Friday, July 27, 2007

Like a Runaway Truck

August 6th 2007
Matisyahu, the Jewish rapper, often takes the stage in full Hasidic regalia. But yesterday, the man born Matthew Paul Miller opted for khakis, a powder-blue suit jacket and a fedora, soon removed to display a yarmulke underneath. The inclusion of a percussionist in his five-piece band elevates Matisyahu's reggae from the usual monotonous beats, and his rapid-fire rapping streams in a mellifluous flow.

Songs such as "Youth" and "Time of Your Song" contain uplifting messages about controlling one's destiny and battling self-destruction, and Matisyahu makes it obvious that he takes his religion seriously.

He introduced "Got No Water" as a cover song written by King David and began by chanting in what sounded to be Yiddish.

The 10,000-plus people attending his set waved their arms in the air appreciatively, seemingly taking something from his message.

August 2nd

Matis addresses the crowd.

"People are asking...

'Am I a Chassid, am I not a Chassid?' that, all I have to say is this....

Tzoooooma L'chaaaa Naaaafshii...."

His refusal to get caught up in the meddle, and resisting a "screw everyone" attitude is, well, expected from him.

August 1st

A creative artist with a message that is not his own.

Supported and cherished by the community he seems to represent.

This community then feels like they own him.

They talk about him to all their friends. They try and get him to do shows.

“Matisyahu? Oh yea, he’s Lubavitch.”

All of a sudden, everyone is so proud to be Chabad.

Then, an unverified quote rocks the community.

Matisyahu doesn’t only identify with Chabad?

What? He feels boxed in?

Then, something strange happens.

In the name of Chabad, people slander his name.

In the name of Chassidisheit,, they judge.

Believing that someone’s famousness gives permission for such harsh gossip and misguided conclusions, people get a little crazy.

Sure, people care, and are trying to protect. But the method is crass, and the approach self-defeating.

If the non-Chabad and “irreligious” people affected by Matisyahu’s music could hear the folks from Crown Heights speak on the matter, they’d be appalled, even turned off.

When a Queens college student recently asked me, "Whats the deal?" he wasn't asking about Matisyahu, but the Chabad community's out-of-line reaction and embellishment on a simple statement.

So, it appears that Matisyahu’s feelings of being “boxed in” were more than warranted.

I don’t know all the facts, and I certainly can’t tell the future.

However, one thing seems pretty clear to me.

While Matisyahu is being falsely accused of separating from the Chabad movement, it’s very clear who’s abandoning whom.


July 27th

Yesterday, I found myself chillin' with with my brother and sister on a bus with kosher pots and pans, a crib, and a picture of the Rebbe.

No, it was not a Mitzvah Tank.

It was Matisyahu's tour bus.

Well, so yea, it was a Mitzvah Tank.

As part of his "Unity Tour" with the band 311, he gave an energized show - or experience - to 15,000 people last night. The show tonight was "one huge farbrengen." In between songs, he spoke about "Chabad chassidus." To a crowd of thousands of youth, he explained the concept of tzimtzum, and how it happens that we come to exist in a world so great. He sang niggunim. Tzoma L'cha Nafshi. He swayed throughout. And afterwards, he gathered yidden for maariv.

On and offstage, Matisyahu's presence is humble, enlightening, and real.

You know, there are some things you just can't fake. It would be impossible to be a fiery light of inspiration and meaning to thousands of people day after day...unless you're light is coming from a higher place.

You know, Matisyahu's spiritual and religious standing is really none of our business. But, since he's in the spotlight, and holds the hearts of many, people care to speculate. I myself, in my die hard support, am doing that right now.

But then there's people who are just bored.

Or blind.

You know, when you see someone doing something good and making a positive impact on the world (something that, since yesterday, I'm convinced Matisyahu is doing), all you need to to is add fuel to the flame.

Or just step aside.


I have much to say, but I'll let Matisyahu speak.

The following personal message was written for Matisyahu's fans. As the sun was setting yesterday, I helped my brother (Matisyahu's current Street Team Leader) hand out fliers. The words on the paper are straight from Matisyahu's pen - not botched by a newswoman or twisted by an ill-motived Chabadnik.

Thousands of people pocketed Matisyahu's insights, and hence a clear message from the Rebbe. Handing out the fliers, I didn't feel like I was doing something for a cool musical artist. Like Matisyahu, I was doing something much bigger.


Summer 2007
Message from Matisyahu

Redemptions Coming Like A Runaway Truck

Week 4 and it’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day. Anyone ever feel like that? If you thought, (like I did) that the way out of getting a 9 to 5 was either become a mystic living in the hills or a rock star, well you’re wrong. Sorry to ruin anyone’s imagination of what it might be like to travel around the country and play music, but every amphitheatre across America is built the same way, like some kind of strip mall. Sooner or later thy all start to mesh together as one. With the exception of a few: The Gorge in Washington state, Red Rocks, and can’t forget my new favorite, Mud Island in Memphis. So first off, my apologies to those at the show in Charlotte. I’ve been sick since the tour started a month ago and it came to head the other night, so if you noticed me cracking during choruses and such, my apologies. I’m feeling better and tonight should be back on track. On the bright side, I feel there is a solution to this feeling of being stuck in life and lies in humility. For myself in becoming a better person, serving the Master of the World, and making music for you. In all those matters I feel that I am just an infant starting to figure things out. Like a child who is just starting to discover the world. I think this is the key: if one feels that he’s already there, then he is dead. When one feels that he is just starting out in life, no matter how old, and realizes his potential to truly leave his imprint in this world and not just die quietly into it, then each day becomes a lifetime unto itself. This world is incomplete, as in each one of us. Being that we are created in the image of G-d then it would seem that there is some place within Hashem that is also incomplete. We are all sick, including our Father, and we have the potential to heal even G-d, by bringing completeness to this world with music, with mitzvah’s, and with Torah. We will be the first generation of Moshiach, the first generation of completion. Peace and love. See you on tour.


just wondering... said...

Whats up with Matis' interview, where he says he's not strictly chabad, and hes open to other groups etc. (or something to that affect)??

Anonymous said...

Being that we are created in the image of G-d then it would seem that there is some place within Hashem that is also incomplete. We are all sick, including our Father, and we have the potential to heal even G-d...

Afraid the author has been far too brazen in his expression here, leaving the subject matter open to undesirable interpretation.

A. There is no aspect of G-d that is incomplete. (a founding principle of faith)

B. The concept of us, imperfect beings, created in the image of G-d is not reflective of an imperfection, G-d forbid, in our Creator. On the contrary, it is reflective of the fact that the human being can utilize an infinite G-dly potential with which he was endowed.

The above is not for argument's sake, but only to clarify a fundamental concept, especially since this has been publicized to a large audience.

Nemo said...

I honestly believe that Conservative Judaism {L'Havdil} does good things for Jewish awareness, but that does not necessarily mean that I'll endorse them. Not everything which is perceived as "doing something good and making a positive impact on the world" is something that has to be encouraged.

{I'm in a particularly anti-Matisyahu mood now after hearing a Lubavitch young man's captivating description of his mosh-pit experience at a recent Mattisyahu concert today. Apparently the revelers were smoking a lot of pot and "probably even having sex"}

Anonymous said...

wow, a bit strong (not matis words, but yours) thanks for the humble invite to "step aside and shut up"
people ARE entitled to different opinions.
people ARE NOT entitled to bash other people, includin those who one thinks may be bashing other people you like.

Anonymous said...

hmm. r u trying to negate the rumours that have been on tv adn blogs lately about him?

Anonymous said...

wow. i cant belive what is going on ... i personaly love matis. music i've heard sick things about him.. like him not wanting to go to chabad houses cuz they are dirty and what not.. i heard he is becoming againts chabad because chabad abuses him? i dont know if these rumors are true but why would people talk bad about another jew?

Raizel said...


I appreciate you sharing your "on tour with Matis" experience. The humility that he exudes is something that I recall discussing with when you showed me the interview he did in the old city (I think it is on his cd). He has a very temimisdik way about him.
And, I agree with you wholeheartedly, that when you when you profess something true and real people pick that up, connect to it and are able to grasp onto it.

It is unreal what he is accomplishing.

Raizel said...

Anonymous: I hope tv rumors and blog rumors are not where you get your news a.k.a lashon hora. People are always looking to scandalize a situation to shake things up a bit and create a news story.

Nemo: Anything that goes on at any concert that Matisyahu performs are not necessarily things that he condones. So let him keep spreading the light of Torah and uplifting sparks without all the criticism. He is trying to reach audiences that are not exposed to these messages. Obviously if he were to play in boro park the concert would have a different vibe. But it is a different mission.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to what you have to say on modesty... is that Matis related?

nemo said...

Would you go into some non-Kosher restaurant and preach about Kashrus? You're not doing anything wrong and you might even inspire one or two people to start keeping Kosher. You might even make another two or three more conscious of G-d. But nonetheless you don't do it, and I'm sure no one would argue that there's no such "mission."

Similarly I don't understand or believe how anyone can make Matisyahu into this spiritual leader when he's going into places built with the express intent of selling a culture of sex, drugs and profanity. Yeah sure, Chabad Chassidus says that we have to go into the depths, but here is a person talking up utterly foreign concepts to delirious kids in a shindig of drugs and sex.

Der Shygetz said...

I, for one, am not sure that the interview in the Florida paper was accurate, or that Matisyahu, who is not particularly articulate, was not badgered in some way by the reporter.

However, there are those of us who have seen "the real Matisyahu" in our shuls and streets, and we are not very impressed. He has a long way to go in terms of Yiddishkeit, and many of us are not sure if he intends to go that way or if he's just playing the game for the sake of his career that he built on his "Chassidic" identity.

He is a showman, no different from any other performer, and part of his act is this "deep spirituality". It might do some people some good, but there is very little behind it.

You enjoy him, fine. I enjoy Lipa Schmeltzer, who says outright that his mishegoss on stage and at weddings is strictly for "GELT" and who spends his spare time doing real chessed with both his time and his money. He doesn't even have any great vocal talent, and all of his appeal is in his delivery (and the words he writes, if you can understand hymish Yiddish, which I can, so shygetz aross :) :) :)). But Lipa is an ehrlicher Yid, and does not hold himself up as a role model for anyone who does not inhabit a padded cell :) :) :). He's just having a good time and sharing it with us, and charging what the market will bear for his kind of entertainment. Matisyahu is just another alternative lifestyle type, of a sort that is a dime a dozen in CH (and one thing I will NOT miss when I relocate from CH in 10-odd days is this alternative lifestyle shtus), but he happened to get lucky by commercializing and trivializing the Rebbe's message.

Yet, in our commercialized and trivialized society, where the darkness is so thick that it cancels out and becomes light, he may inadvertently be doing some good. The question is, when his 15 minutes of fame run out, and he seems to be on minute 14, what will happen? I don't want to share my prediction for fear that it will come true.

Anonymous said...

its sad what happened here . the rebba would never have agreed to mattis yahou for what he is doing with his goyishe style music .the rebba didnt accept shlomo carlbach and otheres like him . so stop[this .if u care about chabad . ur forgetting that we chassidim have to pick up the jews to our level and not we going down to there level which is pure goyishe music .so

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ with the last anonymous writer. How can u compare Matis to Shlomo Carlebach. Matisyahu is not dancing with women and is very careful with his actions. Maybe u should attend one of his concerts. Watch out... Matisyahu might even play ushering in the coming of Moshiach with yes all of the weed smoking, long haired Neshomos at his side and I hope that u will still attend this great event.....Peace,love and tolerance will bring this era!!!!!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous July 30

Don't look at what became of Shlomo Carlebach, look at where he was holding when the Rebbe showed him the door. You may appreciate his music, but that doesn't make him acceptable on the standards the Rebbe set.

What concerns me the most about all the rumors/gossip going around is that he says he gets his inspiration from non-jewish sources. I think one should read in Chassidus how the inner feeling and beliefs of the composer (and his feelings while composing the song) is carried through his music.

I do not blame Matisyahu for his actions, he has a talent and was told by his Mashpia that it is OK. I blame his Mashpia for giving the OK to something, that at best, is a major nisoyon for any frum jew.

anon1 said...

The Rebbe pulled Reb Shlomo out of the beis midrash and sent him on shluchus, it was Reb Shlomo who AFTER CONSULTING THE REBBE decided to take his own derech, Reb Shlomo brought hundreds to tshuva, please leave the dead, including the Rebbe in peace, and learn to do the same for those still alive.

Anonymous said...

Being a Jew that is not a Jew, sometimes gives me a better perspective on need. This artist is doing a job, and with all the detail questionables, I still have to agree with you Mimi, that he is doing a job that is bigger than even the Rabbis know, most anyway, serving a purpose that is vital and needed. I cannot say what it is, but like you, I feel it in his presence where and when he is here.

HaSHem is more than Complete, it is us who are lacking and the Jew has the job to fix it, I think I will work on saying this better.

Drug-affected, sex-obscessed, idol-worshipping, my my, sounds like the vast majority of civilized people, even middle class and above, to me, not just this little bunch of longhairs lighting up at this concert, not by a long shot, and look, Jews whom I love dearly, you cannot leave out all these from the supply of their needs relative to HaSHem and the change that Moshiach will bring. It is much bigger than the sphere of Judaism, this need, and this job, someone has to do it. Standards are sometimes too limiting. But truly I admire frum and am thankful for it, I just think one can be powerful enough to give without becoming polluted, relative to some things, and this seems like one.

Chana said...

Well well, so many anonymous commenters here. No one feel passionately enough to post his/her name? Anyway, in all honesty, I do not know enough to share an opinion on the matter. However, I just wanted to share some lyrics from a new 8th Day song, which was written with Matis in mind - as well as anyone else in the precarious showbiz world. (I'm 90% sure that Matisyahu was the "inspiration" for the song, based on hearing the story about the song's origin from a pretty reliable source.) It's a song written from the heart, calling out to a brother.

They'll edit you in
They'll edit you out
They'll mix you in
They'll mix you out
They'll put you up on stages
They'll put you into cages
They'll tell them they're your brother
Then they'll leave you for another
They'll box you in
They'll box you out
Smile when they need ya
Smile when they leave ya.

Don't forget from where you're from
There's a child in everyone
Just a soldier in his army
You once told them how it should be
Now I see that they change your sound
Make you think you're some king with a crown
Without your roots you're foolin' around
I see they got you on a merry-go-round.

Al tivtichu vindivim biven odom sheain loi sishuoh

They'll edit you in
They'll edit you out
They'll push you in
Unless you're out.

Chana said...

I've been thinking about this whole Matisyahu phenomenon and the things that have come out of it, good and not-so-good. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that he is slipping, to a certain degree. Wouldn't it make more sense to stick by him through the tough times, showing that we don't turn our backs on our brothers under any circumstance? I went to one of his concerts about 6 months ago. It was incredible. The energy and inspiration that he brings is truly amazing. I have also never been in a place with so many illegal fumes and vapors floating around. There are ways to still support him and be there for him without actually stepping into that somewhat uncomfortable world yourself. We're always taught that lashon hara can really bring a person down and how speaking good of a person can do just the opposite. In this case, for now, maybe love is all ya need.

Anonymous said...

Chana Wrote
"Well well, so many anonymous commenters here. No one feel passionately enough to post his/her name?"

Wow! you put your name "Chana" that sure tells us a lot. Please look in the mirror when you make that comment.

Chana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bujare said...

ppl relax. matis is doing fine.
yeah a box aint his favorite
shape, neither is mine. its says
we'll be dancing in a circle when
moshiach comes.
he aint slippin,
lubavitch isnt .inc
and one does not leave the rebbe.

Anonymous said...

you are too good chana.
someone blasts you and you politely apologize.
world needs more of yous out there

e. said...

"While Matisyahu is being falsely accused of separating from the Chabad movement, it’s very clear who’s abandoning whom"
Mimi, why is separation one's self from Chabad an accusation? Is it a crime? Is it bad? Last time I checked he is a YID, before he is a Chabadnick, maybe he matured beyond living and seeing yidishkeit only through Lubavich eyes? Maybe he is tired of being labeled Lubavich? Maybe he prefers to be a frum yid, with no labels?
The music is good, and it is doing good to many yiddens, a kiddush HaShem at least, some didi tshuva because they "heard" of Matisyahu, he is sincere and hard working, HaSHem should bless him, and give him the chizuk to continue doing his part in bringing Moshiach.

e.w. said...

i know, sellout is depressing. but like everything else, going around and being able to grab the golden ring is transitory -- now it's someone else's turn to reveal the presence of Hashem in olam ha zeh ... Matis made his mark, he sang what he was supposed to sing, we should wish him hatzlacha and shalom and nechama...we're all in galus and it hurts terribly. MOSHIACH NOW!

Anonymous said...

We would all do well to remember that lashon hara (evil speech) is lashon hara regardless of who we are and who we're talking about.

nahama said...

Dearest Mimi (shetichyeh),
thanks for the invite and great article in The newsletter.

Dearest Commentors (ers?) (sheyichyu),
i'm not quite sure how 8th day lyrics made it into this discussion, but regardless, purchasing the new CD is a brilliant idea.

On Matisyahu,
there's something called sensationalism and, l'tza'arainu hagodol, our holy news services have realized the public's vulnerable-to-sensationalism natures and are cashing in.

us and our fellow spiritual siblings are victims.
let us all go to group therapy together.

positive "stay strong" fan mail?

Der Shygetz said...

Sorry to be so mean and cynical, but like the tree in Aleh Katan, I have seen much in this world - including what sadly is the real Matisyahu. Matisyahu used/uses Chabad to get ahead. Some people, mostly younger people and fringe people who enjoy his music and inadvertently find meaning in his sad and confused message, fell for him. Now, he may or may not be done with us the way he's done with the jdub recording label. (see below - ich halt nisht by journalisten).

That which Anonymous Saturday July 28 quoted is the work of someone who is twisting Chassidus in a confused and ultimately cynical manner. It is Matisyahu who needs to heal if he is really interested in Yiddishkeit. Either that or he ought to tell the shkootzim at Sony to smoke a little less before they write his advertorials (I don't know whether what he wrote is even his own work; marketing is my field and I know what goes on with music promotion).

Interestingly enough, I found an old pic of myself with the Rebbe, from the Sunday after the riots. Ahead of me was a cub reporter for a major newspaper, and he dishonestly twisted a quote from the Rebbe in his article which appeared in that paper the next day (I heard everything as I was the next guy in line and I was answering some of the reporter's questions - really listening to him hock me a chainik - about Chabad and the Rebbe in general). This is one reminder as to the ethics of the "fourth estate," and the reason that I still do not believe that Matisyahu said what he said regarding leaving Chabad! (I also do not believe that Matisyahu used a vulgar word to describe Jewish music, despite a quote to the contrary).

My observations are based on what I myself saw and what friends, who used to argue vehemently against my position, have also seen so that they have now come around to agree with me.

Besides, did Reb Lazer Nanos really sit 20 years in jail for the sake of a Matisyahu? Did Reb Levik suffer in exile so that someone could present a pop version of his son's Torah on a treyf stage? Did the Frierdiker Rebbe endure what he endured so that someone could adapt the music of an avoida zoro cult to a weakened form of Chassidus? Is this what the Rebbe wants from us - even if you want to go ahead and say that Matisyahu is doing what the Rebbe wants for him (and I don't believe that for a minute - he's one step above a Creedmoorer Rebbe act at this point)? Is Matisyahu the level where we are at? (He is if you are one of the confused kids of Aliya or Yam, or if you are one of the cheesecloth semi tichel and miniskirt crowd that make it miserable for me to shop on Kingston). I am sure that he does have an effect, ranging from fleeting to somewhat lasting, on a small group of spiritually seeking Jewish youth, or on those who may be falling. But for those of us who already have Chassidus and know where we stand? Why do we need what is barely Chassidus Lite? And if a shaliach on campus thinks Matisyahu can reach someone, or even that his crowd will enjoy the music, who cares what he calls himself or how boxed in he feels? Yossi Piamenta never really identified as Chabad. Shluchim bring over singers from Lipa to Blue Fringe all the time depending on their crowd.

At this point, I would be happy if Matisyahu were honest and said that he does not fit into Chabad, and he is a friend of Chabad but not a chossid. I'd also be happy if he moved to California or somewhere that is known for alternative lifestyles rather than being a symbol for the wayward youth of CH. But the pop music business is one big act.

Yet, in this golus which is also one big act, a big act can sometimes do a (very) little good - so long as everything is kept in perspective.

Yosel said...

Mimi, I'm sorry but I am very disturbed by your endorsement of Matisyahu. I for one have been against his brand of grube style since he first invaded our culture.

His entire style only invites kids to come to bars and clubs and rock concerts. However messed up some of these kids were before they will be more messed up once they come to a bar or club or rock concert for the first time.

This is not what The Rebbe would have wanted. This is a huge embarrassment. I am ashamed that he associates with LOubavirtch.

It's worth all the souls he drags down with him for the few souls who get spiritually high by his music.

I expected more of you Mimi. Someone who believes in modesty and humility, before your star treatment I think you had a much better handle and I think you have been blinded by what the Rebbe would have truly wanted because of a little attention from a guy goyim and rich businessman in L.A. have made Matisyahu into.

Who decides which should are more important? Then ones lost when they enter his rock and goyish world or the souls he brings in?

Why must we trade one for another?

If he wants to do good he should go on shlichus or work for a group that specializes in being mekarav people. Not playing at rock concerts.

We have compromised too much n Lubavitch the last ten years.

What would the Rebbe say!

Mimi said...


Do I know you?

To say that I am endorsing Matisyahu might be a little strong.

Showcasing various facts and opinions to counter the recent slander? Yes.

I don't know you, but my guess is that you probably should NOT be going to Matis shows. But we're not talking about YOU.

While you make some semi-valid points, I have to disagree that there are people lost who enter his "rock and goyish world." I think that's you getting a little out of hand, actually.

I am sorry that I have disturbed you. Really. I often think about what my refusal to be "anti-Matisyahu" means - but I guess we can just all make our own conclusions.

Overall, I'm very uncomfortable with the way Chabad reacts to a percieved descent in another person's spirituality. It's borderline blasphemous, in my opinion.

You ask about what the Rebbe would want.

Well, lets just say Matisyahu is way out of line, leaving Chabad, yadda yadda.

I can return the question:

What would the Rebbe want?

Der Shygetz said...

I am truly anti-Matisyahu and I was that way from the first time I saw his act. Seeing his behavior in CH just reinforced my feelings. But, just as horribly dangerous acid (sulfuric, not the kind they drop at concerts) is needed to produce energy in what would otherwise be an inert lead lined plastic car battery case, sometimes that which would be dangerous in some circumstances is what is needed to start a spiritual battery. And sometimes, people do things that don't make sense. The person who was constantly telling me that it was time to grow a beard now trims his, whereas mine looks like I escaped from the lion exhibit at the Bronx Zoo.

However, that being said, it would be best if Matisyahu does not call himself Chabad, and that Chabad would stop claiming him as one of our own. It is better for all parties concerned if he represents himself as someone who is influenced by Chabad rather than someone who could, erroneously, be construed as a representative of Chabad and what Chabad stands for.

Der Shygetz said...

Also, I referred to elder Chassidim who suffered during Communist times in an earlier comment. What they gave up, including their lives, is nothing compared to the fleeting music career that Matisyahu would have given up had he really followed in the ways of Chabad.

Chana said...

der shygetz and others:

It is not up to us to judge who should be part of "Chabad" and who shouldn't. WE ARE NOT A CLUB! We are chassidim of a rebbe - The Rebbe. Although all chassidim are definitely inherently, soulfully connected - it is not merely our connection to eachother that makes us chassidim. If Matisyahu feels a connection to the Rebbe, and tries, to the best of his ability to spread Yiddishkeit, and do the Rebbe's work, then he is a chassid of the Rebbe, 100%.

I doubt that any of us who call ourselves chassidim can claim that we have no chisronos. Of course we do. Those of Matisyahu happen to be on the front stage because of his celebrity.

Bottom line: it's not up to little nobodys like us to decide who's a chassid and who's not - so let's lay off Matis and concentrate on what's really needed - Ahavas Yisroel.

bujare said...


ahh, love that picture of matis saying the shma
how he paints a picture
the shma
one may even be moved to the something
we call soul essence-by the way he reveals
that something within when he pours out
the shma
G-d forbid, naw he coldnt be that deep can he?
yeah i got his back.
achdus yidden.