Sometimes the gap between who I really am and who I want to be, spiritually, is just so huge.
When a Jew is born in galut – whether we call that place ‘London’ or ‘New York’ or ‘Paris’ or ‘Melbourne, or whether it’s named ‘xtianity’, ‘atheism’ or ‘crushing materialism’, so much of that galut, that exile, gets hard-wired into the soul.
This isn’t our fault! When you grow up listening to Top of the Pops and the weekly top 40 tunes on the radio for 30 years, you can’t just turn that stuff off and excise it out of your brain and your memory in one go.
Guns N’ Roses, or Queen, or George Michael, or even (chas v’halila…) Madonna aren’t just songs, they’re the soundtrack of your life. ‘Careless Whisper’ encapsulates at least three years of early teenage-dom all by itself, replete with so many memories and so many associated experiences and thoughts that ultimately make us us.
But then, we grow up a bit, and we start trying to get out of galut, and we learn that music that isn’t coming from a ‘kosher’ source is actually really bad for a Jewish neshama – and then, the fight really begins.
Because that goyish, spiritually unhealthy-music is actually hardwired in, on some level, and chucking it out really involves taking a huge big part of your psyche, your memories, your self, mamash, and shoving it in some lidded box.
Around 10 years’ ago, I got rid of all my non-Jewish CDs – hundreds of them! – because I was really, sincerely trying to do what God wants, and to be a good Jew. I believe 100% that unkosher music is not good for my soul.
Most of that music, I really don’t miss. But there’s probably five or six albums, and at least 20 songs, that were the soundtrack to my life growing up, and hard as I try, I simply haven’t been able to turn it off in my head.
Take Sweet Child O Mine, by Guns N Roses. In my younger days, I was completely and utterly addicted to raw electric guitar. Try as I might, I’ve found it so hard to find really good electric guitar riffs in the kosher music scene (if anyone knows of any, P-L-E-A-S-E do me a favor and tell me what in the comments.)
On top of that, Sweet Child O Mine accompanied me on so many holidays, on so many milestones of my pre-Israel life that more than nearly any other song, it’s like my theme tune.
This last week, after weeks and weeks of feeling so irritable and out of place, and ‘not belonging’ the penny finally dropped in hitbodedut that I’ve become a musical schizo.
I can’t really integrate my ‘Guns N’ Roses’ past with my frum present, because a frum Jew in Jerusalem just can’t listen to Axel Rose and keep their soul intact.
That’s what I thought until two days’ ago.
But then, I started to get more and more clues that suppressing all this real, imperfect, kinda-tumahdik stuff that’s hardwired into my soul is actually bringing me down, and making me feel pretty sad, and is taking me further and further away from Hashem, which Rav Natan teaches is always the hallmark of sheker, however convincing and ‘right’ it actually sounds.
Because I’m not serving God as me.
I’m serving God as someone I think I’m supposed to be, but really? I want to dance around my living room with Guns N’ Roses blasting the walls down.
This is not a simple thing at all. On the one hand, unkosher music is bad for a Jewish soul. On the other hand, denying that part of myself has been almost cracking me up for a few months, and making me feel that I’m not real, and that my life isn’t real, and that I’m kind of lost in the world, because I’ve been so cut off from things that make me who I am – but that really aren’t so kosher.
So what to do?
Rebbe Nachman basically says: strive to serve God on the up, but ALSO SERVE HIM ON THE DOWN!!! Just because you cracked and have been listening to Sweet Child O Mine all week, don’t let that stop you from saying your Tikkun Haklalis, or doing an hour of hitbodedut a day.
You can do both.
You only get advice like this by Rabbenu, which is why Breslov Torah is really the only Torah that can help our lowly generation, that is so beset by inner demons and confusion and doubts. I can’t help that I spent so much time listening to secular music that’s it’s become a part of me.
It seems, I can’t help the urge to listen to at least a couple of those songs again, if only to reintegrate them into my real life in Israel, and to stop feeling like a phoney who is living someone else’s idea of what my life should be.
But if I’m going to whack up the volume on Sweet Child O Mine and dance, at least I’m also going to have the kavana that I’m dancing to sweeten the judgments in the world, and to lighten up and attempt to follow Rebbe Nachman’s maxim of striving to be happy, always.
I’m not going to fall away from all the tremendous good, and mitzvot I’m doing because I can’t do these things with only Avraham Fried as the background muzak.
The last thing to tell you is that after listening to a song 20 times in a row – even an amazing song – you start to get kind of sick and bored of it. Paradoxically, listening to Sweet Child O Mine is helping me to pull my soul out of it, riff by painful riff.
Without Rebbe Nachman’s advice, that as well as serving God on the up, we also can – and have to – serve Him on the down, too, I’d probably be going completely bonkers, buying a pair of leather trousers and scouring e-Bay for a Harley Davidson.
As it is, I know that this too will pass. And when I’m out the other side, I’ll be serving Hashem so much more happily and sincerely again.