I know I may be years off on this, but this is the first time I am actually taking a glimpse at the transition Matisyahu made from frum-looking to new age, aesthetic and free.
When it happened, it was a scandal and I felt that someone I looked up to defected from the path, and I couldn't help but to be angry at him making his fame on what appeared to be the backs of Chabad. I felt that I lost a friend. We didn't know each other, but there were many occasions where we prayed together as part of the same minyan in Crown Heights. I knew who he was, and I knew he didn't know anything about me and I didn't care because I felt that I was in the presence of greatness -- someone who was able to hold onto the frum foundation and live an authentic life. He brought the light to the profane and stayed shining.
But then he evolved further and broke out of the mold, and while I always appreciated his transition into other frum looks, it was only THIS EVENING -- August 22nd, 2014 -- that I was shaken when I saw for the first time his grey haired, clean-shaven look.
Tonight is NOT the first night I have ever seen him clean shaven. Tonight was the first time I saw him clean shaven and didn't cringe.
I must have spent the last five hours watching every interview he did on YouTube, and as I thought I was feeling the pain for him that he may have lost his way, I realized that the pain wasn't for him, but for me because I do not have the guts to do what he did and AUTHENTICITY is not a reality I am willing to toy with, and this perceived weakness on my part made me sad.
Everyone who knows me on this blog knows my childhood was messed up. To my parents' credit, they tried hard, but there was so much bad that happened, and the damage it did to me (and now to my children from my emotional absence and inability to cope with what should be easy problems) was indescribable. Part of me is even ashamed for my parents that their own son writes these things about them, but good intentioned or not, the things HAPPENED, and they happened under their control and their supervision.
So now I have my own family, and so far, it looks as if I am doing things right. I am sticking to the Lubavitch frum lifestyle, keeping all the kashrut stringencies, learning Chassidus, enjoying Gemara, and raising a chassidic household with our little quirks [which we can attribute to Netflix, our savior from drowning in the Chassidic world, and also our "Mr. Gold" demon (reference to the 2005 Revolver movie) hurting the purity of our otherwise chassidishe home]. I love Netflix; I really do.
In sum, I appreciate the steps Matisyahu has made in his own growth and in breaking free from the boundaries which chained him. I too am imprisoned, but the chains give me structure and boundaries -- something I could not provide my children on my own because I never learned structure nor boundaries from my parents. That being said, I cannot feel a bit of pain churning at my heart chakra about choosing NOT to be free. I am a slave to G-d, to Judaism, to Chabad, and to this world, but I am a slave because I do not trust myself to be free.
I have thought many times of shaving my beard, but I never would consider doing so for real. I am so careful to keep my beard that I have woken up on at least 3 or 4 times over the years from nightmares where I accidentally shaved off the beard in my dreams, and I regretted doing so immediately upon waking. There were reasons I grew the beard, and YES, I TOO was pressured by a Rabbi [whom I still love and trust to have my best interests at heart] to keep the beard. Funny how in every dream, my fear was that by shaving the beard I disappointed my Rabbi. You have no idea how lucid those dreams were -- on more than one occasion, I woke up and ran to the mirror only to experience a huge sigh of relief that it was only a dream.
The pressure my Rabbi put on me to keep my beard is the same pressure every Rabbi puts on a baal teshuva who grows a beard for the right reasons, and then to prevent the newly minted baal teshuva from sliding back in his Jewish observance, he pressures him to keep the beard as an identity marker. I often thought, "I'm a Jew, and by looking like a Jew, it would be awkward to find myself at a strip club, or doing something that would be a chilul Hashem (disgrace to Hashem) -- not as long as I'm wearing His beard." The funny thing is that my experience was that the pressure came from conformity, but conformity was a value to aspire to because with it comes structure, family, G-d, connection, spirituality, and the unsaid promise of a good life. But I am anything but conformity, and that becomes apparent as soon as you look beneath the skin into my soul.
For my children and their children's children and all the generations that G-d willing will come from my sacrifice of comfort to conform to the best of my ability to the greys, blues, blacks, and whites, I keep the beard and I hinder my own authentic expression of myself. Survival and the identity for my children is too strong a value to consider otherwise. For this reason, I cannot follow you Matisyahu down this path; I simply cannot allow myself the freedom to do what you can do unscathed.