RABBI DAVID J. MEYER
Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, has described how as a young immigrant to America he tried explaining the importance of baseball to his bearded, pious and traditional
grandfather. The elderly scholar, in his bewilderment, asked the proverbial question, “Is it good for the Jews?”
Wherever you may live, if you’ve been out and around town these past few weeks, it would be impossible to miss the roaming packs of kids (and kidsat- heart) looking at their cell phones while chasing after otherwise invisible critters which appear with the game-app, Pokémon Go. For the uninitiated, Pokémon Go is a game of “augmented reality,” and the creatures the players collect are hiding all around us, in both likely and unlikely places, waiting to be discovered and collected. It has very quickly become quite the craze, so in keeping with the time-honored tradition, let’s ask the axiomatic question: Is Pokémon Go “good for the Jews?” And for the sake of argument (also a time-honored tradition), I would suggest three ways in which the answer just might be a firm (or cautious) “Perhaps.”
First, a Chassidic legend teaches that one day, a man found his grandson sitting all alone, crying. “What’s wrong, my boy?” the man asked. “Oh grandfather,” the boy said, looking up, “I was playing hide and
go-seek. I was hiding, but no one was seeking me!” The grandfather replied, “God feels the same way,” and the two of them cried together.
Pokémon Go can be “good for the Jews” if our young people learn that, like finding the characters in the game, sometimes to find God, one has to go searching.
Secondly, every year at our Passover seder, the leader breaks the middle of three matzot, hiding half for the Afikoman, which the children must find in order for the seder to continue and conclude. It is, of course, impossible to break a piece of matzah precisely in half, so the question arises, which half do we hide for the Afikoman – the larger or the smaller “half?” And the answer is that we hide the larger half of the broken matzah, in order to remind us that there is always more hidden around us than what is clearly revealed.
Pokémon Go can be “good for the Jews” if our kids learn that, like the game itself, there is more hidden than revealed in our world, and that we need to look beyond the surface of things (and people) in order to perceive their essence.
Finally, our Jewish mystical wisdom of Kabbalah teaches that when God created the world, He caused some of the Divine light to enter the physical space of creation, and that God created vessels to contain the light. But something went wrong; either the light was too bright or the vessels weren’t strong enough, but in any case, they broke. And so, the world around us is filled with those sparks of light, intermingled with the broken shards, waiting to be discovered. We find and release those sparks through the performance of mitzvot, and when we will have collected enough sparks, the Divine Light will once again fill the earth, healing all of the brokenness of our world and our lives (the repair known in Hebrew as Tikkun Olam).
Pokémon Go can be “good for the Jews” when our young people learn that just like the creatures and critters they uncover through their cell phone screens, there are sparks of Godly holiness embedded in the world around us, and that when we release and collect them (through the most ancient “app” known as mitzvot) we bring God’s light and love into our lives.
Rabbi David J. Meyer is Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanu- El in Marblehead.