“I am going out for a run. If you live in St. Louis and you see a tall guy who looks like Jesus running in the street, it’s probably me”. As I read Matiyahu’s post on Facebook several months back, I was happy to discover that he was a runner. Having grown rather fond of his music, and appreciating his public identity as a proudly observant Jew, I thought of him as a great role model. I started thinking about how we could try and get him involved with Team Lifeline.
This week, I find myself again thinking about Matisyahu. With what has to be the most famous shave in history, he stopped looking like Jesus. Did anything else change?
One of my biggest challenges as a rabbi who teaches, is the need to be a role model. By now I know myself far too well to think that my students should be looking at me as a paragon of religiosity and virtue. There was a time when I was able to delude myself into believing that I was that person. I thought of myself as the catcher in the rye, protecting my flock from the dangerous cliffs. I sympathized with the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard as he described the frustration of trying to save his audience from the raging fire that threatened to consume them. I am no longer able to do that. I am too busy saving myself to try and “save” others. All I can be is the very imperfect me and be somewhat open about my struggles.
I was shocked by the reaction of my co-religionists (is there a word “co-denominationalists”) who incorrectly assumed that, with the shaving of his beard, Matisyahu was no longer observant. The not so subtle message seemed to be that we love only if you live up to what we need you to be. The minute that you struggle or fall, we abandon you. To be sure, there were exceptions, but, and I say this with sadness, they were the exception and not the rule.
As for me, I find myself identifying with him more now than I did before. Not because he runs, or because he, like me, is clean shaven. I am moved by his struggle.