“J-J-J-Joseph, you know what they say!” Ah, the memories so many of us have, singing all the hits from the musical, “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” While many of us have trouble even remembering what we ate for dinner last week, if you ask us to recite the colors of Joseph’s coat we can spout off in an instant:
“It was red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve and cream and crimson and silver and rose and azure and lemon and russet and grey and purple and white and…….” well, you know the rest.
The story of Joseph seems so fun when looking at it through the lens of a Broadway show, but when reading this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, we can see that it is way deeper than what can be put into song.
The story is a family therapist’s nightmare. Jacob has multiple sons yet must choose one of them to carry on his legacy. Joseph is a qualified overachiever who is not mature enough to keep his thoughts and dreams from his brothers, even when they are literally about his superiority over them. Joseph’s brothers are united in many ways, especially through their disdain for their brother and their father’s favoritism toward him. We also must consider the times.
This was not a time where we could show our disdain by blocking someone on social media or tweeting about them on Twitter. Joseph’s brothers came together and devised their master plan. “Rather than kill our brother, let’s sell him!” “Then, let’s trick our father (who we love so dearly), by making it APPEAR that Joseph was attacked by an animal, by pouring animal’s blood onto Joseph’s coat and taking it back to our father.”
Now that we have relived the story, I’d like to go back to the original statement. Many of us learned the complexities of Joseph’s story through a musical, embracing dancing, music, and fun songs. In musicals, we often seek to escape the troubles of our everyday lives for entertainment. However, theater has evolved over time and is now used as a sounding board for serious topics and messages that our teens and our communities face today. Dear Evan Hansen, Come from Away, RENT and so many more have tackled complexities of our current world. Imagine if Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat went even deeper into the minds of the characters in the play. When bible stories in musicals do not give us the full picture, we can always turn to our Temple Jeremiah community to help us see the real picture and lead us into even deeper discussions.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with our scholar in residence, Scott Fried, about his connections to the musical RENT. He shared with me some of his words that literally were put into a character based on him in the musical. I saw the story of RENT in a completely new light, and it added meaning to the play I grew up loving as a teen. While we don’t have these biblical characters here today, I encourage everyone to have these same discussions with our clergy and staff to gain similar perspectives into our bible stories.