Cognitive Pearl #058 Nisan 17, 5775 April 5, 15

A few nights ago, we began our seder with a question: why is this night different than all other nights?

It’s fascinating to observe that out of all the questions that the seder could have begun with, the Rabbis saw fit to begin with a question about deviations. After all, ‘mah nishtana’ is a question that flows from an observation of difference from a norm.

Perhaps the Rabbis, intent on designing a seder centered around educating our children, understood that pattern recognition is one of the earliest cognitive skills evident in the developing child. Pattern recognition has been observed in infants as young as four months (although if you ask me, my children had their mother and father figured out from the get go). For the Rabbis, this pattern recognition could be leveraged for new learnings;  by tickling a child’s sense of order, he or she child will perk up and learn new ideas.

For me however, as a cognitive therapist who spends his days and nights helping people find their ways out their own personal Egypt, ‘mah nishtana’ is a powerful tool. Our clients are too often so numb to the misery that they fail to notice how it affects them and how to get out of it. When we start questioning the ‘normal’, we jar our clients to begin thinking again about their lives and the stories which have imprisoned them in it. 

And that’s the first step towards freedom.

Chag Samayach to all!