Matisyahu comes out on stage complete with the large black velvet kippah (thank God, not advertising Mashiah – he’s broken ties with Chabad), tzitzit hanging out, and peyot swinging. The crowd – 1,500 or so, whatever the Intersection in downtown Grand Rapids holds – goes wild. I can’t figure out why this group of Grand Rapidians is so excited. He begins singing. The first song is about a princess yearning to return to the King. I wonder how many of his fans have any idea that he is talking about the soul yearning to be near God, and how many are just attracted by the energy, the volume, his voice. He’s not just singing, something that the crowd intuitive knows, even though they might not be able to name what he is doing – dovening. He’s praying. He’s leading the crowd in prayer. His body is swaying back and forth. He continues with a song about the death of the body – created of earth, destined to return to the earth.
Later on, both the music and his dancing become more conventional, less like something you’d see in a synagogue. But near the end of the evening, after a wild dance, sweat visibly dripping off his peyot, his kippah falls off. He grabs a towel, and puts it over his head and shoulders, like a tallit. We’re now back to the dovening. His mood changes. He hums a melody – “My help comes from Adonai, maker of heavens and earth.” I may be one of a small handful in the room who understands the Hebrew words that go with that melody.
He begins dovening again, singing about Jerusalem, praying for the messianic era. It is clear to me, in this context, that his prayer reflects not just a Jewish messianism, but the hope that his music will unite Jews, Christians, non-Theists, all those represented by the bodies in the room that evening, in worship of God together, creating a beautiful messianic moment. May we see the day.