There is an obligation as stated in the haggadah, "B'chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatzah miMitzrayim" "In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt." (Pesachim 116b). As it says in Shemot 13:8 “And, you shall explain to your son on that day that it is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt.” One must imagine oneself as experiencing the Exodus. This brought to mind an article I recently read in Time Magazine by Joel Stein "Inside the Box" on the world of virtual reality that is upon us.
Stein spent some months going to virtual reality conferences and interviewing scientists involved in virtual reality techonologies. Yes, one can experience climbing a mountain in virtual reality, or one fly a plane. One can even feel motion sickness. Google has set up a virtual-reality program called Expeditions where classes can go on a virtual field trip and never leave the building. As a psychologist, the work of Xavier Palomer Ripoll interested me. He created animated situations that allow therapists to use with immersion therapy to treat anxiety disorders. "'They currently use imagination. They hold a picture of a plane and they say, 'Imagine you're in a plane.'" Using Ripoll's work a person can actually feel like he is on a plane. But, as a psychologist, I'm not exactly sure I like the use of virtual reality for therapy. What happened to good old fashioned imagination?
Jeremy Bailenson founded Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab in 2003. "He runs psychological experiments where people become aged versions of themselves to help them save for retirement; in a video how to deal with harassment, the user can become a young black woman being interviewed by an old white guy. After people fly like a superhero and deliver medicine to a sick child, they are more helpful when an assistant pretends to accidentally drop her stuff in the hallway...VR, he believes, is an empathy machine and should be saved for that purpose." I'm not sure about this one either. Why do we need an empathy machine? Why can't we simply imagine the pain and feelings of the other without a “machine”?
Virtual reality technology is incredible, but I worry when we depend on it to relay social/emotional skills. I feel that the increasing use of such technology takes the place of encouraging the development of imagination in our children.
Imagination is the key to success, as one can see that most successful people in life have vivid imaginations. The greatest inventions of all time are the result of imagination. Imagination is also the key to finding creative solutions to problems. It is fundamental to many aspects of cognitive development- creativity, cooperation, leadership, problem solving and even developing a good memory. According to Dr. Rosa Aekler and Janet Stanford, in their article “Imagination: The Gift That Keeps On Giving,” imagination allows us
- To envision what doesn't yet exist, but could become possible.
- To come close to experiencing alternative realities without risk.
- To rehearse goals we will attempt to achieve.
- To visualize solutions to problems.
- To test a hypothesis in our mind.
- To fulfill wishes and obtain gratification.”
Children need to learn the ability to "creating pictures in their mind's eye that help them learn how to reach a desired goal," says Dr. Charlotte Reznick, author of The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How To Transform Stress And Anxiety Into Joy And Success. We all know of the healing power of play for children where they enact scenarios from their real lives. It also helps them with empathy, as they can play the roles of others. Research on preschoolers indicated that the more TV they watched, the less imaginative they were. Television, for teens as well, needs to be paired with discussion, reading and critical thinking.
One example of the importance of imagination to success is Dr. Reznick's view of the importance of imagination for success in sports. To combat thoughts like "I'll never be perfect" or "I'm afraid I'll let my teammates down" positive visualization techniques are essential. Some basic steps the involve one's imagination are: 1. Concentrate on the feeling that gives you confidence. Imagine what it looks like. Which is bigger- fear or confidence? 2. Then imagine filling one's whole body with confidence. 3. Have a chat with whatever fear is left. Ask him what he is afraid of and what it needs form confidence. 4. Imagine a calming place. Invite an "imaginary friend" to encourage you. 5. Imagine in one's head each part of the action you want to accomplish. 6. Imagine being a spectator and what it looks like to see oneself succeed. 7. Visualize success using as many senses as possible- For example, when making a foul shot, what does the ball feel like? What sounds do you hear? What is the taste in your mouth? Smells in the gym? 8. Make sure to see success. When going up to bat, see yourself hitting that ball. 9. Use positive language when visualizing, “I can do it!”
In this world of technology, children spend most of their days paying attention to outside stimulation and little time paying attention to what is “inside,” which is essential for development of self-soothing, intuition and deep inner trust. Dr. Reznick said that it is imperative that parents make a "time to go 'inside' rather than 'outside' for information, stimulation, entertainment and knowledge for their children. “I often tell kids that as much as there is on the outside, when they shut their eyes, relax, breathe slowly and deeply, connect to their 'inner computer' and let their imagination fly, they can go places they never before imagined." She suggests that children need to take 3-5 minute breaks during technology use.
In today's world, there is no need to be creative or use one's imagination as one can simply google solutions to any issue. Sitting around playing video games, watching television all day, does not do much for one's imagination.
How often do our children say, "I'm bored?" Boredom can be constructive or destructive, as an opportunity to get into trouble. Sergio Diazgranados in his article on teenagers and boredom states, "Boredom plays such an imperative role in the growth of your teenager as it allows them to solidify their relationship with their imagination." When one is bored, if one is able to take initiative and come up with something that is considered a sought after skill when it comes to careers. But, when feeling bored, our teens often run to technology, not allowing themselves to feel boredom. “Boredom is recognized as a gateway to creativity, so if we can't be alone with ourselves and are unable to tolerate a lack of stimuli then we actually block out the opportunity to feel boredom and the possible creative thinking that comes out of that.”
We know that there are certain communities where they actually wrap matzah in a sack, and toss it over their shoulders. They may even have seder participants call out "Where are you from?" "Mitzrayim," they answer. "Where are you going?" "Yerushalayim." The actual enacting of the event is one way to trigger the imagination so that one can see oneself as leaving.
I am often grateful for the opportunity to take my teens to a shiur on Shabbat- when there are no smartboards, videos or interactive technologies. They must simply listen, imagine, contemplate and create with their minds. It is quite a challenge for many young people, and adults in today's world, but an essential skill.
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb in his article, “Imagine That!” points out the difficulty that some have in fulfilling the mitzvah of seeing oneself as leaving Egypt. In fact, he told the story of a young rabbi he heard state that he sees this mitzvah as impossible to do. He then quoted the words he once heard from the Klausenberger rebbe, Rabbi Halberstam, who was a Holocaust survivor. Rabbi Halberstam said that before the war his mentor, (whose name Rabbi Weinreb could not recall), told him that he had no difficulty imagining himself being a slave in Egypt. In fact, he could clearly remember being there- the “burdensome work...the sighs and groans of his companions. He could even still see, in his mind's eye, the cruel face of his tormentors as they sadistically whipped him for not producing his daily quota of bricks.” The rebbe said there are two psychological processes needed for fulfillment of the mitzvah seder night- koach hadimyon- imagination and empathy. But, what the rebbe added was, “we are often restricted by our own tendencies to rely upon our reason, rationality and intellectuality. We underplay the powers we have to fantasize, to imagine, to dream freely. In a sense, we are slaves to reason and need to learn to allow ourselves to go beyond reason and to give our imagination free rein.” Rabbi Weinreb shared these words of the rebbe with the young rabbi, who responded, “But, the Klausenberger rebbe didn't say that learning to imagine and to empathize were easy.”
The Pesach seder is replete with parenting and education pointers. One of which is the importance of fostering one's imagination. This is a parenting task that we can work on all throughout the year- although not an easy one. On seder night, parents and children must work at it, as for now, virtual reality is still muktza on Yom Tov and we must still use our old-fashioned, yet rewarding imagination.
Sixth Grade- Sixth graders set goals for the third trimester of the year. They also began a unit on cell phone safety.
Seventh Grade- Students were introduced to the BDS movement and how Israel is presented unfairly and unjustly.
Eighth Grade- Students discussed their experience with the Holocaust play.