As we come to end of the first term, it is beshert that we also read the final parshah of Sefer Bereishit (Genesis). Much of the Parshat Vayechi is comprised of blessings that Ya’akov offers to each of his children prior to his death. The blessings take place in Egypt, where the family now resides, and where Yosef has become a great leader. After Ya’akov passes away, the rest of the brothers approach Yosef 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. Yosef weeps at their request. Then he comforts them. The Torah says that he “spoke to their heart” and assured them that he would protect them. Yosef allowed himself to be emotional, and this helped him respond to the emotions of his brothers.
At Heschel, our staff focus a lot of their professional development 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 pre-requisite to being aware of the emotional states of our students. If a student does something that makes me frustrated or upset, I cannot really respond well to that student unless I am aware of my own feelings and can 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 blocks them from 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 state of the person with whom you are interacting.
This Shabbat may we all have an opportunity to practice “speaking to the heart,” to our own hearts, and to the hearts of others.