Ditch the Doldrums

There are many life-metaphors to be found in the wonderful world of boats. Boats and people both embark on journeys and both can reach their destinations or sink.

When a boat is in the doldrums it is in that notorious windless zone near the equator. Old-time sailing vessels were often stuck there for weeks.  When a person is listless and despondent, he is also said to be in the doldrums.  But there is one major difference. While sailboats must await changing weather, humans have the miraculous capacity to bring about change in their lives themselves. 

Being marooned in stagnant circumstances is enough to make anyone miserable.  Change, growth, and progress are amazingly effective antidotes to depression. Most of us feel energized and optimistic when taking actions to improve our lives. Often, the changing calendar serves as a useful catalyst. But wait!  What’s the point?  We all know that most New Year resolutions fade away by spring.

One way to retain resolutions is to feel authentic, durable excitement in our souls about the spiritual magic of change.

Isn’t it rather strange how God introduced Himself to humanity on Sinai 3,330 years ago? 

I am the Lord your God who…
(Exodus 20:2)

Who did what?

Well, think of how 1980 presidential candidate Reagan might have introduced himself to voters.  Depending on the crowd, he would want to highlight his most prestigious achievement.  He might have said, “Hi, I’m Ronald Reagan who was the head of the Screen Actors Guild.”  Or he might have said, “I’m Ronald Reagan who was governor of California.”

Similarly, God could have said, “I’m the Lord your God who created heaven and earth.” Instead, he said:

I am the Lord your God who took you out of the Land of Egypt…
(Exodus 20:2)

God considered it more important to introduce Himself and His Commandments as God who took the Israelites out of Egypt rather than as God who created heaven and earth. Why?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the purpose of the Ten Commandments is not merely to lay before us ten little rules but to provide us with vital tools for life. These statements are intended to transform Israelite slaves into God-centric, independent people.  Remember that until relatively recently once a slave meant always a slave. For transformation to happen, the children of Israel needed to truly know that it was indeed POSSIBLE for change to occur. 

Today, we may not be physically enslaved, but we can enslave ourselves by not knowing, deep inside of us, that we are capable of change.  Making positive changes in our lives is terribly difficult.  Most of us find it almost impossible to overcome our own inertia. Rather than undertake the massive effort necessary today, we simply condemn tomorrow to be a repeat of yesterday.  Deeply internalizing the power of change is necessary to propel us to better times.

We’re all stuck in our own particular Egypt, whatever it is.  To successfully change behavior in the long term, we need to change our image of ourselves. God’s opening statement assures us that if the Israelites could escape Egypt then each one of us can also escape our own limitations and weaknesses.  Here are three tips to increase the probability of making a change permanent.

A.  Make the first step of change reasonable.  You can always upgrade later which will make you feel much better than downgrading.  (The total transformation of a nation took 40 years. An individual won’t need that long for most changes, but don’t expect instant success either.)

B.  At the outset, prepare a strategy to get you back onto your resolution’s plan after an unintended setback. (Atonement and forgiveness often occurred during the desert trip)

C.  Break your commitment into defined and manageable parts. (There were numerous way stations on the path from Egypt to Israel)

Overriding every strategy is the awareness that, “I am the Lord your God who took you out of Egypt…”  That statement serves as a constant reminder that God is eager to accompany us on our personal road out of the doldrums.

10 thoughts on “Ditch the Doldrums”

  1. Brian F. Tucker

    When we received your disc it really changed our perspective on what the commandments were all about. We would recomend all serious and even casual student of the bible to get these discs. Joyce and I are even beginning to delve deeper into the New Testament. We look forward to your messages every day on AJW as well as thought tools and of course Susan’s Musings.
    Shalom and Happy Memorial Day,
    Joyce and Brian

      1. Rabbi I’ve recently reached out to God and He pulled me out of my personal doldrums. He is loving and faithful God. I’m 46. Last night the infinity of God struck me. He’s always been and will always be. What I mean is in my short life (in comparison) I’ve rebelled and been angry with Him. In His infinite love and mercy He picked me up and blew His mighty wind into my sails. I enjoy watching your program on TCT. I pay attention what you teach and want to thank you and your wife.

  2. Brian F. Tucker

    When I received my disc it totally changed my perception of the commandents and my out look on how we are to act toward God and my fellow man. I totally recomend it to all serious and even casual students of the bible. As a Christian it even has me looking deeper into the New Testament. I find all of your teachings extremely enlightening and look for your messages daily on AJW as well as thought tools and of course Susan’s Musings.
    Shalom and happy Memorial Day,


  3. Funny you should mention boats and the horse latitudes. I’m looking to buy a sail boat and sail away because I have grown tired of this world. Maybe I have a slaves attitude and a change latitude might do me well. God is my God and you are my Rabbi. God Bless you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Fine idea, David,
      Though it is not really a complete escape. At any rate, it is a life enhancing program and I hope you set sail.

  4. Thank you for you wise words, Rabbi! God is with me, accompanying me through life. I believe He is!

  5. Dear Rabbi Lapin, it is indeed exciting to hear your interpretation how God wished to transform the self-image of the Israelites from eternal slave to a God-centered, independent actor. You remind me of a book I once purchased by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a successful plastic surgeon. Dr. Maltz would agree with you about the persistence of one’s self-image, which does not change overnight. He noticed that once he had corrected deformed bodies, the self-image of his patients also needed transformation to match their new bodies. Though now made ‘whole,’ they still acted as if they were ‘handicapped.’ The book transformed my Mother’s thinking. Once she greeted a handicapped person soliciting at her door by saying: ‘So you are physically handicapped. Well, I am handicapped, too. Only my handicap and deformity are on the inside, and cannot be seen.’ But the book inspired her to update her self-image positively.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear James-
      Dr. Maxwell Maltz who has been gone now for probably 30 years or so, wrote Psycho Cybernetics which is still in print. It contains some truths and though he was Jewish, I doubt that he studied ancient Jewish wisdom. I can understand it having helped your mother.
      Thanks for writing,

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