opposite of blood. Blood is warm and easily excitable, while the nature of water is generally cool and calm. Water can also be frozen and stop moving altogether, at which point it loses its vitality completely. The very concept of coldness opposes holiness. However, water is also necessary for life.

Torah is alive only when we allow it to heat us up

The same is true of Torah. In fact, our sages compare the Torah—our spiritual lifeline—to water. Like water, Torah is alive only when we allow it to heat us up. When we imbue our Jewish lives with vitality and enthusiasm, warmth and joy, then the Torah becomes a life-sustaining, living wellspring. But if we allow our Judaism to be routine and stagnant, it becomes like a block of ice: cold and lifeless.

I remember floating into synagogue one Friday night, dressed in white, the glow of Shabbat candles still alight in my eyes, totally “high” on Shabbat. I saw a friend of mine as I walked in, and I wished him a wholehearted, wide-smiled and soulful “Good Shabbos!” He just stared at me blankly and finally said, “What are you all fired up about? It’s just Shabbos. This happens every Friday night.” Talk about a buzzkill. I felt so deflated, as if there was something wrong with me for being so excited by Shabbat.

That’s the inherent lesson in the plague of blood. It’s like G‑d is saying: “Wake up, people! Ivdu et Hashem be-simchah! Serve G‑d with joy!” That’s what we’re supposed to do; it’s kind of a rule. We’re expected to have vitality in our spiritual lives. The truth is that in our path there will always be obstacles that will try to “cool us off” to our spiritual pursuits. But the plague of blood teaches us that in spite of the killjoys in our lives, we need to maintain heat and movement within ourselves.

Now for the frog lesson. There are two general types of critters: warm-blooded and cold-blooded. Frogs are the latter. Not only are they cold-blooded; interestingly, they are also water creatures.

The frogs infiltrated every part of Egypt, and the Torah tells us that they even jumped into the ovens. If they were everywhere, then one might assume that they were also in the ovens ... Why does the Torah make a special point of telling us about the ovens?

The Talmud explains that it was in order to show us that the frogs martyred themselves for G‑d’s cause. The Rebbe points out that the frogs went completely against their nature. They are cold-blooded creatures, and they entered flaming hot ovens. This demonstrates the level of their self-sacrifice. It’s as if the frogs were saying, “Hey, you Egyptians, you’re fired up about all the wrong stuff. Don’t serve idols—serve the One and Only G‑d!” In essence, the frogs went into the ovens to “cool down” the passion for negative and forbidden behaviors (symbolized by the ovens).

I realized my good fortune of spilling the pitcher

When I stood up to brush my teeth after reading these insights into the Torah portion, I had done just that. I read about a historical event, thought it was interesting, gave myself a pat on the back and closed the book. But then I found myself drenched in water. And it was as if G‑d was saying to me, “Wake up! Don’t just read it. Live it, absorb it, soak yourself in it.”

Once I realized my good fortune of spilling the pitcher, I did a little impromptu jig right there in the water, just to remind myself about the importance of having joy and enthusiasm in how I live my life as a Jew. My feet warmed right up ... and I imagine my soul did, too.