The Horse Latitudes of Passover

[eJP note: With the length of Passover observance varying depending on residing in Israel or the Diaspora, and our reduced posting schedule this week, the following post appears today – approximately the midpoint between the beginning and end of Passover.]

by Rabbi Louis Feldstein

Today, we are at the exact midpoint between the beginning and end of Passover. The thrill and excitement of the seders has long passed, the taste of matzah has grown bland and the menu list of items in the pantry is stale. For those who observe a Passover related diet for the full holiday, the unique and special feelings associated with Passover are just starting to get a bit exhausting. Four days there were … four days to go. The light at the end of the holiday tunnel is a mere flicker, not yet bright enough to illumine the pizza or Chinese food that awaits us at the end of the holiday.

Hol HaMoed (the days between the Seders and the last) serve as a fascinating metaphor for life and the dynamic changes associated with how we as individuals and organizations experience change. Hol HaMoed is the middle of the marathon, the weight loss plateau, the morass, and the “horse latitudes” that individuals and organizations confront whenever they move from one state of being to another. In every change effort, the initial sense of excitement that is driven by motivation soon fades as we become painfully aware of how much more we have to do to achieve our true objectives.

At the seders we felt an incredible high as we reenacted and relived the exodus from Egypt. But then, after the table was cleared, and the guests had long departed we were met with the reality of just doing and living Passover. Sailors used to call this time, when the wind has died down, the momentum was lost and energy was at its lowest, the “Horse Latitudes”. It is that time during the retreat (usually after lunch) when attention spans are measured in seconds. It is at that time, when Betty White needs that Snickers bar (doesn’t that sound good during Passover).

The “Horse Latitudes” of Passover, Hol HaMoed, is the time when we look ahead, craving the chometz of life, but knowing that to reach that destination we have to keep persevering through the drudgery and discomfort of matzah, matzah, and yes, even more matzah. Change parallels this experience. Yet, successful change efforts also recognize that throughout the process we cannot look just to the end goal but we must also find successes and wins to reignite our enthusiasm and excitement throughout the experience.

During Passover, and in particular the days in between, those wins can be realized through the discovery of a delicious new recipe or Shabbat (as is the case this year). While these may appear on the surface to not be significant, we know from successful change that it isn’t the size of the success that matters, but the recognition that we continue to achieve, grow and change.

Some of us need to lose weight. Others need to become healthier. Some need to perform better in school, others to change jobs. So, too with the organizations we work for or volunteer with. Some need to change how they interact with their clients and/or members; others to reexamine their products. Some need to once again become relevant, others to just be retired. Whether we are speaking about ourselves or organizations the constant remains the same … change.

Change is not easy. Organizational change success is generally less than 20%. New Year’s resolutions are kept by less than 50% of the people after 6 months. The reasons are obvious … change is difficult with the most challenging of times being after the excitement wears off, and the hard work becomes the norm.

HaMoed Pesach – those days of Passover when grabbing a donut would be so easy – help us understand and grasp the lessons of change. We can make it. We can go for just a few more days. We can keep up the change that the holiday demands because we know that the feeling of accomplishment is so grand.

Just a few more days. Don’t give up.

Rabbi Louis Feldstein is the CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, LLC an organizational enhancement and change management consulting firm focused on the nonprofit and faith-based sectors.