The story of Joseph is considered the most complete and complex narrative in the book of Genesis and perhaps the entire Torah. In the category of mythic literature it is regarded as a hero’s journey. All the components of this story, the role of dreams, the relationship and separation from the father, the intervention of a walk-on character, the descent to and emergence from an underworld, and a final reunion are among the elements of a classic myth. Of course there are many familiar aspects of the hero journey that either don’t appear or that the Torah puts a twist on in the Joseph story. For instance, the presence of a wise old mystic, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, doesn’t show up. Instead, Joseph himself evolves into the sage with mystical powers of dream interpretation and actualization.
Even though the Torah generally doesn’t clue us in to how the characters are feeling, the emotional intricacies of this saga speak loudly. In the previous week’s portions we have been following the journey of Joseph, the first born of Rachel and favorite son of Jacob. This obnoxious 17 year old Joseph arrogantly relates dreams of his ascending power and dominance over his family. As a major theme of the origin stories in the book of Genesis, favoritism plays a huge role in the upbringing and evolution of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and now Joseph. These four Patriarchs are the hero’s of their own journeys and further the collective plot line of the Jewish people.
Seeing that each patriarch’s story is unique, each hero represents a different human characteristic or archetype. For example, Abraham is associated with the attribute of love & kindness. Isaac’s personality is dominated by fear and radical amazement. Jacob represents harmony & balance as he mediates between the traits of his father and grandfather. And Joseph is seen as embodying the persona of the righteous person, someone who has evolved into a compassionate and ambitious leader, who can be an intermediary between the upper spiritual world and this material world.
This display of four distinct characters in the book of Genesis hints at and parallels a classic Rabbinic teaching. Although the Rabbis from two thousand years ago never had the pleasure of knowing the music of the Beatles, they would probably agree that just as there are four distinct Beatles, there are really four different types of people. People can be categorized in many ways but in one section of the Talmud the Rabbis compare how different people approach the world in different situations and in context with others. They say, “There are four types of people: One who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine” is an ignoramus. One who says “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours” — this is the middle way. One who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours” is righteous. And one who says “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine” is evil.
The rabbis were also known to have said: There are four types of temperaments. 1) One who is easily angered and easily appeased–his virtue cancels his flaw. 2) One whom it is difficult to anger and difficult to appease–his flaw cancels his virtue. 3) One whom it is difficult to anger and is easily appeased, is righteous. 4) One who is easily angered and is difficult to appease, is evil.
Like the four children of the Haggadah, like the four types of people and temperaments the Beatles each embody a different archetype or personality trait; Paul, the bass player is the cute and creative one. With only four strings Paul’s bass playing is both melodic and grounding; John is the one with the acerbic wit. As the rhythm guitarist John’s playing style is terse, straight and to the point, sometimes biting; Ringo is the fun loving drummer whose beat keeps everyone together. And George is the silent or quiet one.
For me, George Harrison is my favorite Beatle. Not just because he was a great guitarist with a distinct sound or, that his songwriting grew exponentially with each album. It’s because George was also the spiritual Beatle and his quest for true spirituality, reflected in his maturing songwriting, I believe, contributed greatly to much of the innovation with which the Beatles were involved. Certainly the song “Norwegian Wood” would have been entirely different without George’s sitar. And the groundbreaking and mind blowing, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would not be entirely mind blowing if it were not for the song “Within You Without You” which featured an Indian orchestra and no other Beatle except George. In the song George tells us,
When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you
“Within You Without You” echoes the idea of immanence and transcendence that is prominent in the concepts of Kabbalah. The idea that God’s presence is felt both as a cosmological force outside the realm of the immediate, responsible for the creation of the vast universe, and as an internal experience, that is personal and close, is consistent with panentheism. Panentheism is the idea that describes God as the place of the universe, everything exists as one within God.
For the spiritually righteous, God’s presence is felt everywhere, inside and out. Maximizing moments of mindfulness in their every day lives they nurture their awareness of God’s presence in every aspect of life even the mundane or secular. George Harrison, in the song “The Inner Light,” sings:
Without going out of your door
You can know all things on Earth
Without looking out of your window
You could know the ways of Heaven
For the silent Beatle there is no need to travel far distances to find truth and the presence of God. They are accessible at all times in every place, without and within. As Moses tells us in Deuteronomy, “It’s not in Heaven and it’s not in the far seas, it is very close to us in our thoughts our speech and our actions.
The power of redemption may very well exist. In many aspects of the material world it is not always evident. But individual spiritual redemption and freedom are perpetual inner experiences. If we only could, as humanity, tap into this inner redemptive strength, to have it influence, in positive ways, the way we think, the way we speak to one another and the way we behave towards those with no freedom we may be able to fulfill our mission of repairing the world and bringing God’s presence to our every experience.
For Joseph the presence of God in his life was evident in his maturation, from the arrogance of adolescence to the wisdom of his adulthood. Joseph even tells his brothers, letting them off the hook for throwing him into a pit, faking his death, and selling him into slavery, that his trials and tribulations were meant to be in order for him to be in a position to save his family. He explains that God was with him in every stage of his experience, in the ups and in the downs. God, for Joseph is both the connective tissue that connects all time and space in creation, and is the guiding intelligence that accompanies everyone’s journey.
And as there are four types of people, each with a unique temperament and personality it is on each of us to discover who we are and, to find insight into how we as unique beings can confront our world and hopefully find some holiness in it.