Community is supposed to be about like-minded people coming together for the greater and individual good. It’s supposed to be about not being alone. But sometimes in communities where people see your beard - or lack thereof - before they see your character, you can be judged for the wrong things, and feel very alone. The fact is, the Lubavitcher Rebbe had a very strong stance on beards, but would never judge someone who didn’t wear one. Under the Rebbe’s leadership, men’s beards mirrored their high religious standards. Whereas today, many people wear beards only to impress upon others where they “supposedly” stand religiously. Unfortunately, the beard has lost its authenticity. Sometimes it’s used as a “mask” or facade to cover people’s realistic and lower standards. But beards don’t define people. Words and actions do.
Truth be told, I never imagined I’d be sitting down, turning off my phone and bringing up a blank Word document to try and express my thoughts and feelings about a man who took a trimmer to his face. But here I am. Just a couple days after Matisyahu posted a picture and a message to the world. As divine providence would have it, I actually bumped into Matisyahu today, in the lobby of the building where I work in SoHo. I had a short moment with him, expressed a few things, gave him a big hug and then left to pick up a sandwich for lunch. But I’ve been feeling a lot and turn to writing to express.
I must say, I did have a visceral reaction to seeing the stark picture of his shaved face. For me, Matisyahu’s beard has always been a strong symbol: a Jewish, hasidic man amidst the music industry, not afraid to outwardly express his beliefs. I can now see that the beard was an exterior symbol for the world, and how his shaved face now serves as an interior symbol for himself. Matisyahu no longer needs facial hair to demonstrate what he stands for.
And I quote directly from Matisyahu’s message on his site:
“I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules - lots of them - or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and divine mission.”
I’ve drawn so much inspiration and strength from this man. A man who’s lyrics and music have empowered me to stay true to what I know is right. That in this often chaotic world, where billboards tell us who and what to be, I can still be a powerful young man who can accomplish my dreams and aspirations, no matter what the world says. After all, it’s Matisyahu who taught me that “youth is the engine of the world.” That beneath the surface, I’m “a warrior fighting for my soul.” Or that “even in the desperation, I can feel something that’s embracing.”
Without having much of a personal relationship with the guy, Matisyahu has helped me be a stronger, more confidant, young adult. There’s no debate about that. There have been a handful of times when I’m riding the train and feel down about something, when I think to put some Matisyahu in my ears. Without fail, his music manages to empower me and put me in a better place.
Like all of us, Matisyahu is on a life journey. And just because he’s in the spotlight and his music is on your iPod, it doesn’t make him any less entitled to go about his life and search for his truth. Just the same way you and I do.
Sure, Matisyahu was known for his beard and “peyos” (hasidic sideburns), but is that really what you connected with? Was it his beard or his music that inspired you?
As far as I’m concerned, I salute him for being authentic and brave. For facing the world candidly, expressing and being open about who he is, regardless of what we’ve come to expect. He’s above that. And it’s downright inspiring. His beard’s not on his face, but he’s still a role-model to me, just as he always was. And I can strongly relate to his personal search for authenticity and truth. We all go through this same journey. Just not all of us get on stage in front of thousands. Or have air time on MTV. But he’s still just a regular guy, going through regular life. If anything is irregular about him, it’s that he isn’t anything like the mess of celebrities who go about their lives living to other people’s expectations. Matisyahu is a true leader who stands out from the Katy Perrys and Kanye Wests of the music industry today.
Yes — “a man is just a man, filled with faults and weakness.” But some men bravely wear their truth on their sleeve and stand tall with a solid, authentic backbone.
And Matis is one of them.