Donny Osmond in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
Donny Osmond in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

How Donny Osmond and his ‘Dreamcoat’ figure in Passover’s miracles

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The Torah column is supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.

Pesach: Exodus 12

My 5-year-old recently discovered the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” — the 1999 direct-to-video version starring Donny Osmond. (I hadn’t seen Donny in years, since those tropical, dreamy commercials for Hawaiian Punch that I watched as a kid.)

My child has fallen madly in love with this musical, and watches it whenever possible. Which means I keep hearing the music. Which means I am constantly reminded of my third-grade, school-play version of the musical … in my all-girls’ school!

So, guess who I was? If you said Jacob, our patriarch and aged father of many children, you’d be right. And in that role, I learned almost all of the words to the entire musical. Turns out, I can still sing most of the songs. (In case you were wondering, decades have gone by since I learned all the colors in Joseph’s technicolor coat, and I can honestly say that I’ve never had occasion to use the word ochre. Well, with any luck, it’ll be a Wordle solution one of these days.) 

“Why have you not turned off this silly musical?” you ask.

A very good question.

And here’s my answer: In addition to the fact that it provides hours of entertainment to my child, it is one of the great stories in our people’s history. There are cool dreams, and even the emotional encounter of estranged brothers. There’s deceit and teshuvah (repentance) and even a contemporary #MeToo subplot when Mrs. Potiphar propositions Joseph.

But it’s not only the drama that makes this story musical-worthy.

The Joseph story is the pivotal moment in our people’s history: the Israelites move to Egypt. The rest of our entire story stems from this move — the miracle of our freedom, our partnership with God and, eventually, our arrival in the Land of Israel.

Had Joseph not been sold into slavery and landed in Egypt, had his brothers and all descendants of the 12 Tribes not followed him there, had Joseph not had a dream about the fat and skinny cows. Dayenu! We probably wouldn’t have ended up in Egypt as a people. And had we not ended up in Egypt as a people, we could not miraculously have been saved from there with dramatic passage through a parted sea. Dayenu! We certainly wouldn’t be here now. 

We are beginning the Passover season and the retelling of the story of our people. We focus on baby Moses floating down the river, and all that happened from that point on. Ultimately, we celebrate the miracle of our Exodus from slavery, during a full moon, as the Red Sea parted for us.

But it is also important to ask how we got to Egypt in the first place. And to remember that part of the story, too. 

When we sit down at our seders this year, we will read about the great gift of freedom that we received. We are also commanded to remember where we came from. We must know our history and repeat it each year. We do just that when we come together at a seder table and retell the story of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom.

On Passover, we have special Torah readings that help us fulfill the mitzvah of recounting our miraculous story for the generations. During Passover, we read Exodus 12 — our going out of Egypt.

The Torah teaches us that retelling this story is a critical way to remain connected to the foundational myth that inspires and sustains us. It is at the core of our people’s identity. 

The journey of our Exodus from slavery inspires us throughout the year. 

At the beginning of our seder, I invite everyone to look outside and find the full moon. Passover always begins on a full moon. It’s no coincidence that God took us out of Egypt and into the desert during a full moon (headlamps hadn’t been invented yet!)

This year, take a moment to go outside and look up at the sky. Find the full moon. It reminds us of God’s promise that we would make it through the desert — in every generation.

We are commanded to read the Passover story as if each of us, personally, was freed from slavery. This miracle belongs to each of us. Chag sameach!

Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf
Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf is the senior rabbi at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. She is a participant in the AJWS Global Justice Fellowship, which inspires, educates and trains American rabbis to become national advocates for human rights.