By Dr. H. David Burstein Nov. 2012

One of the great moments in Jewish life occurs at the Passover seder when the youngest child stands up and asks the question “Why is this night different from all other nights?

It is not the sophistication of the question, but the very act of having the question asked that is important. Slaves are not allowed to ask questions. That a child gives the initial spark to get the dialogue going in retelling a story that is 3500 years old indicates the centrality of freedom in Judaism.

While the seder does provide answers to the question, maybe the best I ever received as to “Why is this night different? was the simple yet profound one “Because it can be! Just because something was yesterday, does not mean it has to be that way today.

My last article discussed how the Jews invented linear history as opposed to cylindrical (repeating). It seems that linear thinking presents a better chance of improvement than circular thinking. Business tells us to “think out of the box. Since nature abhors a straight line I think of the imagery of “think out of the cocoon to be more apt for everyday life.

Imagine that a caterpillar would spin a cocoon that is so tight, that the butterfly could not escape it. What is so insidious about hitting ones head against a concave wall is that it is a glancing blow that deflects you off in another direction just to repeat the same thought or action and spin an even tighter web.

Two big problems with negative thinking in a cocoon is that many do not recognize it and it promotes a self fulfilling prophecy. If someone chooses to think negative, they will only see the negative. As Jesus said in “Seek and ye shall find.

However, there is also the negative aspect of only positive thinking. If we only see the good in something, we fail to see that things can actually be better. And the Bible even teaches this idea to us in how Moses had to deal with the Hebrews who seemed to like the safety, the few comforts and predictability of slavery than the challenge of freedom. We have to recognize how to use the energy of gratitude to move us forward. And even though there is a certain admiration to be able to turn lemons into lemonade, we still are dealing with lemons.

A challenge of freedom is to recognize that we are not slaves to how we thought yesterday.

How do we think? A slave thinks about what he has to do in order to be fed, to get some sleep and repeats this survivalist behavior day after day. Whether imposed by outside forces or our own negative behavior and thoughts patterns, many people think that things cannot change.

Slavery is not just about physical existence, but those things that are holding us back from reaching our potential. How we choose to think sets us up for follow up action.

There is nothing wrong with seeing what happens when we change the direction of our thought patterns.

For the sake of a brief discussion, I would like to present four patterns of thought that we should not be afraid to explore. Consider the possibilities.

  1. linear but in the opposite direction
  2. figurative rather than literal
  3. collateral rather than straight
  4. recognize the kaleidoscope

1) What is wrong with going the other way with our linear thinking? As Richard Saul Wurman in book “Information Anxiety points out that the whole word processing revolution occurred because one day someone asked the question about typewriters “Why is it that the paper moves and the letters hit the same place. What would happen if we did the opposite, have the paper stay still and the letters move across the page?

2) What is wrong with choosing to read something figuratively rather than a literal approach and try to learn something? This happened to me in Bible study in retelling the story in Exodus2:12 where Moses saw the Egyptian smiting a Hebrew. He looked around and saw no “man and he then smote the Egyptian. Maybe the story is teaching us that Moses looked around and did not see any Hebrew who was “man enough to come to the defence of a fellow Hebrew. One of the lessons to be learned is that in to be a man means to stand up for justice, and one has to be “free of the threat of tyrants. It is not easy.

3) What is wrong with collateral thinking? We may think of doing something for certain reason, but just veering off the intended linear pathway can bring a new experience. An interesting occurrence for me happened when I was going to celebrate the wedding of a friends son. Did I know an hour before going that I was going to bump into an old friend from summer camp who was invited by the brides family. The reminiscing about good times would prove to be as joyful as celebrating the marriage itself.

(Dentally thinking, how great do we feel when we are able to fill a lateral canal in obturating a root canal.)

4) Israeli Professor Gabriel Ben Dor presented an imagery of how we choose to look at the world to looking through a kaleidoscope. You can take the exact same set of facts, but even the slightest turn can present a whole new picture and different understanding.

Change is not easy. An answer to the often asked question as to why it took 40 years to get to Israel after the exodus from Egypt is because the slave mentality had to die before the Hebrews could enter the promised land.

It is not just the questions we ask, but where do we look for our answers.

One of the many lessons of the Bible is that we are created in the image of God. We are endowed with God-like abilities to think and imagine. And God said “Let there be light. There was darkness and then there was light. There is slavery and there is freedom. The movement from one to the other often starts with how we choose to think.