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Drash on Parashat Vayeshev 2022

Drash on Parashat Vayeshev     
Rabbi Beni YedidYah Wajnberg
United Hebrew Congregation, Singapore

A human tale of pain and peace

"A crash of drums, a flash of light
My golden coat, flew out of sight
The colours faded into darknessI was left alone”

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber made these words famous on their musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” A testament to the artists’ genius, there have been many productions across the last decades, and across the globe. Although the story of Joseph’s “amazing technicolor dreamcoat” was popularized by the musical, its origins are rooted in our weekly portion, Vayeshev.

We have been following the complicated family dynamics in Genesis all the way through here. Joseph and his brothers’ jealously, anger, and unbrotherly behaviour is no news in a family tree that has few similarities but complex and hurtful relationships. Jacob is placed as preferring Joseph from all of his other children, and gifts him a garment – in Hebrew “Ketonet Pasim” – which in turn brings forth bitterness from the other siblings. To feel unfavoured, unloved and unseen is incredibly painful, and Joseph’s brethren are now hurting.

The beauty of the coat brings a costly price, as the musical’s words above describe. Joseph is left alone. The colours and beauty bring forth loneliness. Aloneness and loneliness are not synonyms. One can be lonely even in the midst of many. We must only visualise rush hour in any metro area. A sea of people doesn’t translate into an abundance of relationships and togetherness. On the other hand, one can be alone but feel connected – to themselves and to their community.

At this point of the story, Joseph is not alone but may well have felt lonely. Relationships were at first fragile, and soon would become hostile. Joseph will be sold into slavery in Egypt. “Only hurt people hurt people,” teaches Lizzie Velasquez, an anti-bullying activist in the United States. Joseph’s brothers, hurting, hurt Joseph back.

Joseph then re-creates himself from a jail in Egypt, proving that perseverance and resilience are fundamental traits of our human experience, and are always within our reach if we have a willing heart. From being alone, he has the opportunity of changing himself, and of eventually gifting his hurting family that same gift. The gift of a fresh start, of an empty canvas for a new technicolor coat to be sewn. This time, together, as a collaboration of each member of the family.

Joseph’s coat becomes a symbol of both beauty and of darkness. Beauty, to be holy, must be shared. Rashi, our medieval commentator, looks into the Hebrew name of the coat – Ketonet Pasim – as an acronym for all of the misadventures that would soon then fall on Joseph. The beautiful coat represented the heavy weight that he was to carry alone, and he did. He would have continued to carry all of his burdens alone, if it weren't for the plot-twist, the arrival at a place of individual and collective healing.

Every story can be continued, every landing pad can be used for take-off. Joseph starts this part of the story hurting, and so do his siblings. But they will eventually reconcile. Adding all colours in our visible spectrum creates white. Joseph and his family add on all colours of the “Technicolor Dreamcoat” to arrive at a blissful and bless-ful white. An omen of peace and purity. When we all come together, and bring our wholehearted wholesome gifts into the mix, we can heal any divide, heal any wound. Jealously, anger, individualism need not be the whole story. Ours, and the Torah’s, are still to be revealed. And we can partner with the Creator, and with each other. We have received this beautiful gift of a technicolour coat. Will we unwrap it?  

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