Akeda, the Binding and Unbinding…
the Long Walk Back
Who’s gonna make you happy
when you’re your own worst enemy?
When I was 14 I started smoking pot and having sex. My parents didn’t have a problem with the sex, but my mom believed I was a drug addict and so I was sent to a therapist.
In high school I didn’t really have any close friends. The few close friends I had in middle school started hanging with other kids who didn’t like me much and I found myself alone. I wasn’t an intellectual and couldn’t find an interest in any of the subjects being taught. The one thing I loved was ice hockey, but going into sophomore year I broke my collarbone skiing and by junior year I already had a rep as a pothead. The coach called me into his office when I didn’t make varsity and told me there was no room for that type on his team.
I found company in Bob Marley and his music. I was depressed and alone, feeling misunderstood by kids, coaches, teachers and parents, so I retreated into the confines of my room in the attic with weed and music. I began to search. Summer of junior year I went into the wilderness out west and felt the gnawing gaping hole in my chest more vast then ever, and I began to think about God in relation to the void. Am I alone?
At that moment I decided there was a God and that he was with me always like an all-powerful invisible friend. I didn’t need to see him, but if I could just figure out how to feel his loving presence from time to time? It would be nice to have someone to talk to, to guide me, to love me. But even beyond my need for a protective imaginary friend there was an essential truth to my belief. Something inside that believed in the beyond. I felt I had a purpose in this world. Something to express. Something to share. I did not know what or how but I knew it was there like a spark or a burning fire waiting to be fed and let loose.
The words of Bob rang loud and clear about exodus and Zion and so when someone came to my Hebrew school about a trip to Israel I jumped on it. After almost being thrown off the trip night one, I was grounded to the campus but seeds were planted of something ancient. Higher than happy or sad. Somehow the loneliness and sadness became bigger then me. It was shared. This Anonymous God was no longer just mine but the God of Israel that my ancestors for thousands of years of troubles and sorrows had appealed to. I knew I wasn’t crazy. It was in my blood. My DNA. None of this was a known thing. It was all felt with out intellectual understanding.
I also made a friend. A real human friend.
That winter we went to see Phish at the Centrum in Worcester, Mass, we ate acid for the first time and the sadness went away and was replaced with ecstatic joy and a mix of other emotions. A roller coaster ride of emotion, and for that night I no longer felt alone. I felt like a child experiencing everything for the first time, I literally watched everyone blend into oneness with the music, I danced and spun and sweated. I felt beautiful and loved. I had found my purpose in the universe. To be this music. To create. To express. To hurt and to come thru it and express the pain and beauty of it all.
After my first day of senior year, mom caught me smokin’ weed again and I decided to leave. For quite some time now I had been guilty. Years of being constantly in the wrong left me totally empty and guilty inside. Getting high ‘cause it’s the only place I didn’t feel alone and sad and then getting caught and then lying and then getting caught and then lying until at my core the nothingness was being replaced with wrongness. I was a bad boy. Sent to my room to be alone. I had no self, no home for myself. (My father ran a homeless housing agency.)
And so I went to be homeless where I could find my truth. I went to find my voice. Mixtures. I found it in the park singing King David’s words to a Nyabingi drum beat, and at the same time I went mute. No one wanted to listen to me talk. But they listened when I sang. I fell into heavy psychedelic drug use, malnutrition, the depths of despair, deep sickness of the body and soul. I got the “kissing disease” aka mono. Trying to kiss a sick god. (Trey, guitar player of Phish, was using heavy then.) I lived on the streets of Burlington, Vermont until the Phish tour started and I could chase those dreams and feelings of love and connection that I had felt the year before.
By 21 I had been in and out of rehab, NA, wilderness treatment programs, sober living therapeutic programs, and I saw more therapists then I had fingers. And yet still I couldn’t seem to get it right. I kept falling down. My acid trips had all gone sour. I couldn’t escape the loneliness with psychedelics (truth drugs), just numb it out with weed. I threw myself into music for a while till I decided I would try something else. I would become something else. I would dedicate all of myself to God and discipline. I had found a friend in the Chassidic sect of Chabad who was more than willing to let me sleep on his couch and be my soul mate as long as he could have my soul.
I was dedicating myself to the cause. I moved to Crown Heights and gave up on the world. Happiness would need to come from within. I prayed and studied and prayed and studied and mikva’d and drank vodka, and ate chicken and drank vodka and sang niggunim (Chassidic melodies that sound similar to the scene in Star Wars when the bad guy’s ship is arriving). I wore the uniform (black and white just like the ideology). I believed there was something wrong with me that needed to be eradicated. That wrongness inside could be purified if I just tried hard enough.
Several years went by, and it wasn’t going so hot. I had lost myself in some ways worse than to drugs. I spoke and dressed and behaved to emulate those who I thought had found truth. The truth. The only real truth. I got married to the second girl I met and had kids ASAP in hopes that I would become normal again if I had a family—once I wasn’t living in the basement of the yeshiva eating kapparot chicken.
Eventually I met an anti-establishment renegade Russian therapist/original thinker/Chassidic and Kabalistic creative wiz with a heart of gold and no fingers. They were shot off at point-blank range at his home in Hebron, where he lived with his family surrounded by Arabs in a trailer with no locks on the doors and bullet holes in the walls. Fearless and fuckin’ cool as shit! He came to Crown Heights every other week and we started intensive therapy and became close friends. I had found my teacher and friend and I began to heal.
Meanwhile miracles were happening. My career had taken off, I was on TV, I was headlining festivals and playing shows around the world, and I pushed myself to be more. To work and travel as much as possible, to become a superstar. My heart was broken to be away from my boys so much, but the fighting and pain at home and the judgment from everyone around me was too much to take. (I was living in the Chabad headquarters of the world and had just been quoted out of context in an Israeli paper as not being happy and no longer identifying with Chabad, to put it nicely.)
Struggling and wading thru all the shit, I began to open up and explore. First within different types of chassidut, then philosophy and psychology. I created a blend unique to me, the strange loner turned Chassidic reggae superstar. I rode my bike to Williamsburg every morning to daven with a small group of unknown chassidim because I could scream and sing during prayers and not be judged (they did the same). Then to the studio in the meatpacking district to write and record music.
I drank vodka for breakfast on Saturdays in shul and talked shit with the cool born-and-raised Crown Heights’ers. I studied philosophy and chassidut with a Russian original creative thinker who knew it from the inside (his parents were anti-Communist mystics). I read psychology books by RD Lang and spent time doing sessions with his protégé in England. I let go of all the dogma and began to do me.
I asked myself, can I leave this religion or the parts of it that I feel trapped by? Can I get divorced? There was an answer I kept hearing in my head. In my wife’s voice, in my teacher’s voice, in my own voice: “Who’s gonna quench your thirst now, who can satiate, something you can’t escape? Who’s gonna make you happy, when you’re your own worst enemy?”
For years I thought I needed to surrender to the cage I had created. Get inside the box. And find my happiness there.
“It’s your cage. You’re a slave and you wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides you built it up that way. Who’s gonna make you happy?”
I stopped forcing myself to believe answers that ironically made me feel trapped, and I started to find freedom in the question. The Hebrew word for wisdom is chochma derived from koach mah, defined as the strength or power of mah. Or in English: the strength of what?
Ups and downs, but in the end there is only one way for a person like me to learn things: by living them. Not reading about them or watching them, but living and making mistakes with a vision of love and a core not built on wrongness but on faith.
“Who am I to say I know nothing it seems, until its way too late.
I’m learning this the hardway!”
“Hard Way” (Official Video)
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