Judaism: Divrei Azriel: Hold the Water and Pass the Blood
In this week’s parsha, the natural order is seemingly suspended with the commencement of the 10 plagues. Two questions, however, must be addressed. Firstly, why did the water turn to blood and not to some other undrinkable substance? Secondly, why was this plague specifically chosen first?
Before we tackle these questions relating to the process of geulah, redemption, let us first examine the nature of the galut, exile, from which we were redeemed. The last Lubavitcher Rebbe provides us with a beautiful insight. The word “Mitzrayim” (the country, Egypt) is quite similar to the word “Mitzariym” – boundaries. Mitzrayim was a country that was entrenched in hedonism and paganism. Hashem had no place or meaning in the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people. From the time the new king, מלך חדש, appeared on the scene, the boundaries of Egypt began to suffocate and destroy any vestige of Godliness.
When we were redeemed from Mitzrayim, the barriers were removed. Says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, redemption from Egypt, יצאת מצרים, is not just a onetime occurrence, bereft of any enduring impact; rather it is a daily experience, a daily struggle. We have boundaries and roadblocks that overwhelm us on a daily basis. However, these impediments will forever remain unless there is an acute awakening within us.
Now, the Lubavitcher Rebbe continues, we are ready to resolve the difficulties we started with. If we analyze the first plague, we see that blood is not just a liquid that can render water undrinkable; rather blood is a lifeline. Blood symbolizes warmth, passion, and perhaps enthusiasm. We see this throughout literature all the time.
Water, on the other hand, denotes coldness and stillness. When the water turned to blood, B'nei Yisrael were awakened, so to speak, thus commencing the redemption process. The Jews had a new lease upon life. A sense of passion and enthusiasm arose within them. Hashem’s “warmth” now radiated through them. Thus, the “Mitzariym” of Mitzrayim started to crumble.
In order for one to change and breakdown one’s own barriers, one’s personal “water” must be turned into blood. A desire, a passion, must be awoken within the individual, for it says כי הדם הוא הנפש. It is incredibly easy for one to mistakenly assume that there is no need for passion or enthusiasm in order to be a good Jew. One can easily learn Torah, observe the mitzvot and avoid transgression without this added element.
This assumption is incredibly dangerous. A lack of warmth or passion, so to speak, breeds coldness or apathy. This is the forefront spiritual destruction. When one is indifferent or apathetic, everything lacks meaning. Learning Torah and performing the mitzvot can only be done properly when there is warmth and passion. Judaism is not a mechanical religion. Rather, every single day we must accept the yoke of Heavenly rule, מקבל עול מלכות שמים, with renewed passion.
One of the ways we show our sense of enthusiasm for Judaism is through performing mitzvahs in as beautiful a way as possible, hiddur mitzva (הידור מצוות). Apathy may entice one to purchase only cheap teffilin or a substandard lulav and etrog. This, of course, does not mean that one should become a pauper, Heaven forbid. Yet even if one is unable to fulfill these mitzvot with every single hiddur, one should still have the desire to do so.
  לקוטי שיחות, part 1:119.