As we prepare for Pesach, we are reminded of the Mishna in Pesachim 116b which states, "Chayav adam lirot et atzmo ke-ilu hu yatza me-mitzraim -one is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt." Based on this mishna, Pesach is the holiday of empathy- where we imagine what it would be like to be slaves in Egypt. The Rambam’s text has a different version as he states, "Chayav adam le-harot et atzmo ke-ilu hu yatza me-mitzraim - one is obligated to show himself as if he left Egypt." We know that based on these words of the Rambam, some actually act out the Exodus, as they parade around the table with matzot on their backs. They actually “pretend” to leave Mitzrayim. This play acting is perhaps to make that empathy even easier. Is it hard to truly feel something unless you have been through it yourself. As free American Jews we have a difficult time relating to the slavery, and fulfilling the obligation to “see oneself as if he left Egypt.” But, if we physically act out their pain, we can empathize more easily.
This difference between the mishna in Pesachim and the Rambam is similar to the discussion the 8th graders went through this past week in Advisory. This unit is about the changing Parent-Child relationship they are now encountering as they enter adolescence. As part of this unit we show clips from the movie “Freaky Friday.” In “Freaky Friday,” a teenager (Anna), and her mother simply cannot get along. It is clear that they do not understand each other- they cannot empathize with each other’s position. Mom cannot understand how the Anna can get in trouble in school, be disrespectful or fight with her brother. Anna cannot understand how mom needs to discipline her, and how Mom would like her to make her upcoming wedding a priority over Anna’s music band. When they go out to eat in an Asian restaurant one of the owners witnesses their inability to understand each other and puts a “spell” over them. The next morning, each wakes up in the body of the other- they have literally switched places. In the next days, Anna begins to understand the pressures her mother has, and Mom begins to understand the challenges faced by Anna.
In essence, the challenge of every parent-teen relationship is the “obligation” to “see oneself as if he himself was a teen/parent.” A mother must be able to empathize with her teen’s experiences, and a teen must be able to empathize how difficult it is to be a parent. Only with the true empathy can the relationship flourish. “Freaky Friday” maintains that they only way to do so is to actually live the life of the other- the Rambam’s view, as it is truly hard to feel something unless you have gone through it yourself.
Chances are, (or hopefully), none of us will wake up tomorrow morning in the body of our teen. So, how can we “l’harot et atzmainu ke’ilu hayinu” teenagers? (A bit of poetic license there!) Well, the good news is that if we dig deep back into the recesses of our minds- we actually were teenagers at one point. Yes, there are facets of that life that we have blocked out of memory, but some of it we can recall. Every so often when engaged in a struggle with our teens, we need to take a step back and say, “Hey. I was a teenager too. What did it feel like to feel when I was his age?” That is one path to empathy. The ability to see the perspective of the other- without having to actually switch bodies. For now, teens themselves have a hard time with empathy, as even neurologically they are just beginning to have the ability to empathize. We, therefore, as parents need to help them see the perspective of others. We do this by continually highlighting in a casual way how the other is feeling.
Or, maybe on the next “movie night”, you and your teen should watch “Freaky Friday” together- (I cannot vouch for the appropriateness of the whole movie, as I only show clips-so you probably want to check it out first). After the movie, having a chat about what it’s like to switch places is probably the second best thing to actually waking up in the body of the other.
6th Grade- Students discussed different “friendship problems” and some possible ways to solve them.
7th Grade- Students highlighted one reason why people tend not to stand up to injustice- the fear of “snitching.” Does such fear exist among us?
8th Grade- Continuing the parent-teen relationships unit, students discussed segments of “Freaky Friday” and the importance of perspective taking.