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December 26, 2014 4:35 pm

Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

avatar by Yonatan Gordon

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Matisyahu. Photo: Twitter.

Shining Light on Fiction

During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons.

The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators.

The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality.

It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act of shining light not in abstract terms, but as activism… to actively dispel the winds of Hellenism from the world.

Responding to Matisyahu’s Interview

With these thoughts in mind, we can also appropriately respond to Matisyahu’s recent interview in The Algemeiner.

First, the response is not to cast blame or speak against Matisyahu, a former classmate and friend of many of my common acquaintances. Instead, the first step is to educate the public on how not to make the same missteps. This is why I recently published the long-form essay, “The Jewish Approach to Fame.” Specifically, I would call your attention to the segments on the fallacy of fame.

The second is to realize that while the interview doesn’t seem favorable to us “close-minded” religious folk, there is a shimmering kernel of light there.

My Own Challenges and Struggles

I don’t want to go so much into the details of the interview, chiefly because I appreciate where the anger and resentment towards Matisyahu comes from – and because I don’t believe they do us much good.

Instead, what I want to discuss is the statement that Matisyahu felt “creatively” cut-off by the Orthodox community, and now as a “natural progression” he has left us “close-minded” and “judgmental” religious people behind.

Now indeed, there are some things that my mind is closed to. When I put on my gartel to pray, it is hopefully to guard my thoughts and to think about holy things. I once lent Matisyahu my gartel, probably the same one I use today, more than 10 years later. So this is my first response: that the havdalah, the separation stage can’t be circumvented. There is holy and profane, light and darkness, good and evil, and a person throughout their lives needs to stay conscious of the difference between the two.

But while this may appear to limit creativity and the freedom of expression, it actually enhances it. Our forefather Joseph is called the “revealer of secrets” (tzafnat paneach) in the merit of standing up to the test of seduction. In our present context, seduction can and does mean many things, but we begin by “tying our gartel” – placing boundaries for all our interactions with the world.

Aside from the very end, the Matisyahu interview concludes on a hopeful note. Now that Matisyahu has transitioned his art from “shiny upbeat music to make people feel better or feel stronger,” to music about his “own changes and struggles and things that I went through and real relationships,” the hope is that this progression will continue. The light that results from searching within oneself is called the light of Joseph – or what Matisyahu called in the interview, “artistic extension of what’s happening in my life.”

Thus my hope is that the progression from attempting to outwardly influence the world, to confronting his inner struggles and battles, will lead him back to a life of observance where both the outward creativity and inner constraints can be experienced together.

This article was originally published by InwardNews.com.

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