Cognitive Pearl #082 Sivan 4, 5775 May 22, 15


With Shavuot upon us, two ideas have been rolling around my head, ideas that I think are super important in our work as healers and teachers.

The first  idea is about trying new things, making mistakes, and then picking up the pieces to make an even more beautiful masterpiece. The Torah is shockingly candid about mistakes. While the purveyors of super-hero fiction (and many so-called Gedolim biographies) would like us to believe that heroes are flawless, the Torah gives us permission to embrace the reality of our imperfect-perfect existence and to dance with it. Even Hashem, with all of His abilities, could not stop us from messing up just 40 days after the greatest moment in human history. We made a Golden Calf, an epic mess which we’re still cleaning up to this day.


Yet Hashem didn’t throw in the towel. He gave us and Him another chance to make it work. And it did. Just look at how far we’ve come.

The second idea is a bit more ‘cognitivy’. In my spare time I’ve been reading a lot about non-symbolic cognition. Think of how a dog might view the meat counter in a supermarket. He sees (or smells) the meat but little else. Unless there’s a predator present, everything but the meat is invisible to him because it has no symbolic value. At least to a dog. Among our species, non-symbolic cognition is a hallmark of clinical depression; the severely depressed individual looks at a world of grey, flatness, and lacking any symbolic contours. While we see energy, beauty, and opportunity he sees blankness.

What’s this got to do with Shavuot? Well we’re told that Hashem forced the Torah on us through brute coercion. The Midrash uses the phrase, ‘He held a the mountain like a barrel over them’.

This first iteration didn’t work out as planned; we relapsed into our idolatrous roots. The reason that I think we failed is that we were unable to see what we were being given; it was invisible to us. The glory of the Mitzvot had no symbolic gravitas to us.


We were still thinking in ‘Egyptian’, with its pyramidical distributions of power, and soul crushing ideology of meaningless dispensable cogs in someone else’s dreams. Hashem’s idea of unbounded spirit, unchained from the gravity of materialism seemed ridiculously invisible. To paraphrase the words of Eric Fromm, we tried to escape from our own freedom.

The take away is that not only did the Jewish people need to be deprogrammed so that they could fully embrace the Mitzvot, our clients do as well. While we don’t have any mountains to hold over their heads, we can use our creativity, example, and our skillfulness to evoke the dormant human spirit. 

Chag Samayach everyone!