Being the Grown-Up
Sometimes our challenge is to maintain perspective in the face of the excitement (or the frustration) of the moment in which we find ourselves. One of the most difficult parts of parenting is resisting the urge to get caught up in our kids’ emotions. We love them. We feel their highs and their lows – and that’s when the difficulty kicks in.
The metzora, in our double parshiyot of Tazria and Metzora, is diagnosed with a spiritual malady brought about by his or her inability to properly relate to other people: the rabbis explain that one “caught” tzara’at for slandering or committing a similar injustice to others. The punishment (and cure) was seven days of exile from the camp, only after which one would be re-examined. The Talmud in Arachin explains that although those with other ritual impurities could remain in the camp, since the metzora’s evil speech caused rifts between people, he or she must suffer his or her own rift and endure a mini-exile – during which, presumably, the sinner could reflect on any misdeeds.
But after a clean bill of health is granted and the metzora returns to the camp, one must endure another seven days of reflection while sitting outside one’s tent: ve-yashav me-chutz le-ohalo shivat yamim. A friend once suggested that these additional seven days provide what Anton Ego, Ratatouille’s restaurant critic, calls “some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective.”
Parents and teachers also need to pull back and avoid getting mired up in our kids’ pathos. Psychologist Lisa Damour, in her new book The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents, explains that by remaining calm, we model that there are ways to get through the strong emotional reactions that our children are experiencing in the moment. We have to show them that there’s perspective, that this is a long game; in short, we need to be the grown-ups.
The Seder reminds us of the constant pull between the two poles of our immediate emotions and the calm of the 10,000-foot perspective, or what management guru Ronald Heifetz calls “getting on the balcony. “ (This, he writes, was part of Magic Johnson’s greatness as a basketball player and Bobby Orr’s as a hockey player.) We eat bitter herbs a few moments after declaring that in every generation we have enemies; we evaluate the specific number of plagues, then later run through the symbolic significance of the numbers one through thirteen.
I heard (and then retold) the story this week of the 1982 meeting between Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and New York Mayor Ed Koch. Koch proudly told Rabbi Lau that he too – like Rabbi Lau – was a survivor of the Shoah. When a confused Rabbi Lau asked the Bronx-born Koch what he meant, Hizzoner explained that on a trip to Germany, he had seen a globe that had been taken from Adolf Hitler’s office. Each country on the globe had a number etched on it: the number of Jews in that country. Hitler’s plan was to eliminate all the numbers in every country on the planet. Rabbi Lau explained that Mayor Koch had given him a new perspective: we are all survivors.
As we think of those we’ve lost and look forward to celebrating seventy-five years of our beloved State of Israel, we can focus on widening our perspective, not getting caught up in the drama, and being the grown-ups that our kids need us to be.