Posts Tagged 'Vayigash'

The Hard Work and Luck of Our Expedition: Today in History

Norwegian Roald Amundsen, born in Borge, near Oslo, in 1872, was one of the great figures in polar exploration. In 1897, he was first mate on a Belgian expedition that was the first ever to winter in the Antarctic. In 1903, he guided the 47-ton sloop Gjöa through the Northwest Passage and around the Canadian coast, the first navigator to accomplish the treacherous journey. Amundsen planned to be the first man to the North Pole, and he was about to embark in 1909 when he learned that the American Robert Peary had achieved the feat.

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Amundsen completed his preparations and in June 1910 sailed instead for Antarctica, where the English explorer Robert F. Scott was also headed with the aim of reaching the South Pole. In early 1911, Amundsen sailed his ship into Antarctica’s Bay of Whales and set up base camp 60 miles closer to the pole than Scott. In October, both explorers set off–Amundsen using sleigh dogs, and Scott employing Siberian motor sledges, Siberian ponies, and dogs. On December 14, 1911, 107 years ago today, Amundsen’s expedition won the race to the Pole and returned safely to base camp in late January.

Scott’s expedition was less fortunate. The motor sleds broke down, the ponies had to be shot, and the dog teams were sent back as Scott and four companions continued on foot. On January 18, 1912, they reached the pole only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by over a month. Weather on the return journey was exceptionally bad–two members perished–and a storm later trapped Scott and the other two survivors in their tent only 11 miles from their base camp. Scott’s frozen body was found later that year.

What made Amundsen succeed and Scott fail has been the subject of much analysis. I learned about them in Jim Collins’ Great By Choice. Collins points out the importance of the 20 Mile March. No matter what happened Amundsen and his team would always aim to do 20 miles every day, no more and no less. In comparison Scott and his team would not go certain days if the conditions were too tough and go too far if the conditions were good. Amundsen’s rigor and discipline ensured his success.

I think a lot about the Amundsen’s rigor and discipline when I think about our collective resilience throughout Jewish history. What has helped this small tribe of people survive let alone thrive against the harsh terrain of hardship, conquest and plagues of history?

There are surly many answers but for me one of them comes this week’s Torah portion. Here we see Yosef confront his brothers. There we read:

Then Yosef said to his brothers, “Come forward to me.” And when they came forward, he said, “I am your brother Yosef, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.
It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling.
God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.” ( Genesis 45:4-7)

Yosef could have been stuck being in isolation or in anger of his brothers who sold him into slavery. Instead he decided to see it as God’s plan for him. He was “supposed to be in Egypt” in order to save them. That is a nice explanation for their behavior, but not his. Yosef worked really hard every day in Egypt to get to his position. My parents used to tell me all the time when I was young, ” The Harder you work, the luckier you get.” The Jewish people, like Amundsen, have had to work pretty hard throughout our expedition through history and we are pretty lucky.

-borrowed from Today in History 

 

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Confluent Education: The Wagons of Learning

I have spent most of my life thinking about and trying to craft optimal educational experiences. Recently I have come to realize that much of this work revolves around the ideal of Confluent Education. “Confluent” refers to the process of holistic learning, involving body, mind, emotion and spirit. In educational settings the term is used to describe methods for teaching traditional subjects such as math, science, social studies, reading, language arts, physical education and fine arts by applying effective, introspective, intuitive, body/mind, movement, and kinesthetic types of activities to the lessons being taught. In this process the students learn about themselves and others in a deep way at the same time they are learning the traditional subject matter.

I was thinking about this in the context of Parshat Yayigash, this week’s Torah portion. After Yosef reveals himself and saves his brothers, Pharoah sends wagons to bring Yaakov to Egypt to evade the drought.  There we read:

And they ( Yosef’s brothers’s) told him ( Yaakov), saying: ‘Yosef is yet alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart fainted, for he believed them not. And they told him all of Yosef’s words that he had said to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to carry him, and the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived.  (Genesis 45:26-27)

Why does it say that Yosef send the agalot – wagons, if we know it was Pharaoh who sent them? On this Rashi comments that upon seeing the wagons, Yaakov was reminded of eglah arufah (Deuteronomy 21:1), the last Torah topic they learned together. There are many fantastic aspects of Rashi’s idea. One is that there is the word play connecting agalot  to eglah arufah. More interesting is the idea that in the book of Genesis they were reading from the yet to be written book of  Deuteronomy.

For now the part that I find most compelling is the fantastic idea that Yaakov and Yosef had a regular Chevruta in the learning Torah. And what were they learning? They were learning the laws regarding the communal responsibility in the case of a death without a known culprit. Years later this memory seems to reside. This seems to be the gold standard of confluent education. The student had learned about himself and his father in a deep way and at the same time they learned the subject matter. It is also interesting to note that the impact was not limited to the student, it also had restorative power on the teacher. We learn from this Rashi the learning that fused revelation in relevance can even help Yosef reconcile his relationship with his brothers who finally took responsibility for be the culprits in selling into slavery. One challenge of good education is that might take years to see its full impact.


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