Pressing Restart

I have been known to say that Judaism is my way of life while boating is my religion. After all, some religious observances require a special litugical language, unique clothing and are practiced on certain days.  Check, check and check for boating. But even for those of you with other religions, 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. This is why New Year’s resolutions are such a good idea.  Most of us feel energized and optimistic when taking actions to improve our lives and 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.

See 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 could have said, “Hi, I’m Ronald Reagan; I used to be head of the Screen Actors Guild.”  Or he could have said, “Hi, I’m Ronald Reagan; I used to be governor of California.”

Similarly, God could have said, “I’m the Lord your God who created heaven and earth,” rather than what He did say which was:

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 to tell us history but to provide us with tools for life. These statements will help 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 and rather than undertake the massive effort necessary today, we simply condemn tomorrow to be a repeat of yesterday.  Really internalizing the power of change can propel us to better times.

We’re all stuck in our own particular Egypt, whatever it is.  While we need to change behavior, we first 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 Egypt.  A New Year resolution is a good way to start.  Here are three tips to increase the probability of making the change permanent.

A.  Make the first resolution 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 resolution into defined and manageable parts. (There were numerous way stations on the path from Egypt to Israel)

Changing course on a sailboat also involves these three steps. The new course has to be reasonable with respect to wind direction; if the boat doesn’t complete coming about we know what to do, and we perform each step in turn to set a new course.  And a new resolution is just like setting a new course.

12 thoughts on “Pressing Restart”

  1. I purchased Let Me Go and found it very helpful …understanding there are tools inbedded in scripture to set us free made me love and appreciate our Creator even more…many thanks for sharing tools to help us all in ancient Jewish wisdom. You have been a blessing to me.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Dan–
      Thanks for your kind words. We both find it enormously encouraging when people confirm that our products and resources enhance lives.

      1. Yes thank you very much for sharing Ancient Jewish Wisdom. Your ministry saved my life and I too purchased let me go and it is very helpful and encouraging. Thanks again

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          So good to hear this from you, Janet,
          thanks for writing. Onwards and upwards

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing, Dan,
      Hearing that our work enhances lives is so encouraging.

  2. Lauren L. Thomson

    I thoroughly enjoyed your much needed thought tool. My husband and I frequently use the phrase when we face challenges or roadblocks, ” If it wasn’t for Pharaoh, we would still be in Egypt.” Thank you for reminding us to start the new year on its journey ( a God centric journey) and not sit comfy in that doldrum.

  3. I am a 65 year old Christian, and I have resolved to honor the least teachings or Commandments, such as not eating pork or seafood without fins or scales. Also, I will no longer hang fir trees in my living room at Christmas. What other suggestions do you have for ways I should honor the God of Abraham?

    Happy New Year to you and your family.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Sherwin–
      Thanks for writing but you violated a cardinal rule by stating your age! You see, we deal with matters of the spirit more than those of the body and consequently, age is entirely irrelevant. Try making one day a week devoted to no technology just enjoying the company of family and friends, and communing with God while avoiding creating economic work.

      1. I believe I heard from your teachings that a very important theme in Torah is the Lord promoting the separating of death and life in all aspects of our lives. Since all people are made in the Lord’s image, we should only eat animals who eat living things like grass and leaves, such as cows, sheep, goats and 3ven grass eating insects. Animals who eat debris, garbage or dead things, commonly called scavengers, should not be eaten by people because that would violate the admonishment of the Lord to separate Life and Death. This makes sense to me. I am quite certain that this is why our Lord gave this instruction to Moses, and that we should follow this teaching to please Him, and to suppress our earthly appetites. What is your thinking in this regard?

  4. Just what I needed to hear today! As a youngster I spent many a Sunday afternoon crewing in a small sailboat, running before the nonexistent wind with my foot on the boom to hold it out. You map across to Egypt and the Ten Commandments. I gather that “Egypt” is from the Hebrew Mizraim: shut in, restraint, misery, tribulation, distress, material consciousness. We have quite a few adventures ahead of us in order to get out of Egypt and stay out. New year, fresh start. Thanks for your ABCs.

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