Last night, Matisyahu went onto Facebook “live” (as it were) to speak up about some of the issues that have been swirling around him recently.
And although he didn’t exactly explain why he was in a picture with a dude smoking pot, or why he wasn’t wearing a kippah, he did hint that he was into a much more “universalist” philosophy. Where we are all one and united.
What I’ve found most fascinating about this whole Matisyahu thing is that so many people, people that are either OTD, not religious, etc etc etc, have come out of the woodwork to accuse us religious folks of being “judgmental” of not caring about Matisyahu’s personal journey and allowing him to be “real”. If he’s trying to be healthy then, so what, right? Heshy Fried brought it up in one of the first blogs about Matisyahu’s “Kippah-Gate”. He argued that some people need to go off the derech. For their own health. Many others have made this assertion.
I would agree. I would agree if I thought what Matisyahu was doing was healthy. But it’s not.
Although he may not be doing drugs in a physical form, he’s turned religion and spirituality into a drug.
What do I mean?
There is a thing in the baal teshuva world known as the “flaming baal teshuva”. This often happens in the first phase of their returning to Judaism, and can be identified by extreme amounts of kavanah (passion and focus) in prayer, being extremely judgmental of other Jews, and taking on lots of mitzvahs super fast. This happens because at first, being religious is a drug. It is something that gets one high. This isn’t a bad thing, inherently. It gives one the energy one needs to launch into an entire lifestyle. However, its power takes you up to the stratosphere and shakes your entire being in a very physical way.
Becoming a baal teshuva is a very delicate process, and unfortunately there is a whole huge contingent of “kiruv professionals” dedicated to the idea that as long as a person becomes frum, any means justify their ends. These kiruv people are drug pushers, some so bad that they should be locked up. They feed their subjects the parts of Judaism that get them high, while forgetting that Judaism, at its core, is a very grounded religion. A religion that requires us to dig deep, focus on each individual action, and slowly improve.
I’ll never forget when I was thinking that perhaps Chabad wasn’t for me and I started shopping around for other yeshivas in Israel, and I went in to speak with the rosh yeshiva of another baal teshuva yeshiva. I was sitting around waiting for him when I overheard a rabbi talking to a baal teshuva that looked to be no more than eighteen years old. He was describing what would happen when Moshiach comes. “The goyim, they’ll be hanging by our tzitzit! They’ll pay for years of oppressing us! They’ll be our slaves!”
I was in shock, and walked straight out the door. I realized that this yeshiva was about the drugs, about stuffing kids full of intense propaganda.
The worst thing that happens with this process is when these “professionals” then throw these drugged up, confused kids, into early marriages, marriages they are not close to being prepared for.
Now, I know that some of you would criticize me for saying someone has an “issue” with drugs if all they did was pot. So let me explain what I mean.
Drugs are a funny thing. And so is addiction. It can take many different forms. A person can be addicted to crack, of course, but they can also be addicted to video games. They can be addicted to writing. Yes, they can be addicted to pot. Or they could be addicted to religion.
The point is, some of us need to get high. We need something in our lives to escape from the world. To deal with the difficulties in our lives by throwing ourselves full out into. For some, this comes out healthily. We exercise, we do art, we do a hobby. We’re all addicted to something.
But some people use addiction to try to fill an imaginary hole within. They get high so that they don’t have to face their own issues. They’re addicted not because of some physical addiction, although that can come into play, but because if they let go of the thing that’s getting them high, they have to face their own lives, lives that are imperfect, confusing and painful.
If we religious folks are honest with ourselves, we can admit that many in our community have chosen to become religious just because it gets them high. They do it more for themselves than for G-d. And almost all of us, especially baal teshuvas, have had some phase in our religious lives that has been marked by this desire to get high.
The problem, though, occurs when the high becomes more important than G-d. More important than our beliefs. And so, we’ll do anything to get that next fix.
What happens in any drug addiction is that eventually our drug stops being quite as effective. We start to get used to it, and then we have to go on to the next thing. The next substance that will help us escape our existence.
Unfortunately, this means that for some people who are addicted to religion, they need to move onto whatever is next. Because at the end of the day, Judaism is not a drug. It’s the experience of Judaism that a baal teshuva has that is a drug. But Judaism, as I said, is a grounded religion, focused on action and practicality, for all the high flying ideas that surround it.
What I found so interesting about the Facebook conversation Matisyahu conducted last night was how many people were so happy for him. They loved what he wrote and felt so moved. They were gushing about how inspiring he was, how he was moving them to be more honest in their own lives, how he helped them connect to spirituality.
And Matisyahu thanked them all for being so positive. He was inspired in turn.
On its face, this was an uplifting turn of events.
In reality, what was happening was that a bunch of people who used spirituality for a high were getting high off of what Matisyahu had written. These people don’t care about Matisyahu any more than the people who were defending him on my article in the Huffington Post. What they cared about was their experience.
People who claim to be “spiritual” are often just looking to get high. Religion and spirituality offer a convenient escape from day to day life, and a person like Matisyahu is the perfect person to throw their desires at.
I challenge anyone who has been following this whole ordeal to show me proof that Matisyahu is in, or is going to, a healthy place. Prove to me that he’s not going down the same road so many other celebrities have gone down before.
I challenge the people that are “defending” Matisyahu to prove to me that they aren’t hurting him even more, contributing to the problem, and acting like every fan that has contributed to a celebrity’s decline by worshiping him into the ground. That they’re not just like every druggy’s friend who encourage his descent to justify their own.
I challenge the kiruv professionals to prove to me that they aren’t actively destroying people’s lives with their silly propaganda. To prove that implying that a person cannot be happy or healthy unless they are religious, and doing everything to get someone to that place, is not an incredibly destructive agenda.
I challenge everyone who is a part of this conversation to look within themselves and decide if they really care about another Jew or whether they are only pushing their own agenda.
The internet is a world where words seem to have no consequences, where we can rant and cry and scream about the things that plague us without having to deal with the results of our actions.
But words have just as much power on the internet as in real life, and sometimes more when they become spread enough. We all have a responsibility to deal with the difficulties of the Jewish world with care and delicacy.
And in our daily lives we have a responsibility to transform our beliefs from drugs into reality. Getting high lasts for a moment. But until we internalize Judaism into our souls, especially through the study of Chassidus, we are all just pundits.