For much of his young life, Peter Himmelman had sought to live without restrictions. But the death of his father, an encounter with two psychics, and a friendship with a prominent Lubavitch Ḥasid brought him to rediscover traditional Judaism, and the power of laws and boundaries. He explains this power with a lesson drawn from his career as a professional musician:
Music is among the most transcendent of all art forms, for both the performer and the listener. Since it has no [physical] form or substance, it can easily serve as a model for the boundlessness of spirituality. But as anyone who has mastered a musical instrument knows, musical ideas are expressed almost exclusively by means of structure and restriction, words very few of us would correlate with freedom.
At first glance, this seems like a paradox. How could something as liberating and intangible as music be based on restriction? Not only is music based on restriction, I’d go so far as to say that, aside from the existence of raw sound, . . . the only other thing that allows music to take place, the only thing that differentiates it from this pure noise, is what sounds the musician chooses to leave behind. In this sense, music comes about not by choosing notes but by the elimination of notes. . . .
It is only through adherence to the limiting factors of time and tempo that music can take shape. In that same sense, if it weren’t for the constraint of playing only certain keys on a piano, and thereby negating all other choices, you would hear only noise. Anyone who has heard his or her toddler pounding away on a piano knows exactly what this sounds like. . . .
As I became more and more immersed in the wisdom of Jewish thought and practice, the idea of freedom-in-structure became clearer and ever more personally relevant. If it was true for music, I wondered, how much truer must it be for all of life itself? . . . The mantra to live without restrictions, which had guided me for most of my life, seemed at that point to be leading me only to chaos. I believed I could, and must, do better for myself. My most fervent wish was no longer to become a rock star; it was to create my own family, one that could become a replacement for the one I’d been missing, the one that had changed so drastically when my father died.
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