Teenagers have a pretty bad rap in the world, because they routinely drive their parents completely bonkers. I’ve also had occasions where I had to get in my car and drive to the beach (at 10.30pm in the winter, and the beach is an hour and a half away…) because one of my teenagers was driving me so bananas.
Recently, I was pondering on just why teenagers are so hard for their parents to handle (green hair notwithstanding) and it came to me that it’s because:
a) They can articulate their ideas pretty well now;
b) They aren’t afraid to tackle ‘injustice’ and to tell the truth, even when it means they could get into trouble;
c) They keep showing me what a hypocrite I am.
And that last one is the most annoying, because I like to pretend to myself that after 43 years of life, and ‘inner work’, and making some sort of effort to improve that I’ve actually fixed most of my issues.
But then, my 16 year old, or my 13 year old, comes along, and they shine a huge floodlight into those darkest recesses of my soul - and then also broadcast all the cack they just found to the general public.
For example, yesterday was Yom HaZikaron, or Remembrance Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers. In keeping with my ongoing general identity crisis, I have a shita now of not standing in silent attention when the siren goes off (unless I’m in a public place where not doing that could upset other people) and instead, reading tehillim for the souls of the departed instead.
That works for me, but when my husband disappeared off to the beit midrash (as he does most nights) to go and learn some Torah as the celebrations for Yom HaAtzmaut began, my youngest let me have it:
“God gave us Israel and you’re not even grateful for it! You don’t care about all the people who died so we could live here. Who cares that they were chiloni?! (secular). We needed them so we could live here! We need people in the army! I don’t hold by you anymore!”
Of course, I have answers to all these things. I have responses to make, and ‘logical arguments’ to put forth. But I hold by the principle that God uses my teenagers to give me some very profound, and often uncomfortable messages.
So I took her point (initially, just to get her out of my face), and then a little later, I realized that she was right: I AM still a bit ungrateful that I live here, and I don’t appreciate the self-sacrifice of other Jews enough, who send their sons to the army, and who moved their families to malarial swamps and barren deserts.
It’s so easy for me to get caught up in a black and white response to things that I perceive as ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ - like anti-God secular Zionism, for example - that sometimes I forget that God wants me to keep seeing the good as much as possible, even in those dark places.
Sure, the secular Zionists cut off Sephardi kids’ payot, and waged an awful campaign against religious observance. Sure, there’s still so much moral corruption and straight-up evil going on behind closed doors in the State of Israel.
There’s still some good in there, too, that God clearly wants me to properly acknowledge and recognize, and He’s using my teens to bring that to my attention.
Sometimes, this ongoing balancing act is pretty hard. It would be so much easier to just ‘belong’ to a defined group with defined rules and defined ‘enemies’, and not have to think for myself so much about what God really wants from me.
But that option is not on the table. Each time I’ve tried to sink into comfortable ‘group think’, I’ve had an exploding teenager, or a serious health issue, or some other crisis develop to push me out of the comfort zone again.
My daughter really taught me yesterday that I have no right to look down on people who do stand in silence for a minute on Remembrance Day, even though that’s not my path. And that celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut - loudly, with live music and parties, and all the rest of the things you’re not meant to do during the Omer - is not a terrible sin, and could really be a big mitzvah.
When Moshiach shows up, I guess we’ll finally find out what we’re really meant to be doing on Yom HaAtzmaut. But in the meantime, what I’m meant to be doing is showing some gratitude and appreciation for my fellow Jews, even if they don’t believe what I believe, or act the way I act.
And that’s why teenagers - when properly understood and appreciated - can be the single best impetus for character refinement and personal growth known to man. If they don't kill you first.