Reflections on Michael Jackson


Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the death of Michael Jackson:

I was on vacation with my family in Iceland when my office called and shared the terrible news of Michael Jackson’s passing. My wife and children were with me in the van. We could scarcely believe what we had heard. The children all remembered Michael fondly. He had given them their dog Marshmallow who is a member of our family until today. My daughter teared up. And while I was heartsick at the news, especially for his three young children, I was not shocked. I dreaded this day and knew it had to come sooner rather than later.

In the two years that I had attempted, ultimately unsuccessfully, to help Michael repair his life, what most frightened me was not that he would be arrested again for child molestation, although he later was. Rather it was that he would die. As I told CNN on April 22, 2004, "My great fear, and why I felt I had to be distanced from Michael … was that he would not live long. My fear was that Michael’s life would be cut short. When you have no ingredients of a healthy life, when you are totally detached from that which is normal, and when you are a super-celebrity you, God forbid, end up like Janis Joplin like Elvis… Michael is headed in that direction."

I am no prophet and it did not take a rocket scientist to see the impending doom. Michael was a man in tremendous pain and his tragedy was to medicate his pain away rather than addressing its root cause. On many occasions when I visited him he would emerge from his room woozy and clearly sedated. Who were the doctors who were giving him this stuff? Was there no one to save him from himself? Was there no one to intervene? …

Read the full piece in The Jerusalem Post.

Back during the molestation trial, I wrote a story for the Forward that came to a similar conclusion — through a detailed comparison between the King of Pop and the King of Dreams (the biblical character of Joseph):

… In many ways, both significant and superficial, Jackson resembles the biblical character of Joseph, interpreter of dreams, viceroy of Egypt and favorite son of the Israelite patriarch Jacob.

Like Jackson, who first achieved fame as the youngest and most talented member of The Jackson 5, Joseph was imbued with natural gifts that allowed him to tower over his older brothers. In both cases the golden child’s superiority was marked by the acquisition of a jacket. Jackson took to wearing his trademark red coat after the release of “Thriller,” the record-smashing 1982 solo album that propelled the performer into a stratosphere of superstardom beyond the reach of his siblings. Joseph’s father gave him a multi-colored tunic, underscoring his elevated status as Jacob’s favorite son and chosen successor.

And both fought famine in Africa. Jackson used his superstar power to line up dozens of celebrities to record the hit song “We Are the World,” a successful effort to raise millions of dollars to fight hunger. Joseph used his dream-reading power to warn Pharaoh of an impending famine, successfully fending off starvation in Egypt.

Despite their respective good works, both Jackson and Joseph were plagued by a rising insecurity over their personal appearance. For both men, physical change became a vehicle for assimilating into the wider culture. …

But for all the parallels, the most important lessons emerge from the differences in the two stories.

Jackson has seemed often to be riding the ultimate roller coaster of fame without a spiritual center to anchor him. Over the years, he conducted a highly public serial religious search that has included flirtations with self-described paranormalist Uri Geller, Orthodox rabbi and “Kosher Sex” author Shmuley Boteach, members of the Nation of Islam and, now, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In contrast, Joseph maintained his faith in the God of his forefathers. As a result, the ancient and medieval rabbinic tradition generally insists, Joseph never actually succumbed to the worst of the spiritual and sexual temptations that he faced as an Israelite climbing the ladder of Egyptian power. He never lost an understanding of his ultimate place in the universe.

Spared the ravages of seven years of famine, Egyptians might have viewed Joseph as a God-like figure, but he always made clear that he had been divinely blessed with the ability to interpret dreams. Jackson, on the other hand, has spent years cultivating an image as a celebrity who can make dreams come true.

The distinction is a vital one that serves as a harsh condemnation of our celebrity culture. It also helps to explain how one favorite son worked his way out of jail to become the viceroy of Egypt, while another was anointed the King of Pop only to find himself facing a possible trip to the slammer.

Click here to read my full story.

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