As the fall term comes to an end, it is fitting that we read the final parshah of Sefer Bereishit (Genesis).

Much of parshat Vayechi consists of blessings that Ya’akov offers to each of his children prior to his death. Ya’akov offers these blessings in Egypt, where the family now resides and where Yosef has become a great leader. After Ya’akov passes away, Yosef’s brothers approach him with trepidation. With their father gone, they fear that he will punish them out of revenge for the way they treated him in the past. They approach Yosef and ask for forgiveness. He weeps at their request and then comforts them.

The Torah says that Yosef “spoke to their heart” and assured them that he would protect them. Yosef allowed himself to be emotional and this helped him receive his brothers’ emotions.  

At Heschel, much of our staff professional development focuses on the topic of self-regulation. We have learned that one of the key features of self-regulation is the ability to be aware of our own emotional states as a prerequisite to being aware of the emotional states of our students. For example, if a student does something that makes me frustrated or upset, I cannot respond well to that student unless I am aware of my own feelings and am able to regulate them. Only then can I consider if the way the student was feeling might have led to his or her action in the first place.  

Understanding our students’ emotional states can go a long way in understanding them as learners: what excites them and what inhibits their learning. 

Yosef provides a great model of emotional intelligence for parents and teachers. Step one, acknowledge your own feelings; step two, try to understand the emotional states of the people with whom you interact. 

This Shabbat, and especially at this time of uncertainty and challenge, may we all have an opportunity to practice “speaking to the heart”—to our own hearts and to the hearts of others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Moreh Greg