Thursday, December 20, 2007

I'm talking to you, G-d.

Today, I felt like everyone was losing you.
Yes, G-d, I’m talking to you.
Everyone hates you today.
Do you know that?
We heard the tragic news and your name was on our lips.
And we weren’t saying nice things.

You see, we don’t exactly get you.

But we’re not ignorant.
We know it’s entirely your fault.
That’s how much we believe in you.

But we’re starting to expect less from you.
How does that make you feel?

You know, G-d.
As your children, we have some expectations.
You brought us into this world without our consent, so we have some demands.
Some very basic, basic demands.

Like our health.

Like a roof over our head.

We also expect you to let us keep the things that you give.
You know, like our family.

Is that too much to expect? Well, then you should have told us.
That’s what I call having some decency.

You want us to expect less?

Well, we just can't.

You told us you are our father.

If we expect nothing from you, we have lost you.

So we will always make our demands.

And when you cause us pain, we will still want you.

But, please.

Just don’t forget.

Don’t forget that we need you the most when you make us cry.

We expect that you will wipe our tears and help us stand straight.

Because, though we turn to you in anger and questions and turmoil, we still yearn for your embrace. Always.

For only you can heal the wound you created.

Yes, true comfort will always come from you.

No matter how much you hurt us.

I guess we’d rather expect a lot from you - risking everything - then expect nothing and risk losing you.

So let us scream at you, throw up our fists, and blame you for everything. You deserve it.

But please, respond to our fits with a hug.

The kind of hug that tells us you will never let go.

And, this time, make us believe it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Musical Maccabee

Matisyahu, the musical Maccabee

"Growing Interest in Breslov

Recent articles in the US Jewish press talk of Matisyahu distancing himself from Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidut. The artist doesn’t see it that way, but rather is thankful for everything he learned from the sect and is broadening his horizons to include other teachers and teachings within the Hassidic world. “Now I am interested a lot in Rebbe Nachman [of Breslov], in his teachings and writings and stories,” Matisyahu told Bresky. He said he was writing a song for his next album from one of Rebbe Nachman’s stories. Bresky coaxed him to reveal which story. He relented: “The Story of the Seven Beggars and the analysis of a dream by founding Rabbi Nachman of Breslov,” he said.

“I think it’s a good thing to always be changing,” he said. Asked if all his songs about returning to Zion would culminate in his own move to Israel, Matisyahu said a plan to make the Holy Land his home is in the works."

All I needed to know I learned from Lubavitchers
By Julia Duin, assistant national editor/religion, The Washington Times

Monday, December 10, 2007

In my dream

In my dream I am returning to Tzfas

I am kneeling by my grave

The part of me that I miss is six feet below

And I am mourning

In my dream I am talking to G-d

I am choking on my tears

G-d, how could I have known

I wasn't ready

In my dream I am walking the streets

This is where I became myself

This is where I lost myself

The day I decided to leave

In my dream I am trying

To bring it all together again

But no seconds are like the firsts

And I am slamming against a wall

In my dream I am pounding

My fist against my heart

G-d, let her out

Let me out again

In my dream I am pleading

This time, I'll waste no time

I won't be here to get high

I'll do it all for you, only for you

In my dream I am dying

And rising at the same time

Switching places with the grave

And resurrecting the real me

In my dream I am choosing

To be focused on the moment

Taking it in deeper

The second time around

In my dream I am running

Far from complacency

Far from being still

Far from every second prior

In my dream I am returning to Tzfas

I am kneeling by my birth

I am not missing any part of me

It's a light filled morning

Matisyahu: Festival of Lights 12/08/07

I search for you
I run into the palace
And I look for you
I search for you, search for you
Night and day

Lighting the Menorah

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Eight first nights

The first night of Chanukah, my roommates and I gathered enthusiastically in the doorway to light our Menorahs. Together, we sang the blessings out loud and lit our eight-winged lamps. Then, with great enthusiasm, we sang "HaNerios Hallulu" and danced.

After our long and involved ceremony, Chanukah was here.

Last night, night number two, I stood with my roommates as we, once again, sang the blessings and lit our Menorahs. Then my roommate started to sing "HaNeiros Hallulu" out loud.

As for me, I naturally launched into the prayer with a mumble.

I looked up at my singing roommate. What? She wants to sing it out loud? Again?

Deep down, somewhere in an ugly part of my subconscious, I had associated singing aloud with the inaugural night, not something that needed to be continued throughout all eight nights. I mean, come on, the first night was exciting! The first night was new! The first night was…well, the first night!

I quickly realized that, with my embarrassing thoughts, I was casting the other seven nights of Chanukah into a boring abyss of purposeless monotony. I needed help, or my entire menorah lighting would be nothing but a blur or un-tapped energy and meaning.

No, Mimi, you are not going to let the eights nights of Chanukah fall prey to your robotics!

Suddenly, I was singing absurdly loud (I apologize to my roommates, but at least I have an explanation!).

Right then and there, I vowed to uproot my scarred attitude to Judaism's often repetitive rituals. While sometimes things may seem repetitive, nothing is extra in G-d’s plans. Eight nights of Chanukah means eight nights of separate opportunities. Every Menorah lighting holds within it a unique power to enlighten and transform.

No individual service to G-d can ever be repetitive, because, by its very definition, it is asked for.

When it comes to doing for G-d, it is always just the beginning. Sure, eating Latkes may get tiresome. But when it comes to lighting the Menorah, all eight days have an inaugural night. So every night, I must sing. Every night, I must dance. I have five nights left, but I will never get to do this again.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Matisyahu's New Groove: A response

On Thursday, the Jewish Week announced "Matisyahu's New Spiritual Groove," baring one of the first concrete interviews on the topic of Matisyahu’s affiliation with Chabad. The article makes the following clear: Matisyahu's continued exploration of Judaism has led him to connect with a sect of Breslav Chassidism, he isn't inspired by Chabad teachings like he once was, and his spiritual shift has been in the making for four years.

To many Lubavitchers, the news hurts. When anyone who is connected to the Rebbe and his teachings suddenly turns his ties elsewhere, it is hard not to take personally. Moreover, Matisyahu is a public figure, who many of us feel experienced success largely by his connection to Chabad. It is wholly warranted to feel like Matisyahu’s recent comments are biting the hand that fed him.

To me, there was nothing like seeing a Chabad Chassid dance in front of a crowd of thousands while singing about the Rebbe and wearing an “Ad Mosai?” yarmulke. When he said “Chabad philosophy/That’s the deepest wellspring,” I believed him, and was overjoyed that he was telling the world. To know that I no longer share this passion with an artist I admired and propagated is deeply disappointing.

I feel like addressing the issue is almost unjustifiable. Firstly, because a reaction to a newspaper interview can never be strong basis for a discussion on someones real-life circumstance. Furthermore, on the most basic level, Matisyahu is not only my fellow Jew, but my neighbor.

At the same time, though, someone needs to balance and focus the slander and immaturity that is bound to follow the Jewish Week's article.

I hear a lot of people expressing that they “saw this coming.” This is totally beyond me. You’d have to be a prophet to predict that Matisyahu would grow an interest in Karliners, a rare sect of Chassidim that scream during prayer. However, more accurately, people DID expect that the so-called pressures of fame would force Matisyahu to forgo his passion for Yiddishkeit and come down from a “high” (one that note, there is absolutely nothing to be proud of in having anticipated that Matisyahu’s passion for Chabad fall lifeless).

It is imperative, then, to recognize that Matisyahu’s is still a “Hassidic Reggae artist.” His new interest is a continuation – and in no way and end - of a spiritual journey. Matisyahu speaks of feeling more connected with his new teachers and style of learning. It is his desire to connect to G-d that has affected his transition, not the opposite. While many people (myself included) feel that Chabad Chassidus is, yes, “the deepest wellspring,” Matisyahu’s continued evaluation of his spiritual needs (particularly in front of the whole world) is praiseworthy.

People should recognize that, while we may have gained – both personally and globally –from Matisyahu’s connection to Chabad, that doesn’t rob him of his entitlement to honest spiritual exploration. Yes, I am bothered that he told the world “Chabad philosophy is the deepest wellspring” but longer singing those lyrics. On the other hand, I never owned Matisyahu’s spiritual standing (though many people felt they did).

I certainly wish Matisyahu would have more tact when it come to vocalizing his new views. But the statement made by Matisyahu’s “break off” is not as telling as our reaction is going to be. The way we acknowledge his new standing will speak louder and be the tell-tale sign of our community’s character.

The world is watching.

College students are asking campus Shluchim.

We have a choice.

Will we be the elitist community who grimaces at a former “member,” or will we be the ones who, in sync with the philosophy we advocate, cares for the soul of the matter?

Will we be the Chabad that inspired a revolutionary artist? Or will we be the Chabad that ostracized him?

Hopefully this is an opportunity for Chabad's true colors to show some light. Our personal hurt should only be a symbol of our pride in Chabad, and never a catalyst for bashing and further ostracizing another Jew – regardless of how often his music plays on MTV.

In the Jewish Week interview, Matisyahu points to the fact that, when he was first becoming religious, he would pray alone on the roof of his college and scream his prayers to G-d. For him, this was a mode of connecting. And now, he has discovered a sect of Judaism that does just that - approaching prayer in a way that Matisyahu himself discovered on his own. While Chabad only saw Matisyahu as a Lubavitcher, people should realize that a persons spiritual journey (especially when it involves returning to Judaism) are multi-faceted, complex, and personal.

I look forward to Matisyahu’s next album. Not because his sharp Chabad vibe strengthens me – for it no longer does – but because he is an honest searcher with a sincere interest in serving G-d in truth. It won’t be similar to the inspiration I glean from a Shliach, but like the joy I find in any Jew sharing a positive message, any Jewish warrior fighting for his soul. While I can’t necessarily relate to (or even believe in) a "universal message" or soul-search excluding Chabad, I am still convinced that Matisyahu’s musical journeys will always have a spark of something we hold in common.

(Read earlier thoughts here.)

"I need to do Judaism in a way that makes me feel more alive, not less alive."