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Sunday, 18 January 2015

Is Matisyahu anti-religious?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 106

In a recent interview with Der Algemeiner, former Chassidic Reggae superstar, Matisyahu, outlined the process of his spiritual evolvement over the last number of years.  While many critics have suggested that he used his Hasidic persona as a musical stepping stone, he completely denies taking any advantage of religion.  He explains that his music at the time was actually an expression of who he was then.  As he was a Hasid, Chassidic Reggae was born from his inner yearnings. 

Reading the interview, I was incredibly moved.  Here was a man whose outside was a complete and utter expression of his inside.  His soul yearned and so his body sang.  Unfortunately many of us prefer to conceal the yearnings of our souls.

Nevertheless, as with many of his post-observant interviews, his heartwarming story was sullied by his subsequent attack on religious Jews at whom he felt anger for having forsaken him when he decided on a new path in life.  Why did he feel the need to attack those who remain observant?  Can’t he live as he chooses and let them live as they choose? 

The Torah states, “If his sacrifice is an offering of cattle, a whole male shall he sacrifice, to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting he shall bring it of his own desire before G-d.”

The Beraisa taught: “He shall bring it” teaches us that we force him.  Lest we think this would mean against his will, the Torah states “of his own desire.”  How do we reconcile these two teachings?  We force him until he says ‘I want to do it.’  The same is true regarding the law of divorce.  If a man refuses to give a gett (bill of divorce), we force him until he says ‘I want to do it.’ 

Maimonides explains: An act is not considered to be coerced unless the person has been forced to do something which he is not morally obligated by the Torah; for example, one who has been forced to sell or give away his property. But one who has been overpowered by his evil inclination to negate a mitzvah or to commit a transgression, and was forced to do what is right, he is not considered ‘coerced’ – on the contrary, it is his evil character which has coerced him, against his true will, in the first place.  This individual who refuses to grant a divorce, in truth, wishes to be of Israel, and wishes to observe all of the commandments and to avoid all of the transgressions of the Torah. It is only that his evil inclination has overpowered him.

Let’s be clear: Nowadays we don’t have the power of the beth din of yore to coerce someone to give a gett.  And so the “rabbis” that made the news headlines for their covert torture operations should leave the vigilantism to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.    Nevertheless, the message of the Talmud and Maimonides’s explanation rings true in every aspect of our mitzvah performance.

Everybody wants to do the right thing.  Every Jew truly wants to be Torah-observant.  If it appears otherwise, don’t be fooled – they are being held hostage by their yetzer hara (inclination).  Sometimes they realize it, sometimes the yetzer’s abuse has run so deep that the victim doesn’t even realize that they are being abused and they are no longer crying out for help.

At that point, cognitive dissonance sets in.  The abused neshama (soul) allows itself to be convinced that they are in the best place possible.  And that the other person who is committed to Torah and mitzvos is actually the victim!   But the surefire way to discern the true victim is to ask who is on the attack.  If you feel the need to attack the other person’s level of commitment, then that’s your yetzer trying to convince you that you’re doing the right thing.  If you are satisfied with your spirituality and don’t feel the need to attack anyone else’s spirituality, then you are probably in the right place.

Matisyahu’s soul sang out loud during his peak.  Afterwards, his yetzer covered up his holy neshama and he feels the need to attack those who continue to be Torah-observant.  But the fact that he is bothered is a sign that his neshama is still yearning to break free from its imprisonment at the hands of the yetzer!   Never give up on your fellow Jew, no matter what he says about Torah and mitzvos.  His soul is yearning to shine forth; it is sadly being held hostage.


May your soul always shine!  May you ignite those around you to shine by releasing them from their imprisonment!  Every neshama yearns to come home.   Let’s never give up searching for the keys to their freedom!