The Push-Pull of Emotions

Rachel Greenwald
General Studies

In Parashat Toldot, we learn that Rebekah and Isaac’s prayers are answered when she becomes pregnant with twins. During her pregnancy, Rebekah feels the babies “struggling” within her and God tells her that “two nations” are in her womb. We go on to learn that her babies are Jacob and Esau, two very different brothers, who certainly don’t get along. Esau is a hunter, a rough-and-tumble man of the great outdoors; he is loved by his father, to whom he brings game; Jacob, loved by his mother, is a much gentler, softer “inside” man who “abides in tents” — interpreted as studying God’s law.

The story of Esau and Jacob is not merely a story about two brothers who fought with each other; it can be interpreted as a parable about two conflicting forces in our lives. The drama unfolding between Jacob and Esau is a timeless tale continuously occurring in each of our hearts and lives. Their story is not only a physical one that occurs at a specific moment in history; it can also be seen as a mirror reflecting our lives.

This physical internal struggle which Rebekah experiences brings to mind the internal struggles that our students (and we adults) sometimes experience. When children try something new at school or at home, they often feel a confusing mixture of excitement and nerves. At times, they may even experience seemingly contradictory emotions: On the last day of school, for example, they may feel sad that the year is over but happy that summer has arrived.  

When I ask my students how they feel about something, they will often reply, “Fine” or “Okay.”  During our Third-Grade morning meeting, we often talk about what it is like to simultaneously feel different emotions, and if it is possible to feel two distinctly opposite emotions at the same time.  The students are eager to share their own stories, such as feeling nervous and also excited on the first day of school, or feeling scared when visiting the doctor to receive a shot, but relieved once it’s over. 

It is important that we educators not only give our students a “safe space” to share their emotions and experiences, but the vocabulary to express it. It can be very reassuring for a child, who may be experiencing a negative emotion (frustration, fear, anger), to discover that his or her friends are feeling the same emotions. Of course, students also love to share their excitement and enthusiasm about positive experiences.  

Last week, we brainstormed different words we can use to more clearly express our emotions, rather than relying on more commonplace, go-to adjectives of “happy” or “sad.”  Working together, the students developed a list of words to describe how they felt. They added some very descriptive words to their vocabulary such as aggravated and ecstatic, and it is my goal to encourage them to use these words to interpret their own emotions and, as a result, to continue to enrich their creative writing through expressive detail and adjectives.

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