On a sunny afternoon this summer I noticed some commotion outside my office window. As I lifted the window shade I observed dozens of cars and bicycles parked in the Ottawa Torah Centre parking lot with groups of people congregating in circles and doing something on their cell phones. My curiosity, or I should say my concern, got the better of me and I went outside to inquire what was going on.
“Your Torah Centre is an awesome place right now,” replied a cheerful woman. “It is a Pokémon Go gym, your Torah Centre has lots of awesome stuff to catch.”
I was amazed to see that the game Pokémon Go, where players use their mobile devices to locate, capture and battle virtual creatures, is still so popular.
As I settled back in my office, I recalled a bar mitzvah speech that I had prepared just a few weeks earlier with a very special boy who was obsessed with Pokémon characters. It was inspired by the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov that “in everything that one sees or hears there is a lesson to be learned.”
Our great Jewish mystics tell us that there are Divine sparks scattered everywhere in the universe and that our souls came down into our physical bodies (our avatars) to liberate them and release their special energy. These sparks are found in every object, time and place. God gave us the Torah, a “mobile device” written on parchment that tells us the mitzvot/commandments we need to do in order to liberate and release these sparks. It is for this reason that the Torah has something to say about every facet of our lives, for it is through fulfilment of the 613 commandments that we are able to release these Divine sparks in everything we do.
Just like throwing a Poké ball to capture the character, the mitzvah allows us to capture the Divine spark in the specific object, time and place and release its energy. This is the Kabbalistic meaning of tikkun olam (repairing the world): to liberate all the hidden sparks in the universe so that we end up with a rectified, beautiful, Divine and harmonious world. Some would refer to this as “mindful living”: living every moment, every thought, speech and action with purpose. Recognizing that at every instant God allows me to experience its purpose through the fulfilment of mitzvot/commandments and the release of these sparks.
Similar to the virtual reality of Pokémon Go where there are lots of characters to be captured, our existence contains a deeper reality of spiritual energies to be captured and released. We just have to tune in and recognize that in everything we do, and in every place we find ourselves, there is a mission to be accomplished. Developing this Kabbalistic mindset and using our device (the Torah) adds a meaningful and deeper layer to the experience of life.
Just like in the game where you capture one Pokémon character at a time, the way we release the energy of these Divine sparks is by doing one mitzvah at a time. Try it. You will feel liberated and energized. And, hopefully, just like my visiting players of Pokémon Go, you will get addicted to it and run after it.